Every month for the past decade, Scott Nicol, a 51-year-old artist and also activist, has set out native his house in McAllen to roam the Rio Grande Valley looking for ladders offered to range the border wall in southern Texas. Top top a cool and overcast day in beforehand April, Nicol has centered his hunt on one eight-mile stretch of border in between the communities of Hidalgo and also Granjeno, whereby an Obama-era wall surface meets up with a newly built piece the Trump’s wall.

The first stop the the day brings him to a dirt ar behind a flea market in Hidalgo. A pair of green and white Border Patrol SUVs are parked atop the eighteen-foot-high concrete levee wall, next to a ar of bollard-style fence with a closeup of the door gate, their noses pointed toward the Rio Grande. Within minutes, Nicol has spotted a ladder roughly halfway up the levee; it’s around a dozen feet long and also has only six rungs. “It’s made of cheap, rough wood, quickly nailed together since it is only going to be supplied once,” Nicol says. “Unlike the wall, this ladders space functional.”

Just a few minutes later, together Nicol is inspecting the ladder, a team of about thirty disheveled migrants arise from the brush after crossing the river right into Texas native Mexico. Young men and also women toting tiny children in your arms walk come the agents, who jot under their info as the new arrivals ar their meager belongings into plastic bags. This migrants are not sneaking in; rather, they are seeking out U.S. Border Patrol in this intensely patrolled area. A fifty percent hour passes before the agents open up the gate and escort the team of migrants v it single file. Castle shuffle under the levee wall surface and top top a wait bus bound for a processing facility where they will certainly request asylum. It’s early on yet, a border agent speak me, and the groups will only thrive larger right into the evening. Together for the ladder? “That’s from our regulars,” one certified dealer quips end his shoulder.

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Scott Nicol, at the border wall just west of the Hidalgo/Reynosa port of entry.Aaron Nelsen

Nicol, an ardent adversary of border walls, can’t aid but note the irony: asylum seekers turn themselves end to agents that then escort them through entrances in the wall, if so-called regulars—unauthorized migrants—make usage of rudimentary ladders to conveniently climb a obstacle specifically designed to store them out. “These ladders are more than likely $5 precious of hardware,” Nicol said, “and they’re defeating a wall surface that cost $12 million a mile in that location.”




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Few own Nicol’s intimate familiarity through the 55 miles of wall surface intermittently stitched across the Rio Grande Valley. The artist has spent countless hours end the far better part of a te in the zero of the wall, picking with the detritus of an individual effects the migrants leave behind or shed in the chaos of an apprehension. “I try to recognize the realities of migration and also enforcement,” Nicol explained, “and the ladders display how absurd the idea is the a wall surface is walking to stop anybody.” he has come to be a kind of connoisseur that ladders, amassing an exceptional collection of numerous dozen picture of them. Some display the ladders strewn about, while in rather they room in disorderly piles or collection at varied angles the repose against the wall. Lock are almost always jerry-rigged, cobbled with each other from scrap lumber, and also they are varied in length. Some space as long as the wall surface is high—about eighteen feet—and others are simply tall sufficient for a migrant to reach the top.


Rope-and-PVC ladders that make use of metal hooks are well-known in locations upriver, however along the Granjeno-to-Hidalgo stretch of border, whereby it is a brief dash from the Texas financial institution of the Rio Grande come the levee wall, straightforward wooden ladders it seems ~ to it is in the preferred technology. They are heavy, cheap, and also rarely used an ext than once. Border Patrol agents drive their trucks end the ladders to rest the rungs, then toss the mangled wood into piles. When the heaps grow big enough, the City the Hidalgo hauls them turn off to a landfill.

The agents drive off v the migrants after ~ an hour or so, and Nicol proceeds his search for ladders, by car and on foot, locating four an ext as the wall surface stretches westward. He finds still an additional in Granjeno, wherein the newly developed 1.3-mile Trump wall joins up through a 1.75-mile item of wall surface authorized during the Bush management and developed during Obama’s presidency. The expense of the Trump wall surface in this area—an 11.4-mile big from simply west that Granjeno downriver to the Santa Ana nationwide Wildlife Refuge—runs to about $27 million a mile. In current months, the variety of apprehensions has soared. Border Patrol caught more than 171,000 migrants along the southerly border in March, the highest possible one-month complete in fifteen years. Nicol is finding more and much more ladders—further evidence, the said, the the wall surface is not around stopping human being or drugs. “Border wall surfaces are just backdrops for political leaders who want to rile up their voters,” Nicol said. “They have actually political value, and also that’s what counts.”


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A ladder near the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and also World Birding Center, around a mile eastern of the Hidalgo/Reynosa port of entry, in in march 2017.

Scott Nicol


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Left: A ladder close to the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and World Birding Center, roughly a mile east of the Hidalgo/Reynosa port of entry, in march 2017.

Scott Nicol


Despite its noticeable vulnerabilities, some border agents maintain that the wall serves a helpful purpose. While the won’t protect against everyone, it will slow them down and give agents time to react, stated Chris Cabrera, a McAllen-based Border Patrol agent and local spokesperson for the nationwide Border Patrol Council, a labor union that supported Trump. “Nine times the end of ten we’re walk to capture them,” Cabrera said of immigrants who usage ladders. However lately, Border Patrol agents have been swamped with the volume of immigrants in the Hidalgo area and also cannot properly respond come climbers. “We have actually people turning themselves over, and at the same time, as soon as it’s dark us have civilization with ladders, yet we got nobody to walk over since we’re bound up.”