Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Border

  • 2016-11-03
  • The Intercept

What does the southern border of the United States look like?

For all the talk of “securing the border” and “building a wall,” there is surprisingly little visual material that conveys just how vast this stretch of space is.

In total, the U.S.-Mexico border spans 1,954 miles. According to Google Maps, it would take 34 hours to drive its entire length. In places, there already is a border fence — more than 650 miles of it. Pushed and pulled by various forces, some 1 million people are estimated to pass through the official ports of entry every day.

But what does the geography of this landscape look like? Is it industrial? Desolate? Populated? All of the above?

Using the geographic coordinates of the international boundary line, in addition to location data for the existing border fence (which has been mapped by journalists at NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting), I wrote a small computer script to download satellite imagery for the entire border.

I ended up with about 200,000 images.