Build the Wall

by | Apr 23, 2018 | Global Catholicism, In the News

Border Wall

(Haga clic aqui para espanol.)


Let’s do it. Let’s build the wall. You know what I’m talking about. Yes, THAT wall. The one between Mexico and the United States that Trump has been shouting about since the election season. More recently, he has ordered national guard troops down to the border.


I have finally been convinced. We need to build that wall. We have no choice! It is too dangerous not to!

But maybe not for the reasons you are thinking…

Newsflash: the real dangers along our southern border are not the men, women and children who are migrating up from situations of poverty and violence. No, the real dangers are not the people crossing: it is the drugs and the guns that cross illegally every single day. Drugs move north and guns go south. This movement creates a vicious cycle that perpetuates violence and terror, and provokes much of the migration.

If we are serious about our national security and that of our neighbors, something needs to be done.



Violence is raging across Mexico and Central America.

Honduras (1), Belize (3), El Salvador (4), Guatemala (5) and Mexico (20) have some of the highest murder rates in the world, measured as homicides per 1000 persons. Just south of our border in Mexico, journalists and priests (yes, Catholic priests!) are being murdered with shocking regularity. Roughly a dozen journalists were murdered last year in Mexico, including one who was gunned down while attending a Christmas party at his son’s elementary school. In just the past five years, 21 priests have been killed in Mexico, some as victims of random violence with others targeted specifically for their work as priests and for condemning gangs and violence.

These murders have come from the proliferation of drug cartels and associated gangs. Their business is the trafficking of illegal drugs from Latin American countries where the drugs are grown and produced to places where they can be sold. And where exactly are those drugs going? To the US, of course: the largest market for illegal narcotics on the planet. The business is so profitable, people will kill to have a piece of it. And so they are…they are literally killing rivals or their associates or their family, or anyone trying to keep the peace or report about it, or sometimes they are killing just to kill and create fear and terror. But they are killing and killing and killing.

Is it really that surprising to us that people are fleeing these countries and communities? If your parish priest was shot to death in his car and your local newspaper reporter was murdered at his kid’s Christmas play, would you say, “time to begin a visa application!”?? Maybe it’s just me, but I would be hurriedly packing in the middle of the night and leaving under the cover of darkness with panting breath and a rosary in my hand.

While the drug cartels have created this environment of violence and fear in our neighboring countries, their actions are being funded by American drug consumers. By buying and consuming illegal narcotics, we as a country are funding this violence. As a Jesuit priest working at a high school likes to tell his students: “if you are smoking illegal marijuana, Central American blood is on your hands.”1 It is an alarming thought, but offers true insights into the drug trade that is wreaking havoc in neighboring countries as the drugs make their way north to the US market.

Besides the terror that it causes in Mexico and elsewhere, drug abuse hurts our communities in the US as well. Drug addiction destroys families, rips apart communities, provokes crime and violence, and kills.

We need to reduce America’s drug problem. Too many drugs are crossing our southern border. It is destroying our communities and funding violent cartels.



Violence in Mexico has been devastating and debilitating. Despite the difficulties of purchasing guns in Mexico, most of the murders carried out by drug cartels are done so with guns.

Where are so many of these guns coming from? The US, as it turns out. Gun traffickers take advantage of loopholes in US gun sales laws to purchase weapons legally in the US and traffick them illegally across the border.

In Mexico, guns legally purchased in the US can be sold at a much higher price on the black market, which helps arm the cartels with high powered weaponry, which they in turn use to terrorize communities and maintain control so that they can ship their drugs north of the border back to the US. The cycle perpetuates itself.

We need to reduce the access of guns to the Mexican drug cartels. Too many American guns are crossing our southern border. We are arming the cartels that are murdering innocent civilians, journalists and priests.



We have a border problem, it’s true. But it’s not necessarily the one that we are talking about. Undocumented migration to the US is not stealing all our jobs, nor increasing our crime, nor allowing terrorists in. Instead of sealing our border, our bishops are calling for us to respond more humanely to migrants. Migrants are people, not a problem.

We need to re-frame the border issue. Migrants are not the principle problem. The problem is the rampant trafficking of guns and drugs. These three components (migrants, guns and drugs) are not unrelated. They are tightly interconnected. People are migrating from Mexico and Central America to the US precisely because of the violence caused by the illegal gun and drug trade taking place along our border.

By focusing our attention on undocumented immigration, we miss the root causes of the issue that are perpetuating instability and propelling people to seek safety and better opportunities.

If we want to keep our communities safer, protect our national security, and even lower migration rates, we need to find better ways to attack the fundamental issues of illegal drugs coming north and guns illegally crossing to the south.

Maybe the wall is not the best way to attack those problems. But those are the problems that need to be attacked.

Trump wants to build a wall. If that wall is a productive strategy for curtailing the illegal movement of drugs and guns across our border, then let me be first in line to lay a brick. If that wall has a different purpose, then we would be better off spending our time and resources targeting the root issues of the trafficking of guns and drugs, and forget about the wall altogether.


Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user Bill Morrow, found here.

  1.  Statistics show that illicit drug use is roughly as common among students at a predominantly white private school and a racially diverse public school. According to results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among persons aged 12 or older, the rate of current illicit drug use was 3.1% among Asians, 8.8% among Hispanics, 9.5% among whites, and 10.5% among blacks.

Brian Strassburger, SJ   /   All posts by Brian