The Wall/El Muro

Pointing to famous walls in history, the exhibit acknowledges that the idea of borders is ancient—and regrettably, so is fear of foreigners.


"The Wall/El Muro," a new exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., is a studiously nonideological exploration of border barriers. A placard invites attendees to challenge each other's views, suggesting the goal is to spark a conversation with a presentation of facts, not to push a narrative.

Pointing to famous walls in history, from the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall, the exhibit acknowledges that the idea of borders is ancient. With its timeline of U.S. immigration policy, it's clear that fear of foreigners is too. Long before Donald Trump rose to the presidency on a platform of building a wall on the Southern border, large sums of money were appropriated for escalating attempts to block people from crossing into the United States.

You also learn that the border crackdown has trapped would-be migrant workers in a permanently undocumented state and led to a spike in the number of deaths during attempted crossings.

What a better policy might look like is for you to decide. The exhibit shows that debates over the meaning and management of national borders will stretch into the future as well as the past.