This opinion piece was originally published February 20, 2019 on The Revelator.
President Trump has declared a national emergency to fund a wall along our nation’s southern border. The border wall issue has bitterly divided people across the United States, becoming a vivid symbol of political deadlock.
But for many of us who actually live along the U.S.-Mexico border, the wall is simply beside the point. We know that a wall can’t fix the problems that straddle the boundary between our nations; nor will it build on our shared strengths. So a group of us — ranchers, farmers, conservationists, chefs, carpenters, small business owners and public-health professionals from both sides of the border — have come up with a better idea. We call it the Mesquite Manifesto.
Our plan would tackle the root causes of problems that affect border communities on both sides. While the media have fixated on the difficult conditions in Mexico (and other Central American nations) that propel immigrants northward, there are real problems on the U.S. side too. The poverty rate in this region is twice as high as for the nation as a whole, and joblessness drives many into the lucrative drug trade. Poor diets and inadequate healthcare contribute to high rates of disease: Nearly one-third of those who live along the border suffer from diabetes. And a rapidly growing population, along with rising demand from industry and agriculture, is stressing the region’s limited water supply — a problem made worse by the changing climate.
To address these problems and build a sustainable future for the region as a whole, we look to mesquite, the iconic native tree that grows in every county and municipio along the border. Its gnarly branches have provided food, fuel, medicine, shade and shelter to indigenous communities in the borderlands for more than eight millennia.
Deep-rooted mesquite trees such as velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) and honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) are remarkably drought-resistant, anchoring the arid desert land and fixing nitrogen to improve the soil. Their seeds contain more protein than soybeans and can be milled to make flour with a low glycemic index, which helps regulate blood sugar.
It’s no wonder that mesquite long sustained indigenous communities in this fragile land. What is remarkable is that mesquite is seen as a nuisance tree by many who live here now. Indeed there’s scientific consensus that mesquites are among the most “under-managed” resources on our continent, though they cover nearly 200 million acres of arid and semi-arid lands in Mexico and the United States.