About ten years ago I began thinking about how to respond to those who believe a border fence, to protect the United States from Mexicans coming to work and live here, is a shield. Instead, the idea of a border garden to bind our neighboring countries together in important new ways took root.

At first I thought only about the southern border, separating Mexico and the U. S. But soon I was thinking about the northern frontier with Canada.

In the southern borderland, a fragrant blooming area, with exotic and useful vegetation, windmills, solar panels, and hydra-turbines for sparkling water is not only possible but the right thing to do. Rivers could irrigate and provide water-driven energy and solar-generated power could also transform how we think about the land and how we use it.

Since the idea first occurred to me, great advancements have been made in solar-panel technology, major improvements in wind energy, and in biofuels from plants. So now the idea of creating a blossoming border-garden is no longer far-fetched the way it might have seemed ten years ago.

In fact, a creative use of non-edible plants, used as fuel, could help us emulate the work being done in other countries. Brazil’s use of sugar cane as a fuel source, for instance, is well-known, but what about the development of jatropha, known in the tropical and subtropical climates of India, Africa and elsewhere, which has tremendous potential as a future biodiesel fuel source.

Imagine the Southern border as a great wind-farm and solar-panel region. Oilman T. Boone Pickens has been making some noise with his idea for huge wind-farming in Texas. I would simply urge Pickens to move his planning to the Rio Grande border and also test it in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. And why not a solar-panel industry alongside the Pickens windmills?

The border region would have gardens with healthy plants like aloe vera and cactus, which have been used for decades as a poor man’s cure for diabetes.

The idea is to mix the new energy from the border gardens into a national electric power grid. The extra energy would not be wasted but would be rewound into a national or North American electricity grid.

The northern border with Canada, with its seasonally cold climate, invites creative and unusual opportunities for water-driven power sources. Its links to the Great Lakes could be a great help in producing inexpensive energy and providing new jobs for both the United States and Canada.

At first I thought of using the Alaskan glaciers as a water source, applying the oil pipelines to transport water toward parts of the continental United States, rather than oil. But now I have learned that the same pipelines could be used to move water from the Great Lakes at a lesser cost.

Depending on global climate changes and political realities, the first-order priority would be to move Lake Superior water and later hooking into transmitting Alaskan water.

Thinking these ideas out about land, people, resources and new approaches on how to rethink North America’s potential to create new ecological solutions to national problems causes me to reconsider the notion of “border,” and even erasing, certainly blurring, some aspects of it altogether by substituting some new arrangement. It’s high time to think imaginatively about ourselves as North Americans and how we can form better national, state and regional relations through resources we can all share.

There is the other power to consider. Just as the sun and wind don’t observe political borders, there’s no reason to think reciprocity better, like sharing one area’s waters to the benefit of those who have a scarcity of it. Unless we imagine it, little will happen. A little imagination can spark a lot of energy.

(Leonel Castillo served as U.S. Commissioner on Immigration during the Jimmy Carter administration. Now retired and living in Houston, he is credited with bringing about significant reforms in the Border Patrol. Email him at Charlie@hispaniclink.org)

@2009

By Leonel Castillo