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Crossing Dangerous Borders

"The world's most dangerous borders share one trait in common: You don't want to be stuck there." Philip Walker (Foreign Policy June 24, 2011)
US - Mexico Border Fence
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Thirteen Dangerous Borders

Crossing Dangerous Borders


In Foreign Policy the editorial researcher Philip Walker has submitted an article about the most dangerous borders in the world. This is his approach to the issue:
“Far removed from the pie-in-the-sky talk of a borderless planet, the real world boasts hundreds of national borders -- many of them contested and some of them deadly. While the root cause of each conflict is distinct -- and some of them may be frozen in time, waiting for a spark -- the world's most dangerous borders share one trait in common: You don't want to be stuck there." (Foreign Policy June 24, 2111) Foreign Policy about dangerous borders

In the article he sums up thirteen places that should not be on your reading schedule.


  1. Which borders do you think are on his list? Do you know why these borders are considered dangerous?
  2. What does a national border really signify?

Crossing the Border Between the USA and Mexico

One of the borders that rank on top of Philip Walker’s list of the most dangerous borders in the world is the long border between the United States and Mexico.
Watch this Washington Post video about the border, then answer the following questions:

  1. What is the Mexican nickname of the border?
  2. What makes it so attractive for Mexicans to cross the border?
  3. Mexico borders four American states. Which?
  4. How many people cross the border each year legally and illegally?
  5. Why is the border controversial?
  6. What is implied in the statement that “Fortunes are made overground and underground”?
  7. How many illegal immigrants in the USA are of Mexican descent?

Why is Crossing "La Linea" Dangerous?

By June 2011, it was estimated that about 40,000 people were killed over the last four years in Mexico, almost half of the killings took place by or around the Mexican-American border. Most of these deaths are drug-related. When the Mexican president Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels, the violence simply exploded on both sides of the conflict. This has forced hundreds of thousands of desperate immigrants to leave their Mexican homes and seek refuge in the USA with relatives who had already settled in California, Texas, New Mexico or Arizona.

Facts about "La Linea"

  • More than 300,000 people cross the border every day. You usually have to wait three hours in order to cross.
  • Ciudad Juárez, a border city in Mexico, is considered "the most violent zone in the world outside of declared war zones." It has earned this reputation partly because of more than 370 female homicides and rapes (Amnesty International) that have taken place over the last decade.
  • More than 80% of the weapons used by the drug cartels are bought legally in the USA (NBC News)
  • According to a Border Jumper is: “Anybody of Mexican descent. The name was given to them because many of the non-English speaking Mexicans came into this country illegally, in other words, "jumped the border" thus earning them the nickname Border Jumper”
  • Mexicans represent a cheap labor force for Americans. So-called “Maquiladoras” are small workshops or assembly plants that produce parts and products that are exported without taxes and customs being charged to the USA. It is estimated that more than one million people work in maquiladoras in the Mexican border cities.

Further Reading

  1. Find out more about La Linea and the current drug war on Larry Ferlazzo's blog Larry Ferlazzo about the Mexican drug war
  2. Read this caption addition from Associated Press. Find out about "El Diego"'s role in the current drug war in the Mexican border cities.
    El Diego - a drug cartel leader
  3. Read more about the Mexican Drug War on Mexico - Drug War

Novel and Film Recommendations:

  1. Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men, is set along the USA – Mexican border. We meet Sheriff Ed Tom Bell on his lonely crusade against moral decline and the drug traffic that had just recently started in the 1980s. Read an excerpt from the novel here No Country for Old Men
    The novel was adapted to film in 2007 by Ethan and Joel Coen. You can watch the film here.
  2. Cecilia Samartin's novel, Tarnished Beauty, about the young girl Jamilet and her effort to escape her destiny in a poor Mexican village by illegally crossing the border and creating a new life in Los Angeles.
  3. One of the plots in Alejandro González Iñárritu's multiplot film Babel narrates the captivating story of the Mexican nanny Amelia and her encounter with the US border police Babel - Film Analysis

Borders "where you do not want to be stuck"

Apart from the Mexican border, these are the borders that Philip Walker considers most dangerous: Foreign Policy about dangerous borders

  • India and Pakistan
  • Sudan and Southern Sudan
  • Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Cambodia and Thailand
  • Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola
  • India and Bangladesh
  • North Korea and South Korea
  • Venezuela and Colombia
  • Chad and Sudan
  • Saudi Arabia and Yemen
  • China and North Korea
  • Israel and Syria


Make a presentation.
Choose one of the borders on Walker’s list (above) and explore why it is included in his list, its background and history. You may use the presentation of the USA – Mexican border (above) as a guide.
Useful websites:
Human Rights Watch homepage
Foreign Policy about dangerous borders

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CC BY-SAWritten by: Eli M. Huseby.
Last revised date 11/13/2018

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