On January 19, President Trump spoke once more about a wall’s efficacy in keeping people safe. Speaking on the White House South Lawn, Trump said, “Everybody knows that walls work. If you look at different places they put up a wall—no problem. If you look at San Antonio, if you look at so many different places, they go from one of the most unsafe cities in the country to one of the safest cities immediately. Immediately. It works. We have to put them up and we will put them up. We got to.”
Regardless of any given observer’s position on the possibility of constructing a border wall, one question was undeniable: What, exactly, was he talking about? San Antonio, many miles from the Mexican border, has no walls similar to Trump’s proposed border wall to speak of. The crime rate in the city, while it fluctuates from year to year (as is common), is still the highest among the 15 largest municipalities in America.
Nonetheless, just days later, Fox News hopped on a similar bandwagon, announcing a “Battle for the Border” town hall in the city with several of its broadcasters. Once more, the question became: do they know where the border is?
The closest border crossing to San Antonio is in Eagle Pass, 144 miles away. Eagle Pass isn’t a particularly high-activity spot on the border, though—fewer than 800,000 people cross into the U.S. from there per month. Brownsville, 277 miles away from San Antonio, has nearly twice that number of monthly crossings, but its distance makes a San Antonio-based “Battle for the Border” even more inexplicable.
El Paso, meanwhile, is the busiest border crossing in the U.S. More than 2.5 million people cross the border in El Paso every month. It’s also possibly the city Trump was thinking of when he talked about San Antonio, as El Paso is on the border, and it did go from being one of the more dangerous cities in the U.S. in the early nineties to now being one of the safest. It also has a bit of border fencing. (That fencing isn’t considered a factor in the city’s safety, according to local law enforcement and crime statistics, which indicate that El Paso had one of the lowest crime rates in the U.S. in each of the three years before it was constructed.) If Trump conflated the two cities, he confused cities that are 556 miles apart.
To put all of this in perspective, suggesting that San Antonio is on the border, as Fox News did, would be like saying that Scranton, Pennsylvania—the setting for the hit mid-aughts NBC sitcom The Office—is also the site of the Fox News headquarters, which is roughly the same distance (actually, about 20 miles closer) as San Antonio is from Eagle Pass. Dunder-Mifflin, alas, was not located on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, and San Antonio is not on the border.
When Trump imagined the border of San Antonio, he probably had a crossing like the one in Brownsville in mind. But the distance from San Antonio to the lower Rio Grande Valley is the same distance as that from the White House to the funky Southern city of Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina, where Michael Jordan played college ball. Few would confuse a North Carolina college town with the nation’s capital, and neither should San Antonio be mistaken for a border city.
If the president was thinking about El Paso when he was talking about San Antonio, he conflated two cities that are a truly vast distance from one another. The great state of Indiana proudly declares itself the Crossroads of America, and its capital, the fine city of Indianapolis, is a Midwestern gem smack-dab in the middle of the American Heartland. It’s also as far a drive from the White House to the city’s historic East Side as it is from San Antonio to El Paso on Interstate 10.
All of these mistakes, in other words, are the kind that are relatively easy to make when you’re used to thinking about states that are the size of those in the Northeast. Conflate Baltimore with Annapolis, for example, and you’re only fudging things by about 30 miles. But Texas is different. Texas, as you may be aware, is very, very big. It’s more than 850 miles across, either tip to top or lengthwise. Drive that far from New York and you’re in Atlanta, or Chicago, or the frigid tundra of northernmost Quebec. People in that part of the country just have no idea how to reckon with the awesome size of Texas. Most of the time, that’s not really a problem. Sometimes, though, it leads to hilarious claims that San Antonio is on the border, or that it is protected by walls. The closest thing to a wall protecting San Antonio, in the end, is probably the one around the Alamo—and we all know how that turned out.