Leaving little to the imagination, recent Hollywood movies portray the gritty and dangerous badlands along America’s southern border.
“Mercury Plains,” “Hollow Point” and “Frontera” graphically depict drug trafficking, human smuggling and wanton violence spilling into unguarded stretches from Texas to California.
Amid the carnage, filmmakers – and the rest of the media – manage to minimize or even romanticize the sordid realities of border life. From their gated compounds and offices, the chattering classes dismiss President Trump’s plan for a border wall, throwing every conceivable logistical, fiscal and political objection in its way.
But without a wall, sprawling swaths of U.S. territory are besieged while property values shrivel and communities suffer.
Bob Maupin knows.
On horseback, he patrols a 1 1/4-mile stretch of his 250-acre ranch outside tiny Boulevard, Calif., which abuts Mexico. He regularly runs off migrants who cut a flimsy wire fence at the border to run through his property.
Though the 77-year-old Maupin has dodged the depredations of the movies, his land is violated on a daily basis – making it essentially unmarketable.
“If Donald Trump put up a wall, [illegal migrants] could not cut through,” Maupin told Realtor.com.
In Texas, where violent crime has surged in unfenced border counties, property appraisers say a wall would spin up a virtuous cycle. Safer land is more valuable land, they note, and rising property values lay the groundwork for economic development. The legal kind.
Conversely, no one feels safe or prosperous with declining tax rolls.
A private property appraiser in Brownsville, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the border needs an impervious wall that fills in the gaps.
“It’s not safe now. A real wall could increase the value of land,” he said.
Barely 700 miles of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border have any type of fence.
The cross-border threat from Mexico is real and multifaceted. Nearly half of all criminal cases filed by federal prosecutors have been concentrated in a handful of districts along the southern border, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report.
As for random violence? Workers for the city of McAllen, Texas, which draws its water from the Rio Grande, had to start carrying handguns after they came under fire when operating pumps along the river.
“It’s like a bad neighborhood,” McAllen’s water district director sighs. Or a real-life horror movie.