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Giant portrait of toddler peers over US-Mexico border wall

Posted September 8

A Border Patrol vehicle drives in front of a mural in Tecate, Mexico, just beyond a border structure Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Tecate, Calif. A French artist aiming to prompt discussions about immigration erected a 65-foot-tall cut-out photo of a Mexican boy, pasting it to scaffolding built in Mexico. The image overlooks a section of wall on the California border and will be there for a month. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

— A photo of a giant toddler stands in Mexico and peers over a steel wall dividing the country from the United States.

The boy appears to grip the barrier with his fingers, leaving the impression the entire thing could be toppled with a giggle.

A French artist who goes by the moniker "JR" erected the cut-out of the boy that stands nearly 65 feet (20 meters) tall and is meant to prompt discussion of immigration.

On Friday, a steady stream of people drove to the remote section of wall near the Tecate border crossing, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of San Diego. Border Patrol agents warned visitors to keep the dirt road clear for their patrols and not pass anything through the fence.

Elmond Davantes, a software developer from Carlsbad, California, took photos from the U.S. side.

"It's larger than life," he said. "It just draws attention to the whole issue in a positive way."

On the Mexican side, families scrambled down a scrubby hillside to take selfies with the artwork. Children in school uniforms played tag under the scaffolding supporting the photo.

People on each side of the wall waved to each other.

Salma Montoya, 18, a student in Tecate said her town is abuzz about it.

"It's beautiful," she said.

JR has done other large-scale portraits around the world, with much of his recent work focused on immigrants.

He told reporters at Wednesday's unveiling of the portrait that he was spurred by a dream in which he imagined a kid looking over the border wall.

"And when I woke up, I wondered: 'What was he thinking?'" he said. "Like for us we know all the implications, what it represents, how it divides, but for a kid, I didn't have the answer."

A year later when JR was scouting for the perfect spot for his project, he noticed a house in Tecate near the border wall. He and a Mexican friend knocked on the door to see about the possibility of locating it around there. After they drove away, it occurred to him that the 1-year-old at the home who had been staring at them reminded him of the boy he had dreamed about.

JR and his friend immediately went back. JR asked the woman if he could photograph her son. She knew his work and agreed.

The artwork was unveiled the week President Donald Trump said he would end a program that has allowed young immigrants who were brought to America illegally as children to remain in the country.

The administration also accepted more proposals for its plans to build a continuous wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border.

JR said he did not intend for the project in Tecate to coincide with the news about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

JR has worked for years to highlight the "Ellis Islands of today," which has taken him from the shores of Italy where migrants have been arriving by boat from Africa to the California desert.

"Now as an artist I think that it's amazing that the piece arrived at a moment when it creates more dialogue," he said. "Because the idea itself is to raise more questions."

For artists and activists, the 650 miles of existing wall and fencing between the U.S. and Mexico has long been a blank canvas.

Musicians have played simultaneously on both sides. A giant wooden Trojan-style horse was once parked near a crossing in Tijuana. There have been volleyball games and church services held simultaneously on each side of the border.

Sections of wall on the Mexican side have been covered with paintings of everything from butterflies to an upside-down American flag.

JR has erected other large-scale portraits in the slums of Paris, from the top of buildings in Rio de Janeiro, and set up giant photo booths from Israel and Palestine to the United States.

The latest piece will remain in Tecate for a month. JR hopes people will view it from each side.

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AP freelance writer Jorge Lebrija contributed to this report from Tecate, Mexico.

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This story corrects the spelling of the name Elmond Davantes sted Edmond.

15 Comments

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  • Ralph Savary Sep 10, 7:14 p.m.
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    No doubt they've paid more in taxes than trump.

  • Scooter Barrette Sep 10, 4:18 p.m.
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    Up in arms over me being a little mean while sending people back to their deaths. At least I'm not a hypocrite and a complete wuss. How about you address the topic at hand?

  • Matthew Rose Sep 10, 4:14 p.m.
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    funny how some one who has a prejudice against farmers and construction works and believes that they are better than them can call some one racist. man you are such a hypocrite, to believe that farmers/ construction works are dumb because they don't have the over priced undereducated liberal arts degree that all these activists have.

  • Scooter Barrette Sep 10, 3:20 p.m.
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    Like seriously, you think "I've worked construction so I know how everyone pays taxes" is a persuasive argument?

  • Nick Edwards Sep 10, 2:56 p.m.
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    And.. The Atlantic? Come on dude. Legal temp. Residents, DACA recipients, green card / work visa holders, sure. I've worked in construction and agriculture for more than 25 years. I've worked with illegal immigrants from all over Mexico and South America. Not one of them paid social security or taxes of any kind. The employers hire them as independent contractors and take no taxes from their pay. They are paid to a staight hourly wage. At tax time, they are supposed to file a 1099, which is never done. Most are never officially listed on a company payroll. They can't be tracked down due to their "undocumented" status and the irs doesn't have the man power. Even if they do get caught and deported, they're back in a week with a whole new identity.

  • Nick Edwards Sep 10, 2:40 p.m.
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    That's funny. A lefty talking about killing children. 🤔

  • Scooter Barrette Sep 10, 1:43 p.m.
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    Sorry, not killing. Rather, sending that child back to their death by forcing them to return to the murder capital of the world?

  • Scooter Barrette Sep 10, 1:42 p.m.
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    Did you know that half of undocumented workers pay social security and state taxes? Do you guys feel better about killing that child knowing that?

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/undocumented-immigrants-and-taxes/499604/

  • Nick Edwards Sep 10, 11:11 a.m.
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    Yes, it's a shame how far humanity has degraded. It's a shame how parents of children will drag them thru a deadly desert, to break federal laws, force taxpayers to fund their criminality and then demand amnesty.

  • Jeffrey Derry Sep 10, 9:52 a.m.
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    Reverse it and have it look into a country that is long overdue a revolution, fix your own country first

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