Every month for the past decade, Scott Nicol, a 51-year-old artist and activist, has set out from his home in McAllen to roam the Rio Grande Valley in search of ladders used to scale the border wall in South Texas. On a cool and overcast day in early April, Nicol has centered his hunt on an eight-mile stretch of border between the towns of Hidalgo and Granjeno, where an Obama-era wall meets up with a newly constructed piece of Trump’s wall.

The first stop of the day brings him to a dirt field behind a flea market in Hidalgo. A pair of green and white Border Patrol SUVs are parked atop the eighteen-foot-high concrete levee wall, next to a section of bollard-style fence with a closed gate, their noses pointed toward the Rio Grande. Within minutes, Nicol has spotted a ladder roughly halfway up the levee; it’s about a dozen feet long and has only six rungs. “It’s made of cheap, rough wood, quickly nailed together because it is only going to be used once,” Nicol says. “Unlike the wall, these ladders are functional.”

Just a few minutes later, as Nicol is inspecting the ladder, a group of about thirty disheveled migrants emerge from the brush after crossing the river into Texas from Mexico. Young men and women toting small children in their arms walk to the agents, who jot down their information as the new arrivals place their meager belongings into plastic bags. These migrants are not sneaking in; rather, they are seeking out U.S. Border Patrol in this intensely patrolled area. A half hour passes before the agents open the gate and escort the group of migrants through it single file. They shuffle down the levee wall and onto a waiting bus bound for a processing center where they will request asylum. It’s early yet, a border agent tells me, and the groups will only grow larger into the evening. As for the ladder? “That’s from our regulars,” one agent quips over his shoulder….

Rope-and-PVC ladders that make use of metal hooks are popular in areas upriver, but along the Granjeno-to-Hidalgo stretch of border, where it is a short dash from the Texas bank of the Rio Grande to the levee wall, simple wooden ladders seem to be the preferred technology. They are heavy, cheap, and rarely used more than once. Border Patrol agents drive their trucks over the ladders to break the rungs, then toss the mangled wood into piles. When the heaps grow large enough, the City of Hidalgo hauls them off to a landfill.