Every month for the past decade, Scott Nicol, a 51-year-old artist and activist, has collection out from his house in McAllen come roam the Rio Grande Valley looking for ladders provided to scale the border wall surface in southern Texas. On a cool and also overcast job in early April, Nicol has focused his hunt on an eight-mile stretch the border in between the towns of Hidalgo and Granjeno, wherein an Obama-era wall surface meets up with a newly built piece that Trump’s wall.

The an initial stop the the day bring 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, alongside a ar of bollard-style fence with a close up door gate, your noses pointed towards the Rio Grande. Within minutes, Nicol has actually spotted a ladder roughly halfway up the levee; it’s about a dozen feet long and also has only six rungs. “It’s made of cheap, rough wood, conveniently nailed together due to the fact that it is just going come be used once,” Nicol says. “Unlike the wall, these ladders space functional.”

Just a couple of minutes later, together Nicol is inspecting the ladder, a group of about thirty disheveled migrants arise from the brush after crossing the river right into Texas from Mexico. Young men and women toting little children in their arms walk to the agents, that jot down their information as the brand-new arrivals ar their meager belongings into plastic bags. These migrants room not sneaking in; rather, they space seeking the end U.S. Border Patrol in this intensely patrolled area. A half hour passes prior to the agents open the gate and also escort the team of migrants through it solitary file. Lock shuffle under the levee wall and ~ above a waiting bus bound because that a processing center where they will request asylum. It’s beforehand yet, a border agent tells me, and also the teams will only prosper larger into the evening. Together for the ladder? “That’s from ours regulars,” one certified dealer quips over his shoulder.

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

Nicol, one ardent enemy of border walls, can’t assist but note the irony: asylum seekers revolve themselves over to agents who then escort lock through entrances in the wall, when so-called regulars—unauthorized migrants—make use of rudimentary ladders to quickly climb a barrier specifically designed to keep them out. “These ladders are most likely $5 precious of hardware,” Nicol said, “and they’re defeating a wall 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 throughout the Rio Grande Valley. The artist has actually spent many hours end the far better part of a decade in the shadow of the wall, picking through the detritus of an individual effects the migrants leave behind or lose in the chaos of one apprehension. “I try to understand the realities that migration and enforcement,” Nicol explained, “and the ladders display how absurd the idea is that a wall is walking to avoid anybody.” he has end up being a type of connoisseur the ladders, amassing an impressive collection of number of dozen image of them. Some display the ladders strewn about, while in rather they space in disorderly piles or set at varied angles the repose against the wall. They are practically always jerry-rigged, cobbled with each other from scrap lumber, and also they space varied in length. Some space as lengthy as the wall surface is high—about eighteen feet—and others are just tall sufficient for a migrant to with the top.


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

Scott Nicol


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Left: A ladder close to the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and also World Birding Center, approximately a mile eastern of the Hidalgo/Reynosa harbor of entry, in march 2017.

Scott Nicol


Despite its apparent vulnerabilities, some border agents maintain that the wall serves a helpful purpose. While that won’t protect against everyone, the will slow them down and give agents time to react, claimed Chris Cabrera, a McAllen-based Border Patrol agent and also local spokesperson because that the national Border Patrol Council, a labor union that sustained Trump. “Nine times out of ten we’re walk to catch them,” Cabrera said of immigrant who usage ladders. Yet lately, Border Patrol agents have actually been swamped with the volume of immigrants in the Hidalgo area and cannot effectively respond to climbers. “We have actually people turning themselves over, and also at the very same time, when it’s dark we have civilization with ladders, however we gained nobody to go over since we’re bound up.”