The boundary monuments between San Diego and Tijuana are approximately 1 mile apart. They number from 258 to 252. They are open and free for the Mexican citizens to admire, but military landing mat hides the monuments from American citizens. Since 2008, a second wall approximately three-hundred feet away from the original military landing mat has further obscured the monuments.Each boundary monument has its own tale. I’ve already written about 258 and 255, the most famous of all the boundary markers. In total there are 276 markers stretching from the Pacific Ocean to El Paso, Texas. Some are numbered A & B so that the original numbering from the Barlow-Blanco Commission of the 1890’s are retained. (There were originally 52. You can read all about that here.)
David Taylor spent four years photographing each boundary marker thanks to a Guggenheim fellowship he received in 2008. Calling it “Working The Line“, he presented the photographs at exhibits, but unfortunately, no publication exists that specifically depicts or describes the monuments along San Diego and Tijuana.
Today, I want to focus on #257, which stands on top of a very high cliff. In order to find this monument, I asked my friend, photographer Maria Teresa Fernandez, to take me.
In order to get to the monument, you must go into federal land that exists along the freeway going to Las Playas. It is gated. Generally, no public entrance is allowed. Then, you must walk up the steep hill along the rusted old military landing mat.
As we climb, the man who keeps the gates closed and oversees the property explains that a few days before migrants came here, probably to jump the wall at night. However, a few Tijuana residents also came over for the purpose of deliberately assaulting the migrants. The federales (Mexican federal police force) had to come to the property to enforce order.When we reach the top, boundary monument #257 is made of iron, which is the material used for most of the markers. I notice the monument also has several bullet holes. They were probably made by the federales.
One side has graffiti, in particular of a pyramid from Chichen Itza. The side facing Mexico says: “La Destruccion o dislocation de este monument es un delito punible pro Mexico o Los Estados Unidos.” (The destruction or dislocation of this monument is a crime punishable by Mexico or the U.S.)
The military landing mat is exclusively on the American side, about one foot away from the boundary marker. It has open shafts about ankle high, created by border patrol so they can detect migrant movements. There is also a door next to the boundary monuments, which is bolted and locked exclusively on the American side. Peeking my head through the shaft, a steep mesa exists on the other side with surveillance cameras.
I have searched far and wide for any kind of documentation that explains why the U.S. added the doors to each boundary monument. I have also searched for the reason why it is bolted on one side only. Are there any written government rules or regulations regarding this wall? Apparently not.
Time and time again, I have been told that the Customs & Border Patrol as well as Homeland Security do not keep written documents about the boundary wall construction or the rules about who can come close to the wall, at what times, etc. Generally, when it comes to rules and regulations regarding the boundary line, nothing is written down and apparently everything keeps changing. Just about all we know is that around 2008-9 the contractor Kiewit did extensive construction of a second fence and was directed to fill in the canyons, including Yogurt Canyon closest to the Pacific Ocean and the infamous Smuggler’s Gulch.
When we visit, a Border Patrol SUV sits in view of the monument on the American side. The area next to #257 is so steep, it wasn’t possible for construction crews to put up the military landing mat in this space or the double fence, so it just stops. It is, indeed, the only space along the San Diego-Tijuana line where no wall exists — probably because anyone who tries to cross through this particular area will face either death or terrible injuries.
The view from here also is stunning, and yet the contrast between the countries are stark: Tijuana’s sprawling metropolis just stops and Mike McCoy’s coastal wetlands begins. It’s rugged terrain, which reminds us of how difficult it must have been for the Barlow-Blanco Commission to establish these markers during the 1890’s.
Since my visit to #257, Maria Teresa has been to to #257 on a day when a crew of two men came by to re-paint the marker. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, the U.S. is responsible for the maintenance of markers from Monument 80 to Monument 204A. The rest is the responsibility of Mexico — which means Mexico cleans the ones between Tijuana and San Diego. When they come to paint? That too is anybody’s guess.