Locating the Lost Moo Pah Soccer Team

We followed with intense interest and hope the gripping story of the teenage soccer team who had entered the dangerous complex of narrow caves in North Thailand.  We focussed on the possibilities for their rescue as we watched the narrow entry ways into the remote complex where they were stranded on rocky shoals, over two miles into the Tham Luang complex and over a mile underground.  Before the maps of the narrowing cave, we could only imagine the excitement of their entrance into the cavernous passage where they left bikes, and to imagine the conditions where for over two weeks the U-16 team waited with their committed Assistant Coach, as we tried to get our heads around the danger that the team faced in the darkness, drinking or licking water off of its walls.

The compelling story of the “lost” team attracted the global attention from their sudden disappearance, discovery by two divers, to their rescue gained huge interest and dramatic power, as we tried to move into the narrow confines of the cave themselves.  Despite the immense power of the human story, and the endurance of each team member of the Moo Pah, or “Wild Boars,” the global scale of attempts to locate the team so remotely stranded were as historic, as we all tried to place the “Lost Thai Cave Boys”–all of whom nineteen divers have now thankfully rescued or extracted from the torturously narrow cave, whose cavernous opening narrows into one of the most labyrinthine of complexes of as one progresses into passage ways.  While the lack of GPS or wifi made navigation or consultation of instruments used in mapping of little value, cross-sections of the deep cave from forty years ago provided only the roughest of guides to the torturous paths of often slippery ground that threatened to fill from southwest monsoon rains–sudden rains already pressed the team deeper into the caves.   As the teenage team was removed from all contact with the world, or abilities of geolocation, the rest of the world depended on maps to imagine the possibility of contact with the kids who were suddenly known, in a bizarre trending topic, as the lost cave boys.

We needed maps to keep them in sight, as it were, and to imagine the very possibility of their survival:  even the most schematic maps of the caves’ dimensions, abstract cross-sections drafted thirty years ago, offered a sense of contact with the team that was removed from GPS, so far removed to be out of contact, over a mile underground.

29 coupessTham Luang cross-sections, Association Pyrénéenne de Spéléologie, Expeditions Thai 87 – 88


While the multi-national effort helped to guarantee the rescue effort was miraculous, it is also a testament to the sheer force of globalization that the former Buddhist monk who led twelve teenage soccer players–several of whom were stateless ethnic minors–became a compelling focus of international attention after being tragically  trapped while exploring a cave complex.  The young team, stranded two miles into a six-mile long complex, with limited food and air, were almost abandoned, until the surprising accidental discovery that the teenage members of the Moo Pa team–the “Wild Boars”–were all found alive with their Assistant Coach by a group of British underwater divers, apparently on holiday, exploring another branch of the vast flooded cave complex, who first photographed the team, smiling at having contact after ten days.  If not for the fortuitous sighting and discovery–and perhaps if not for the lit photograph the divers managed to take of them in the cave’s depths, they may well have tragically perished.

The happenstance discovery that was made a week and a half–ten full days–after the team members had after they disappeared was relayed around the globe, more a miracle of endurance as much as of modern technology, though the two were conflated.  Able to capture them by cel phones, the image of their survival in the darkness underground survival mapped an odd snapshot of globalization.  While the cave was visited several times by the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the statelessness of the players or assistant coach who helped found the Moo Pa team was not mentioned.  As global attention turned to the cave, and divers arrive from the United States, Britain, Australia, Finland, and Canada, the search almost became almost a spectacle of state theater, as the Royal Thai Army undertook to map and track the location of the “lost cave boys” in the mountainous remote province, as global attention turned to the Tham Luang caves, which suddenly sprung to international headlines as a near-constant topic of social media.


s095716743June 28, 2018


M5SFALUCC4I6ROCRKMM4BD345Y.jpgJuly 7, 2018 (Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock)



The complex of caves in which the team members were stranded was abstracted from what was an area of widespread statelessness, divided between different warring factions, the possibilities of their rescue the focus of global attention.


1. The efforts to discovery the team had already attracted help  While U.S. Pacific Command had sent a rescue team to help in the search for the twelve players between twelve and sixteen and their coach, searching with Thai military using remotely operated underwater vehicles and heat-seeking drone, the absence of any indications in the complex Tham Luang Nang Non caves was puzzling.  The mystery of their apparent disappearance was broken by an unexpected image of the smiling soccer team, on a ledge deep into the cavernous complex of caves, taking refuge from rising waters, far beyond the gear and cycles they deposited near its entrance, and indeed beyond the “beach” where those exploring this branch of the complex pause to rest, some four km into the cave.  The flooded waters that had already begun to rise with the arrival of the monsoons that fill the cave annually, further imperiling the group.  (The rains may have been a bit early this year, due to climate change.)

As the Thai army worked hard to locate the group for two weeks, the embodied problem of achieving the remote extraction of the soccer players focussed global attention; being trapped on a ledge in darkness by rising water when you don’t know how to swim was the stuff of universal nightmares.  But the graphics of their rescue through the caves, now lit by lamps and accompanied by divers with head lamps and oxygen, provided a miraculous rescue narrative leading to their emergence.

rescue contact 1.pngReuters, Hope for the 13 (January 9, 2018)

The image of the smiling teens taken by British divers became something of a clarion call to expand  technologies and tools for their rescue.  While what is paramountly important is that the “Thai Cave Boys” are coming to light and to their families, even as the rains are beginning to fall heavily, the global spread of the news of their disappearance and accidental spotting and the massive media response that both triggered helped coordinate a rescue effort up to a thousand meters underground with oxygen tanks, headlights, a team of divers, ropes to allow steep uphill climbs of wet caves, once drained but in need of more pumping before monsoon rains intensify, and time for the team to take a crash course in diving; Dawn Cai worked to stitch together an elegant GIF of the trek to recovery that nicely captures the confines of the remote cave, and the deeply embodied experience that we all struggled to imagine in reading about the scenario and replaying it in our minds.

The drama of the survival of the boys for two weeks in the narrow Tham Luang Caves, two and a half miles deep into their interior and 800-1000 meters deep underground, attached global attention first as what a feared tragedy, resolved only with difficulty.  What became a nail-biting drama of the “cave boys”‘ fate was the focus of global media; the gripping difficulties of the teenagers suddenly involved multiple states, directing more attention than ever to a remote cave in North Thailand.  Looking at maps of the cave, the weird sense that we had in following the story that this could be a site anywhere–a cave that often seemed eerily disembodied from its environment or a specificity of place, or its location in the mountains near its border with Myanmar, site of thousands of the over 400,000 stateless refugees, displaced ethic minorities, stateless not yet granted asylum by Thailand, beset by drug trafficking, human trafficking, and malarial outbreaks.  The relatively retrorgade region of the Golden Triangle divided between the Shan State North and South and United Wa–has become a site for high-tech mapping, however, as if to affirm the unity and control of a region divided by different local internal conflicts–and contested boundaries the had created refugee flows.


contested boundaries.pngAsia Times (Chiang Rai province divided by United Wa and Shan state armies)


–which were determined the stories of the lives of the Assistant Coach and his charges.  Ethnic strife was obscured by the tools of tracking the boys’ location and safety.   The shift of global media attention to the lost boys seems to have led to efforts of the Thai Royal Army to create the impression that the team was safe–and the situation in Chiang Rai province controlled.




2.  The first sightings of the team fed a range of credible attempts to locate and extract the twelve kids from deep in the cave, past a rocky shoal known as “Pattaya Beach” and through its narrow openings, was planned:  we only had a sense of the depth of their location in the cave complex after the first sighting of the team ten days after their disappearance into the dark cave.
Cave Entrace in BorderlandsPlanet Labs

alternate vis reuters caveReuters, Hope for the 13 (January 9, 2018)

The news of contact and communication  made global headlines, and served to reorient global attention immediately to humanitarian offers to assist in rescue efforts in an age when humanitarian impulses appear globally in short supply; the image of twelve young members of the Moo Pah team, wearing brightly colored jerseys, on a perch on a rocky ledge deep underground, relayed around the world, seems a partial miracle of the ability to capture imagery in almost all places, as well as a reminder of the challenge of ever locating them on the map.  If the terrifying nature of finding no response on your teen’s cell phone has long ceased to be purely a First World Problem, the alarm of loosing any contact with one’s teen seemed to foreground the terror of how quickly they had disappeared.

Despite the miracle rescue by which they were “found safe” inside the complex, as the monsoon rains were just about to begin, the mapping, and tracking the young Moo Pa team was a drama hard to get one’s head around that gripped the world, and lead to a huge exultation at the emergence of the first six players from the cave complex became a cause for global celebration, even as the former monk, the valiant Aekkopol Chanthawong who is their Assistant Coach, remains trapped with the rest of his charge and team, teaching them the virtues of stoicism and patience as well as techniques of breathing and meditation that had more than anything else to survive, presumably, kept them in good spirits and alive for over two weeks.  Helped in part by the recession of the waters, but also by the shallow breathing techniques that allowed survival in an oxygen-depleted caves, the dedication of Aekkopol to the boys he trained not only in soccer, but to dwell in the dark stands out.  The coach was practiced in long meditation retrains, and  arrived  as an orphan at the War Phra Thet Doi Wao monastery, only leaving training to be a monk after ten years.  Where his own advice about meditation and calmness a crucial importance to reducing the team’s panic, as well as the trust he had gained?


beautiful-fine-artWat Phra Tat Doi Wao monastery, Chiang Mae province in Golden Triangle


While knowledge of the possibility of their rescue, the survival of the team fed their survival past ten days, their survival was the other story that was masked by the amassing of international efforts, helicopters, diving equipment and cables to find and extract members of the team from the cave complex, equipped with oxygen canisters and lights. What is celebrated as a high tech adventure rescue depends on the focus of the former monk who, despite his statelessness, has become something of a national hero–but also for the techniques of survival he imparted, more important than the anti-anxiety medications that the multinational team of divers brought when rescuing them.

The unfolding involvement of a global commitments to locate and extract the thirteen teens seems a modern counterpart to the myth of Princess Jao Mae Nan Nong who fled her parents with her love to the complex of caves after their forbidden love was discovered, and still serves as its protector.  Princess Jao Mae was said to have stabbed herself in the complex of caves where she had fled her parents with her lover, after he was killed by soldiers her father sent in pursuit, and her blood forms the waters that fill the caves, providing a powerful link between the caves and the afterlife.  The Princess’s spirit still is venerated as protecting those who enter the cave complex in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province; indeed the altar of the pink-robed Princess after the boys disappeared attracted attracted many offerings, incense, and candles with other offerings as raining and flooding slowed the search, and her role as a powerful bridge between the living and the dead and guardian of the caves in northern Tahailand gained power as a focus for hope of intercession.

The story of the fate of the “lost boys” became a parallel tale of the turning of global attention turning to the caves in Northern Thailand, to provide a different form of intercession as rescue efforts grew   The stories of Jao Mae shifted, to be sure, to new mapping technologies as the members of the team were located and found, as if in response to the efforts of collective prayer, and a variety of possible new schemes for locating and saving the lost team became a truly international affair, unexpectedly turning all attention to Northern Thailand for evidence of reasons to hope.  To be sure, the rise of an emphasis on technologies of tracking and mapping the caves may have displaced the prominence of breathing techniques and meditation practices that played a large role in the Wild Boars’ team’s survival underground for ten days.  “In the cave,” deep beneath the surface of the ground, as military soldiers combed the mountainside with maps, remembered the head coach Nopparat Khanthawong, the assistant coach had “taught the boys how to meditate so that they could pass the time without stress,” as they waited in the darkness, without food or any sense of the passage of time for ten days, in ways that “helped save their lives” by techniques learned asa novice fat Phra that doi wao temple where he arrived as a refugee orphan from Myanmar.  Aekkopol often meditated with monks of the temple and the surrounding forest for days at a time with only a small reserve of food.   And he was the last to leave the cave, shortly before the pumping apparatus that had drained the caves of rainwater failed.   Yet the entire affair and rescue was shown and described most often as an instance of modernization, supervised by the Prime Minister, in which the Royal Thai Army played a major role in securing the area, developing strategic approaches, as well as draining the cave.


3.  Tracking the site of the lost team had riveted global attention and indeed become a project of global mapping over the week plus since the tragedy of their June 20 disappearance unfolded in the news, from the first incredulous attempts to track their location in the torturous complex of underground caves to the more recent imagining of rescue attempts by diving, drilling, or any other means of extraction, as the under sixteen soccer team learned new techniques of breathing, meditation, and perseverance from their dedicated Assistant Coach.  We collectively communed with them, and contemplated their chances for rescue as we south to orient ourselves to the unfolding development of what we didn’t want to imagine was another human tragedy through our maps.  As we needed to believe they were alive–as they thankfully were–maps were an affirmation of their existence, and a logic of collective action.

Paper maps provided a surprisingly important point of reference above ground, as the position of the boys was considered and contemplated in previous days, as if to preserve or imagine a virtual tie to their remote location.

4728Pongmonat Tasiri/EPA

Despite the diminishing hopes of teenager’s survival after the first week they went missing, their survival of the children has become something of a test-case to find if there is any area of the world that cannot be mapped–and for rescue technologies, as well as a drama of locating hope underground in a darkening above-ground world.  For global attention to the video taken by British divers of the group of teenagers who were trapped by unexpected rains while exploring the complex with their Assistant Coach after practice, and the possibilities of international cooperations to locate the small group was nourished on social media, if it had already electrified much of the nation.  What was already a state concern of Thailand’s prime minister, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the often unspoken if unseemly question of whether Thai soldiers and policemen had the necessary technology or skill to locate the lost team, as hope at their discovery gave way to fears of how to extract them from the cave, or return them through underwater passages,–either by drilling into the soil or squirreling them through often narrow caves.  But the fears of altering the structure of caves were balanced with the difficulty of navigating within its dark, narrow passage-ways.

What became a local exercise that the boys to explore the cave complex that the rising of the waters suddenly trapped them became an international affair, as the the world wide web focussed global attention on images of their fate, as a grainy photograph of a few smiling team members on a tablet became a cause for unexpected jubilation and offered a sort of technological reassurance even as their fate was unclear.  Images of relatives praying near the caves’ entrance with offerings of incense, garlands, and an eventual altar were balanced with images of high-tech mapping of the paths that the team took.  The utter joy one parent showed at the arrival of the image of team members on a tablet triggered a global effort to locate and save the team members believed lost, who truly seem to have shown more resilience than the rest of the world.  The sudden burst after the confirmation of their survival was a sort of miracle—they seemed healthy and even well-off while deep underground!–but the sense of a miracle was conflated with technology of the image relayed above ground.

The sudden alarm at loosing contact with one’s teen’s cell phone would have perhaps set off alarm world wide, even if the team was not found to be located at such a remote remove.  Is it a coincidence that in an era when few children are encouraged to wander far from home, or explore their local ravines and neighborhoods without worry, that the attention of the world was turned on the team stranded in the cave?  Most on the internet wondered what in God’s name the team was ever doing in the cave, or on the warning sign posted at its entrance cautioning about entering as monsoon rains approached.  The flooding of the cave where the team members were stranded was glossed as a tragedy, a race against time, and as an international challenge for sustaining hope, as the former monk became a true hero, teaching his team techniques of shallow breathing, meditation, and focus with self-sacrifice that gave them strength and perseverance in the face of terrifying danger.  He was the last to leave the cave, and soon after his departure the pumping apparatus that had drained the flooded caves broke.


Phra Rathet Doi TempleWat Phra That Doi Monastery, norhtern Thailand


The complex of caves in northern Thailand became something of a final site for nature, and struggling against natural forces, without wifi or GPS, even as the sense of why a team would go exploring the network alternated with worries rising waters complicated their rescue.   As an international effort grew, as new technologies were mapped onto the essentially quite human, all too human effort to locate and save the under-sixteen team and its dedicated Assistant Coach beneath the mountainous terrain.


Chiang  Rae.png

Hope transformed to preventing a terrible tragedy as possible rescue missions are contemplated or planned, and attempts to map their fate.  The difficulties of their extraction riveted global viewers to the fate of teenagers hailing from borderlands of Myanmar and Thailand, who were chosen for their interest in soccer, as forces from the Thai Army to Elon Musk to the former Navy SEAL diver who died in doing so have tried to understand how to extract safely, in what a real-life drama that dramatically surpassed the World Cup, and offered a narrative of international cooperation to save the teenagers feared lost, who were themselves stateless, as their relatives continued to bring offerings to the Jao Mae shrine venerated as able to bridge the cave and otherworld.  The story of the post-practice exploration of the complex by twelve U-16 teenagers aged twelve to sixteen–the age of my daughter–seems one of the technically difficult of situations processes, but most unfair as the story of a lost school group has grown as posted photographs of the twelve kids has provided a ray of hope, despite fears of future flooding of the caves by rains, and the perpetual threat of diminishing oxygen.

The complex’s narrow walls and rather torturous network provided what seemed the only remaining thread by which they could be saved or captured, and the specific difficulties of negotiating a rescue in the cave, after multiple divers had already tried to move along narrow passages to explore the caves, and unsuccessfully attempted to drain them with pumps, as the team was found farther into the complex–and up the hill–from where soldiers had earlier searched, and consideration of the place of Pattaya Beach–near where they were found, but in a delicate and narrow section of the caves.–and around the sections of the hill that soldiers sought to exams above ground.



4.  While the cave entrance remained large fairly deep after its entrance, the problem of following and mapping the progress of the boys into its sections grew more concrete after it was discovered how deeply in they had travelled, just past the raised area known as Pettaya Beach.


tunnel leading to team

THuam Luang spelExpeditions Thai 87 – 88

Tracked by the latest mapping technologies and relayed on media circuits since the news of their discovery erupted, the plight of members of  the Moo Pa Thai soccer team trapped in the six-mile long Tham Luang cave complex has been a focus of global attention and mapping efforts.   The mapping and remapping of the site is of course both a testament to the dire nature of the situation of a group trapped deep within the cave, with limited oxygen, as well as food, buoyed by the miracle of their discovery after nine days and were stranded after they began exploring the cave and the difficulty of drilling from above-ground or navigating the dark cave itself to locate the team of teenagers trapped within, suffering the stuff of nightmares, as well as the problem of extorting them while negotiating narrow often underwater passage-ways.

As rising waters threatened to fill the narrowest of cave walls, unable to accommodate air tanks, and attempts to pump water from the complex failed, mapping truly seemed the least of it as the extraction of the team faced the pressures of rising waters, malnourishment, and oxygen lack.  (Elon Musk boosted hopes by tweeting his team was developing a narrow child-sized submarine pod able to navigate the hairpin turns in the cave complex, as if the pod would quite miraculously be able to be constructed and arrive on time–and even travelled himself to the cave system, seeking to promote the value of his oxygen engine to the Thai team.)  The collective ensemble of efforts, spurred by the problems of locating a group of boys who didn’t know how to swim or dive as the waters ran into the cave complex, was a logical problem, in many ways, that demanded resolving problems of entering the cave underwater, illuminating the passage way, and guiding the boys out, as well, it seemed, as draining the water that had already entered from growing rains.

But the challenges of mapping their location, and the sense that they had traveled to a place so remote where they were not able to be mapped and tracked.  The problem in part created a level of tension that riveted the world.  The human drama of the young members of the Moo Pa team, became a subject nand symbol of national as much as provincial pride, as the problems of skills required to achieve their rescue became debated.  The discussion and debate seemed a parallel story in itself, even if the possibly deadly adventure of the group of teens was intensely involving.  The Thai Army that sought to ascertain routes of their rescue looked over maps of the cave’s veins that snaked under the mountain ranges, as if to plan the underground rescue–focussing on the cave complex they knew so well, but with less of a sense of how to extract the kids trapped within by drilling from above ground.


image.pngRungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock

Despite the actual insufficiency of maps, we have tried to map the incredibly narrow contours of the cave complex, as if to puzzle over how they might be located and saved, and somehow track their course along the narrowing width of the complex from its opening–as if to map the difficulty of the job to the scale of a five-foot tall teen–to craft a more experiential record of speleological cross-sections of the mines through which the teens had traveled. based on the first surveys of the cave of 1987 of its narrowing cross-sections, now assembled in a more interactive form as if in a flip-book.

Cave Oening.png

Cave map.png

tunnel leading to teamNew York Times Interactive

29 coupessExpeditions Thai 87 – 88

–and helped embody the experience of being trapped in such narrow confines so deep underground where they were trapped.

fit boy in cave

Images borrowed from the largely structural maps of cavers who had explored the narrow Tham Luang complex–and from the exact field of speleology–the visualization sought to pose the options for rescuing the team members in the narrow caves where they were stranded, learning how to negotiate with limited oxygen and rising water.  The interactive map in the Taimes  invites observers to imagine their narrowness, but minimized the  complications of locating the team within the cave,–it elicited wonder at how the team had managed to climb so deeply into the complex as the water rose.


5.  But the “map” reamined oddly abstracted form crucial information about the underground setting–failing to  suggest the real problem of rising water and ground conditions, as while tracing the path of complex with accuracy, it strips a 2D sense of location from the  context of rising waters and difficult ground conditions in a cave from which water needs to be pumped.  But perhaps the point was to capture the compelling embodied experience of their isolation in the remote cave.  The Interactive graphics nicely reproduced the difficulties of moving along and negotiating the narrow turns, some requiring kneeling, swimming horizontally, or crouching to pass  as if to experience the narrowing of its amazingly twisty course, as if in a video game, tracking the tortuously narrow course of the caves, through which the team progressed to try to avoid rising waters, in a nightmarish situation with all to real consequences.

But we were linked through the miracle of interactive mapping to pray for the futures of the teenagers, with their schoolmates and Buddhist monks who assembled at its entrance, as if to restore them to a map.  Even as we cringed at the near-impossibility of establishing their location, after already one diver who attempted to locate them lost his life, contemplating the entrance into the narrowing passageways of the caves and the team’s itinerary as well as the possibilities of their future rescue.


alternate vis reuters caveReuters, Hope for the 13 (January 9, 2018)

While watching forecasts for raises that can boost the already rising floodwaters, teams of divers have contemplated maps, and the rescue camp locate near the mouth of the cave provided only a possible site of salvation, in hopes that they could be moved there.  Is the cave’s mount a more apt site of prayer, or of recovery?

The misfortune of the soccer team had converted the mouth of the cave to the site of an altar that was sort of shrine, and a site of prayer for divine intervention, as worries  turned to what thin, depleted oxygen the team members might still have access during the two weeks after they disappeared, their bicycles found, partly washed away, near the cave entrance, while the classmates of the team-members participated in large collective prayers, and Buddhist monks gathered near the Tham Luang caves, juxtaposing the science of mapping their location with a perhaps more credible collective prayer.





Were the major efforts in mapping not serving as their own sort of prayers, if of a modernist variety, and hopes for a miracle of intercession before the waters rose and the oxygen depleted in the stretch of the rocky cave complex?  While the maps did show the human story of the position to which the teens had arrived, and posit and frame the problems of their rescue, thankfully underway, the maps seemed as important as framing, sustaining, and affirming a sort of tenuous empathy to their fate, allowing access to the remote cave system.  If they created the possibility of the necessary conditions for their rescue they also became a kind of guiding light for those of us who followed the spectacle so intensely from our own backlit screens.

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Filed under #ThaiCaveBoys, cave complexes, data visualization, monsoon rains, Thailand,

The False Imperative of the Border Wall

Perhaps President Donald Trump’s most astounding victory is to remap the proximity of much of the nation to the proposed border wall.  For Trump has not only made immigration into a platform for his campaign and for his party:  his oppositional rhetoric has inordinately magnified the borderlands, in ways that stand to reverberate endlessly in our spatial imaginary of the nation, without grounds.  It sets a precedent as an act of unilateral border-drawing, or willful re-bordering, by asserting a new geographical reality to anyone who listens.  The need to reinstate such an opposition–aptly described as a an archaic solution to a twenty-first century problem–projects an antiquated notion of boundary drawing on a globalized world in rather terrifyingly retrograde ways.  

In ways that naturalize steepening inequalities of household income, literacy, labor laws, air pollution, water sanitation, and health, and separate areas of highest growth of household income from Mexico, the proposed border wall naturalizes these steep divides by insisting on its own urgency:  in the way that all maps appeal to the imagination by assuring an intelligent mastery over space, border walls serves to transform fantasy to geographic reality.  The US-Mexico Border Wall was so intently and mind-numbingly propounded on FOX-TV’s cartoonish maps to convince many Americans it is already an actuality in our nation’s geography, as well as a necessity, in ways that a cartoonist would best perceive as a pretense–the construction of a “border wall” has gained realism although lacks legal precedent as a definition of territoriality, and has more roots in opposition than engineering practices:   rooted six feet underground as that would prevent tunneling, spanning 2,000 miles, and necessitating the seizing of 5,000 parcels of land, in a monumental act of the supremacy of sovereign power as well as of lèse majesté, a performative exercise that would leave the border as “open” as it was in the first place but erode our definition of liberty by lending currency to the most corrosive types of oppositional thought to “block” border crossings it defines as “illegal,” without any actual legal authority, as a pretense for the detention in a constellation of makeshift federal prisons for deportation to its other side–in ways that would remap the relation of individual to the state around the border zone in a shadow network often makeshift detentions centers that increasingly restrict rights of visitation and remove most from any access to legal representation or legal aid.


border detentionUS Detention and Visitation Map/Freedom for Immigrants.  Blue tears denote ICE-Operated centers; red county-operated jails; black privately operated facilities; purple sites enjoy visitation rights; see also Center for Immigration Studies (2013)/interactive map viewer

The invocation of a border wall that was for so long a backdrop of a Presidential campaign, where it served as a campaign promise able to repurpose all other infrastructure investments and redefine America’s political geography, has increasingly run against reality.  The militarized border wall seems to seek to change the relation of the individual to the law in ways that Franz Kafka might well have recognized, placing migrants in a landscape of unreason where all are subject to individual suspicion and judgement; the landscape empties words like individual rights, liberty, and law of content as they are subsumed in border management–that mirrors a managerial rhetoric and minimize best practices. 

The border wall is not a novelty:  if it promises to affirm the border, it recycles border protections and restrictive immigration policies in the United States reflected both ethnic and racial discrimination they effectively normalized–in ways since broadly rejected as morally and ethically repugnant.  The symbolic prominence of the border wall rehabilitates openly discriminatory policies–captured by the rise of racial profiling by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the interior of the nation, and the detention and deportation practices at the border.  The wall helps sacralize the territory as the nation, creating a nceptual map protecting a simulacrum of nation against “illegal” border entry, and naturalizing restriction of migrants’ legal status and rights, proposing to cement the criminalization of the very notion of border-crossing.  


Fence:Wall Trump

For a President with pronounced boundary issues, the proposed border wall has become a stage on which he seeks to reorient America’s relations to the world, even if it does not exist and may not be built, but occupies a central position of attention.  The proposed violates international law as a form of immigration control; it defines a boundary about not a nation, but a curtailing of long recognized international rights and unprecedented militarization of the southwestern border at a time when we are openly not at war, targeting the specter of the “illegality” of an undocumented migrant, as if they were unlawful enemy combatants–confusing the very notion of legality by conflating it with the legal fiction of borders as national boundaries by circumscribing rights at the border, and effectively promoting an insularity withdrawing from international law as if it was readily assemblable fiction–without any actual impact on human lives–and, at $9,999,999,999,999.99, but a sliver of the $25 billion of its estimated cost, requiring only an Allen key to connect its pressboard panels.


Would the proposed wall offer any better of a defense?   It serves to affirm a primitive opposition in our minds, quite alien to the national laws we have inherited, which it seems to replace with a triumphalist structure.  

We remain in danger of accepting this new definition of border security as a part of the nation–a notion of the nation directly tied to the imperative of protecting a “homeland” than to a body of laws.  For it bears repeating that the proposed  wall has been planned to be constructed as a defense of the modern construction of the “homeland,” and that its creation has a genealogy different and distinct from nationalism or the nation.  Although the actual incredible elasticity of the proposed border wall, whose costs, construction, materials, and presence have changed so repeatedly to remove it from engineering feat to a figural status–serves as a wall against global mobility and a specter of globalization, more than against an actual threat, but is repeatedly described as securing national interests, serves jump-starting the sacrality of the nation not by bounding its actual extent, but affirming the right to keep migrants out of the region, and removed from chances of employment or the protection of civil rights.  The increasingly transactional nature of politics that has led Trump to entertain funding the borer wall by replacing the immigration lottery by selling U.S. citizenship at a million a pop to wealthy foreigners seems to openly acknowledge its debasement and devaluation of national ideals.

As such, it sets a global precedent for remapping national boundaries by a nativist agenda championed by the Trump administration, who had made the wall a totem and marker of the new sort of “governmentality” they would create.  Despite Trump’s nonchalance about Vladimir Putin’s assaults on the basis of America’s sovereignty in democratic elections, he has cast the border wall as a basis for augmented national defense and security.   The perception that the border wall is rooted in the perspective from which it is viewed, depending not only on which side of the border you stand, or the legal status from which one views it as a sign of inclusion or exclusion, but from how the government claims to define the legality of immigration and of migrants.  The creation of the border as a stage for performative pronouncements serves to make it almost impossible to erase, even before it has been built.   The proposed construction so outweighs any existing structures in the nation that is serves as a screen to embellish expansive fantasies of power–te Clarence, Illinois-based Resolution Security Services firm offers a wall that includes a thirty-foot berm and echoes the Great Wall of China, a reference point Trump has often employed, trumpeted as a response to a clash of civilizations of Huntingtonian proportions, in a bid that responding to the manufactured crisis by serving as a “symbol of the defense of the American nation and culture, just as [the Roman Empire’s] monumental wall defended the limits of the Western civilization.”



Crisis Resolution Security Services

Replacing the intentionally permeable membrane of the nation, long designed to encourage transit in response to a shifting labor market between two countries, the redefinition of the border as a militarized space without laws or liberties as a new frontier against “illegal aliens” is a monument to redefine legality, converting the border zone to something like a front of war, and on the scale of a perpetual war for the nation.  Unlike the border wall that Anna Tereza Fernandez  repainted in order to compel that it disappear back in 2012, when the border seemed to recede from the public imagination–


image.pngAna Teresa Fernandez, “Erasing the Border,” (2012)


–the border wall that is promised to prevent immigrants from entering from Mexican territory is less a ruin ready for repainting than an obstruction that does not invite or offer possibilities for future dialogue:  it pushes back against discussion.   Whereas the original border was framed as a collaboration between Mexican and American governments to deal with indigenous peoples, specifically in terms of trans-border raiding in the border zone, the project for the border wall is an attempt to define the prerogative of an American government define cross-border relations.

As much as the resolve immigration issues, it posits a boundary beyond which no rights for migrants exist–leading to numerous public pledges attesting to the rights of refugees and asylum seekers across  the globe, as well as in the restriction of refugees seeking asylum.  Much as many different refugees were stigmatized as detainees by the 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, as Thi Buy so eloquently graphically illustrated, in response to fears of crime and terrorist activity, making detention mandatory for the undocumented, the proposed border wall would transform the immigrant who enters the nation to an enemy needing to be detained–as if militarizing the border transforms the immigrant not only into an “illegal” but to a “unlawful combatant” who is able to be detained, and “conducting operations with the laws and customs of war,” by their presence on the wrong side of the wall.

As a ploy and publicity stunt attempting to jumpstart a religion of a sacred nation, separate from foreigners, the border wall connotes a gated community of purity, whose symbolic strength may undermine our secular identity.  For the false imperative of the border wall stands to undermined our established and inherited notions of national inclusiveness as a secular state, by affirming the brutality of the border as if it were a sign of strength.  Although the construction of such a border wall lacks legal precedent, it offers a radically new precedent to describe our homeland, it does so by one of the most archaic–if you will, pre-legal–divisions, substituting for written legal norms and conventions between nations a mute concrete structure that resonates with the physical markers and divisions of land that predate nations or the law–and are indeed extra-legal in origin.  For the border wall can only exist as a mapping of national space when placed in opposition to the demeaning of “bad laws” or “terrible laws”–the very language of legal discrediting that Trump enjoys.  While the border was long exploited as a porous space, the 

The inordinate attention Trump has directed to the border wall as a negative space cordons off the space of the border as off-limits to our attention or from oversight or scrutiny.  Indeed, management of the space of the border falls to organizations that are an extension of the executive branch, from the U.S. Border Patrol to the National Guard, agencies that are disturbingly removed from legal oversight and circumscribing any rights of those who seek to cross or plead cases of asylum.  The goal of its construction along the border is of course one of foreclosing the hope of migrants seeking asylum, work, or to flee violence.  In what seems a sort of perverse art object or project, the display of the panels of the faux border wall, as a model for their future construction, and a sort of public theater of the newfound authority of the border’s space.  While the wall already exists in the minds of most Americans, an illusion that Trump has worked hard to create–




–the actual costs of the wall remain not fully understood by most of the nation.  Not only do almost eighty percent of Americans believe that the United States will pay for its construction, even if the majority of Americans oppose the U.S. government pay for it.  As if invited into a fantasy of bookkeeping by which the wall could exist without being subsidized, the space of the border has become a collective illusion, whose costs are able to be defrayed in ways that conceal and mask its actual costs to the nation, both financial and institutional, as an unprecedented circumscription of liberties.  


Perhaps only an art project can amply respond to the unprecedented material rhetoric of separation and remapping, and the imperative it incarnates on behalf of–but outside–the state, as an assemblage conjuring state authority that is complete with a cheap and abstract map of the boundary, gates, crappy wire fencing, a spotlight, and impersonal imperatives–


IMG_3454-2.jpgBerkeley, CA; July 2018 (street art assemblage)


–but the negative space of the border is a deep project of disavowal, disenfranchisement and denial of migratory rights, whose design is most effective as a replacement of the rule of law, and the mapping of a state of exception.  It seems rooted in a poor mapping of the borderline as a denial of immigrant rights, and a perverse reading of the boundary of the nation less as an open threshold than a line of militarized defense, dating from a post-9/11 notion of the Homeland that trumps access to the law, and is organized by the needs of national security that work outside the law.  As such, it is a particularly archaic form.

How can the violence of the false imperative of the border wall be suitably mapped, resisted, or described?  It is a redefinition of national security, and a theater of state, but one which hides real consequences of the stripping of rights for all who enter its new space–either the physical space of the borderlands or the mental space of the wall.  Indeed, it seems to excavate a negative space, as a pretense for the undoing of the law or denying human rights.  Much as the planned border wall would cut through the landscapes to which it is foreign, it  would cut through lives, separating one-time immigrants from any chance of crossing to a future.  The border wall stands to leave a huge scar on the borderlands as a region, creating a negative space of citizenship as well as a space of environmental devastation, converting a membrane of mutually beneficial passage to a space where dramatically curtailed rights, due process, or access to law rewrites our national legal and moral landscape.  

Can an art art of counter-mapping assist in puncturing the emptiness of the pretenses of a boundary wall to help police our national space?  Can it help to loosen the strictures that the proposed imposed upon those who would share the space of the United States, by allowing them to be detained within the region or zone of the border wall?   The tactical reshaping of the border space is quite precedented.  The concentration of such camps by the border or at four of its major crossing points is striking–two based in Texas, the state that contains two-thirds of the US-Mexico border, and seems the site of the notion of building a border wall, and two in California, and several in Arizona, north of the desert–


MIgrant camps used to detain minors


While most all actual maps of the proposed Border Wall remain “pre-decisional”–a bizarre bureaucratic newspeak, reminding us of theirorigins in one branch of government alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who responded to President Trump’s Executive Order for Border Security and Immigration Enforcement, the twinning of immigration to the border and its security is strikingly non-contiguous, filled with gaps, and suggestive of a sinuous ribbon–



-or based on the relative ease or difficulty of “claiming land” often privately owned or in a state park or wildlife refuge, where it is planned to include a substantial 150 foot “enforcement zone,” seeking to claim its own authority as a structure of enforcing policies, even if those policies depart from or contravene the established law.


wall claims

from data from th U.S, Corps of Army Engineers


The utter lack of transparency of the proposed wall’s construction suggests its origin in executive policies to redefine a national space by sheer will-power and bullying, rather than a process of working through the law.


1.  The new landscape of the southern borderlands so enthusiastically promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump seems lodged in our nation’s collective spatial imagination.  It is never fully mapped in any detail, but described in terrifyingly vague terms as an area of danger–as if it was a primary threat to our country–as the massive security apparatus that we have allowed to emerge after 9/11 has been projected onto our poorer neighbors to the south.  One of the odd perspectival tricks of the border policy is that it not only militarizes the border as a line of defense, but defines a state of exception around the border removed from the law.  This new zone of the border wall appeals to many because it makes most of the nation feel a vague relief at the unjustifiable fiction that they are entitled to a position of privilege of not being on its other side.  



Patrolling Second Fence near Tijuana in Mexcico/Gregory Bull/AP


For the border wall has worked to define a new relation between individual and the sovereign state is defined that strips most individuals of rights and of all legal resistance. For the wall, even more than the current fencing–is a way of constructing a new reality claiming ownership over the border’s space, as well as a promise to prevent human passage across it.  Perhaps it is even a screen, constructed or not, on which we can project an imagined sense of authority and security that we are reminded regularly we need, but with little actual proof that it is needed, save as a show of national strength.  Rather than separate us from actual terrorists, migrants seeking new lives–the very stuff of the American story at one time–have been painted as the danger that threatens to over-run the nation as we know it, and targets which the chief executive can direct full attention.  Border patrol agents have long watched the arrival of migrants at San Ysidro who would flee across during the night, in an attempt not to be apprehended or stopped; the wall would serve to marginalize them by making the state’s presence suddenly visible.  The cruelest trick of the distorting lens of the border wall is to sustain this unwarranted fiction of privilege–a fiction without moral or ethical justification, which rests on shutting down empathy.


San Ysidro.pngzilia Castrillon


1.  The proposed border wall is presented to the nation as opposed to an existing framework of laws.  It is designed to prevent our border–and nation–from being “overrun” by immigrants who might take advantage of “pathetic” laws, to create a nation where “you’re going to be afraid to walk out of your house.”  The borderlands stand to change the landscape of the nation as you know it, Trump insists, unless they are defined as subject to executive oversight as places outside the law–given the “pitiful,” “pathetic” and inadequate nature of immigration laws to deal with the exceptional violence and cruelty of the borderlands and of migrants.  If over thirty environmental laws were already waived by the Department of Homeland Security for the Rio Grande Valley–allowing a key area of focus of concern for immigration protection by the Trump administration–and the Chihuahan desert, the absence of much attention to the region attention to the borderlands by the nation save as an area of danger has allowed it to be transformed to a bulwark of national defense against imprecise faceless dangers that have continued to grow as a specter of fear.  

If the waiver of environmental protections will allow the pollution of the delicate ecosystems by the construction teams of Customs and Border Protection and its subcontractors, who plan to arrive with plank concrete to be fixed into the sandy earth, or the Army Corps of Engineers–by waiving the rights of indigenous peoples or species protection, the illegality of the border wall has been obscured as well–as has its conversion to a region without any oversight and removed from civil laws and human rights.  If it is already truly bleak at the US-Mexico border wall–a site of surveillance more than of human habitation, even if it runs through site cities–


image.pngGetty Images


–the precedent of loosening federal, state, and local laws stands to remove the borderlands from any place within the legal framework of the nation, and allow it to stand as a region of exception, where all protections of migrants from federal authorities are inexistent, and the migrant is subject to an opaquely Kafka-esque masquerade of authority in the guise of low-level bureaucrats who have no familiarity with the laws, but are given license to act as they see fit.

The illusion of the  increasing proximity of the entire nation to the border parallels the growth of the increasingly secret space of the border as an area:  for the borderlands remain off the map of most Americans’ actual attention, it becomes a a space that is primarily organized by the expansion of state sovereignty, and set apart from the legal organization of the nation as we know it as a framework of laws.  Current maps of the border don’t just point people toward the proposed wall, as they adopt a purely Apollonian view of the proposed border wall; they appear to create or instate something of a newly mediatized monument, in a sort of stagecraft for the national viewing audience, replacing statecraft, as if to present a roll out of a spectacle of augmented border security–by eliciting further fears as much as an actual feat of engineering.  

The promise to create a new space of heightened policing along the southwestern border signs a policy of creating a new space of policing and of negotiating claims to sovereignty that suggest a new space of governmentality, as much as an extra-legal space, where migrants lack permission to enter the United States.  The proposed border wall feigns a sign of national strength, but to rewrites of one of the most crossed borders to a space where it alone incarnates the law, and subtracts all rights from those migrants whom the border wall excludes:  it serves to banish and exclude the migrant from a system of laws, as much as to deny permission for entry, and pre-emptively deny all entertainment of rights to asylum or citizenship, in an attempt to rewrite the geography of the region by a projecting a monumental building project over hugely varied terrain–irrespective of the difficulties of doing so.  But the mapping of this imagined proposed border wall–no precedent for which really exists–has provided an image of particularly persuasive power for Donald Trump to showcase and promote, even if it is likely to not be built.  The conceit is particularly powerful as a mapping of the relation of the region to the world, and the remapping of the borderlands as a region of statelessness.


Wall Segments


Trump assession wall


For a President acutely unawares of the relation between stagecraft and statecraft, the border wall has become a unique opportunity to showcase the simulacrum of American leadership and a facade of state authority.  The proposed border wall first unveiled in the 2015 Trump campaign is intended to defend national space, even before it can be fully or adequately mapped, but exists as a mental imaginary less as an actual space, so much as alternative to a state of undefined chaos that has been conjured in the borderlands.  Despite the absence of anything approaching the needed funding for its construction, the border wall has insidiously become a prominent aspect of the nation’s mental geography, trading on an old metaphor and image of the cruelty of the border, but replacing it with a new vision of national security organized by Customs and Border Protection, Dept. of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement–and condensing the bloated government that police the politics of immigration across the nation to a concrete wall. The faceless nature of this new symbol of government is the absence of good government, but rather a state of emergency and of the suspension of laws in the name of the state–at the same time as a redefining of the geography of the border as a space where local authorities as Border Patrol have unsupervised authority.

For the current President has insistently distorted the need for attention to the border to magnify debate about legal and what he calls “illegal” immigration–rarely an issue in previous years.  Immigration has been tied to national safety for the first time in modern memory, through the image of the US-Mexico boundary, fixing public attention in a particularly narrow-minded focus on the border.  In ways that may well conceal an unwarranted expansion of executive power of which Trump seems to regard US-Mexico border wall as a concrete manifestation, we have been focussing on the border to the exclusion of deep fault lines within the nation, from homelessness to income inequality to gun control:  if all have corollaries in a border portrayed as a site of illegal immigration, drugs, violence and the growth of Central American gangs, the mis-mapping is both profoundly dangerous to individuals and aims to corrode civil discourse and civil society.

It has at times seemed as if this anti-monument to executive authority, imposed on the landscape, but foreign to it, maps Trump’s magnification of executive authority.  The massive project of building, as if destined to consume the federal budget, is to stretch 2,000 miles, in a grandiose attempt to shift American immigration policy by a monumental construction that ignores the plight of migrants it boasts to prevent from crossing into the United States.  Unveiled as a response to an apparent congressional paralysis on border policy, it blocks out migrants’ plight by a dramatically expanded security state.  The so-called prototypes of the border wall that were unveiled in San Diego this summer–eight thirty-foot structures revealed in the arid landscape between Tijuana and the outskirts of San Diego triple the height of existing fence, and extend six feet underground–but  are unlikely to stop tunnels of smugglers already as deep as seventy feet below ground.  If its full structure is unable to be adequately mapped–much as the border wall may not be built–it haunts a growing discourse on immigration disquietingly, as if an organism that somehow exists in the world, to define immigration policies of the borderlands, as if already present on the border and only waiting to be built.  The inverse of a hotel, made of trucked in sheer concrete precast plank, promises to materially solidify the current border line at a cost likely to exceed $70 billion, but irrelevant to the drug trade which enters at border crossings in the  cargo of trucks or trains, the presents of actual undocumented immigrants, or routes of human smuggling which only stand to be pushed out to sea.


rookingsBrookings Institute/Currently Fenced and Unfenced Border and Rio Grande River


But the border wall insistently exists in our media and public discussion, as a new mapping of a new nation.  The mock ups are the inverse of public monuments.  As monuments to a failed border policy, and to the new expansion of executive power and personal ambition, they seem showpieces of the state’s reluctance to confront immigration as a human problem.  Waiting to be tested by Homeland Security authorities, Customs and Border Patrol, and other executive branches, and to be combined in a final border wall are still unbuilt, and not even funded at this point, they boast creating a new geography of the borderlands, echoing the brutality of the Old West in the architectural idiom of a maxi-prison.  As a structure of control and of avoidance of rising migration pressures, they met with shrugs and skepticism from those watching from the other side of the border, who saw it as little change–“I don’t know why they’re building them that tall if immigration will always stay the same;”  “People will go under or over it, it won’t stop.  They think that by building those walls, they’re going to end immigration.  But it’ll be the same.”  The new monument will block out immigrant stories, and as such pose perpetual problems for cross-boundary relations.  It stands to overwrite the law, and misleadingly is promoted as if it were a new paradigm for cross-border negotiations in which America will retain the upper hand.

For the crippling conceit of the border wall has changed national geography, and the nation by legitimating racial profiling, detention and the criminalization of immigration that seeks to cross the line they seek to define by building negative monuments in relief across a delicate border zone, as if in a huge earth-moving project far more imperial or early medieval than modern.  The notion of “border security” is not a modern problem:  the post-9/11 political construct is both alien to the fortunes of migrants who reach the border, so foreign to the region.  It is extra-legal, that builds on racial prejudice create an  improbable reconfiguration of the vulnerability of the border as a site of security threats.   While far more Ports of Entry exist in the United States’ northern border than tothe south, increasing pressure has been brought to resisting the porosity of the southern border, long a fluid membrane of migrant work in the western states to allow Big Agra to maintain low wages, and reflects the protected nature of many of the lands and its rough terrain–


ports of entry.jpgPorts of Entry and Ports of Entry per State/Jocelyn Godinez


–has been magnified as a site congested by border patrol units, reshaping the borderlands as an obstacles for migrants portrayed as exploiting a diminished commons, upsetting the peace, and lowering wages.  The proposed border wall expands this long-term trend of the expansion of Border Patrol units, replacing a legal system of immigration  with a vision of a far more brutal and unethical borderland minimally trained Border Patrol Officers have come to dominate.

BPADutyLocationsU.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Ports of Entry and Border Patrol Duty Locations


The border wall serves to deny the future legal place of immigrants in society by creating a magnificent obstacle to their future integration;  the boundary for entering society is symbolized by a monumental security wall, monitored by Border Patrol officers, and closing the country to foreign entry even more forcefully than the tallest and most imposing current fencing on the border.




2.   The late John Berger saw the growth of walls as defining the primary social divide in a new period of history after 9/11, replacing class but running deeper than class in separating the disenfranchised.  Berger had been long concerned to document migrants’ stories in their own words, reminding readers of the importance of empathy to migrants in their faces and identity, but was especially concerned with the rise of wall-building as a phenomenon of excluding people from wealthier nations’ life, and its attendant deep denial of their humanity and our abilities for empathy.  Berger attempted to map the fault lines  of this divide in his last writings, disjointed dispatches that were a sort of cri de coeur against the denial of humanity and displacement or pre-emptive disenfranchisement epitomized in the denial of asylum policies at the new border wall which remaps possibilities of cross-border transit.  If the relational nature of all gestures, material objects, and rearrangements of space–in the world or in paintings–is a subject to which Berger was uncannily sensitive, the role of the proposed border wall in our nation will be likely to be  contmeplated.  And Berger’s sense of landscapes–and the function of their remaking–offers a sense of courage in relation to the border wall which we will need as borderlands are increasingly transformed into sites of policing, in a historical moment as intense as that to the transformation of a commons into private property.  

The construction of walls was something Berger witnessed as interventions in space.  In this sense, Berger’s historicizing outside a unidirectional historical narrative reflected his sensitivity to the twinned nature of arts of survival and expression, from his haunting description of how “there is not a wall in the town center of Ramallah, now the capital of the Palestinian Authority, which is not covered with photographs of the dead [martyrs of the Second Intifada]” in 2003.  Berger returned to the fabrication of ever-present walls in brief if urgent “dispatches on survival and resistance” written in telegraphic fashion as letters to the future, which are testaments to a sense of deep historical change.  He warned of the presence of a wall that “crosses the land where there is nobody, . . . carefully planned on electronic maps, prefabricated and pre-emptive” that exists to prevent and disrupt (2005), its geographical scale bound to and almost interchangeable with its tragedy.  The proposed US-Mexico border wall is a continuation of the same wall, and effectively points to the arrival of future migrants–much as the odious “Breaking Point” advertisement in the Brexit campaign was terrifyingly used as an effective backdrop for separatist oratory.




The prayer-like function of these images parallels the crosses attached to the border fence at Otay Mesa, more than the conversion of the wall to a site of memory.  The US-Mexico border wall doesn’t delimit an experienced space, or work to bound space, save create a negative space in which it stands.  It gestures to our mental maps of migrants’ paths, overlaying a distinct map upon them, and insulating us from their suffering and the suffering of their travel as if to make us feel better as a result.  Berger in 2004 wrote that the “present period of History is one of the Wall,” that run everywhere, and constituting the “front line of what, long ago, was called . . . Class War,” soon after observing the insulating effects of a barrier walling off Palestinian Gaza.  Berger portrayed, in 2004,  the Wall as the start of a walling off of global elites from dispossessed and disenfranchised, and as a new social remapping endemic to globalization.

Berger’s prescient reflection on “concrete, bureaucratic, surveillance, security racist walls” echoes and extends to the current magnified border wall, meant to conjure fears of the inhuman violence that lies on its other side–here Trump invokes the “inhuman” violence by the alleged “violent animals” of MS-13, argued to have crossed the border.  Although some 5, 400 are claimed to have deported in 2017 alone–a number cited as evidence that “these are animals, and we have to be very, very tough” in our country–the gang’s presence in the United States has little to do with border policies, drug cartels, or family migration, despite Neilsen’s unwarranted assertions the gang is a transnational organization, and the absence of any credible indication MS-13 is tied to either unaccompanied minors crossing the border, or family migration.

These ungrounded assertions are launched to justify a perpetual conflict that extends the border to the country.  All migrants are demonized by incorrectly mapping gang members to Central America; the persistent fiction in the Trump administration, as Trump’s televised claim “they are violent animals” are scarily transformed and reframed as policy in the White House press release “What You Need to Knowabout the Violent Animals of MS-13“–which, despite the relatively low-profile status of the gang,  incorrectly maps a gang born in Los Angeles as lurking behind the border wall, a national danger the Trump administration “is working tireless to bring these violent animals to justice,” as if justice had anything to do with it.  The fiction has perpetuated a perpetual state of war that by which the border extends to the nation in openly deceptive ways, with the the fiction that ICE has worked to “liberate towns” in the territorial United States from MS-13 gangs.  Trump’s poor purchase on global geography conceals the mythic geography sold the nation, as the specter of towns liberated from the “grasp of MS-13” affirmed an unsupervised Kafka-esque bureaucracies in borderlands as fighting an actual national threat that the border wall wold keep out of the nation.


press releaseWhite House Press Release, May 21, 2018


The insistence on the primacy of the border wall as a primary divide in our nation seems to replace any awareness of the conflict between classes, between the enfranchised and disenfranchised, between workers and wealthy, in ways that only serves to bolster the increasing subtraction of rights from migrants it defines as criminals.  A border runs across the entire country, of course, the border that Trump has asked to us to “safeguard” increasingly maps a new notion of the “Homeland” that Trump’s appointees seek to define, augmenting how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has secured about one-third of the 1,950-mile border on its southwestern frontier,  beyond the seven hundred miles of double-layered fencing funded by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 promised to “make our borders more secure”:  as only half that length of fencing was built, Trump proclaimed a decade later to “Secure the Border” in a far less civil form of speech, as if with disappointment that the absence of double-layer fencing and the heterogenous materials that make up border barriers for three hundred miles.  Amplifying calls of Border Patrol officers to create  impermeable barriers, the attempt to “control over the border” ceded to an image of a wall, as the figure of a wall gained far more traction as a form of public trust.  The border wall that Trump seeks to build, a sort of anti-hotel not accommodating but displacing, seems both a natural disaster of fragile ecosystems and an excuse to expand law enforcement–


STrump Scares Nation.png


–independent of the extent of economic integration of border states with the Mexican government,





Nogales Economic Development Foundation/Trucks v. Rail at 26 Points of Entry


independent of the limited border sectors that possess fencing,




and independent of the limited land owned by the federal government along the border, and its protected and sensitive habitat, fragmenting ecosystems and disruption ecological habitat of endangered species and animals, sacrificing environmental protection to ensure border security–and waiving environmental and wilderness protections at the wishes of Homeland Security or of Customs and Border Protection, in ways that expand the executive branch’s powers over the region beyond the presence of Border Patrol and the National Guard.


difficulties of border wall.png

us_protected_lands_border_mexico_map_vox.pngSarah Frostenson


Such over-riding of concerns suggest the wildness of mapping of the border as an unhinged fantasy, but barely approaches the deep disdain toward migrants and Central Americans central to  the monumental construction of the border wall, which seems designed to treat the border as a space for anything goes in ways deeply analogous to the speech acts Trump adopts on Twitter, other than anything approaching due process.  Although Trump only requested to expand the six hundred and fifty four miles of existing fencing by three segments of seventy-four miles in 2018, the image of completing a border wall has been a subject to which Trump has devoted such complete attention over the past years that many educated Americans believe already  exists, or dispiritedly imagine is inevitable.

Before the election, Trump mused how it might be fitting to name the proposed border wall after himself, in a moment of barely disguised self-aggrandizement  predicting his potential executive power.   “Maybe they’ll call it The Trump Wall” in the future,” he teased his fans, undoubtedly relishing the prospect of a wall on the border able to seal or cut off the future of others.  In the summer of the Presidential campaign, Trump entertained audiences by imagining the expansion of executive authority and  prematurely basked at the notion that “I will be build the greatest wall that you’ve ever seen.”  In comparing his future achievements to China’s Great Wall, Trump neglected the century-long project of collective construction, ranging from c. 200 BC to the Ming Dynasty (1348-1644), when much of the 5,000 mile segments of the Great wall were built quite sporadically–ignoring the segments of walls are themselves not only discontinuous, and rather than trace a border with Mongolia are filled with gaps along the Gobi Desert, where they stood as imperial feats of engineering–


China walls.png

–more than “divide” Mongolia and China on a boundary–



–of huge historical difference, rooted in quite rhetorically different intents.  

Trump employed the conceit of the Great Wall to pivot to plans to negotiate with “the Chinese”–an improbably ahistorical comparison to China’s Great Wall, unhinged of historical orientation, to suggest his prime goal to protect American interests and disorient his audience.  The leaps of logic wern’t only bombast but conjuring of global enemies of us v. them by a deeply frightened man more than leader.  In billing himself as a potential Builder-in-Chief able to replace  the “little fence” he disdained as able to be scaled with a ladder bought at Home Depot, Trump offered a disorienting spin on “shovel ready jobs” in an age of crumbling national infrastructure, predicting plans for building a “border wall” whose impressive nature would be “beautiful because maybe someday call it the Trump Wall,” in tacit comparison to the connective tissue of the Eisenhower Interstate System–converting an image of national coherence to one of exclusion in telling ways.   Trump basked in describing the benefits of precast plank arriving by the truck-load, gloating at the prospect of building a huge wall by executive fiat, as if the wall was less about people than materials.

Trump had adopted and endorsed the marginal belief of Border Patrol Agents  that “there is no greater physical or economic threat to Americans today than our open border.”  The unwarranted assertion led him to propose somewhat over-eagerly a massive retrenchment of the nation behind walls far more impenetrable than exist today, deeply sunk into the ground and rising to twice the height, at considerable environmental peril to wildlife, that would brand a permanent scar on civility.  The threat Trump borrowed from Border Agents who patrol the the ten miles on either side of the border line promoted a new geographical imaginary of the nation that lay on the margins of political discourse–as a new logic of political decisiveness and defensiveness, ostensibly far from the extra-legal violence by which the border was long defined, yet increasingly tied to the history of violence at the border, even if it is increasingly cast primarily as a defense against a security threat in the language of Homeland Security rather than law.




3.  As if to magnify his self-importance, but without regard for those who cross the most trafficked border, the executive has myopically has oriented to the nation to the prospect of a continuous border wall, as if in a distorted civics lesson in the Age of Trump and discursive muddiness of Trumpism, possessed by deep fear of the foreign and outsider–the immigrants he told the nation were “rapists and murderers”—recasting the most vulnerable of immigrants he discerned as the nation’s greatest danger.  Much as the Muslim Ban uses the broadest and least discriminating of brushes to target nations of a given faith as terrorists, the border wall tars all who live beyond a geopolitical line of convention as dangerous “others,” rehabilitating the most primitive of classifications to set a terrible example for the nation in the crudest and most oppositional of terms:  the border wall maps a material manifestation of the actual uncheked expansion of executive power, separate from legislative or judiciary checks, so that the wall most concretely manifested the unchecked growth of executive power since the expansion of the oddly named office of Homeland Security–and indeed might map its future growth.

As the worst of all bad teachers, Trump exults in foregrounding the worst impulses of mapping danger and identifying immigration concerns, displacing attention from people to the spectacle of the inanimate steel and concrete wall as a necessary division between nations, and a future destined to be removed from its surrounding landscape.  For even when the wall cuts sharply against civil society–disenfranchising  the most vulnerable members of society, and lending an ugly veneer of normalcy to the detention of migrants as criminals.   As the recent separation of families and deportation of vulnerable and desperate migrants, many fleeing persecution and violence to seek asylum based on fears for their gender, sexuality, or future prospects reflects the new politics of a policy of “zero tolerance.”  For at the border, the reduction of the individual stories of migrants is symbolically and practically affirmed by a continuous wall.  The proposed structure is based on a logic of exclusion from the nation, a prison-like structures of steel topped with sheer concrete of thirty foot-tall panels–


THirty-foot Border wall?.pngElliott Spagat/AP


–even if the costly prospect of converting the landscape of the border-line to a living relief map suggests an outrageously expensive way to demonstrate care about the border, in a sort of phatic gesture that fails to account for the entrance of drugs and firearms at Ports of Entry, concealed in trucks, or the  The border wall echoes the calls from border patrol officers at Customs and Border Protection for a massive $18 billion over a decade to create a continuous wall, a solution not addressing the overstaying of work visas, and seeming to brainwash the nation into regarding undocumented migrants as a problem located at the border–although the issue of visa overstays have created a far greater problem of undocumented immigration over the last decade than the movement across the border that Trump has so effectively demonized.

By focussing on the border–here shown, in a deeply misleading data overlay, as if the borders of immigration sectors of Border Patrol were distinct from the “wild” terrain view of Mexican states–




–echoed in the deep and longstanding deferring of consideration of immigration cases in federal courts, whose courts have not grown as the cased presented to them has expanded and ballooned, and the waiting time for hearing cases has steadily increased, as the cases the courts have completed have declined, creating a bottleneck of processing all migrants’ cases.





Isn’t the promised monumentally of the planned  border wall not also a denial and infringement of the possibility of immigration, or of business as usual, resuscitating the violence of the borderlands?  Any map of the border wall usually omits the targets of migrants whom its construction seems to target, and decisively to place on the other side of the law.  Enumerating immigration must rest not so much on numbers of apprehended migrants, or confiscated drugs, or gang member arrests, so much as the diminished legal frameworks for pursuing immigration that migrants face after they have arrived in the United States.  Even in the years following the election of Trump–from October, 2016, as the election was winding down, the legal framework of immigration had already begun to decline, as the expansion of th encumber of pending cases in federal immigration court reveals.  Pending cases have languished in courts for a constantly increasing duration of time under Trump’s presidency, as the waiting time of cases has steadily and considerably increased, reflecting the diminished horizons of legal resolution of immigrant cases.  The increasing waits for pending cases since Trump’s inauguration of course parallels the planned border wall, and the reduced efficiency of legal resolution of federal immigration cases, as if the border was not heavily trafficked but rather demanded intense monitoring.




The adoption of the conceit of the border wall in Trump’s presidency indeed saw a virtual ballooning, and increasing climb, of pending cases of immigration, that the wall is going to promise to sweep under  the rug, reducing court dockets and removing the appearance of migrants before a prosecution.  For the transformation of cases of immigration to criminal violations of the border, newly sanctioned in law, stands to revise those attempting to find a new life as a criminal offense. 



The conceit of a national need to “safeguard the border” as a problem of national security undermines legal principle and precedent, and marginalizes the possibility of ethical judgment.  As if to  conflate questions of immigration and misdemeanors of undocumented immigration with criminality, immigration offenses become cast as breaking federal laws and strips subjects of due process or of the consideration of judicial review.  The wall–an illegal structure–is a brute rewriting of immigration practices and individual consideration, defending an imagined vulnerability of the borderlands that rejects hearing any individual cases, so much as appealing to the history o violence at the border.  

Much as the “shutdown” of flights from Muslim-majority countries in the Muslim Ban, which Trump has steadfastly affirmed in three versions, until finding a version that gained the backing of a conservative majority of Supreme Court justices, the border wall reject en masse any attempt to cross the southern border as an invasion of the Homeland, shutting down the opportunity for border entrance not based on the law, but the assertion of executive authority by criminalizing any attempts at cross-border travel outside of Ports of Entry as a federal offense.   If the border is already defined in large part by regions projected only by fencing,



save in the interruption for border transit at Ports of Entry of border states,


the false imperative o the construction of a continuous wall reveals an all but unprecedented assertion of executive authority and prerogative along the border, removing immigration and migrants’ cases from a legal framework, and indeed even from the courts and established processes of immigration, revealed by the close relation between the existing sites of border patrol agents, in ways that it is impossible to place the individual icon of the “migrant” against the silent utterance of the borderlands wall’s course.  The expansion of a range of border agents without legal training or familiarity with migrants’ rights, suggests a ballooning of border bureacracy, fed by U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as Homeland Security, and an expanded assertion of executive authority over immigration courts and the guarantees of due process that petitions of asylum and citizenship take into account.

The redistribution of resources from immigration courts, guarantees of due process, and legal representation to a sheer border wall, imagined to rise between thirty-five and sixty-five feed in height, or on the average fifty feet tall, of concrete reinforced by step as if to make it impossible to determine the fate of the migrant against.   For as the courts are distanced from the decision of individual cases of migrants, and the assertion of the presence of a border wall grows, we risk loosing any vantage point or understanding of the border wall.


Wall Segments.png

4.  President Trump has dramatically shifted attention to the southwestern boundary of the United States in ways tantamount to a rewriting of the body politic, even though we have not perhaps noticed–so strongly is the border wall invoked as a national need.  Presenting the unbuilt wall as a part of the nation not only isolates it from the surrounding landscape; it removes the region from the very sense of due process accorded to all persons in the United States, creating a corps of vigilant  observers mapping any person who approaches it, and stripping them of their rights of presence.  

The emergence of the border wall is a site of bullying and subtracting any guarantee for due process, as much as it is a form of protection.  Tracing a line of exclusion, and indeed mapping exclusionary practices, as much as protecting national safety, its building would corrode our  nation and even distract attention from actual criminal elements, by focussing attention on the exclusion of migrants and diminution of their civil rights, reversing practices of granting asylum or allowing legal advice.   The proposed wall on the western border would be an independent emanation of authority, monitored by bureaucracies without legal training or judicial review, enforcing a map at a remove from national laws.  Seeking to create something like a perverse facade for the nation–the sort of makeover that Trump excels in–it stands as a scrim for an intensification of confrontation and heightened control at the border, increasing chances not only of apprehension of migrants but the subtraction of any rights accorded to the migrant seeking asylum.  

The border wall would sanction the sort of lawless confrontation of border authorities with migrants seeking entry, a site sanctioning abdication of all ethics of the sort Donal Trump likes best.  For the border wall is a site of the unrestrained rehearsal of executive authority, untrammeled by compunction, or legal due process–indeed replacing a needed legal framework for hearing cases of asylum in immigration courts–currently facing a backlog of some 714,000 cases in the United States and a two year wait time–by curtailing asylum cases that reach court dockets by new border enforcement policies, and by rescinding rights to legal counsel undocumented migrants had enjoyed.




Mapping the border is a remapping of the body politic in very deep senses, as it denies any link of the nation to values–following the tortured proposition “America First”–as if the category “America” could ever be mapped separately from a body of laws, or could be abstracted from an international or global context because of its uniqueness.  If the border wall is the confusing such faulty assertions as logic, based on premises of defining the nation by exclusion and the reduction or subtraction of rights, it promising preventing entry can protect a hollowed out notion of the nation, an encouraging of racial profiling used openly by ICE and probably by Border Patrol.  The border wall seems to pursue the tortured logic of “America First” as if it were a syllogism, disregarding the place of human migrants whose claims it obliterates by the false legality of a border wall.  Only by repeatedly asserting the need for a border wall repeatedly as if it were a sign of law and order can it ever hold such a prominent place in people’s mind.

The unprecedented refusal to grant entry to the country to people who have made it to the border seeking asylum, who are denied from having legal representation, and the reduction of their rights, is justified by the “zero-tolerance” policy that the border wall maps,–and the false spatial divisions that undermine legitimate asylum claims:  for the claims of the border wall, and the elevation of border management practices in relation to a “crisis” in border-crossing now legally reclassified as a federal offense.  For Trump has convinced the nation that we are at a cross-roads, and the border wall is presented as a solution, not only for defining a continuous border by an insurmountable wall, but as the embodiment of a promise to discourage entrance into the country that stands as an excuse to rewrite our national laws, and recast the crossing of the border as a federal crime, and a violation of the religion of the border wall.  For the border wall is mapped by areas of jurisdiction of Border Patrol, as a jurisdiction separate from the rest of the nation, the border wall is a creation of the false specter of a failure to secure its illegal crossing–or moving across the border at any point other than an official port of entry or without inspection by a Customs and Border Protection officer.

Is there any way to build the wall without acknowledging the new regime of governmentality in Trump’s America?  For the border wall posits an increase in border security and a new religion of the nation close to a political theology in its defense of the border, presenting its preservation as proof of nationalism.  Trump had urged, shortly after his election, that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement move to “take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties” and immigration officers “may” indiscriminately initiate expedited removal and deportation of “unauthorized” migrants, even if a wall did not yet exist, refusing to prioritize the arrest, deportation, and removal of aliens and deeming all migrants “illegal” by their very presence.  

The effective suspension of a system of laws or human rights seeks to dehumanize migrants and to make them exemplars to discourage future undocumented migrants from undertaking cross-border travel.  The decision to imprison or detain all Central American refugees seeking asylum as illegal immigrants, to separate them from their children, who will be held in removed areas from shelters to military bases to summer camps, given the lack of beds in detention centers, destroying the unity families of migrants as if to make a model of them.  Indeed, the practice of separating families at the border–“for foster care or whatever,” John Kelly said without a trace of empathy–is not only cruel, but was intentional cruelty.  Much as most of the undocumented migrants held in detention or dehumanized, and regularly subjected to harsh almost punitive conditions of confinement in which they are not accorded any access to potentially necessary medical care, legal counsel, or contact with their families in the United States or Mexico, but put in a condition of solitary, the uncertain ground that is prepared for undocumented is designed to send a message of discouragement, part of the same practice of denying individual cases, rights, or stories that the border wall continues.  And the outsourcing of the detainment of migrants charged with federal immigration offenses in private prisons–the site of choice for housing all “illegal border crossers” to  encourage families who arrive from Central America–as if a mandate for Homeland Security and incarceration without conviction has displaced longstanding asylum laws and legal rights.

Private prisons:imprisonment rate

The long-term agitation and lobbying of such private contract prisons–who consume a huge portion of tax-payer monies, in ways that might even rival the cost of the border wall over the long-term, are not only inhumane but run against American concepts of habeas corpus and legal rights.  And as we contemplate the changing landscape of the future with the proposed border wall, we must consider the expansion of dangerous conditions of imprisonment and prison conditions in those sites run by GEO and CoreCivic who administer sites for billions of dollars per year, and that have enabled the very cruelties of incarceration and detainment along the border by incarcerating families without any standards of ethical confinement practices, and indeed without interests in rehabilitation or social integration of inmates.


The remove of these large private prisons, who have lacked adequate resources or training of correctional officers, and breed disrespect for public safety and healthy living conditions or sanitary standards, have long lobbied for the abilities for expansion, and are enabling the executive orders for incarceration that Trump’s issued at the start of his Presidency, and seeks to augment–allowing an almost infinite extension of already growing periods of detention in massive family-detention facilities without oversight, and often staffed by defense contractors who are used to gaining government contracts.  The possibility of the growth of a parasitical network of centers dedicated to medicate, train, educate, supervise and “rehabilitate” children and juveniles of course stands to further marginalize the integration of migrants in civil society, and to create a large underclass without clear affective ties to the nation or public good–even if they are compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily.


The growth of these neari-benthamite conditions of imprisonment and incarceration without being clearly charged for a crime is an undermining of justice along the proposed Border Wall.  The centers of their administration, whose headquarters are predictably located offsite at a considerable geographic remove.  The distribution of private prisons is perhaps one of the greatest engines of the border wall, although concealed from the map–both eagerly awaiting the expansion of deportation of migrants, and deeply tied to the so-called “immigration experts” at the White House and Department of Homeland Security, creating an over-determined notion of the violence that enables and is directly tied to the proposed border wall, if not mapped.  Those facilities would house a planned increase in daily detention by ICE of 80,000 immigrants per day nationwide, and a potential future escalation of the gulag of immigrant detention that the border wall would effectively jumpstart.




The growth of such an extra-legal and unsupervised gulag of private prison sites provide an unseen engine for the policies of detention of youths and families that much of the nation has protested against, but the prison complex of “baby jails,” complete with “dark rooms” and holding centers tied to the Office of Refugee Resettlement is another ballooning of the neo-corporate executive in Trump’s America, which depends on turning a cold shoulder on migrants’ fates, enabled not be government, in many ways, but by legal pushback of deep-pocketed contractors who run private prisons, and enabled by lack of concern of the law at the growth of facilities to incarcerate and detain in more privately run immigration jails, as the administration tries to reach a threshold of the ability to detain more than 50,000 migrants per day.

5.  While the border wall would run along the western boundary to define the territory, it is of course primarily designed to relate to people who seeks to cross it.  The border wall creates a geography of the nation built along rupture, rather than unity, reflecting a fantasy of transposing a line from a static map to the real world:  hoping to transform one of the most traversed borders in the world to a permanent divide that could be constantly monitored, it would map a break in territory along a long neglected ecosystem.  In ways that could never be part of the landscape in which it is mapped, the border wall would be abstracted from the landscape and from the surrounds in which it is to be built, much as a barrier:  rather than a real proposal, perhaps, the impractical, expensive, and perpetually over-budget project is itself a leap of faith in a vision of the nation, rather than an actual proposal, or a feasible one, but a promise that Trump feels he is able to make to the electorate for increasing border security, even if a program for the construction and completion of the border wall has never been defined.  

The promise to build on the border,  irrespective of varied terrain, the remoteness from concrete plants, the shared space of border cities, or private ownership of most border lands–extant fencing is constructed on government-owned lands, but 67% of property on the border lands is privately owned–removes the promise of the border wall from any context; it abstracts the demand for the wall from each and proposes a defense of an abstract nation.  Trump’s political logic demands the mapping and presentation of the border wall in the media, irrespective of the lack of any appreciation of the terrain of the border, its habitation, land ownership in the region, the remoteness of the border from construction sites, and its ecological sensitivity.  The promise of surveillance is imagined to be solved by the structure alone.  But even former Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly admits “a physical barrier [alone] will not do the job.”  The promise of a border wall–whether or not it is built–has however become a crucial part of the mental furniture of Americans–irrespective of their actual geographic location.   The Twitterer-in-Chief remaps our vulnerability as a nation when he claims “millions of people will journey into our country” leading “our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants,” creating a spatial imaginary in his erratic capitalization of abstract nouns as if only an obstructive wall can prevent a national state of emergency.  

Even never built, the massive expansion of the caseload of immigration judges and a boosting of border patrol agents in a new apparatus of border control centered in the executive alone, and expressing a new relation to the nation’s interior,   It is of course a reflection of the intense stationing of border patrol agents near ports of entry on the western border–mapped below by blue shields, which include inset stars to denote headquarters, which the border wall stands to reinforce and make materially present for all “illegal” migrants–and the wall defines all migrants as “illegal”–who would cross it, in a fundamentally new concept of the law. It stands to provoke multiple humanitarian disasters, as much to move beyond them.  For the wall is a wall of disenfranchisement, discouraging those who seek asylum, and drawing lines of exclusion that extend, in the minds of many, to all undocumented aliens in the United States, and providing the final culmination of the hundred-mile border zone that extends into the nation’s interior.


Border Terrain:landsPublic land ownership existing fencing, and border patrol stations/BBC

Google maps borderGoogle Maps image of manned border patrol stations and ports of entry


The expanded fear of an entrance of immigrants is a distortion of a spatial geography that conceals the huge negative space already created about the borderlands.  As much as responding to a crisis of immigration policy, the border wall responds to a crisis of mapping the nation’s integrity–and of strengthening its border, as Trump reminds the nation, as if all are at risk.  It does so in dangerous ways.  While the assertion of such a “state of crisis” at the border expands federal authorities under direct executive agencies–as the Dept. of Homeland Security or Border Patrol, who work without oversight, it moves the border out of the public view, cordoning the entire region as an area that is privately overseen–and that no light is shown on.  The recent protests against family separation in detention camps are the conclusion of longstanding use of detention camps that are similarly removed from public sight, removed in an archipelago of unpriced private prison, security and defense companies, many of whom are run by groups under contract to the Department of Defence.  The diminished rights within this archipelago is based on notion that immigrants are criminals–and deserve to be regarded as foreign to the social body, and hence excluded from our system of laws, in this borderlands–a region long defend over a decade as the border-industrial complex of reduced rights, detention, and an irregular, distinct, separate system of law enforcement.




2015 ICE immigration detention centersU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 72-Hour Facility Locations, August 2013


image.pngPrivate Detention Centers in United States in 2011/artwork Dreamline Cartography © 2013 Michael Dear (based on 2011 ICE Statistics)



The proposed border wall normalizes a space of separation, normalizing a geography of separation and isolation of the border as a separate regime, outside the social body and outside of our laws.   It replicates the devaluation of life and persons in a war zones, as immigrants and migrants are cast as others, and as an invading army whose lives are devalued, as former U.S. Border Patrol guard Francisco Cantú elegantly and succinctly argued who are separated from the norms, laws, and customs of the United States in a geographically removed space.  The promise to built an impenetrable border wall from poured concrete became a basis by which Trump framed and offered a contract with the disempowered, or those who considered themselves disenfranchised, and provided a basis by which Trump convinced them of their empowerment–offering the nation the sense of a makeover of its facade in the style of a master builder who has made a fortune by re-marketing hotels and buildings as monuments to himself, that has become  a basis for which Trump has sought to define the nation’s relation to the world.  For by mapping the remove of this region for a new generation, the wall would be a final step in plans to ensure that “geography would be an ally to us,” by dramatically redefining the area through which migrants pass in our own spatial geography.

We would notice the wall–and notice it from space–even as we remove ourselves from what occurs in the state of exception that has developed along the US-Mexican borderlands.  While one might do well to scrutinize the ever-increasing amounts of hazardous waste that indeed regularly crosses the border from points of entry in Brownsville, El Paso, Nogales, Calexico, and Otay Mesa, for destinations that extend across the United States, based on borer manifests, the attention to an often invoked entry of drugs, gangs, and smugglers, as well as undocumented workers, has shifted our attention from toxic post-industrial pollutants to individuals we would like to describe as the greatest risks to our nation, even as we degrade our actual environment.


image.pngDestinations in US for Hazardous Waste/Border Center (January 2004-June 2005)


For the conceit of the continuous and impermeable border wall has refracted and focussed our attention to globalism and immigration in exaggerated ways.  The lack of relation of the border wall either to local context of the borderlands has parallels to its increased growth as a criteria of prosecution–without attention to the vicissitudes and specificities of legal judgement, and at a remove from the laws or norms of legal practice.  By replacing the body of immigration laws with the definitive nature of a border wall, Trump has created an anti-monument for the nation, even if the wall is never constructed, mapping a “social body” at a remove from jurisprudence.  The false mapping of a clean, crisp borderline that Trump openly presents as a new model to define our nation and its respectability as a nation as a work project that will secure a borderlines region by which the nation has been compromised–mapping a vision of the nation  sold as a sign of collective strength–and a project that was ready to be begun.  

Trump delights in claiming to demonstrate the ease and effectiveness of the border wall, indeed, persuading them of its necessary place in the nation, despite the repeated concerns about its feasibility, cost, or effectiveness as a barrier against the entry of undocumented migrants, drugs, or gangs–the trifecta which he argues mandate the border wall–all of which are dismissed to advance the image of the protection of building a wall along the border.  As much as a line, of course, the “border” stretches a full hundred miles into the interior, in toto including as much as two thirds of the entire population, and extending along a zone far more complex to administer and patrol than the simple line that Trump has mapped with insouciance as if it can be completed independently of the difficulty of it terrain or geographical remove.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Far  more than building a wall along a border divide, the border wall offers a mental re-mapping of national security, nativism, and isolationism, circumscribing individual rights.  As a negative mapping to civic space, occurring on its edges and based on exclusion, the promised border wall united an unlikely range of constituencies around the need for a sheer  border boundary–nationalist; white supremacist; racist; xenophobic; unemployed; economically insecure; fundamentalist–seems daunting to unpack as an assembly, but all of whom bought the promise of its modernity, even if the notion of a border wall is more aptly described as a pre-modern solution to a post-modern problem–as Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas put it, a “medieval or fourteenth-century solution called [simply] ‘the Wall’ to a twenty-first century problem”–rather than understanding the border or cross-border traffic as a problem of migration, instability, and deepening economic divides.  

Fencing at Border


The threat of immigration are largely of the past.  But as a chant from Trump’s campaign rallies that celebrated a break from politics as usual–“Build the wall!”–the promised border wall, even if its construction is long deferred, has provided a toxic future vision of the nation, incredibly able to unite groups thought incompatible with one another.  The  collective fixation on a geographic site may reflect a  form of mental mapping of territory of increased reactionary nature in an age of GPS, when the relevance of boundaries and boundary lines have all but vanished as cartographic markers from maps, when states geographical positions by point-based data, and boundaries are feared to have dropped off our maps.  Even if it is not constructed on the US-Mexico border, the imaginary construction has gained prominence in Trump’s rhetoric and for his followers in ways that provide and constitute a post-border map of nativist integrity removed from laws.  

6.  The promise of a border wall was imagined by Trump as a sort of monument for his legacy.  But it remaps our nation and national ethos, by denying rights of migrants seeking asylum and extending a state apparatus or complex that is removed from legal review, as well as creating a false sense of security and shifting attention from the value of a secular civil society.   The hollowed out ethos of the religion of the border wall has proved a basis for  racist taunts, and create a veneer of respectability for the positions of “the exclusive representative of approximately 18,000 Border Patrol Agents and support personnel assigned to the U.S. Border Patrol,” Brandon Judd, that “if we do not secure our borders, American communities will continue to suffer at the hands of gangs, cartels and violent criminals preying on the innocent.”  

The false security of all Americans that the border wall promises–and the dangers of an “open border” as the greatest threat to the greatest nation–has allowed border patrol agents and local law enforcement to legitimize a racist agenda by which they have assailed local border communities and stand to allowed ethnic and racial profiling to become part of our governmental practices.  Indeed, the increased prominence of racial profiling in the practices of immigration where an increased premium is placed on “the fact that the person is here illegally” tramples constitutional rights through unlawful searches both on the border,  on highways, on public buses and on neighborhood streets in ways that seem to legitimize longstanding practices of racial profiling by ICE agents. (Since the  immigration enforcement depends on stereotyping and generalization to bring charges, racial profiling practices cannot lead charges to be dismissed.)  For the border wall would go to fund an increased policing of the border by agents not trained in migrant rights.

As much as a structure, the proposal for the border wall even as a map stands to embody and concretize–before being cast in sheer concrete–national fears.  Indeed, by presenting itself as definitively preventing cross-border transit and mirroring the current ““zero-tolerance policy” at the border, the false strength of the wall undermines a policy of strength for dealing with our neighbors.  As Trumpist media tells the nation that the 2,300 migrant children separated from their parents at the border (and held in isolation camps apart from family contact) just “aren’t are kids”–unlike the children of Idaho or Texas–the border has grown as a site of apprehension, detention, criminalization and family separation, a site of deportation without prioritizing their danger to the nation-casting the misdemeanor of “illegal entry” as federal crimes meriting deportation.  The border wall maps an effective absence of prosecutorial discretion removing legal judgment from defining the illegality of border-crossing.  The separation of individuals from rights distorts human rights and remaps the rights of all migrants, children, and refugees in a betrayal of our values and deepest principles:  the refusal to allow journalists, lawyers, or the International Red Cross to visit the centers where they are detained suggests how fearful the administration is of their conditions.



The betrayal of liberty have foreclosed the narratives or stories of migrants, and their rights of liberty, by rehabilitating the border in a built form in an age of global geographic positioning, where border crossing is demonized as a danger to the national safety to divide Americans, and separate individuals from their rights.  As much as only mapping a spatial divide, even if it runs along the border, the border wall seems a decisively “post-border” map, abstracting the idea of the border and remapping an ideal of the nation by pulling attention from its social coherence to the protection of its edges.  The increased elevation of attention to the southwest border as a site of the entry of renamed “illegals,” whose entrance into the body politic is misleadingly mapped onto crime, drugs, and a desire to work for low wages has directed increasing attention to immigration as a problem, and indeed as an invasion of a nativist image of the nation–

Migration Policy Institute, Undocumented Immigrants by County and State of Residence, 2010-14


Pew Research, based on data of 2014 (2017)

–that seems to outgrow usual practices of governance.  Indeed, the  border wall stands for a new form of governance during the Trump Presidency, from the first direction of attention to the conceit during the Presidential campaign, where it became such a central platform for the political vision that Trump came to articulate.  

During Trump’s Presidency, the border wall as it has rehabilitated a form of primitive classification–to adopt the term to which Durkheim and Mauss called attention in an essay of 1903–in the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair, it must be noted, in a work that demands to be read in the context of his defense of a secular republic by the son of a lineage of eminent rabbis from eastern France–in which Durkheim and his nephew turned to ancient China, Australian natives, Native American tribes as the Zuni, Sioux, and Omaha, to explicate the societal roots of spatial categories that blurred the division between nature and culture.  The spatial division of the border wall proposes the “natural” divide between sovereign systems–between “failing states” and the “United States”–as categories removed from any social origins or genesis, and as bridging culture and and nature as concepts transcending individual thought.  


7.  The border wall serves to generate oppositions–as Mauss’s forms of primitive classification–between criminals or illegals and law-abiding citizens, between gangs and smugglers and American society, between “failed states” and the United States, and naturalizes each as a categorical oppositions that seem inherent in nature, and accepted conceptual forms and tools of thought difficult for individuals to escape, as if they were indeed eternally given.  The fiction of the wall demands to be examined as a sociology of knowledge which manufactures categorical oppositions  that seek to shift debate around immigration and migrants from their actual lives:  it exists, even if it is unbuilt, of a figure of collective social and economic meaning of the sort Mauss described as the “total fact,” but acts as a map, resting on but going beyond economics, social safety, or social institutions.

If Mauss cleverly noted that “Aristotelian categories are not the only ones that exist or that have existed in the human mind” as a personal revelation, as much as a conviction, the mapping of the wall conceals the multiple oppositions it creates.  The sense of a categorical set of oppositions that go beyond the  individual person is perpetuated by the conceit of the border wall.  The fiction of the wall acts as a map in affirming this division between nations as a set of oppositions needing to be maintained.  Although “immigration reform” was debated for decades, Trump redefined the southwest border as a well-defined focus for national defense more explicitly than previous presidents.  Even though far more non-Mexicans than Mexicans are apprehended at the border, questions of border management increasingly appealed to the American electorate as a problem Trump’s campaign boasted he would resolve:  the questions of the ability of governmental agencies as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol to manage the border are bracketed, as the border wall represents a powerful symbol of a shift in governmental policies.  Rather than focussing on the stories or fates of migrants, or describe the fate of migrants as an “urgent humanitarian situation,” as President Obama, calls for an impulse to build the wall suggests a dramatic new mapping of the nation and of its civil liberties, and the prominence of the executive in determining and guiding border policy.

The wall stands for a broad sacrifice of civil liberties–the consequence of the remapping of borders and borderlands as subject to military authority is almost the inverse of an interactive map which accommodates individual agency.  For in the face of exact mapping of spatial position, the wall offers a retrograde “dumb” map of the nation’s border–and a map generated by the concept of Homeland Security more than nation, or the compulsion to remap Homeland in the Age of Trump, to guard the nation against those seeking to improve their lot.  The definition a “border wall” defines a new relation to space, as it increasingly projects a new relation of the United States to the world, less as a beacon of liberty or a home of freedoms, than a disturbingly hollowed out the ideals of a state.  Affixing a monosyllabic bumper sticker to the metal fencing at the border suggests the deep ties of the new mapping of the border as an impediment to a figure for executive authority–separately from the judiciary or the process of judicial review, and existing by executive orders that are themselves disembodied from existing laws which Trump takes every opportunity to discredit, undermine, and dismiss.


There is no law at the border, because the border wall separates itself from any body of existing laws of immigration, asylum, or civil rights.  Although the border wall seems to follow a fixed border, it creates the conceit of the stability to contain fears of global immigration flows by false security.  Such fears have grown in recent years since the refugee crisis of 2015–a crisis refracted oddly through trans-border migration in dehumanized images of dangerous “transborder flows” mapped as in need of control.  The border wall is premised on casting immigrants as a national threat.  It is unusurprising that it was promoted by a man whose entry into politics was to cast immigrants from Mexico as criminals and “rapists” and has long demonized the other or outsider, and shown disdain for legal practice:  with a poisoned rhetoric of demonization as vicious and insistent as his attack on the “Central Park Five”–never convicted of a crime but charged without evidence by racial profiling–Trump as a candidate demonized undocumented immigrants as a principal national threat in ways that illustrated his lack of suitability for public politics.  

Trump seems to have grown in attraction to the vision of a border wall as a site repelling othered subjects by denying their right of entrance and a map of national safety; the exclusion shifts a once permeable membrane by classifying migrants who seek to move across the border as alternately criminal, unfamiliar with American laws or ways, poor, needy, and predominantly rural in origin, to arrest the “streams of migrants” who threaten the nation.  But the border wall stands to create far greater humanitarian dangers by the pseudo-rationality of the “border calculus.”  The image of thresholds at the border was drafted in 2006, during the administration of President George W. Bush; it defined thresholds to contain cross-border migration as a rational infrastructure provides perhaps the most telling archetype for the border wall.  

Although we often don’t like to admit it, given its deep illiberalism, Americans elected Trump because he promised to build a border wall.  The solidity of the proposed border wall conceals its actual nature as a sign of tyranny, once it is presented as a crucial part of a religion of the state by the Trump administration, necessary to defend the homeland and public safety: but the radical incommensurability of the border wall with any actual threat–as with many global right-wing almost reflexive reactions to fears of immigration–lacks clear relation to the very threats which it claims to react, which it abstracts form any sense of a shared administration of borderlands, or a sense of the specificity of their terrain, habitat, or settlement.  But the wall is primarily a geography of exclusion, about detection, tracking, and apprehension at the border, rather than about individual migrants and their stories or petitions for asylum.

Border Calculus DHS Strategy

Homeland Security Watch/from Testimony of Deborah J. Spero and Gregory Giddens before U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, presented Nov. 15, 2006


8.  Despite the indication of a global context by an orienting compass in the lower right, the border structure seems a microcosm designed to apprehend the “illegal alien” whose criminality is defined prior to charges being brought, and define a space for the Border Patrol Authorities to monitor the borderlands.  Rather than to accommodate the needs or stories of migrants seeking to travel across it, the border wall serves to define migrants’ “illegality” as “undocumented aliens” and offer a site for immediate apprehension, staging a conflict between two nations–albeit without an actual declaration of war–and is an artifact of the conceit of the Homeland that emerged after 9/11, with the rise of the Border Patrol Agency to monitor Ports of Official Entry into our borders, and the problems of border management that Bush promised to resolve have led to the definition of the border as a basis for the pile-up of criminal prosecutions of deportation proceedings that seem to have strategically paralyzed our legal courts, by using criteria of border-crossing alone as a basis for the definition of a federal crime, and justifying the erasure and silencing of migrants’ voices:  it is as if there is no geography of the border beyond the “vanishing point.”


border calculus barrier fence in center

Homeland Security Watch/from Testimony of Deborah J. Spero and Gregory Giddens before U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security, presented Nov. 15, 2006  (detail)


The increased suspension of human rights and legal rights around the border reflects attempts to remap what was a line as a no-man’s-land of surveillance and policing, complete with vanishing point seems an area outside the government, but maintained by the Border Patrol.  For the proposed border wall would define a new threshold of criminality, and provide evidence of the guilt of “illegal aliens” in crossing the border zone, demanding their deportation for committing a federal offense in crossing them.  Longstanding concern about the permeability of the southern border were evoked by Trump to make the need of wall even more real, as invoking the fiction of a “real” wall able to block all “unauthorized” immigrants assumed concrete contours, even if it is never built.  Trump early and repeatedly promised to create this “real wall” along this border–although in what sense any border was ever “real” is unclear, although this recalls the Department of Homeland Security’s insistence on a “physical wall,” rather than fencing–to establish a threshold of legality, and magnify the danger of managing border-crossing within the national imaginary–defining the border-crossing as at the root of broad vulnerability to threats to jobs, economic security, drug addiction and public health. and redefining the notion of government by removing it from any public benefits.

The border wall misleadingly presents itself as a break from politics as usual.  Trump urged, shortly after the election, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to “take enforcement action against all removable aliensencountered in the course of their duties” and immigration officers “may”indiscriminately initiate expedited removal and deportation of “unauthorized” migrants, even if a wall did not yet exist, refusing to prioritize the arrest, deportation, and removal of aliens and deeming all migrants “illegal” by their very presence.  But it is a dare or conceit of bravado of such extreme implausibility, continuous with the past patrolling of the border, if  magnified in size and cost.  Despite heterogenous boundaries built over the past 12 years in the Bush and Obama administrations on the border, peaking between 2006-8, when 481 miles of fencing were built between Mexicali and El Paso, the vaunting of an “impenetrable” “real” wall would replace them all:  compelling in its linear bluntness, it serves to concretize a response able to contain what seem to be proliferating dangers of immigration flows on which we have lost purchase–and the ability adequately to map in the collective imaginary.  But the promise of the wall has run over actual immigration laws, or any sense of due legal process accorded to all migrants or immigrants, the ethos of the border wall lies a remove from ideals of good governance, or any principles of human rights:  the border wall would subsume all bureaucracy to a faceless refusal of entry, and something like an exhaustion of hope.

But despite clear continuities in border policy with earlier administrations, the new significance of the map of the border wall that works to provide evidence of migrants’ criminality.  Indeed, it defines the relation of the subject of the migrant to the state policy and governmental representatives, and the role of the border wall as a map that claims to represent and affirm American interests makes it not only dangerous to the borderlands environment and to migrants, but to the nation.   The proposals that were acclaimed by “the exclusive representative of approximately 18,000 Border Patrol Agents and support personnel assigned to the U.S. Border Patrol” have come to be falsely accepted as a basis for national interests.  In the new theology of the state, the border is a space now meriting intense collective attention, transforming its place at the fringes of our attention, despite the destruction of civil life in parts of the nation.  In the new theology of the state, the border is a space not meriting attention, preservation of the rights of its inhabitants, or according and guaranteeing rights of legal representation, but may stand for the broad emptying of civil protections of the nation, subtracted from a sense of the polis.

The border wall is a conceit of boundary drawing, affirming collective identity, and rejecting what is cast as contamination, as if to preserve a vision of purity.  “Illegal entry is a crime,” DHS Secretary Nielsen has intoned, suggesting that all asylum seekers as legitimate Ports of Entry will not be prosecuted, but that lack of evidence of a verified familial relationship demands scrutiny, and blames Congressional laws for the splitting of families at the border, arguing that many of the alleged parents in fact pose security risks to the common good, and blame the immigrants “put their [own] children at risk,” and allow them to be exposed to anti-trafficking laws that Trump seeks to enforce.  While allowing migration cases to balloon in dockets and detention camps to become overloaded in a complex web of bureaucracies of immigration, in hopes to create consensus on the border wall, the separation of just under 4,000 children from their families–over 3,700 and counting–creates a bureaucratic confusion of thousands of children until the border wall can be begun.


9.  The very mean-spirited blaming of migrants for causing risks to their children in a “zero-tolerance policy” of procedural detainment seeks to stop faceless “streams of migrants” threatening to move across the border.  But if follows the logic of a border wall by masking all sense individuality or humane reaction to the plight of migrants who seek to move northwards, to better their own fortunes.  For if migrants wrestle with the presence of the more fortified areas of the border to which most roads and itineraries lead, as this hand-painted map in Tabasco of immigration routes in the Age of Trump reveals, the border wall promises a turning a cold shoulders on migrants’ individual cases.


imageMural map on migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco by Mizar Martín,  indicating migrant routes, train routes, shelters and dangers  October 2017/ Froylán Enciso

If the mural map of possible migrant routes–complete with keys for shelters, and conveying a fluid movement across space on the curved side of the wall of the shelter in Tabasco, traces a sense of fluid movement from Central America, the Border Wall that was recently reinforced by what Trump feared an invasion of Central American migrants Mexican authorities failed to stop, in an unseemly Twitter tirade revealed his unseemly fixation on desires for the border wall, as if it were a safeguard for the nation, even though they were themselves fleeing poverty, violence, persecution, and civil unrest.  The remapping of migrant hopes, in short, were achieved by the evocation of the specter of a border wall, destined to obscure their plight–and leading him to threaten foreign aid to Honduras so necessary to restore regional stability.  The clear-sighted and informative nature of Mizar Martín’s detailed mural showing migrant routes, train tracks, shelters and dangerous places, and noting the nations from which many hopeful migrants originated, suggests a more perceptive regional map than the fortified border Trump projects to the nation, and presents to the world illustrates his administration’s immigration policies and priorities–and which thumbs its nose at immigrants’ experience or plight.

IMG_5747_mappano72-1220x763Mural map at migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco, México/Tamara Skubovius

The painted mural traces a hopeful identity whose reproduction traces an image of hope.   As if in contrast to these maps, the invocation of a border wall seeks to obscure migrants’ identity, silence their stories, and to turn a cold shoulder to the extent to which povertyviolence, corrupt local police and increasing gang wars send increased numbers of Central Americans to seek safety north across the border, seeking to escape unmitigated civil unrest, and leading to the remapping of routes to a site of future hope and greater tranquility.  The sense of hope of a j0urney across the border has led similar painted mural maps to affirm the ability of migrating to the more welcoming cities of the United States–Tuscon, San Antonio, Houston–and casa de migrantes lying north of the border.  The map of hope preserved in the mural painting–and others like it–seem to preserve a sense of hope before the proposed border wall.



The authoritarianism of the border seems to remap the hopeful itineraries of migration, and erase all traces of future migration, as it turns a cold shoulder toward the fate or circumstances of migrants and refugees, and seeming to foreclose their requests for asylum or possibility of hope.

For the border wall denies legal options to migrants, blocking possibilities of undocumented immigration that have been so widely demonized.  The border wall would replace the inadequacy of immigration courts to process immigration cases, whose current build-up only seems to expand an unwieldy network of unsupervised detention camps.  The wall promises a resolution of the problems of migrants entering United States with children for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has evoked the authority of the still unbuilt wall as a salvific narrative for the nation, whose alternative is lawlessness:  “If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness,” Sessions argues, we won’t face these terrible choices,” alluding to policies of separating children from their parents at the border, or of detaining the over 10,000 children held in border camps apart from their parents.  Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, oddly shifts blame from Trumpist policies by demanding “legislation to close legal loopholes that are being exploited to gain entry into our country.”  

But the lack of a clear policy of responsible governance at the border raises deep questions about the suitability of the governance policies of the border wall, and its remapping of the nation:  the unsupervised conditions of a detention apparatus that include a Brownsville center housing nearly 1,500 children, converted from a Walmart Supercenter, where many are revealed to be drugged with sedatives and powerful psychotropic drugs, anti-psychotics and anti-depressants to render them docile, raises questions about how it serves the nation, or how policies of family separation at the border justly expands the power of the state over the individual, separating families detained in unsupervised ways for having violating the law by crossing the border, as they are informed, once they are charged with illegal entry of the nation they sought to take refuge in.

The border wall illustrates a new definition of the presence of executive authority on the border.  So much is reflected in the expansion of camps of detention for future deportation, responding to the false threats of immigration evoked on the campaign trail.  The current flooding of immigration courts with migrants seized by U.S. Border Patrol and of detention camps with underage children may be a bargaining chip and warning against future migrants–if unsuccessful–but evoke the fears of migrants’ arrival.

The dispersion of maps that hold migrants taken from parents at the border–or who attempted to cross the border to enter the US unaccompanied by parents–have exceeded their limits along the border to accommodate a surge of Central American children, but reveal a geography of detainment across the nation–often in privately run detainment camps for youth costing American taxpayers over $1.5 billion to run over a hundred such shelters in seventeen states, often regularly administrating sedatives and anti-psychotics without parents’ permission, some now accommodating child migrants at over 150% capacity–and leading at least 20,000 beds for unaccompanied migrant children to be prepared at military bases–and further facilities to be created.  The legality of such centers remains open–

MIgrant camps used to detain minors.png

–from the over 1,400 children detained in a camp in Brownsville TX alone, to the hundreds in or near Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso.

Brownsville sized.png

Indeed, the complex of the border wall that has emerged in Trump’s co-called presidency reflects how immigration forms the majority of federal criminal prosecutions, bloating courtrooms in southwestern Texas with double the caseloads of previous months, and results form the lack of prioritizing immigration arrests and a failure to acknowledge immigrant narratives.  The promise of a border wall elevates border-crossing from a misdemeanor, emphasizing its criminality, and amassing border police and immigration authorities to process migrants as criminals.  It provide a means of dehumanizing the migrant.  

The invocation of the wall neglects our own national needs and divide the body politic, even as they disrupt the notion of a nation guided by a body of laws.  It accompanies the increased deportation of individuals without any discretion, and the cuts in foreign aid to Central American nations to police or respond to rises in organized crime under the pressure of stricter border enforcement.  For the construction of the border wall ignores actual infrastructures of education, public transportation, and open access that America most needs.  The demonization of border-crossing as a solution to multiple problems oddly recuperates a demonizing rhetoric that was effectively deployed by Nazi Party in Weimar Germany, to lend a sense of objectification to the foreign immigrant.  The recent statement by President Trump of the need for a border wall to prevent “illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country“–an image echoing Nazi propaganda casting Jews as a bacillus, mapping the migration of Jewry to Europe and the rest of the world to parasitical rats, carrying not the plague but crime, gangsterism, and shady financial transactions to the greater world by crossing the boundaries of national border lines.  The purchase of the promise of a border wall, and the values that it incarnates surprisingly echoed such a demonization of border-crossing suggest in ways beyond disquieting, and seems to seek to map a new vision of the roots of modernity in dislocation and cross-border migrations


Others Wnadered.png

 image.pngNazi Propoganda Film showing the migration of the Jews from the Euphrates to Egypt, Europe and to the greater world by the eighteenth century (1940)


If such a visual rhetoric of border-crossing is seen as disrupting a “natural” order, the deployment of the border wall to “make America great again” advances a similar naturalization of the nation and naturalization of the “homeland.”  The border wall is compelling in its linear bluntness of containing cross-border flows of migrants–but all the more bizarre in that it is planned along one of the most traversed borders in the world.   But the border wall has helped Americans concretize a response to a global problem, pretending to contain proliferating dangers of immigration flows on which so many have lost purchase, it erases the stories of the migrants themselves, and seeks to subject them to the state.  Is the border wall enough to give the nation a bearing on numerous problems of immigration that Trump–who seems more eager to announce the crises of national consequence than any recent President, as if he thrives off of crisis without concern for the national psyche or well-being–seems set to evoke?  

More to the point, perhaps, the border wall is an illustration of a new form of governmentality over the individual migrant, and the entry into the nation, more similar to a nation with deeply troubled relation to its neighbors:  it provides a form to address the complex of immigration and immigration reform that Trump has promised as a way to keep immigrants out, and echoes the carceral state to which it is so closely tied, far more than the border-fencing that was begun back in 1997.   And so, turning away attention from true  effects of the wall on migrants, Trump celebrates the wall as a reform of laws, or a replacement for law; a response of executive power; and a means of not reviewing or hearing the stories of individual migrants or acknowledging their voices, in ways that seem to echo the Berlin Wall or the frontier of a Cold War.

Fence:Wall Trump


10.  Trump has tried to narrow and refract proliferating crises of globalization from a global point of view to the point of view of one nation–in a new iteration of America First–and though the border wall.  But the conceit of the border wall on which Trump was elected rests on a distortion that it affirms a place–or line–in relation to a global crisis to which it offers less of a realistic response than a retrograde complication. The southwestern border was first defined a site that required monitoring in the Nixon era, and the United States has long struggled to accommodate the different topographical problems of varied terrain, broad rivers, and existing laws and habitat of the region, the simplistic and univocal nature of a single, uniform wall Trump proposed–“a great great wall”–as if to distinguish it from China’s Great Wall as an illustration of state power.

Unlike the Great Wall, however, the border wall is a structure of total governmentality and a ballooning government bureaucracy that defines state power over the subject of the migrant.  Rather than define a “place,” or even the space, the proposed border wall is a conceit is that it abstracts the border from humanity.  Indeed, the presence of forts and fortified stations in the Great Wall might be the most compellingly similar feature both would hold in common, with the image of insularity that they seek to project.

Building a border wall is not a simple project: few earlier Presidents would imagine such an immensity.  Its construction along 2,000 miles of borderlands would call for a massive amount of poured concrete, shipped across huge spaces, many workmen, and much labor, and would be projected to necessitate an increase of border patrol agents, and a 50% growth of immigration officers to guard it.  The border wall would make the entire border region a site of military management; it would obscure and deny legal rights in the country, collectively define migrants as criminals. For the border wall creates prison bars through which to view all lands south if the ‘border’ and the new governance of the region. The combined presence on the borderlands of the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who plan to build tent cities designed for 1-5,000 in Texas for unaccompanied children crossing the border, to be run by Health and Human Services, as at the Tornillo Port of Entry, near El Paso, a U.S. Border Protection facility.  They define a new space of governmentality–removed from courts or representation, and removed from any court system or representation.  For this reason, the possible origins of the wall in Trump’s campaign and in our political discourse demand to be examined, despite their odious nature.

The proposed border wall maps out a surrogate for a notion of governmentality and government practices–and the relation of the individual to governance–in ways so absurd that it is only apt that they have concretized around practices of separating children from their families, and placing them in separate facilities, as the wall suggests one of the most rudimentary means of population control for those who face it, even as it stands, apart from its context, as a floating signifier of national power.  Despite its immensity and the challenges posed by its engineering, the border wall exists in the mental imaginary, as well, defined against an unnamed individual subject–as much as to divide space, it creates a new legal space for individuals, and indeed for all who migrants it groups in a collective.

For the notion of the wall along the border seeks to materialize a permanent divide that obscures the relation of the wall to the individuals who cross the border annually, and to shift attention from the migrants to the criminality of migrants in ways that erase their stories in a definitive fashion.  Even if it is not built–or not completed–the success of its construction in a collective mental geography effectively criminalizes all migrants–both undocumented and not, all of whom are made more invisible by the proposed border wall, as they are placed outside the country and its laws.






The cognitive power of the border wall were most recently materialized in several faux mock-ups–segments of wall intended to constitute the “continuous” and “impenetrable” wall to replace fencing Trump has dismissed as easily breached–resemble prison architecture.  If Trump dismissed fencing as easily  and scaled to guard the Homeland effectively, the border wall offers an alternative patriotic vertically hanging flag, its canton and honor point able to be seen from either side, and fashioned as an opaque strip, undoing the form of the flag from all obligations of heraldic etiquette.

The talismanic nature of these “prototypes”–mock ups slightly removed  the border–was meant to evoke the prominent place of the border wall, and to restore or reinforce  in the psychological and mental imaginary of our new national space.  Repeated throughout the Presidential campaign as if a mantra, evocation of “the promised wall on the southwestern border” has redefined a relation to the nation–and indeed been presented as a form of love for the nation–by the master builder who would be US President.  And although the request for a “solid, Concrete Border Wall” in March, 2017–described as the President’s building medium of choice–became a secret state project, as “too sensitive” to be released by a Freedom of Information Act, by the Department of Homeland Security, designed to meet demands to be impossible to tunnel under, and impenetrable to sledgehammers or other battery-operated electric tools for at least an hour, seem something of a simulacrum of the state that is both all too obstructive for actual migrants and cherished by many Americans.

In girding the nation against multiple dangers, and providing a new sign of patriotism that seems to replace the flag:  indeed, the flag-like proportions of these mock-ups seems to suggest a new flag for the nation, the promise of the border wall has allowed such a range of audiences to cathect to the national boundary–a sense that was perhaps predicted in the repainting of a section of the existing border wall of welded metal and steel near San Diego, the very site where a caravan of Central American migrants would arrive where they were taken by President Trump as an illustration of the fear of the dangers of cross-border immigration–a sort of surrogate for the purification of the country, restoration of the economy, and an elevation of the minimum wage, wrapped into a poisoned promise of poured concrete.



The inverted flag that a group of U.S. military veterans painted near Tijuana on older fencing in 2013 staged a signal of distress.  Deported former navy chose the wall as a site for a cry of emergency:  they are eerily prescient of the flag-like nature of the mock-ups, sections of which uncannily resemble a vertically hoisted flag.  Disabled veteran Amos Gregory, a San Francisco resident, completed the painting with twenty deported veterans to paint the flag, but expressed shocked at charges of using an iconography “hostile toward the United States of America,” and chose the inverted flag as a distress signal–to show honor to the flag, and to “mean no disrespect” to the nation, but to raise alarm at its  policies.  His dismay when asked to remove the mural by US Border Patrol sent a message of censorship as an attack on freedom of expression; Gregory incorporated crosses to commemorate on the wall the migrants who died seeking to enter the United States for better lives and livelihoods,  undermining the ideals of freedom he cherished. By placing their memory on the wall, he sough not to dishonor the flag, but to use it as a symbol of extreme gravity that respects its ideals–and the etiquette of flag display, in the manner adopted at future protests at the current marginalization of migrants seeking asylum as they enter the border zone.


distress at Ptotest


The current mock-ups suggest, if unconsciously, an actual evacuation of patriotic ideals.  The MAGA President might have been conscious of how several of the so-called prototypes suggested a flag turned on its end, as if in a new emblem of national strength–




–as if to offer them a new symbol of the nationalism of a new nation.  The segment of this prototype recalls the flag suspended vertically, as on a wall or over a door, above the border that has become a prominent character in the current President’s Twitter feed, and evokes the ties between terrorism and immigration that Trump has long proposed the government recognize and acknowledge, despite having few proofs of these connections, acting as an assertion of the implied criminality of all immigrants who do not cross border check points by legal protocol, no matter their actual offense.


11.  The compact about the construction of the border wall has, against all probability, become the latest in faux populist promises since the Contract with America to pose fictive contracts of illusionary responsibility and reciprocity to the democratic process, and have provided new tools of assent.  The faux consensual ties with the electorate perpetuate a fiction that a democracy runs on the contractual obligations between a government and populace, but have early been so focussed on geographically specific terms.  But in an age of anti-government sentiment, the icon of the wall has become an effective icon of describing the ineffectiveness of prior administrations, and an iconology embodying the new role of the executive in the age of Trump:  in an age of global mapping that seems to disrespect and ignore borders, we imagine migrants moving across them with the aid of GPS, or Google Maps, empowered by the location of border check-points on their cross-border transit,–


Google maps borderGoogle Maps

In a rejoinder to these fears, the proposed border wall would map a continuity among the stations in different sectors administered by the US Border Patrol, already strikingly dense, and apparently easy to connect by a solid wall–



Border Checkpoints

–and an obstacle that will allow better the apprehension of migrants who will be confined by Homeland Security agents, deprived of their rights, in the multiple improvised and established detention centers–mostly private–that are on the other side of the border.  The penal architectural idiom of the border wall prototypes resonate with the penal archipelago of detention centers–a new Siberia–that lie, removed from population centers and non-profits dedicated to immigrant rights or advocacy, in the desert wilderness of our over-heated southwest, an inversion of the frozen north that was the site of Russian labor camps in the Cold War that they increasingly recall as a gulag.

border detentionENDIsolation Immigration Detention/Freedom for Immigrants Map immigrant jails (red); visitation centers (lavender); Jails (blue); private prisons (black)

While proto-nationalist and defensive in its tenor, Trump presented the border wall is aggressive, and cast as epochally significant as a site of national rebirth.   It was presented on the campaign trail in almost intentionally biblical terms and in epochal tones as if it proclaimed new era not only of immigration policy but of the nation, filled with redemptive associations, if not as a benchmark of historical proportions in American empire.  But it is more insidiously the basis for a shift in government that makes the end of a republic, and surely of civil rights:  for the border wall is prosed as a declaration of the purity of the nation or the project of making America great again–and doing so in uppercase in an echo of his own presence to  virility and strength, and to his break from politics as usual.  The “new era” of the wall that the eager insistence on the border wall at Trump’s rallies was perhaps not understood as a basis for cathecting with audiences apt to fear an end of times and eager for a new age, or at least a sign of purification.  The monumental scope of its construction is aligned with a new age not only of border policy but of governmentality–hence akin, perhaps, to China’s Great Wall in its striving for symbolic purity of the nation, and of a recognition of our nation’s ability to stop historical change.

Trump’s projection “we are currently beginning to build” a structure that will define a new era is not itself new.  For it recycles all the old tropes of naturalizing the separation of religions or peoples, repeating and extending the charges of criminalization of refugees and migrants in previous decades, behind a newly ramped up promise of purity, and a new offer of a religion of the border wall designed to purify the nation, and to rewrite our laws.  The escalation near the borderlands of apprehension of migrants–an increasing number of whom are families with children and unaccompanied children, most from Central America–has meant an expanding number of temporary sites for immigrants waiting climes for asylum and holding centers, with uniformly poor sanitary and living conditions.  The escalation of cries for its construction provoke a decline in relations between the U.S. and Mexico, which have deteriorated in proportion to talk of the border wall–the clear presence of the border wall through many twinned cities on either side of it reveals just how connected the two nations are.  

imageSasha Trubetskoy (2016)

But the abstraction of the wall from place that Trump’s language suggests conceals the fact that the US-Mexico border is in fact among the most inhabited, most shared, and the most frequently crossed in the world–which most all maps of the border wall conveniently omit.  The removal of the border wall from all actual sites of settlement or habitation would redefine a new “transborder region” of jurisdiction, encompassing all metropolitan regions and suggesting a new region that stands to replace the nation in our mental imaginaries–extending some hundred miles into the nation–as able to be more fully monitored by agencies as Homeland Security and Immigration and US Customs, remapping the government onto the nation in very clear ways.


The Border Wall would indeed approximately map, in particularly somber ways sites of the greatest migrant deaths, according to the International Center for Migration, in ways that are presented as able to bracket or exclude the very problem of entries of undocumented immigrants into the United States, by preventing any attempts of border crossing, and denying all attempts.



Rather than appeal to these laws, Trump seemed to appeal to a religion of the nation.  His attacks on the existing “faulty” laws were not based on legal expertise, but the systematic disparagement of legal rights and destruction of legal protections in favor of a religion of the nation that rises, to replace it, in the place of a nation of laws.  The violent obstruction created by the wall lies not only in the obstruction that it creates on the ground, but the new model it creates to map sovereignty, or remap sovereignty, not based on legal protections but by and for creating a sharply uneven access to justice, from immigration courts to the rights we accord others.

The border wall justified the xenophobic desire to gird and bind the nation in ways that run against the actual map of cross-border flows, in ways that have normalized them within political discourse in what were previously almost unthinkable ways.  Indeed, it has generated a new notion of border management in the Trump Presidency that we increasingly see playing out in the erosion of rights of immigrants who confront the wall.  The proposal of the border wall, enthusiastically endorsed by the U.S. Border Patrol Union, has become a pillar of Trump’s brand of nationalism that has created a new regime of governmentality in the southwestern borderlands–and far removed from the proposed site of the border wall.

Trump’s piling up of adjectives seemed oddly ekphrastic as he returned so often to an ““impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall” has convinced us to find a national lack–and a new metaphor for the nation,  so powerful that it seemed to define the global relation of the United States to the world not in laws but in poured concrete.  The border wall that launched much of Trump’s campaign has become a critical part of political discourse itself–a promise of Trump’s distance from politics as usual practices, and defense of American interests–and a platform of Republican politics, ostensibly defining Trump’s opposition to politics-as-usual, even if it is an escalation of a longstanding militarization of the border and criminalization of migrants, evident largely in the archipelago of unlawful sites of detention that strip those detained from rights to consult, rights to speech, or even rights to health and well-being, and separate them from their families and children in deeply painful ways.  As the border wall blocks the future of migrants, it suggests a poor human management and environmental management across our borderlands.

Although the border wall has been claimed to have been born with Trump’s candidacy, as Minerva from the head of Jupiter, fully armed, the border wall processes a long marginal view of the nation threatened by external threats, and of the Homeland, nourished in the  Homeland Security Department or new version of the Dept. of Interior.  Created to defend against emergencies within and at its borders, as much as manage its interior populations,  the notion of Homeland Security is epitomized by the wall, and reflects the subsuming of Immigration and Border Patrol to the defense of “Homeland” that the border wall maps.  Rather than define a space, or a national space, the border wall seems a suspension of legality that reinforces the limited rights of those detained in the existing archipelago of detention centers.  Such centers, constructed and maintained to strip migrants of their freedoms as they await hearings on asylum, have long served as sites suspend all personal liberties and freedoms.  The wall itself–built against international law, and with dispensations to over-ride existing federal laws of historical preservation, conservation, and protection of public land, and even crossing the border into Mexico’s own national space, emblematizes the power of the executive office over legal tradition.  

As a structure of illegality that replaces the law, the wall is the epitome of a remapping of sovereign authority through the executive branch, and redefines governmentality of exercising control over  migrants, their citizenship, cases of asylum, and the practices of border control, by introducing the presence of the state into the landscape.  Creating a border wall to replace inadequate fencing was however promoted as a pillar of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign that was hardly believable to many observers, although it produced a powerful reaction as a rational form of limiting citizenship and civil rights:  was only a rhetorical posture of leadership, newspapers and journalists asked, or an actual platform? wondered many.   But the announcement of the start of the process of building shifts from insistence on the project to affirmation that it is underway and actually being built, in ways that have necessitated a change in rhetoric and a search for visual evidence of its construction.  Candidate Trump presented the “border wall” not only as a slogan while campaigning, but an assertion that would be enabled by executive authority, and the need to materialize its presence in the collective consciousness has grown acute.  The roll-out of plans for a border wall is not only a mapping of the nation’s southwestern border, but a maximalist project that seeks to unify the nation behind the magnification of state authority over civil liberties, seemed almost a bizarre Faustian bargain for the man seeking to be president who ran on the notion of circumscribing and curtailing individual rights. 

But it was quick to gain a unifying power  remap a logic of governmentally,  escluskding foreigners, defining a new limit of  legality, and obscuring the law.  In replacement of “bad” immigration laws, written without love of the nation,  the increased introduction of a collective possessive–“our wall;” “our southern border wall”–as a compact has created a sense of false proximity to the border wall to much of the nation, making what was a primarily exclusionary project  a collective project, and introducing a new form of civil classification.  The notion of a barrier along the border was earlier entertained–Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin proposed a boundary barrier between Canada and United States in 1995, and cross-border movement since the 19902 has provoked calls for enforcing the quality of border fencing.  But Trump early defined the border wall as a principal platform of his campaign, fixating on the gesture of constructing a monumental wall across the southwestern border as a sign of national strength, and treated it as a testament to his own national credentials, even at the costs of dividing the nation.  

The expansion of the border wall mirrored the construction of border walls in over sixty other countries, largely ostensibly as a response to crises of refugees, however, and encompasses a typically removed American reaction to globalization, whose problems are projected onto the border, and a nativism that seems specific to an American origin.  It is hard to say where it came from–Trump or his advisors.  The maximalist project of a border wall was clearly  planned at a remove from local landscape, civil engineering,  or established policy of managing borderlands, and seems so utterly removed from it to be credibly mapped not only in Washington, DC–where Trump signed and gleefully proclaimed two executive orders that allowed the construction of the border wall and amplified powers of deportation of those who were found to be “Illegally” residing in the nation–but redefines the relation of migrants to the law in more than symbolic ways.

image.png January 25, 2017

The proclamation of intent to build the border wall to respond to immigration and “border security” occurred within the Dept. of Homeland Security shortly after Trump’s inauguration on January 25, 2017, in an illustration of his seizure of executive power–and the expanded power of the executive in the Age of Trump.  It suggested a policy so alien to the management of the borderlands, engineering practices, government spending, and unilateral action that it may as well have been orchestrated–as it seems increasingly possible.   Early evidence of an authoritarian relation to the redesign of government lands in the name of ostensible national defense, for which there was no actual proof.

Trump’s increasingly personal attachment to the border wall and to was-building–the “our” seems increasingly important to him to define who is for and against his use of executive authority–would indeed be the perfect project by which to goad the master-builder, to tempt him to rise by planning a projected redesign of the nation’s southwestern on an unheard of scale, by connecting and reinforcing existing segments, to define and defend a new idea of th enation.  The project that was one without regard for environment, landscape, or topography–as the basis of a quasi-sacral promise to an abstracted nation, organized about protecting invasive threats from easily entering across its ostensible “gaps”–gaps that were made all the more legible in the maps of the border fence as discontinuities that suggested a national failure.



12.  For all its American jingoism of retrenching against globalization, nationalism, and faux populism, remapping of the nation may have a surprising pedigree, perhaps reflecting the prominent fault-line that it has created.  For the wall is unique, in American politics, in its distinctly authoritarian relation to borderlands and to national rights of asylum.  In an article recently penned in The Moscow Times, of all places, journalist Elizaveta Osetinskaya allowed that”Much like the United States, Russia has its own ‘Mexico’” in the  “former Soviet republics, now independent countries in Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan,” which send “millions of migrants . . . . legal and illegal, who suffer from all types of discrimination, hate speech and abuse,” despite strong nationalism in Russia , “Even Putin would not build a wall!”  As former editor of Russian Forbes, after being pushed out of the business news outlet RBC, Osetinskaya was a fellow at fellow at Stanford University in 2016 during the election, and her temporary residence in the United States lent her credibility, but her extreme distortion of American xenophobia as a widespread discrimination seemed only to normalize Trump.

But is Osetinskaya ignoring a deeper similarity between how Putin’s government was insistently searching for ways to divide the American populace, rather than to marginalize a minority population in his own nation?  Any wall, indeed, can hardly be a model for good governance that a credible national leader would have sanctioned or proposed.  Ethnicity and ethnic divides in Russia are, of course, more of an echo of the divides of the Soviet Union than they are a disruption of existing trade alliances–NAFTA was, after all, modeled in some way after the EU, not a federated government.  But the divisions of ethnic groups—and the “millions of migrants” to whom Osetinskaya refers as “legal and illegal,” adopting Trump’s categories, must be mapped onto the ethnic divides in the former Soviet Union, and Russian lands–




–as well as the divide in the post-Soviet period through which Putin of course lived as a complex fragmentation formative in Russian political experience, if not the major crisis or tragedy Russia seemed traumatically afflicted as a state, both by reducing its resources, markets, and access to goods from 2014–



2014 EUromap Russia Frag.png


–it made sense to foster similar rupturing of large trade alliances deemed fragile, from the EU and its ties to Britain, achieved in Brexit, encouraged by  Russian operatives and diplomats, and to fragment NAFTA and other international trade alliances fractured by Trump’s campaign.  The broad process of “reordering” that is a defining political tension of the past decade by which the Soveiet Union was afflicted would be imposed abroad, or exported; the revealed ties between Brexit supporters with Trump’s campaign reflect ties Russian diplomats and ambassadors cultivated with both.

Perhaps the comparison between Putin and Trump that she posits is, while negative, instructive.  For Putin long cultivated a rhetorical demonization of others on the border of Russia a enemies of the Russian state, the security threat that Trump and the Trump campaign have singled out with a rhetorical persistence bordering on outright alarmism.  One wonders if the thirteen Russian nationals accused of intentionally seeking to examine what fault lines could “promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy” with the “strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 presidential election.”  The alleged branch of “Project Lakhta” that focussed on the U.S. population created social media presence,  false grassroots activists, who staged rallies and created large websites from 2014, that concealed their Russian origins; the waging of  war on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”  

The proposal of the border wall would definitely have amplified division:  one could perhaps find no better fault line to exploit that ran through the values of American law than the wall that would run through the border.  For the wall becomes less an anti-monument, in this context, than a needed and valued instrument national protection by which to divide the body politic against itself.  The recirculation of these American proposals from admittedly fringe groups into political parties’ platforms has, after all, destabilized the party system and paralyzed negotiation about the border and immigration practices in ways that continue to puzzle journalists–unsure why Democrats don’t champion the need to end the separation of families, fearful as they are of adopting what might be labeled a position of weakness, and leave Trump controlling political discourse not only for Republicans but in public discourse, as if the map of the nation about the border was accepted by all, and the border wall could become reborn as an emblem of nationalism.

The imperative championed to build the border wall from early in his campaign may have been the essential issue by which Trump disrupted political debate.  The prominent Russian journalist Osetinskaya ostensibly sought to distinguish Putin from Trump for an American public, as if each embodied a distinct set of policies.  Her argument posits an equivalence between rampant discrimination and hate abuse suffered by many in Russia to what immigrants in the United States experience by suggesting widespread attribution of criminality to migrants was the norm.  Her argument that “Many Russian people think illegal migrants are evil and responsible for a wide range of crimes” is inaccurate as a point of comparison with American xenophobia–it distorts Trump’s recently announced immigration ban as a reflection of American sentiments. Osetinskaya concluded “Putin and Trump’s immigration policies are very different” but it is hard to ascertain what Osetinskava’s claim means–but her prose seems to seek to naturalize Trump as a leader, and offers, if unintentionally, a rather whitewashed Putin to Americans, discriminating between the deeply similar authoritarianism of Trump’s policy to that of Putin in its privileging of “border security” over individual liberty.  Putin’s government previously sought to divide opinion–in Brexit–and the festering division that debate about the border wall would create could be separate from the pragmatics of its construction or its adoption as a coherent policy.

Is it possible that the distinction Osetinskaya intentionally erases the sheer violation of human rights by casting it as a question of policy and foreign relations, and an incarnation of actual existing prejudice?  Surely, the conceit of the wall is to normalize and encourage such prejudice, and to allow it to grow to the levels of attributing criminality to immigrants that Osetinskaya describes as the norm in Russia.  Openly racist sentiments about Mexican immigrants were no doubt read by Russians as similar to the “evil” nature of undocumented migrants in Russia eerily suggests a sense of the deep distrust of the figure of the undocumented that Trump has surely exploited from the point of his entry in the race, and which the border wall has embodied as a denial of justice, equality or civil rights.  However, the projection of such a map about the border, if originating within marginal American groups, has gained a new degree of legitimacy as a geographical imaginary through the Trump Presidency that began in the  Trump campaign:  it is indeed part of the contractual obligation by which Trump introduced himself to the American public.


13.  Of course, although the Wall has been claimed as a distinguishing factor of the Trump presidency–and a means by which he will reveal his own seriousness for establishing borders in ways Washington, DC was long resistant–the marketing of the wall is not only quite similar to what has been purveyed in online anti-immigration groups, but bears the stamp of international anti-migrant movements that are tied to white nationalism in other countries, which are aimed at denying the collective or individual rights of migrants–and indeed silencing their stories–by converting them into a generic faceless mask, indistinguishable from one another.  For it cannily mirrors the widely broadcast iconic falsified electoral advertisements designed to conjure massive hordes of foreigners arriving on foot–a disenfranchised faceless mob, photographed and deployed to provoke fears of disenfranchisment–widely deployed to get out the vote behind express anti-immigrant platforms from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Órban, who had been the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump on his victory–


a__ungary__rban__lection_04052018_1Michael Fludra/AP

–to the UKIP images that were associated with Nigel Farage during the Brexit campaign, spearheaded by Trump’s friend Nigel Farage–


The circulation of this image of faceless hordes, whose eyes have become shadows and whose mass-like nature seem almost substitutable across nations and across space, the opposition between the immigrant and the native serve to undermine a structure of laws in the United States, where the border was long fluid.  Indeed, if the fluidity of the border depended on a stable economic divide, the degree to which borders and walls have replaced class as a primary divide of social fracturing in the Trump campaign has been especially puzzling to Democrats and liberals, who marvel at how Trump supporters embrace policies against their economic interests, but celebrate the reinforcement of the map and artifact of the impenetrable border wall.  Is it not a new religion of the nation?

Despite the ostensibly secularism of these democracies–Britain and Hungary– do not both appeal to a new religion of the wall, and a religion of independence, rather than to civil laws, even within secular states?   For in all such cases, questions of borders has been increasingly naturalized and used to stoke panic–and even as borders have become less important cartographically.  Few would see the value of mapping a nation, now, or mapping the borderline in a globalized world–but national borders they have become incessantly and insistently naturalized in spatial imaginaries as signs of divisions of wealth, status, and economic well-being, even as actual borders are increasingly removed from natural landmarks or topographical markers, and have become far more intensely present as they are evoked as conceits of a mental geographic imaginary for most of the nation.

The removal of the border perhaps has allowed its return, as a guarantee of economic well-being and protection, in an era when few feel themselves protected, and vulnerability provides a new trope of global identity against which all seem compelled to be vigilant.  Both reinforced a terrifying geographical imaginary of borders besieged by outsiders, seeking native wealth and social assistance–a standard set of tropes about the outsider.  As recently re-elected Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban has championed the “role of Christianity in preserving nationhood,” inviting attacks on those he terms Muslim invaders and Jewish anti-patriots, he has undercut the notion of a society made of secular laws, to unite populist support for authoritarianism; similarly, UKIP’s leader champions his ardent Christianity and Roman Catholicism, and religion proclaimed a basis for supporting the part, conflating religious law–even as a religion of the nation–is opposed to accepted immigration law.

But the conceit of the border wall that has grown in America–as in other nations–has created a new culture and ethos of border management, far more illiberal and more removed from laws or even legal oversight than ever before.  The conceit of the border wall that has divided the body politic became a new form for mapping government power, and the independent authority of the largely untrained and undisciplined border patrol, a basis for defining a corps of private contractors, independent agencies, and officers without law enforcement training to manage the border and process immigrants.

14.  How did the notion of such a wall play out in an American context, quite different from how Russians regarded their central and eastern European former allies, demands to be examined, for it rests on a far more primitive classification of cultural opposition, to use Maussian terms.   If a constellation of short barriers existed for some time, the continuous wall suggests that its history is increasingly forgotten, the construction of the border wall posited the foreclosure of futures.  The suggested pseudo-policy of a border wall played out in a very unique American context, both of globalism and of what was in fact a uniquely shared boundary line, one far less crisply defined on the ground than on a map.

For the wall that would divide several cities along the border–

image.pngEl Paso TX and Ciudad Juárez Chihuahua/Mwilliams151

–in a spectral dissolution of thecontiguous areas of the borderlands, here showing the divide between El Paso Texas and Ciudad Juárez Chihuahua, which predominates our collective  attention, and continues along other cities divided along the border, from Tiuana/San Diego through Cuidad Juárez/El Paso to Matamoros/Brownsville, and remains among the most populated in the world, however often we imagine it to lie in the desert.


Sasha Trubetskoy (2016)

The dramatically oversimplified images of the border suggest the opening of multiple  “gaps” and lacuna reduce the site of the future border wall complex on social media to a simple image have communicated,–either intentionally or not, to provoke fears of national vulnerability.  The several tretches of “border with no fence” marked so prominently as open gaps–as if in a dream of division–

brookings institutionBrookings Institute

–erase the history of the border or population flows by focussing attention on a supposed “line” as the site of a future “wall” to exclude migrants–


Fence:Wall Trump


–by graphics so effective to flatten attention to ecological costs, human consequences or the historical complexity of cross-border relations in a fell swoop.

Osetinskaya’s comparison also oddly conceals the lack of precedent for Trump’s border wall in American laws or our legal system.  For the parallel of modes of thought of authoritarian governing by a cult of personality are increasingly evident.  The very comparison reveal how similarly wedded Trump is to the dominance of authoritarian  over the law in his advocacy of the border wall.  Despite the false nature of an equivalence between the border wall and immigration policy, it is oddly an echo of Trump’s own talking points–as it erases the subtraction of civil liberties form immigrants, and the huge stigma that the border wall represents and the undoing of established legal process of immigration that it seeks to replace.  While Trump projected faux populism onto the border wall as a shift in “immigration policy” alone, he concealed the continued escalation of Border Patrol agents–from 3,000 total agents to 20,700 in 2011, with 18,600 now stationed on the US-Mexico border, as “operational control” over the border has transformed the border from a permeable barrier into an imagined line of combat as if it were a collective resistance to immigration that demanded the border states to be placed on red alerts against the entry of all immigrants–we must be reminded.  


The evocation of a wall long existed as a slogan–a “beautiful wall,” an “impervious wall,” a “real wall”–has accentuated a new geographic imaginary of the nation, able to be defended and protected, far beyond protecting border crossing.  As if by an act of will, located in Washington, the vision of the proposed “border wall” that is perpetually in a state of being begun serves as an act of will that tries to be imposed on the landscape.  It has staked absolute authority over immigration that sought to rewrite previous decades of relations to Mexico, by recasting the “porous” membrane between two countries through a new national map, focussed on its borders, and haunted by the need to monitor them to protect cross-border flows, and to remap the frontier between two countries, as if the border wall is part of the very landscape and topography,–even though it seems to have been arrived from outer space:  rarely has such a Faustian bargain for a collective project of construction been promised as an illustration of executive power with so diminished an understanding of the executive office.  

The perpetual promise of the border is less about the actual topography or function of a wall.  But it is a pact with the nation to expand violence over the individual, restrict the rights of immigrants, and expand a logic of deportation and criminalization that has already been longstanding among vulnerable groups.  The pact isn’t limited to Trump, but stand to compromise the moral authority and legal responsibilities of the government in ways most Americans don’t fully fathom, increasingly fed doctored images posing as updates on its construction that create the illusion of its ongoing, imminent, or  construction.

The border wall now stands as the most alien aspect of the border, and projected at a distance from the entire landscape:  perhaps the very distance of the border wall from its surroundings is in evidence in how Trump is trying to convince the country almost incessantly that everyone in the nation lives in close proximity to the wall, and to the threat of immigration it will protect.  In ways that may have been created on social media, but occurred through the election, the border wall has assumed an increasing inevitability, and with it the inevitability of the circumscription of rights of all immigrants, undocumented or not, in the process of petitioning for asylum–and even rescinding or stripping citizenship of many Americans deemed to have made fraudulent or false statements to immigration authorities.  For the wall is an indictment of all who would cross it, it is even more undermining of the legal terrain to allow increased deportation.  Beyond architecture and engineering, the wall is designed as a new structure of governmentality, redefining relations of disempowered and the state.  

And of a piece with the effective separation of 2,000 children from their families in six weeks in May and June 2018 alone, in what is argued to be a continuity with previous border policy but is not, and whose ethics are even defended by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions–as part of a “zero tolerance” policy of “illegal” entry, even if this construal of illegality is not strictly within the law, but a new Homeland Security policy:  and if Sessions has defended the policy by Paul’s words in Romans 13 as civil laws God “ordained . . . for the purpose of order”–even if pediatricians found separating children from their parents is likely to cause them irreparable psychological harm.  Homeland Security asserts that prosecution, rather than separating families, is the official program–“We do not have a policy to separate children from their families.  Our policy is, if you break the law we will prosecute you“–but the metaphor of dismembering an organic whole, and is aptly concretized in the border wall.

image.pngRaymond Pettibon

The religion of the border wall was almost referenced in Jeff Session’s recourse to Romans 13 to justify the policy of civil prosecution of adults that separates them from children.  Yet if the same chapter of Romans finds Paul describing the essence of God’s laws to be ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” separation of those seeking asylum between official points of entry from their children justly drew swift condemnation from churchmen and religious groups familiar with the passage.  For the border policy reflects a religion of state–and Sessions’ version has rightly provoked immediate and vociferous condemnation from religious leaders who found  profound lack of ethical guidance in the Attorney General’s poorly chosen scriptural defense:   the omission of the word “neighbor” and both Law and the Prophets support treating both strangers and the immigrants with mercy in elevating “orderly and lawful processes [as] good in themselves.”  But separating vulnerable migrant families in structures of detention cannot be seen as anything remotely like a form of protection of the weak or lawful–and seems only intended to discourage immigration without proper papers, if it had long been rejected as an option of border control given its inhumanity–and the utter absence of any clear strategy in the long-term.

image.pngFrederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

One might due better to recall Mikhail Bulgakov’s wry version of the story of the sensitive Yeshua, stripped of all claims to authority, who preached “every kind of power is a form of violence against people” that survives until there “will come a time when . . . . Man will enter the kingdom of trust and justice, where no such power will be necessary,” but until such redemption we remain condemned to live in a cycle of revenge and retribution, without compassion.  Yeshua’s statement rejects the hierarchical power of Rome or Jerusalem, but if   intuitive is historically acute as a portrait of a figure of religious healing, is itself an exercise of the redemptive nature of historical study.

The emphasis placed on border security is a removal of American authority or mapping from history, abstracting executive power subtracting civil liberties.  Jasper Johns’ interest in the vertical flag in a series of paintings form c. 1973 is a purely formal echo.  Johns sought to abstract the formal content of the flag from its symbolic value as a patriotic image, pressing against the recognized symbol by translating its surface from fabric to encaustic and beeswax resin–

Johns Flags 1997.pngJasper Johns, Flags (1997)

Johns Flags 1 (1973).pngJasper Johns, Flags 1 (1973)

–or sikscreeing the image to make it appear paint, rather than a patriotic form; the faux sections of possible panels for the future border wall on display near Tijuana echo bars, and suggest the misplaced nationalism of the border wall, and the emptied notion of the nation that seems implicit within the imposition of the wall, far closer to the punk aesthetic of Raymond Pettibon that destroys the patriotic idealism of the flag, even if it respects the etiquette of its display.


Was the mock-up of such a border wall the first defense in an increased elevation of the border as a line of living national defense?  For the the “big, beautiful wall” that is primarily promoted as a structural creation, serves not only to remap the border, but to remap migrants’ legal rights, liberties and local governance over immigration.  The policing of the border zone concretized state authority in ways deeply intertwined with resonant symbolic values–a protective wall; a wall of security; a sacred wall; a state monument to the defense of values that boasts to resolve intentionally vague “immigration problems” argued to afflict the nation over many, many years.  But if the promise of the wall is to break through politics as usual, its promise suggests a rewriting of a notion of the nation, swerving from the protection of individual liberties, to the ostentatious expansion of state power over the borderlands.  Rather than continuing payments to the development of Mexican infrastructure, the massive shift of funds to the border is a poor policy of borderlands management that plays to the supposed Trumpist heartland and ensures the eroded civil liberties of all immigrants.  And the separation of families at the border by U.S. Border Patrol is all but admitted to be a bargaining chip with the Democrats to negotiate DACA and immigration.

For in the Trump era, affirming the border wall has become a project of affirming the proximity of the border across the entire country:  we are all living beside the border in the age of Trumpism, whose urgency rests in safeguarding a nation, irrespective of geopolitical relevance.  Trump remaps reality akin to the limited  bearing on geopolitical reality that North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat,” that “If we don’t have a wall system, we’re not going to have a country,” upping the ante on the meaning of the border wall beyond its status as a barrier, to present it as an existential power  (If Trump announced as if it were a discovery soon after his inauguration that “A nation without borders is not a nation,” in a stretch of logic, that affirmed the need for the wall as a not only a security but to sustain a fiction of national integrity.  Even as most who live near the border oppose its creation, the promise of the wall has permeated the nation, remapping attention to the borders, in a major remapping of government priorities.

And it is perhaps not surprising that the partisan differences in how Americans regard Mexico have become increasingly accentuated, with less than half of registered Republicans viewing Mexico positively, and almost there quarters of Democrats:  the geographic weighting of Americans residing near the border to regard Mexico more positively than those dwelling over 200 miles  from it reveals  the constitutive role migration has been gained to define Americans’ perception of the nation across the southwestern border.  The geographical determinism of attitudes toward the border suggests the proximity at which Americans feel themselves living to the border:  even as most living close to the border found it unwelcome, the promise is more powerful far away from the frontier, where a dangerous, crime-ridden borderlands seem to be far more convincing.

Favorable:borderPew Research Trust

The notion of a physical barrier has assumed far more than defining the border; it is promoted as necessary to save the country.  Although the nation has been seduced by this notion of protective benevolence, the violence of the wall, however concealed by its sleek design that recalls prison architecture or minimalist poured concrete more than the largest infrastructure project proposed since the US Highway System, Erie Canal, or WPA, exists as a perpetual promise, needing to be repeated and affirmed, more than an actual engineering project that can be realized only by using a tenth of the total concrete consumed in the United States:  if architects use walls to define space, the wall is removed from space or context.  It resembles a huge moved earth project, of  fabricating and relocating some 340 million cubic feet of poured sheer concrete at a cost of $25 million per mile.

If it seems streamlined, it isn’t a modern project, but a neo-medieval monument to exclusion that seems a last gasp of power,  but is more of an abdication of state agency to military contractors.  As U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told Forbes perceptively the “a fence is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem,” the wall echoes the assertion of medieval power over transit that fails to account for the situation on the ground–or the status of migrants as individuals with rights.

Trump assession wallEvan Vucci/AP

The promise of building the wall was long presented as a collective project of strength–albeit in wrong-headed ways.  But the allocation of funds to a borders wall ignores the multitude of actual infrastructure problems by which the United States is actually also haunted, from the needed upgrades on fragile train tunnels along the Northeast Corridor, aging bridges, a water system that remains poorly monitored, and an absence of effective recycling programs or effective public transportation.  While Trump seems content to leave all these to the free market, he seeks a massive relocation of state assets to a project that increasingly seems to close of the future of good relations with Mexico or Central America, and a fragmentary monument to the redefinition of the state.

Advocate policing wall.pngMandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Rather than being an engineering project or an architectural project, the border wall is, in an age of increasingly refined mapping, a spatially illiterate reshaping of the borderlands.  Designed to affirm its relevance to the nation in the abstract, even as it reduces rights, rather than reflecting local knowledge of immigrants or their rights.  In ways that reflect the increasing criminalization of refugees, immigrants and undocumented since the increasing incarceration in the 1990s, the wall cast as keeping criminals outside of the United States seems designed to affirm the continued criminality of all migrants.  Despite the codes of ethics that binds the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Institute of Architects, and, the wall is an upending of expertise and redefining of the nation, asserting itself to be break from government as usual, even if the wall dramatically increase sthe authority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security.

The contradictory logic of the border wall was no more evident than during the arrival of the caravan protesting longstanding American migration policies in May 2018, the Caravan of women, children, transgender and marginalized or persecuted populations who crossed through Mexico to call attention to their cause, and were quickly criminalized to recast their march as the approach of a threat to our Homeland and national security that we as a nation needed new collective tools–not laws–to confront.  The approach of the Caravan, even more deeply disturbingly, became an occasion to argue that laws were indeed the problem, as they failed to protect the nation from a new level of threat from people who did not respect the law.

The promise of building a thirty-foot high concrete wall was repeatedly presented to the electorate as a means to make the nation great again.  The presentation of the wall either concealed or dodged actual issues of the nation, from the rising number of children in poverty or homelessness or opioid addiction, as if “immigration” were a greater problem that demanded address–with the excuse that drug cartels and smuggling groups had defaced or disabled the existing wall to necessitate the need for its reconstruction.  Trump’s visit to proposed models for the “new wall” seemed almost a sort of religious pilgrimage itself, designed to recreate the reality of a wall he may, in fact, never complete, but has served as the foundation of a religion of the state.

An earlier post in this blog offered that the expanding presence to much of the nation of the border as a site of violence that was long neglected was closely tied to the erosion of the civil liberties along the space where a border wall is to be built.  For the prominence of the building of a border wall seems tied to the deterioration of a notion of the secular state along the southwestern border and the creation of a new a space outside of the system of laws, where surveillance, detention, and deportation create a negative space without rights, where families are separated for years, immigrants await potential deportation in subcontracted spaces, stripped of legal rights, and deportation allowed without legal due process. 

15.  If the wall has a sacral character, its mythic character as a substitute for a society of laws seems deeply retrograde in ways that demand unpacking in an American context:  its prominence as a mental artifact indeed recalls not a site of modern governance at all.  For it recalls, as suggested in an earlier post,  how Neapolitan jurist Giambattista Vico in the eighteenth century described “walls” as a primitive sense of collective belonging, and a primitive version and notion of a nation rooted not in laws but m myth; Vico argued that wall-building historically precedes the rule of law.   For it is less in terms of an architectural sense of a wall dividing built space, than the linguistic origins of the term maenia, that Vico identified the noun’s deep relation to munire, to build, or the significance of the linguistic origins of walls, moenia, extended to their earliest use as a form of fortification–the Latin word for ‘walls’ is moenia, a variant of munia; he unpacked the noun’s relation to the verb munire kept the sense of fortifications–whose pre-legal status as a means of control combined violence with religious ritual to stabilize the social order that predates civil laws.  The sharp contrast to defining the border wall as a legal threshold with the criminalization of immigration reminds us of the distinctly extra-legal origins of boundary-drawing, despite its increasing power as a threshold of the southwestern boundary.  

The wall as epitomized as a sense of violence and sacrifice, Vico observed, in Roman history.  For rather than reflect the society of written laws of the Romans, Vico argued that wall-building by Romulus was tied to the mythic status of the wall as a site of sacrifice at the root of the founding of a new order that preceded the state–but constituted.  Vico sited the Romulan Walls around Rome as site of the death of Remus by his brother, and the violence of the wall where Remus’ death was commemorated as preserving the imagined citadel of Rome as a city of humanity and civilization, separated from the violence that was external to it, where the foundational scene of Remus’ slaying constituted  a primal scene of violence that prefigures the authority of the laws, but is foreign to it, and is  a site of sacrifice and licit violence, binding the nation before the establishment of a legal code was possible.   Given the disdain that accompanies Trump”s denunciation of the insufficiency of immigration laws  as the grounds needed for the promise of an “impenetrable” border wall where U.S. Border Patrol agents can arrest and deport those “illegal” aliens–rather than follow the “poor policy” of “catch and release” where immigrants are freed pending legal hearings, asked to appear in court at a later date, and may “exploit” the system of U.S. justice by not even showing up to court for asylum hearings and remain in the US.  The wall responds to these predicaments of the insufficiency of existing laws by emptying of the legal state and a mythic promise to protect the integrity of the nation, without legal due process, preserving the “security” of the nation and ending the “catch and release” policy of deportable immigrants, elevating the wall as the site for violence that has no need to follow the law.



Much as the primal act of violence of the slaughtering of one’s own brother occurred at the Romulan wall, in an emblem of the founding of a state, the violence toward one’s neighbor is elevated in the Border Wall, which is a similar emblem of a pre-legal state.  The elevation of the border as a site of detention without conviction, of removal from children and family and legal advocates, and of imprisonment creates a shadow state of suspending individual rights and upholding the religion of the nation, rather than the law.  Trump cast the wall’s need as an urgent imperative, meeting a state of emergency, that seemed to prepare for the migrants’ advance, as he adopted and cultivated a notion of the border promoted by Border Security that has warped the notion of sovereignty by a notion of national frontiers as a restoration of order that seem to predate the civil institution of the law–and would replace “faulty” and “terrible” immigration laws, written by those who “hate” the nation–as if the authoritarian border wall itself seeks to dismantle a legal process of immigration, and strip actual US residents of their rights.

The symbolic power of the border wall has indeed helped sanction the ugliest racist and xenophobic imaginaries lurking in our nation, and show them to the world, as an ability to control foreign movement and entrance across borders, and indeed to criminalize the notion of border-crossing in particularly aggressive and definite was, by symbolizing the strength of barriers that any immigrant must face, and redefining the relation of the entire nation to the border, and commanding our attention, through daunting graphics, massaged data, and maps, making undefended borderlands more central than legal precedent to our nation:  we were all left, Trump insisted, now even closer to the undefended border than those who lived there, and we needed the border to prevent the arrival of faceless hordes of immigrants from surreptitiously entering the ostensible large number of jobs, benefits, and civilization of the region of prime real estate of nation where we lived.


The geographical argument of the border wall–or even of “sealing up our Southern Border” by the National Guard–suggested a trick of remapping the nation as lying close to its borders than we ever thought, as if to distract us from the protection of civil liberties that in fact define the nation-state.  By manufacturing a “migrant crisis” on our borderlands, the border wall is a promise not only of protection, but of the need to suspend rights to allow protection, and expand the rule of US Customs and Border Patrol over the borderlands as a way to protect the nation, even as the nation seems emptied by such undeserved attention to the border wall.  For mapping the nation by the border wall, and insistingly proclaiming that all Americans take stock of the relation of their safety in relation to the border wall is not only a means of salesmanship, but a way of remapping the presence of state power over all immigrants, refugees, and seekers of asylum by denying their rights.

The promise of building the wall seemed to strengthen the nation, but rewrote the nation–starting from its boundaries–able to magnify fears of immigration disproportionately, transforming it into a central platform of Republican politics.  For the promise of the border wall has accorded a disproportionate degree of attention to the southwestern border in the global mental maps of Americans, as if it were a site of invasion–almost a trope that ICE officials in the nation and border agents and officers bring against those who are suspected undocumented migrants, charging them as seeking to “invade” the country and take jobs, based on an individual’s “Mexican appearance.”  The racism that the wall encourages and sanctions serves to bestow an aura of legitimacy–or the veneer of a political belief–on the reduction of immigrant rights, and on an endless process of detention, incarceration, and deportation that had already existed before, but is now focussed along the southwestern border.  Long before filing his candidacy, Donald J. Trump has long prided himself on his ability to sell anything.   He is perhaps the unique messenger of the promise of the border wall.   He has been able to sell a new vision of sovereignty and governmentally to the nation, in ways we don’t perhaps fully ken, almost in order to take pleasure in the success of selling a vision of the nation that encourages migrants suspected of lacking documentation to be unconstitutionally rounded up, searched for in secret government databases, and be subject to a process of detention and possible deportation.  The project that Donald Trump has now outlined of a $1.5 trillion package promoted in populist language as a commitment to “get that sucker built,” but is a package complete with the circumscription of individual rights and access to the law.

For Trump seems as taken by the notion of the border wall, and the project of building a structure that has the appearance of novelty and innovation in its sheer poured concrete, of which he has been so proprietary and promoting to hope it might be “someday” named after him in May, 2016, describing it as “beautiful” to erase, deflect and conceal just how horribly cruel it would be for so many others–both in terms of the power that it claims over mobility, and the regressive fiction of impermeable borders, akin to the projects of great earth-moving in AlbaniaBulgaria, and Bohemia and other instances of premodern barrier-making along the Islamic-Byzantine Frontier.  The plans for a massive deployment of troops to “secure” the frontier from individual states that lie along the border seems an attempt to revive local anti-migrant hostility in border states as an example to the nation, to prevent what Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen called an “unacceptable levels of illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity, transnational criminal organizations, and illegal immigration”–as if echoing the criminalized border that Trump long claimed justified the need to expand existing fencing as a wall.

As a candidate and as President, Donald Trump advocated building a border wall in a project of mapping what is sought to be neutralized as a cultural divide, and divide of governmentality as much as only of territory.  But the permanence of its construction threatens to erode and corrode the modern state, by creating both a pretext for increased militarization of the border and the concealment of the diminution of all immigrants rights.  For it has provided a basis to perpetuate and naturalize a line of difference that would not have been dared before Trump suggested it in his campaign.  The man who defined himself as “able to sell anything,” more than a political candidate, As much as condensing global geography, it has created a symbol of classification akin to mythic and religious  symbolic structures, which are indeed greater–as Émile Durkheim might put it–than the individual human mind can construct.  The collective prominence of the wall in our national consciousness not only makes the entire nation closer to the border–“closing down the country” for a while over the issue of border security, by telling his constituents in Ohio “we’re going to get the wall, even if we have to think about closing up the country for a while,” and stating with finality that “We’r going to get the wall. We have no choice. We have absolutely no choice.,” and announcing it will provide us all with “tremendous security,” and then arguing, in tortured logic, “And we may have to close up our country to get this straight, because we either have a country or we don’t.” 

Trump’s equation of the country and the border wall is not new.  But it is deeply deceptive, and perhaps is made with urgency to suggest the very reduced an hollowed out notion of the nation that it seeks to protect.  Perhaps Trump is the ideal messenger of this notion of security.  For the wall surely concretizes and brings back the very fears, oppositions, and dichotomies to which Trump was immersed as a child.  The border wall maps deep fears of national vulnerability from the southwestern border, effectively legitimating and magnifying fears of the migrant crossing as a national collective threat–and providing evidence of an opposition akin to the elementary structures of national kinship–if that existed.  For the promised wall stands akin to what Durkheim and his collaborator Marcel Mauss posited as among the “primitive classifications” that structure individual life.  For the promise of the border wall surpassed anyone’s actual expectation of announcing, but seems to set a threshold denying international cooperation.

What was presented as a plan for securing the border is treated as form of border management, but is a vision of the country, distorted toward its xenophobic tendencies, that is rooted on exclusion, marginalization, and criminalization in a deeply thuggish way.  The wall poses as a simple, single, declarative statement–the beauty in the eyes of some is perhaps its simplicity by which it declares rights of excluding others–the promise for its construction has become an insidious vehicle to disorient the United States’ relation to the world.  Even the reference to its construction–and the plans for its existence–act as a grounds to map one’s own position in relation to the world, and a new mode of collective thought.  The absence of logic in the wall–oddly mirroring Trump’s unprecedentedly freewheeling pivoting of principles of trade negotiation with the G7 or with North Korea–sets a precedent for reordering the priorities of the nation but presents a far more hollow, and emptied notion of the nation as subject to vulnerabilities, invasion, and contamination that is not only destabilizing of our earlier categories of civil society, civil rights, human rights, and the law, but creates new collective categories of what seem logical classifications that create new patterns of collective  thought.    

For the border wall creates the very notion of a “tribal space” that sociologists Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss describe.  The tribal space traced by routes as the march of the Omaha Indians for Durkheim and Mauss is eerily mirrored in the moving sentinels of four-wheel drive jeeps of the Border Patrol that monitor the actual border day and night, as if in a surrogate for the nation’s increased attention to its southwestern border–




–moving silently across space between sites of the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints that trace the prioritizing of the border wall’s construction and the points of passage across the border, and that trace the points of transit that once made the border a permeable, healthy membrane for cross-border travel to create a new order of space by clans as if it were natural and needed, which maps of migration and crimes of undocumented immigrants afford an alleged empirical basis.  And when the current commander-in-chief ordered military to guard the frontier until “we can have a wall and proper security” as he visited the prototypes for the border wall in mid-March, 2018, the fiction of an unprotected border was floated once again for the nation.

image.pngMandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse:  Trump’s Cavalcade Skirts Border


16.  Even though Trump doesn’t want you to think that a wall has already been built along the southwestern boundary of the United States, the massive show of force of cyclone fencing, regular patrols, and bullet-proof barriers that already create one of the larger and ambitious border fences in the world.  In fact, the multiplication of border barriers along the US-Mexico border over the past decade has been challenging to map.:  the proposal for their elimination by a border wall is almost a fantasy of mapping, fully removed from local contexts or differences, but running across the flat, disembodied surface of the map as if to create a new reality where countries are walled off from one another, and their residents suffer the consequences, transforming the existing barriers across space, punctuated by gaps and transit points–


Border Checkpoints


–to a smoothly defined hermetic image of closed borders, where Border Patrol has augmented authority to stop, search, and question any within a hundred miles of the border: the persuasive power with which an “impenetrable wall” has become an artifact of the mental imaginary, before being built, planned, or created, is a change in practices of land management, the suspension of individual rights, and sites of governmentality–and of the Constitution–in ways left out of the map of the border wall, or the proliferation of maps that describe its proposed construction, but that inseparable from it.  The “border build-up” ostensively designed to stop drug-traffic and illegal immigration, by allowing to obstruct human transit more effectively than bolsters designed to stop vehicles, and “illegal” human traffic that will deter by “strong borders.”

The map neglects what might be called the location-rich metadata of the border wall, located not only at the line on the site of proposed  building but its the margins that will be reshaped by it, where habitats, civil rights, and the law will be changed.  If the promise of the wall is linked only to national security, the project of one of rewriting the nation form its frontiers, and increasing fears to an unprecedented status that takes our eyes off of its actual costs.  Replacement walls along a twentieth of the full 2,000 miles of the US-Mexico border may begin at a cost of $1.6 billion, in extravagant spending announcing a plan of hidden environmental and civil costs; it promises an imposing illustration of state authority that conceals its new vision of the law and the relation of the state to the individual and to the land, by remapping the legal landscape of the nation from its peripheries, and affirming with brazen bluntness that all parts of the nation lie close to the border, in a distortion of the mapping of our national political imaginary and community.

Closed BordersBorder Control Env Laws

For the border wall is a promise of remapping and remaking the nation.  Although the boundaries are the same, the complex of the border wall within a “comprehensive” package on migration, by investing robustly in a program of barrier-building that may form a segment part of the annual military budget. But the  US-Mexican border barriers would be the greatest investments in wall-building–as if the nation needed protection from external threats–and far more than earlier projects of a border fence in the United States floated in 2007, but was stymied by the region’s diverse terrain.  If the 2,500 mile barbed wire fence that India is building to separates itself from Bangladesh aims to be the longest in the world, the project of wall-building Trump promotes would make the United States’ wall-building technologies as if in an icon of national power, and a new model of the nation-state, keeping in place the specter of the global movement of populations.  The coded racist baggage of the construction of the wall accompanies its construction, as the construction sanctions the diminution of human rights, increased racial profiling, that it accompanies in the increased foreclosure of immigrant rights.


17.  The promotion of the border suggests a creation of a new processional route of policing along the frontier that casts a long shadow across the state.  In a discussion with Bob Woodward while a candidate for President, Trump offered the odd promise “trust me, when I rejuvenate our military, Mexico won’t be ‘playing’ war with us — that I can tell you,” and indeed his recent response of sending the National Guard to the border suggests his eagerness to augment military presence the border as a way of strengthening his ability to ensure that the wall designed to repel immigrants from the nation’s southwest border worked–as if the border wasn’t already militarized to police border-crossing in order to further an agenda of deeply racist ends, even as it is repeatedly represented as only a form of self-protection.

The form, mode, or costs of wall-building were never clear, and its rationale were asserted more forcefully than logically explained.  The border wall presented a break from politics as usual, and became a clarifying tool to define the future relation of the  United States to the world.  As such, it became not only a totem of the Trump campaign, and a collective chant for rallies during the election, but a recreation of social organizations that is increasingly presented as protecting and reproducing a classification between different peoples, notions of social organization, and indeed–in a fundamental way–religions, as Trumpism’s own classification of space and society takes its bearings and spin from the protective powers of the unbuilt border wall.  For the border wall is if nothing else–and even if it is never built–a form of religion that serves as a complain form of social organization, dangerously erasing and replacing the secular state and system of laws and civil protections by which it was defined.


March 3, 2016

The politics of urgency with which the border wall has been invested and sold as a collective need is dangerous because of the futures of cross-border cooperation it closes off, and the new precedent it sets to treat all immigrants; it is an emblem of the new policy to those classed as “undocumented aliens” who are opposed, in the schematic oppositions of this classificatory system, to the safety of the nation.  

The aesthetics of disregard and obstruction are captured by the newly unveiled border wall “prototypes”  proposed to remap the southwestern border for all who approach it, and a barrier to transit in a new monument to national safety, that may as well be inscribed with the Dantesque saying “abandon all who, ye who approach” to discourage potential applicants for asylum and turn back any border-crossers–and broadcast to the nation what seems a renewed ability of defending our borders, but is more accurately a belief that their defense is a credible object of national attention.


The threat of constructing the border wall seemed to emerge fully-born, like Minerva, from the head of Donald Trump.  The Trump campaign, and the man campaigning to be President deceptively portrayed the construction of an impregnable border wall as a form of modernity that would resolve urgent problems of immigration, as if they had not been adequately resolved or fully perceived before; the sense of scales falling from one’s eyes was indeed something of a trope in a conversion narrative, but the gospel of the border wall that Donald Trump preached in the 2016 Presidential campaign seems not only false promise of a wall along the US-Mexico border, but a deeply distorting project in the American political imagination.  The promise of building of a truly adequate “border wall”–filled with its echoes of the Israeli border walls, as well as the Great Wall–presented both a new salvific image rich with religious connotations of both a Holy Grail and a new age of protection from faceless as well as a new mythology of the nation.   The cheap slogan of protection in isolation has become an emblem of the rejection of globalization, even if it serves to conceal and reinforce the imbalances of global wealth and obscure any protection of vulnerable populations–women; transgender; children–from persecution by granting them asylum.

The border wall is hardly a national project warranting the immense expenditure on infrastructure that it would require.  The promise however gained a logic of its own in recent years, deeply toxic to our democracy, announcing exclusion and a suspension of civil rights, as the discovery of the relevancy and urgency of protecting the border to the nation that stands to distract the nation from diminishing protection of civil rights.     The wall is increasingly–and dangerously–treated as if it were a living form, central to the nation’s health, rather than an obstruction to movement of increasingly questionable legality:  even if much of the border fence has been constructed on or adjacent to state- and federally-protected lands, where the role of federal protections has been effectively suspended in the name of the planned construction of border wall, pedestrian fence, and vehicular fencing, from bollard fence to wire fencing, the project of the concrete border wall has taken a far more religious role in the national imagination, elevating a promise of protection with an effect that seems to undermine not only human rights and civil protections of the inhabitants of the United States, but a secular state.


The border wall may in part be be the reason for the popularity of a candidate whose political experience seems to have rested on his fashioning of himself as a master-builder–and suggesting that he could provide a “better deal” for Americans who questioned their place in a changing world.  The identity surely allowed him to pole-vault into national politics, assembling an improbable coalition of Ayn Randians in government who desired a master-builder; white supremacists and anti-immigration groups on its fringes who treasured an exclusionary narratives; and those who had not participated in national politics but felt disenfranchised.  It offered a site of resistance to globalization:  the unexpected assembly of such constituencies about the border wall as an urgent national need was indeed mistaken, despite its thuggery, as a new sign of Hope, in a duplicitous narrative indeed.  Its simple declarative statement–a one-sided one, shiny, and unilaterally American–

Immigration. border wall

–as it defended American interests.  In what seemed among the first item of business of the Trump administration, designed to satisfy the public that seemed to demean the office of the Presidency as a protector of laws.  

The border wallI presented a narrative appealing to those fearful of their status in a “minority” majority country, and desiring new symbols of the nation, is increasingly apparent to be quite toxic to our civil society–especially in its remapping of national priorities around the southwestern border as the most pressing problem in our nation.  As if in a weird repeat of the Vietnam war, the spatial attention of the nation is turned to one strip of land far away that by loose reasoning is argued to be of national significance to all Americans and to be a needed protection not only of status, but of the safety of the nation.  Adopted by the man who avoided the Vietnam war, but seems committed to a comparable financial and moral drain that has no real game plan, the project of wall-building seems potentially infinite, and without any real end.


18.  The promise of constructing the wall seems proposed quite cunningly as a new geographical imaginary of the nation, organized around our sense of vulnerabilities, far beyond the prevention of border crossing.  This imaginary is by no means geographic, however, and transcends the divisions on maps:  for the wall is, more than anything else, the affirmation of a new social and symbolic classification of nation states, and a cultural defense of the impoverished vision of the nation  promoted in mitation of the symbolic classifications of other states:  while the border, a fiction that has less and less meaning as cartographic tools or economic divisions and distinctions, is naturalized as a division between “failed states” and the “United States.”  

The border wall as such rehabilitates a form of rimitive classification, apparently tied to the natural world, but, as Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss posits in a classic essay on collective representations order collective relations to the world–the deeply cultural  nature of primitive classifications.  In a similar sense, several oppositions are concretized in the wall as if natural, but treated as as a new classificatory system that defines our relation to the world.  Despite the apparent starkness of these oppositions, the primitive classifications in the wall reflect the culture of Trump and Trumpism—a culture of exclusion, xenophobia, and barely coded racism, obscuring costs, getting away with rule-skirting, and cost-blurring–and of seeking to create a collective desire for what once were largely fringe proposals, but have been elevated to the political mainstream–in a trick that Antonio Gramsci once associated with fascist appropriation of and legitimation of ideas that once lay outside acceptable discourse, to which they offer a veneer of respectability few expect they would gain, but which sanction an escalating level of violence in spite of their relative inarticulateness.  

The intensity and extremely mind-numbing single-mindedness with which Trump has pursued the border wall was only balanced by his inarticulate insistence on its need, and the racism that it concealed.


image.pngMay 15, 2016

For the border wall promises a system of cultural and social classification, in completing the “fences” that separate Mexico and the United States as a tribal space, as if to reify different systems of social and economic classification; political cultures; and thresholds of danger, which are projected back to the viewer as if they were natural, and need to be acted upon as a complete divide.


image.pngOpenStreetMap data/February 2017

Even if the border wall primarily exists, as much as it exists even from the other side, as a barrier of detention, rather than a continuous wall, the promise of the wall is a promise of future mass detentions, and an off-loading of the apparatus of detention by U.S. Border Patrol agents on a militarized frontier, designed to ensure decrease of border arrests contained until recent years:  the rise of migrant arrests on the Rio Grande suggest a local problem of border maintenance, with small blips at Tuscon and San Diego, and suggests a promise of eliminating all border arrests.


image.pngEl Pais (january 2017)

But if the need for the border wall in large part derives from these statistics, accumulated by Customs and Border Patrol, the classification that it proposes between Americans and undocumented migrants is as rooted in cultural divides as much as scientific observations.

The promise of the border wall seems the symptom of a new spatial imaginary of the nation–and a new idea of fundamental classification of nations, as well as a new notion of governmentality–of fundamental mental prominence, even if the border wall is never built.  Repeatedly and insistently magnified through the megaphone of the U.S. Presidency in the Trump era, the conceit of constructing a physical barrier has remapped the nation’s collective attention to the border as an area needing law enforcement–as if the misdemeanor of crossing the border is a violation of the law, and only by building the wall can a clear sense of national security be guaranteed.  As if a response to the failure of SBInet–a “smart” border technology of electronic surveillance and virtual monitoring–the erasure of all complexity in the cry for building the wall became an even more powerful stripping of the voices of migrants, and a denial of cross-border relations–even if it was boasted to deter undocumented and unwanted migrants from Central America.

image.pngRebuilding the Border Wall in 2016 Christian Torres (AP)

Sadly, the border wall increasingly seems an alternate reality, if not an erasure of any more productive future along the border:  for in committing to create one of the largest illustrations of state power ever attempted, or what has been christened The Wall of Trump, it stands–even if it remains incomplete–a distorting lens through which to view our relations to other countries, the tragic fate of individual migrants, and our relation to the word.  Evoked during the Presidential campaign as a reassuring gesture in response to an alternate reality of approaching dangers, the promise of building the border wall stands as a powerful performance piece, and a lens from which to distort and refraction the relations of the United States to the world, and a stubborn defense against globalization’s increased geographical mobility and fears of the increasing cartographical fluidity of borders and border lines.

The extent of the wall that Trump promoted was repeatedly cast as “better than fencing and much more powerful” would require about some 12.5 million cubic yards of concrete to construct the border wall, to constitute what Rosalyn Kraus has called the “not-landscape”–something that was place-less and foreign to the  landscape, but lay within it even if it disrupted it.  Krauss famously argued that the “expanded field” that disrupted a divide between sculpture and architecture in the 1970s was a break from modernism in its organization of space less around a focal point of an aestheticized space, but as haunted by a sense of absence.  If not able to be assimilated to a hierarchy between sculpture or architecture, or a separation of landscape and architecture, it joins the to around an uneasy absence, in an anti-monumental site that allows  experiencing new logics of exclusion, haunted by absence —

not landscape.png

Robert Morris, Observatory (1970)

The not-space of the border wall suggests a similar anti-monument to the nation, in the landscape but not part of it and defining the landscape.  It subsumes the category of architecture and landscape to a visual proof of the power of the state–rather than to the power of a place.  If Krauss argues that modernist sculptural practice was defined by a logic in relation to a loss of site, which both protects the abstract value of the monument and is also haunted by an absence of place, in ways that remind viewer of its nomadic and place-less status in a world of reproduction, and absence of a symbolic center, the wall suggests an anti-monument less defined by a a center, or a focal point of a built community.  Far from defining a focal point for the community in a civic space, the location of the wall on the physical periphery of the nation seems a sort of metaphor for the transportation of fringe ideas into established political discourse, as the elevation of the issue of immigration beyond human or civil rights into a question of national protection of jobs, health, benefits, and privilege serves to dominate politics discourse to the exclusion of all else, as the nation is walled up in the conceit of the border wall.


19.  It is both inhabiting space and not a part of space, haunted by an absence of space and an emptiness in the landscape, both not part of it and part of it at the same time, in disturbingly displacing ways, displacing migrants or asylum seekers from legal rights and protections accorded by law, and creating an uneven legal landscape in the United States.  While the wall is defined as an anti-monument or un-landscape–part of a landscape and apart from it–it defines a literal no-man’s land along and around the border, outside and apart from the landscape in which it seems embedded.




The wall as it exists is unable to be grasped from a specific point of view, but rather traces a space of emptiness–as if an anti-monument to the state, separate from the surrounding landscape and suggesting a sense of emptiness and abandonment of ethics and ethical judgment in disturbing ways.  The emptiness of the un-lnadscape of the border was keenly evoked in photographs of the scar it creates in the landscape in Misrach’s  large-perspective pans, which investigate the relation of the wall that goes unseen by most Americans, even as they debate its existence, suggesting the  non-place it creates and imposes as a non-landscape emptied of place, exercising violent impact, if hidden, impact on individual subjects.

Misrach’s haunting photos of a border wall that  and to try to capture the traces of individuals at its site, in a recent set of collaborations with musician and composer Guillermo Galindo, as if to create the anti-landscape that the border fencing creates–and that leads us to imagine the even more eerily isolated relation to the landscape of Trump’s proposed border wall–which would be even more of an imposition extraneous to the landscape but imposed on it as a negative space.


misrach-wallRichard Misrach/from Border Cantos


The border wall acts as an anti-monument, in other words, on a majestic scale, not focussing attention on commemoration than the silencing of memory but reminding us of the absence of rights.  It is among the most vulgar shows of strength–borrowing from a lexicon of emptiness in the service of the state.




Wall, east of Nogales, Arizona, 2015. (© Richard Misrach. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, Pace / MacGill Gallery, and Marc Selwyn Fine Art)


The border wall transforms the commemorative purpose of architecture of monumentality.  Rather than focusing our attention in space, and foregrounding an ontological absence, the space of the wall is a non-monument, far less liberatory in its visual effect than undermining of presence than trying to recreate the spatial ontology of those on both sides, and suggest the sense less of a disruption–although it is a clear disruption, rooted in an aesthetics of division and appropriates a similar negative condition to frame a new mythological construction of nationhood, rooted in deeply archaic ways in exclusion.  For it poses an archaic sense of primitive classification, in an era of global politics, denying interconnectedness or relatedness to preserve the sacred notion of national safety.

In suggesting the sign of national strength to replace the heterogenous assemblage of scrap metals at Tijuana where the remainder of the feared recent Caravan of Central American migrants arrived, Trump sold the wall to the electorate as a guarding of the national frontier against outsiders.  The old fence ncreasingly resembles the ruins of Ozymandias,  to be sure,stretching into the Pacific Ocean as if in an attempt to overcome the ties of a global circulation of water.



Wall washed by Waveswall in waves


The recent plans to construct a “revitalized” border wall that are currently promoted as protecting public safety and “vital to our national interests” seems a negative monument that will stand as a reminder of the worst aspects of our national ethos–denying human rights or civil society, civil rights and the common law principles of our nation.  Is the disproportionate concentration that the arrival of the recent Caravan of migrants has helped direct to our border not an illustration of all the toxic elements that the border control, inhumane treatment of migrants, and bolstering of the authority of Customs and Border Patrol agents has come to express in vivid terms?

The desperate narratives of the migrants who were dislocated along the sandy beaches in Tijuana, or climbed atop its antiqued and rusty corrugated metal, proudly raising the Honduran flag in an appeal for their own uncertain legal limbo, seem erased and suspended, as the violent separations of families of migrants at the border is increasingly reveals the shocking nature of their uncertain legal fate.  If the border line seems to be a clear division and protection, it is increasingly apparent how many difficulties its creation seems to generate.


n wall:commemorated at wall

Flag on Border at Tijuana


20.  The thuggish border wall has sold itself as a response to an immigration crisis, but the urgency with which it is advocated reveals a crisis in democracy.  For the assertion of need for a border wall responds to false truth claims that “the situation at the border has reached a crisis,” claims that elevate xenophobia and fear, as much as respond through a policy change.  The creation of a “state of exception” at the border allows the creation of a border wall to evade actual laws, and border guards to ignore immigrants’ civil rights, The border wall that candidate Trump promised the nation has fit into so many of our spatial imaginaries as a threshold of migration and of democratic values, stock images of outsiders, and illegal behavior.   It stands as a monument to the lack of liberty or individual rights of migrants–and seems to capture the current policy of removing children from the parents guilty of the misdemeanor of crossing the border illegally, as a dehumanization and a failure of political imagination or health.

The   intransigence with which Trump has promoted the border wall as “so badly needed” has helped to make it a point of reference–even if it is unbuilt–to understand the global political landscape, as well as solidifying the worst elements of our relation to Mexico and to migrants who cross the southwestern border.  If the wall is cast as a sense of being fed up with earlier immigration policies–based on human rights conventions, our laws for granting asylum to the endangered, and inalienable civil rights of inhabitants of the United States–the wall only concretizes the continuously increasing presence of border patrol agents along the southwestern border, and the defenses that have been long amassed on the border, despite what Donald Trump encourages one to believe–a powerful graphic that demands pondering to imagine that most all border states would darken if one filled the slider bar into the present.




Trump and U.S. Border Patrol have both presented the border wall as crucial to the safety of the nation.  But the insistence on the border wall has emptied the nation of much of its meaning.   For the border wall stands to remap the nation and national priorities.  The problem of “border protection” and enforcement comes at very clear costs to our concepts of civil society and individual liberties, sacralizing the notion of the nation at its border.  The internet allowed for the creation of a sense of undue immediacy, and for a sense that the border suggested a site of governmentally where more funds, equipment, and inspectors needed to be invested in what had become an open front and line of crossing.

But the result is the diminution if not erasure of civil protections and human rights along the southwestern border.  Indeed, the border wall serves as a statement about civil protection whose spectacle increasingly serves to  distract attention from its questionable legal status, and whose promise of protecting the nation sets a standard of national protection that is both increasingly isolating, and defines our relation not through our ties to the hemisphere, but to our attempts to distance ourselves from “failed countries,” rather than just principles or civil rights.


The border wall has become pillar of his protection of public safety Trump has promised.   While borders are themselves challenging to map as they lie on the edges of the national map, the borderlands pose difficult challenges to map–and to map as a site of motion, permeability, or transit.  The fear of motion that is not easily recorded in maps–transnational cross-border flows of crime, guns, drugs, or employment–were long foregrounded in states near the southwestern border, who have depicted border crossings as the sources of multiple ills that afflict our nation and the United States.  Indeed, the conceit of the wall promises to define a sharp, impermeable edge along the border that in a fell swoop, as if by an executive order, remap the priorities and needs of the nation, even if it obscures the voices of those who live there.  Much meaning lies in an organic understanding that the best walls are membranes, permitting passage across permeable borders.


21.  The desire to prevent motion across space at its edges, precisely where some of the movement most vital to the nation occurs would be economically, environmentally, and politically unsound, but the notion of such a bounding has provided a compelling notion of the nation.  The distorted presence of the conceit of the border wall in the national imaginary has created a distortion of space, time, and nationhood on the immediacy of the internet.  Can static, better maps help to refocus our attention on the delicate nature of the border lands, and help us wrest a sense of new ownership over the border wall–as well as to banish the cartographical demons that haunt it?

The claims of the reality of the wall as they exist on the screens–and especially in online maps–have perpetuated the wall as a collective project of exclusion, to protect the security, jobs, health, and safety of the nation in ways that drastically diminish the nation as a set of laws.  For even if there is not a proximate cause to any of the issues that the border wall seeks to resolve, erasing any sense of distance and sense of communion to the wall as if it were an alternate reality, more ‘real’ than a virtual web of surveillance.  And the manner in which the conceit of the border appeals to the worst individual instincts of protection, personal safety, community threats, and outbreaks of gang violence creates the loosest sense of collective, linked by fears of personal safety rather than a collective terms.

The bizarre degradation of the local environment and specific endangered habitats along the path of the border wall–to be segmented by border wall and vehicle barriers at present, but in greater danger of endangering habitat within the expanded fifty-mile border “impact zone”–


–impacts critical habitat of some twenty-five endangered species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, suggesting the extent to which the dream of the wall’s continuity runs roughshod over the environmental impacts that its future construction would incur on habitat of jaguar, owls, or ocelots whose migration have been compromised.  But the predominant feeling that “environmental” challenges to the wall are its most significant obstacles are naive and may avoid the point.

Indeed, the visions of the wall as an impenetrable and impermeable membrane on the country’s southwestern border stand only to freeze movement from either side of the border, irrespective of local costs, or indeed of the unique habitat and grounds on which the border happens to be situated, in another bizarre manifestation of the imposition of the promise of the wall over the meaning of place, as if the natural habitats could conform to Trump’s vision of a wall for the nation–irrespective of the poor fit with topography or location, as if by a sheer will to power over the region on which it seeks to impose its power and protest its urgency.

The construction of a permanent barrier to stop border traffic were in fact advocated in sites along the border since 2011, and attempts since 2007 to wrestle with the different types of obstructions that might unify the  diverse topography of its terrain.  Maps, created and designed by anti-immigrant groups that developed along the border, and first tried to register the anger of cross-border traffic in fearful tones, described “flows of transnational crime & violence” from deadly assault, human smuggling, sex trade, drug smuggling, cartels, gangs, “special interest aliens” murder and even assassination as flowing north from the alien lands below the southwestern frontier.

transnational crime & violence.pngTexas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment (2011), Texas Dept. Agriculture

The visualization of the perils of cross-border traffic invasively and surreptitiously entering America without detection has justified a militarized border as a front of war against a huge range of invasive elements, in almost bacterial fashion, as if vectors or streams floated drugs, gangs, cartels, and criminality into the nation, and constituted an assault on its integrity.  Barraged by years of data visualizations depicting the threats of an advance of migrants characterized as “aliens” who condensed multiple threats to the very coherence of domestic space in almost phantasmic ways.  The manner of consolidating threats that so pressingly haunt the nation may even constitute dream-like status of the way that a fixed wall has provided an icon of purity and redemption, but also gained particular staying power, as they lodged in the minds of audiences, even as the United States possess the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, and have developed increased addictions to opioids marketed by drug companies, or indeed American appetites for drugs.  Such images inform metaphors pedaled from the Trump campaign of “bad hombres” and drugs streaming into the country, as if carried across the border through gaps that he argued he would be able to seal.

As the Caravan made its way across Mexico, American news agencies broadcast that any lies in asylum requests would violate US law;  the American Attorney General announced the intent to separate adults from their children by jailing them while processing their immigration cases, referring all “illegal border crossers” to the Department of Justice “until we get to 100%,” in the hopes to encourage families who arrive from Central America, as if Homeland Security privileges can trump longstanding refugee policies and legal rights.

Caravan 2017.png2017 Route of Caravana de Madres Centroamericanas (Googlemaps)

The advancing of a Caravan of migrants–a threat of massive immigration–ran against the religion of the nation.  ven if the annual Caravana de madres centroamericanashad regularly protested the legal rights of individuals on their 4,000 km trek across Mexico.  In their progress, they were, to be sure, encouraged by priests and Franciscans in their desire to make visible the plight of those migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador who had disappeared in transit to the United States.  Many carried signs while they moved across frontiers that broadcast that Ningun her humano es illegal.  The migrants were not only from the nations that many of the Border Patrol had already apprehended in previous years, raising questions of danger–and as an image habituated us to the border as a site of apprehension and surveillance, as if to inoculate us against the human stories of migrants.  The spectacle of the 2018 “caravan of migrants” however served as a focal point of national news not to foreground the plight of refugees but to stoke panic about cross-border migration, to generate panic about traversing the border, rather than the refugees’ own conditions.


22.  The refugees after all were erased from the map, as was the notion of their own legal rights.  The fears border authority invoked of cascading immigration American laws were unable to contain undermined the legality of the immigration process, and emphasized the legal loopholes that created the Caravan–and made it an emblem of the dangers of transnational flows.  Daily tracking of the slow, if inevitable, progress of the Caravan by FOX as a source of anxiety about borders.  Was it any coincidence the U.S. Department of State had stoked up fears by issuing travel advisories discouraging travel–“do not travel” alerts–for most Mexican states?  The State Department issued these alerts because of their high criminality, equating their levels of danger to Syria, Yemen, or Somalia–the  sites of other refugees that Trump would prevent entering the nation–as if to confirm the underlying needfor a border wall.

image.pngJanuary 2018 Travel Warnings, U.S. Department of State


In ways that seem to conflate the mapping of widespread criminality with the dangers posed by migrants and refugees–an argument confusing correlations with causality, the identity of the refugees was erased by the inherent criminality of most Mexicans, as five states–Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero and Tamaulipas, and focussed the dangers of drug and gang-related violence–often not victimizing tourists, but indicating a level of violence that speaks volumes about the public image of neighbors south of the border, even if Mexico as a whole retains only a level 2–not 4-warning; the revised ratings of safety by the U.S. State Department led 11 states to be assigned level 3, but the highest warning went to sites of turf-wars among cartels–Tamaulipas and Sinaloa–and the burgeoning homicide rates in Colima, a site of another cartel.

But the imagery of criminality that such maps have long cultivated in America suggest the deeper fears of the drug and arms trade entering the United States.  Since 2012, the US State Department issued broadened travel warnings about Mexico, cautioning Americans against “displaying any evidence of wealth that might draw any attention” given “ongoing security and violence concerns” that reflect fears of the very economic inequalities accentuated by globalization and perpetuated by neoliberalism in an earlier period.




It was paradoxical but almost inevitable that the notion of an unstoppable momentum of the on-foot migrants generated levels of panic akin to an asteroid headed for earth.  Images of the progress of thousands of migrants, proceeding unchecked by local authorities across Mexico from Central America, served to foreground, once again, the gaps of border policing the border, security breaches, and the need for national protection of which Donald Trump had reminded constituents were endangering the nation with limited factual basis.  The concept of the border wall became emblematic of a new religion of the nation, a sacralization of the border that could be both protected and secure, and secure a different future for the United States–or the restoration of an old economic order, before globalization.  Trump helped amplify longstanding claims of national security threats that prepared for the arrival of the National Guard at the border to meet the Caravan of migrants who had passed migration checkpoints in the past, and were cast as heading inexorably toward the border, and in need of being stopped as if they were truly “invading forces” who would attack our nation, even if against their own stated purpose or will, as they became an emblem of globalization’s threat.

Indeed, the arrival of “the Caravan”–capitals courtesy the Commander-in-Chief–was projected as a threat needing containment of the border barriers not yet in place, sounding a coded alarm to the closed-border groups that had so strongly supported Trump’s Presidential candidacy.  Trump promised in the Republican presidential debate that building the border wall would indeed “create a border,” as if none existed before, with a striking sense of logical leaps that may have guided much of the nation down a rabbit hole–“They built the Great Wall of China. That’s 13,000 miles. Here, we actually need 1,000 because we have natural barriers. So we need 1,000.”—as if it were rational; a man who moved billions regularly in transfers and earnings seemed to argue the price-tag of a mere $7 billion was no impediment, and even as it dizzyingly rose in Trump’s own words first to $8 billion, $10 billion, $12 billion, and then $20 billion, his supporters suspended considering a ballooning national debt or other needed national infrastructure.  But the fetishizing of a suitably massive wall able to prevent scaling, and now existing in prototypes–as if they would afford the necessary obstruction of cross-border threats and to express Presidential leadership.  But the poverty with which the wall projected leadership–and the absence of any defense of an ethos of American liberties or respect for established laws.


image.pngJenna Schoenfeld

The arrival of a Caravan of migrants seemed a stage-managed event to illustrate the need for the wall, as the panic about the progress of the Caravan of Central Americans registered the prominence of the border wall in the national imagination. Opportunistic banner headlines mapped the annual transit across Mexico of hopeful migrants.  These banter headlines paid little attention to the migrants or their fate, but  converted a map of their progress into a clear message that almost seemed an opening act for the prominence of immigration platform among GOP candidates in this year’s general election.  While “immigration” is less a platform than a coded form of racism and xenophobia, the rhetoric and hopes of anti-immigrant groups has gained a new veneer of political legitimacy within American politics.

The approach of Central Americans passing the country’s immigration checkpoints raised the spectrum of immigration by blurring nations,  and if they were seeking asylum from Honduras and other nations, their transit blended into a story about the United States and its borders–in ways that served to silence the voices of the migrants in definitive ways, and use their progress to illustrate American immigration policy and the stiffness of an immigration response.  For newscasters, and the President himself, seemed for a month unable to understand their peaceful progress as a departure, or a protest, but only as tantamount an invasion.  The panic generated about their impending “arrival” fit a script painting immigrants taking jobs, using social benefits, and indeed even increasing violent crime and increasing drug traffic and opioid addiction, no matter how poorly those concepts mapped onto their progress.  The dominance of an “immigration platform” in current Republican campaigns even outside border states tells us much about the country, and the distorted sense of national politics of a Trump presidency.

In part, the apparent failure to create a promised–always improbable–immediate “legislative fix” addressing those undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children,  collectively granted a stay to remain in America, the uncertainty of their aspirations and legality captured by the acronym DREAMers, has led GOP candidates have sought to parry past promises of immigration solution heading into the fall election; Trump’s fantastic promise of construction of a border wall that has epitomized immigration debate, as the wall which Trump promoted has become as prominent as limits on deportation in Sanctuary Cities, placing not only “politics above people,” but symbolics above people, ethics, and laws–epitomized by a spiked boot of a modern storm-trooper seems the ultimate representation of collective fear, and includes, beneath the raised arms of migrants, loosely mapped Central America by the outlines of the Mexican beaches and a deserted island with a single palm, an apt way to conjure the vague political geography behind what is presented as a platform of geopolitical political strength as well as public protection.

Imm Platform.png

The pathos of those raised arms–shown only in outline, and almost to dehumanize the figures that stand in for migrants in this satyric button that reflects the widespread advocacy of new immigration policies–even if it evokes the pathos of Picasso’s figures subject to deadly gas attacks, the sketchy grey silhouettes who raise arms are tellingly less expressive, or individuated, and their faceless gestures are removed in space, filling an abstract Mexico, demanding entry and holding black flags.


The perspective is resolutely American, because the humanity of the migrants is denied, as their claims for asylum and fear of persecution are called duplicitous self-presention. The panicked reaction to the migrant procession often known simply as a Caravan–and magnified to become an onslaught on our southwestern border that condensed fantasies of national vulnerability–arrived on Easter Sunday as an event that might be stage-managed to restore the fears of border-crossings front and center to national politics, and help move a fairly hollow notion of the nation, focussed on its frontiers, to the front burner of national attention, or at least restore it to banner headlines on FOX.

The procession of central american migrants had occurred in the past as a five-week itinerary on foot, although now, with embedded journalists, migrants carrying their own cell phones, their itineraries were not only mapped.  As if reacting to updates on their progress on FOX news, as his his wont, the President of the United States fenced with their progress on social media, inviting Mexican authorities to hault their progress lest they start a trade war, or jeopardize their free trade agreement, cautioning that any lies or incorrect statements made to border authorities would be viewed as prosecuted, and that the border was full, repeatedly made them a the panicked focus of national attention.


Migrant Corridor (2012)

Trump increased his performative creation of a border wall; where a barrier did not yet exist, he took the conflict as an occasion to visit to prototypes of the planned Wall, projecting its imminent installation as if it existed in his mental imaginary in an act of bravado and bravura, disguising the bullying attitude he imposed in response to the 2,000 migrants he claimed were advancing to America attracted by its “weak laws” and urging in his twitterfeed that they “had better be stopped before they get here.”

Trump didn’t address actual policy, but took the opportunity for photos posing grim-faced, with a version of his border map at stark contrast with the reality of the border.  Trump took the occasion as a chance–and even a perfect moment–to revitalize the empty promises of his campaign, asserting the greater reality of the wall than the plight of migrants who were protesting the cruelty inherent in longstanding immigration conditions.  But he enjoyed the photo op, even if it did not engage the complex problems of the border that he sought to replace with a wall in increasingly performative ways.  Is it any surprise that so many artists have joined in with responses to the project of wall-building, in ways that similarly underscore its increasingly performative function of preserving national safety that he had promised to restore?  In ways that echoed the words of his Attorney General,  Jeff Sessions that the United States is fundamentally not only “an idea,” or a set of abstract principles, but is embodied as a “nation-state” not only by its Constitution and laws, but borders,–“We have a Constitution, we have laws, we have borders, and we must help protect them”--Trump has taken every opportunity to blame the “horrible laws” and “bad laws” around immigration, that could not have been made by folks who loved the country, in a new religion of the nation that almost threatens the secular state.

Through the renewal of a religion of faith at the border Trump promised through  a “get tough” approach to prosecuting immigration “violations” at the border is promised to rid the nation of “filth” brought by both cartels, gangs, and criminal organizations and end the dangerous “abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws” in “catch and release” practices of the Obama presidency–“We don’t have laws.  We have catch and release.“–invoking a term that sounded awfully weak.  It is only because “no wall [is] in place yet,” explain patriot groups as they endorsed Trump, that the national guard was sent to the border to stop the migrant caravan.  The fake judiciousness with which Trump summoned a sense of determination and judicious judgement in  showcasing the potential of a wall for which he was requesting an extra $500 million, bringing his request to at least $2.2 billion for the coming financial year, and a total of at least $25 billion,

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

–suggested a Contract with America that had a steep price tag indeed, and one on which Donald had to perform quite a sell as a major transformation of the borderlands, even though the consequences of the project were clearly not well considered or thought out.

Donald Displays MapApril 2, 2018/AP

Legal practices, legal rights, or the granting of asylum all went out the window, as it were, as Trump asserted his bullying warped view that the procession of migrants was the basis for overturning DACA, appends for the border wall he had promised but lacked funds to build, and for sending the National Guard to the border.  The peaceful annual procession of the Caravan de madres centroamericanas was improbably recast in the American media as a fear of criminal immigration, worthy of provoking an illustration of the renewed strength of American borders by President Trump and the Border Patrol, rather than as revealing the plight of actual refugees.  The defense of the border, by now a central pillar of the religious of the nation, and a cause for the suspicion of parties who did not fund the border wall, even if the religion of the nation ran up against civil laws that had long defined the nation, and destroyed the idea of the nation as granting equal protection to foreigners and accepting asylum requests.


For his part, Trump returned tauntingly, obsessively, and even with some pleasure on Twitter to the “caravan” to energize calls for a Border Wall.  The coverage of the caravan of migrants in daily news offered a megaphone to magnify its presence, and the threat an onslaught of migrants poses for the nation, and grounds  to dehumanize their plight.  As much as deny them legal recourse, it subsumed them to a new religion of the nation that the Taunter in Chief assumed.  Rather than accord human rights to the migrants, the Caravan became, mutatis mutandi, a way to demand greater authority for the executive branch to police our borders better, and to magnify the presence of Border Patrol and National Guard across the border–even without defining their precise mandate during their border posting, and without undergoing any specific training for the job.

When California’s Governor Jerry Brown pluckily pushed back against the federal request, Trump pluckily began a Twitter skirmish with the California Governor.  And Governor Brown pushed back only to the extent that he would restrict the activities of 400 National Guard in California to actual transnational crime, limiting their mission to focus on actual public safety threats, to satisfy those who concerned about the projected “surge of large numbers of criminal aliens,” as if scared by the neologism ‘crimmigration’ that the recent delegation of authority in the Secure Communitiesprogram led local law enforcement to hand over “criminal aliens” to ICE.  President Trump rebuffed Brown’s threatto have federal immigration authorities withdraw  from the state of California–“If I wanted to pull our people from California you would have a crime nest like you’ve never seen in California,” Trump told the nation, with a bravado that sought to reveal the key role ICE played in ensuring national safety, predicting that if he did so, “in two months they’d be begging for us to come back”–as if gangs were poised for entry at the border, and ICE alone promised peaceful order.   (Trump has engaged in public discussions with California sheriffs in an attempt to portray ICE as a law-and-order alternative.)  Trump has long attacked Oakland’s mayor Libby Schaaf for having “shielding illegal immigrants,” after she warned Oaklanders of a four-day sweep of Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents, which sought to separate families by deportation by following ICE detainer requests that expanded the priorities for national removal for anyone accused of offenses, and not even convicted–even if that “offense” was gaining a job without legal papers.

When he vented in a recent cabinet meeting about limited progress in “sealing” the border against those he called “illegal immigrants,” he performatively berated the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen as she became his newest punching bag for flawed border policty, as if to per formatively conjure the need for the wall by bemoaning its absence.  By directing blame at her for an ill-conceived plan, as if girding the nation has been countered by the rising rates of “illegal” immigration at its borders, and  border agents detained 8,882 people in families and 4,171 unaccompanied minors–boosting the largest monthly increase in border arrests since 2011.


As President Trump sought to channel the same anger at the border, he vented in the midst of a cabinet meeting at Dept. Homeland Security Director Nielsen in about as inappropriate ways imagined.  Seeing himself as an outsider even while framing national policy in the White House, Trump sought to blame Secretary Nielsen–an expert in national security of some time and lawyer who has defended the practices of policing the border for some time–for the failure to secure the boundary “fully” or in sufficiently intimidating ways.  Nielsen had objected to  jailing of undocumented migrants separately from their children or allowing border agents to aggressively pursue migrants, to be sure, and the become an advocate of peaceable immigration practices at checkpoints.

Trump’s angry outburst–performative, to be sure, but emblematic of the bombast and bullying that Trump imagines gets things “done”–followed his own multiple invocations of the boundary barrier; Trump had trotted out familiar campaign promises in even greater rhetorical expansiveness when addressing the National Rifle Association that, a year and a half into the job, as if by his rhetorical boasts blaming immigration laws he convinced himself that legal obstructions that Nielsen incarnated –“we have laws written by people who could not have loved their country,” he vented to the NRA, elevating a religion of the nation above the law.  And so Nielsen, a woman lawyer, became transformed, in the unlikeliest of manners, into his latest punching bag and target of aggression in an unbalanced fit of aggression about “securing” the border as if it were a military front-line.  “We’re going to start defending our borders,” venting his anger by indoor yelling at cabinet meeting about the need to fix those open borders, and the continued failure by his administration to secure the border or build a border wall, directing the nation’s rage and resentment to his own appointee to question her competence in building the promised structure.


23.  Since his campaign, Trump has directed the nation with an almost obsessive attention, as if he were seeking to compensate for a lack of orientation to what deep problems of global scale and proportion, to the southern border of the United States to provide a narrative that made sense, or some sense, of everything.  In his performative public shaming of Nielsen at a cabinet meeting, Trump seemed to summon aggrieved anger toward immigrants to whom he directed blamed for downward social mobility and dashed dreams, as if desperately searching for someone to pin the blame for its absence:  Neilsen was but the latest target for expressing unfounded public rage at the absence of the border barrier he had promised to impose on the map by a sheer act of will.  Perhaps the attempt that the DHS Secretary made to encourage migrants to present themselves in a legal manner at border checkpoints was the problem.

image.pngInstallation at Tecate by JR (September 2017) /photograph by Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty 

As if blaming Secretary Neilsen for his own lack of securing funding for the Border Wall–or even reaching a meaningful compromise with democratic legislators, as once had seemed possible when an agreement not to deport children brought to the United States as children was included in “a package of border security, excluding the wall,” before his intransigence on the construction of the border wall reared its head again–the fear of allowing undocumented immigrants into the nation that anti-immigrant groups has long drawn national attention, helped by FOX and others, online and not, seemed to be something for which he could not, as President, accept blame.  As Trump styled himself as an outsider politician became less viable in office, he blamed his staff and other members of the “deep state” for having prevented the new policies he proposed from being adopted as law–although they were deeply incompatible with U.S. immigration law.

Was Nielsen just not ready to sit at the big table with the big boys, and man up to building a wall that would be a barrier sufficiently tough to block women and children?  Would she construct a watered-down spongy version of the wall inflected in unmanly dirty pink,–as if it were less aggressive to migrants than his promise to close the borders by a “big, beautiful wall”?


the-design-was-also-inspired-by-the-work-ofrenowned-mexican-architect-luis-barragn-who-is-famous-for-his-blunt-stucco-walls-and-use-of-bright-colorsEstudio 3.14

Whatever the reason, Trump’s wildly undisciplined railing against the only woman at the table embodied the aggrieved nation, afflicted by “the worst immigration laws in the history of mankind” filled with the “deadly immigration loopholes,” which invited “horrible killer gang members” into the country bearing the very “drugs pouring into our country and poisoning our youth”:  was his performative rhetoric get the better of him?  or was he extending the claims he had long made, to shock the nation into building the wall by the oldest of anti-immigrant tropes?  Infuriated by increasing arrests of immigrants at the border to  the highest levels since Trump became President, he  directed his rage at Homeland Security Secretary  Nielsen as if they were able to reverse the rise in a common metric for illegal immigration flows, even as he has sought to roll out the border wall.  After he had welcomed the statistics as a basis for promoting the border wall as an enhancement of national security efforts, the desire to make the promised border wall a site for the restoration of a “rule of law” is paradoxical, as despite its promise to disrupt gangs, cartels and smugglers, the border wall seems to produce opposite results–as Trump continues to affirm the need for its construction to protect the nation, even as he seems to change its character, but may be placed in the same quandary as George W. Bush and Barack Obama in bolstering U.S. Border Patrol agents monitoring the border since the record-high 1.6 million border arrests in 2000-the start of fears on border activity and terrorism.

But when the President who had offered the nation the possibility to build this unwieldily border wall as his central political vision decided to demand from  DHS Secretary Nielsen that she “close” the border, his own inability to control or encourage the progress of the wall or its effects became tragically clear.  One couldn’t but wonder, as Trump represented himself as aggrieved, lacking the wall, and himself performed a feeling of being wronged by a woman he’d charged to supervise the construction of an obstructive barrier.  The blaming Nielsen in the official meeting concealed the demand for the border wall that was advocated by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, but which increasingly looked like it might become, in Nielsen’s version, a feminized version of the wall he promised, as she had invited immigrants to arrive in established Points of Entry to petition for asylum in the Untied States, rather than undertaking dangerous overland travel.  At the same time as Breitbart had already readily sounded the alarm of a traitor in the midst–“DHS SEC KIRSTJEN NIELSEN MADE ‘COLOSSAL MISTAKE’ IN ‘INVITING’ FOREIGN NATIONALS ‘TO COME TO PORTS OF ENTRY’”–President Trump blamed her for not including ports of passage that would undermine the obstructive barrier he had campaigned to meet the anti-immigration rhetoric whose effects had become so enamored.

Trump seemed almost cognitively unable to imagine granting non-violent migrants entry to the United States.  Chief of Staff John Kelly sputtered about the danger of allowing “people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society” given their  “overwhelmingly rural” origins, as if migrants could be excluded because of their social origins.  It is as Trump needed to sustain the”big, beautiful wall” in his public address, haunted by the idea of a “pink wall” Nielsen might create, to blame someone–a woman, even better!–for its failure to materialize as announced.  The dusty wall–whose public imagery would subvert its machismo–could not replace the wall that Trump promised the nation, as Guadalajara-based architects at Estudio 3.14 realized, which was so central in the religion of the nation that he sought to rally Americans behind–as if she were not man enough for the task of its construction.

stretching-from-the-pacific-coast-to-the-gulf-of-mexico-the-wall-would-separate-the-southwest-us-from-northern-mexico-jpgBaby Pink US-Mexico Border Wall/Guadalajara-based design firm Estudio 3.14

Trump channeled a deep sense of the nation’s anger by yelling at his DHS Secretary, as if to suggest he could have fulfilled the project; the conceit seemed that if his secretaries performed as he’d so clearly desired, it would be complete.  The absence of the wall was precipitated by budget disputes, but revealed by the collective advance of a version of what seemed the very immigrant hordes that Trump had long envisioned, and the question it raised of what sort of border confrontation would result.  For Trump had searched for historical greatness in the power of the wall to redefine borders, searching for powerful modes of mapping to defend a religion of the nation–


–in a megalomaniac construction that that might recall the great megalomaniac displays of power over nature in the great earthworks of the premodern past.



24.  One might think of the Christo version of the wall, as a flowing banner, after the Running Fence, first built in Sonoma and Marin Counties in Northern California back in the bucolic days of 1972-6, in order to promote a quite different idea of the nation, as demanded in an online petition that attracted some thousands of supporters, in an attempt to help improve the public standing of the United States as a model of laws.



Ronald Rael’s studio more eloquently suggested a more site-specific nature for the wall, questioning less its legal upending of rights.   Revisioning the wall alternatively as a xylophone, a set of revolving burrito stands, or a see-saw, he restores the border to a site of sociability and innocence it long was, in an architectural manifesto revising the divide that seemed to be the inevitable outcome of Trump’s electoral victory.  Rael observed on the day after the 2016 Presidential election, even if Trump “has not yet built his ‘great wall’ literally, he certainly has done so figuratively . . . . within our body politic.”  

By promoting the idea of border security in ways especially corrosive of the nation-state and of communities, Trump had framed the building of a border wall as a debate along party lines and a basis to disenfranchise unauthorized immigrants, increase the need for border agents and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement across the nation.  Long before the election, the figurative power of the wall dramatically increases the steep sense of vulnerability all of immigrant.  Rael;’s Manifesto created several alternative architectures of the wall on the eve of the Presidential election, however, recognizing the shared nature of the frontier as a site of mutual habitation– to underscore its remove from the plans that Donald Trump and friends imagine, begining from the fact that the border runs so clearly through settled space–rather than across uninhabited lands–where the prospect of materializing a permanent divide obscures the relation of the wall to humans who cross the border annually, and returning it to the state of a cultural bridge–alive less as a threat than a site of mutual collaboration in a new mapping of the border–a mapping that Rael disguised cleverly as written atop an signatories to an official-looking “Boundary between the United States and Mexico,” as if the true accord between both countries, agreed by signatories on both sides of the proposed.  On this wall, children use a teeter-totter with arms joyously raised–as a counter-map of the imposing wall Trump had described to the nation.

boudnary remap!

Linea Divisoria


25.  The new version of the fencing that already exists along two miles at Calexico, CA was begun to be replaced in March 2018 as a start to the replacement of over 100 miles of wall–not with a bar on which teeter-totters could swing, as in Rael’s jubilliant vision of the wall as play structure but a grimmer, presumably taller, and less easily scaled sheer concrete.  Although members of the US Border Patrol would prefer additional high-tech tools like sensors and cameras, or even all-terrain vehicles, rather than a wall, the acting deputy commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection insisted on the notion of the wall–“walls work!”–that Trump insists will be payed out of military funds, erasing any sense of a distinction between the military and Homeland.




The conceit that the border was a protection for United States sovereignty may seem home-grown, but the augmentation of the border into a barrier protective of the nation’s security and wealth is a conceit that bears the marks of how Trump credited after the inauguration to the Israeli sheer concrete Separation Barrier, built ostensibly to secure Israel from Palestinian terrorists during the Second Intifada, as a model.  Trump enthused to FOX-TV’s Sean Hannity, with whom he often discusses politics in recent months, that the Barrier had successfully created “99.9% stoppage” of “a total disaster coming across” originating from the West Bank, oblivious to the human rights violations it created or disenfranchisement it effectively institutionalized.   Despite the absence of similarities to the wall Israel’s government justified building as a threats to national security in response to the 2002 military uprising–or that it was 1/13th the size of the Border Wall that Trump proposed, only thirty-five miles longer in 2013–the building of the border walls against an “existential threatto the nation”–to quote the former commander of the southern border, John Kelly, Trump’s former director of Homeland Security and now Chief of Staff, for whom Nielsen worked–creates a demand for its urgency even if it corrodes civil society or a society based on guarantees of human rights or laws.

Indeed, although Israeli courts judged the building of a barrier in occupied Palestine boundary to be illegalas early as 2004, Trump saw in them a precedent for effective strategies of wall-building.  (His friend Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gleefully took credit for providing Trump with the idea of such a Barrier in his own three-year-old border fence to keep out “infiltrators” of Israel’s security–”I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.–signing off with twinned emoji of the Israeli and American flags, as if to grant the tweet the status of a statement of state relations–


–but conveniently ignoring the illegal nature of the Separation Barrier but promoting its obstructive benefit despite its illegality, or the insulting nature of the tweet to Mexico, so happy was he to affirm his newfound friendship with a new American President, international and domestic opinion be damned–if suggesting to Israelis that he was seeking to sell border-policing technologies of surveillance that Israel now manufactures back to the United States, after the Secure Border Inititative was first sold to Israel from the American President George W. Bush.  (Trump had not yet itemized the border technologies he sought,  including border towers, akin to those that exist in the West Bank, priced at $50 million and another $20 million worth of ground sensors, but was about to start his shopping spree.)


Tjeerd Royaards (September 1, 2017)

The spectacle of the range of technologies that stand to be employed at the wall suggest an attempt to jump-start the investment in the American economy, making what would stand to be the largest infrastructure project ever attempted into a Works Project Administration designed to include state-of-the-art surveillance tools that stand to expand the cost of adapting military technologies developed in wars from drone surveillance to radar to blimps and remote video surveillance–all included in the 400 million approved for border technology–which promise to defend the border into a huge expense to bankrupt the state through high-tech border management.


The expansion of the policing of the border zone through a new range of technologies undermines the individuality of the migrant.  The corrosive nature of the wall grows as its apparatus is elevated into part of a religion of the nation, that trumps the value of human and civil rights of those on the other side, and indeed reduces their stories and cases for asylum by insisting on the greatest need to protect national security in military terms, whose urgency replaces the ability to hear the stories of those who approach it.  Even if the promised “big, beautiful wall” does not exist as a structure, it exists as an animating conceit to affirm the dehumanization of those on the other side:  the imagined “beauty” of the wall lies in its denial of legal rights and its justification of bullying, bating, and attacking the other, who is cast as an animal needing to be kept out:  even if Trump won’t acknowledge capacious use of the term and category of the “animal,” the figuration of the border wall as a pen for animals–

Secured Borders

–animates a notion of national security that based on remapping the security of the nation,–or at least the security of the lower forty-eight.


To be sure, the border has itself become a site for security but also of indignation, open expression of grievances about the nation, and rage, as it has assumed undue prominence in a new religion of the nation that seems increasingly unsecular in character and dimensions.  In an age when we are assaulted by disembodied data on immigration, the Caravan provided the Trump White House communications team with a concrete image FOX and Friends were eager to convert into an immediate threat to our sovereignty of unwarranted proportion.  The accusation “porous border” has become a target of wrath among those devoted to the integrity of the nation and a talking point for Trump repeatedly returned to in his ongoing and endless campaign; the conversion of legal protections accorded non-citizens as “loopholes” that allow immigration of criminal actors overturns legal protections in the name of a new, oddly hollow, and far emptier, notion of the nation that is as blank and emptied of legal traditions as the insignia of the U.S. Border Patrol.


26.  Although the arrival in the United States of “undocumented” immigrants occurs far less from trans border traffic than among those who overstay visas, and the criminality that is attributed undocumented immigrants considerably lower than for legal immigrants to the United States or U.S.-born peers, data on border-crossing and apprehension has been unfairly magnified into a metric of national health.  It has been given undue weight as a telling metric by which the nation which is increasingly apt to look in a distorting mirror with newfound anxiety about its decaying appearance and economic buoyancy, and to look for sources of widespread grievances about homelessness, opiates, drug crises, homelessness, and downward social mobility and declining physical well-being and health.

Within these deeply distorting and disorienting mirrors, and searches for clear indicators of who is to blame, it is almost not surprising that the voyage by foot of a caravan of immigrants seeking to call attention to the injustice of their plight has provoked increased concern as criminal fears were amplified on social media feeds and broadcast as a security threat.  The amplification was totally unfounded, but by now has become reflexive, as we see regular maps that have tracked their progress and have been invited to panic at the alleged approach of what seem needy hoards.  The presence in the group of BuzzFeed’s Adolfo Flores in the group may have first allowed it to be tracked, and relayed in alarmist tones on Fox News to the nation, allowing it to enter our collective consciousness and be a lightening tower for debate, and apparently provoking the posting of National Guard at the US-Mexico border–even if Flores sought to portray its peacefulness of migrants.

Unwanted attention in international and local media coverage compelled Mexico’s government to crack down on immigration.  Because this year’s annual exodus has been unwarrantedly associated with escalating dangers of gang violence, future migrants, and the fear of arriving migrants, has clouded the fate of the group that began at over a thousand has attracted considerable attention in the United States as a source of general and collective panic, as if in a reflex to the warnings of community dangers that have been so successfully conjured.

The rejection of their approach seems so compelling because it fits within anti-migrant story lines so well, and mirror some of the signage recycled by populist parties of advancing men and women, seeking work, to magnify online.  The group of advancing prospective asylum seekers has become, effectively, one of the biggest pieces of “fake news” out there, insofar as it reflects poor border security–but a narrative terrifying to have any purchase.




The advancing migrants moving with their packs along roads is hardly street photography.  For the images of their progress is cast in relation to the wall, as much as to the border, in an alchemy recasting their advance as a barely coded compromise of national sovereignty.  The caravan raised fears for Americans as it conjures a threat to the religion of the nation–a strong nation, whose strengths compensate for a concern of decline of status by many Americans–that starts from the defense of strong borders by well-armed, white men, who are the custodians of the new national religion of the west.  The “faceless” nature of these migrants makes them similar to a foreign hord, with deep symbolic associations of invaders, as well as foreigners, who follow different customs, lifestyles, and modes of association that are dangerous to American life and liberty, albeit in deeply exaggerated ways.


27.  The Caravan  embodied a danger to the nation’s security was magnified on social media through the Presidential megaphone.  Indeed, even as , the Buzzfeed national security correspondent embedded in the Caravan, provided a counter-narrative denying the absence of sexual violence or criminality among refugees and attesting to their actual peaceable nature, the danger of the migrants whose itinerary seemed destined to arrive at the border created a hum of background radiation in sectors of the national news media.

To perpetuate this threat, banner headlines provided near-daily updates on the impending arrival of “more than 1200 refugees this April 3 in panicked tones, urging the need to consider “What should we do about it?”  Images of advancing migrants came to personalize fears of”large Caravans coming” across the border, and excuses for calls for tough border laws as if any nations’ security starts with “real borders,” impermeable to transit, as if to magnify their authority beyond secular law.

image.pngReuters/Jose Torres

As if accustomed to the convenience of a televised spectacle, the former Reality TV star Trump used the progress of the group on foot seeking asylum to make his case for the need for a Border Wall, asserting his intent to “stop” those who have traveled 2,000 miles on foot, as if the asylum seekers from the Guatemala.  The thousands called attention to the need for a Border Wall, given Mexico “doing very little, if not NOTHING,” in his inimitable capitalization, to stop cross-border transnational migrant flows.  Indeed, they illustrated the dangers of the “open borders” policy of the Mexican government was cast as a “convenient” strategy benefitting those “intent on violating US immigration law,” attributing criminality to asylum-seekers before their arrival and questioning the credibility and legitimacy of their fears of violence or persecution.

Converting the asylum-seekers into a threat to national security was, of course, a crucial act of mis-mapping.  Describing the migrants as coming disproportionately from states with “high levels of violence,” rather than offer grounds for asylum requests, naturalized the violent nature of migrants in the caravan fleeing militarized nations, despite their carrying of crosses made out of palm, and underscored the dishonesty of their claims for asylum.  As the chief of the Border Patrol union alerted the nation on the megaphone of Fox & Friendsthat the advancing migrants would unleash “chaos and havoc” across the border, he raised the specters of trans-border flows of drugs, crime, and gangs that Trump, Border Patrol, and ICE have long evoked and deceptively mapped as the “scourge of illegal immigration.”  As if illegal gangs were poised to enter the nation at its borders.

The result was to undo the laws of immigration in the name of the protection of the nation.   It was a bit anticlimactic that just over 228 were granted asylum out of the 1,200 that set off from Honduras on March 25.  But the performance of an ongoing refusal to grant asylum to those seeking to cross the border, a performance whose assertion that our refusal to defend the borders of our nation would cease, and our borders protected against those “stealing our jobs” by seeking to enter our country, and the promise to “bring back our borders,” our wealth, and our dreams.   As the National Border Patrol Council union chief announced that migrants’ hopes rode on “catch and release” policies, in which detained undocumented migrants have been released while they await court hearings, Trump argued that the procession of “these large Caravans of people” [sic] who left Guatemala on Palm Sunday constituted a security threat.  As FOX regularly displayed updates to a “Caravan Map,” to stoke panic, as if that deserved to be our main worry, the performance of a refusal to allow crossing the border was for those who felt themselves aggrieved–even if a refusal to grant asylum violated international law, human rights, and showed a stunning lack of empathy for asylum-seekers.  Border Patrol authorities insist that for reasons of border management, they must be turned back; Manuel Padilla, chief of the Rio Grande section, argued that allowing them to cross the border would only “generate interest from other groups to do the same thing.” Padilla primarily believes in monitoring the border by technology to reduce criminal traffic, but in describing best practices may reveal thirty years of deflecting attention from migrants’ actual plight.


28.  The act of silencing is, after all, the point of the planned construction of the border wall.  The obstructive wall was curried, this post argues, through the very statistics of Border Patrol stations created and published to demonstrate the need for containment on our borders–statistics that were mapped in distorting manners by anti-immigrant groups over decades.  The group of asylum seekers has become widely described as a “caravan” approaching the United States, to conjure its impending danger of an onslaught of unwanted immigration, as if a time bomb that was being delivered on foot; groups performed similar similar pilgrimages seeking citizenship and refuge in previous years, but this large group was tracked by global media, and in a distinctly different geopolitical context seemed to become an emblem of the fears promoted by the Trump regime of immigrants seeking to take advantage of the system, and “openly defying our border,” whose advance constituted a threat the nation must repel–lest they be allowed to cross.


The ‘caravan’ was portrayed as actively attempting to compromise Americans and American safety in doing so, on their way to abuse existing immigration practices by exploiting its loopholes in the manner that Trump had foretold.  For in proceeding without papers across the country that many conservative nationalists in the United States–like the neutral-sounding “Center for Immigration Studies,” a right-wing nationalist group that has long promoted infographics of dangers lurking across the border–suggested was a more fitting site for asylum.  These graphics, data visualizations, and magnification of the dangers of transnational arrivals have been successful in obscuring the individual stories of those seeking asylum–so that only “a few”–eight!–of those seeking were allowed to enter the United States territory were at first allowed to cross the metal gate between Tijuana and San Diego.

Americans who traveled to the border to care for and wash the worn feet of those who had travelled over days, cleaning them of infections and offering socks, more than seeming Christ-like, seemed to have the healthiest and most normal reaction of all.


The parallel caravan visiting Texas border-points and Ports of Entry to inform citizens of their rights

Was it only a coincidence that the headline screamed in the media of a border “at capacity” only seemed to naturalize the indignant slogans broadcast on social media of “Secured Borders,” in images posted to Facebook during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, and ricocheted across the country on social media accounts?  At the same time as social media has become a venue to express “true” and personal thoughts, it has become a site for expressing rage, fears of being taken advantage of, compromised, and deep dissatisfaction with the present, its exclamatory character and syntax providing the perfect means for the expression of a threat to masculinity, despite the passive nature of “sharing” or “liking” it invites from users–as if a deep sense of grievance of the opening to the borders to immigrants seeking American jobs were a policy of previous administrations, who had wronged Americans in adhering to outdated immigration practices that failed to secure “our” home.

Rusian FB ad for Secrured Borders

For one places oneself outside of a debate, but as an imaginarily active participant in it, and somehow granted by its medium an elusive purchase on global affairs at best.


29.  The image that promoted deportation–a platform that the Trump campaign was then of course quite openly tied–promoted a territorial protectionism that rejected the legal processing of asylum for refugees or any foreigners who were seen to seek American benefits and jobs by illegally entering the country in the past.  The almost sacred identity of the nation it projected to the world, of a nation wanting no additions that would obscure the relation of each citizen to the flag, activated a terrifying sense of national privilege as one followed the transit of the “caravan” imagined to be seeking asylum within the borders of the United States, and advancing to our national frontier.  The actual response from The Donald’s mouth when he heard of the asylum seekers walking across Mexico in hopes of asylum in the United States–“Don’t let them in!  We must put America first!”–led him to use them as a ploy for stricter immigration practices and restrictions, to change immigration law without empathy.


Of course, many left the Caravan along its progress, due in part to attrition the Mexican government was urged to encourage, and most all, by the time they arrived, were made to live on the Mexican side of the border, due to the justification that they “lacked papers” necessary to process their fates.  As if over a hundred and fifty asylum seekers–including many children among them–clogged the port of entry between San Diego and Tijuana in ways that the U.S. government hadn’t had warning to process, even as most major media outlets and Americans tracked their progress on foot, the magnification of the group into a “caravan”–conjuring pre-modern pedestrian travel across the Ural steppes or Spice Route–and were definitively foreign and migrants.  Space, location, and place seem almost irrelevant, perhaps, in the overly distorted spatial imaginary that the border wall creates, that privileges threats that come from afar, from different cultures, and with not so hidden racist fears barely simmering below the surface.

A Method of Migration.--Eastern CaravanWith the World’s Peoples (1912)


–captured the sense of an on foot journey, but was transformed to a symbol of feared “illegal entry” and fraudulent border-crossing, and a reminder of an increasing insufficiency to deal with an influx of immigrants long registers in national news.


30.  The problem of mapping the Caravan existed, of course–for FOX audiences and for most American news outlets–only in relation to the border.  One could almost forget the amazing bravery of the on foot itinerary across Mexico.  The approach of the border seemed to test the importance of the border wall, and to pose a challenge for its absence, and the centrality that Trump had directed toward the border as a site of loopholes for increased transnational threats.  If the Army Corps of Engineers began the first fence on a stretch of just fourteen miles of the US-Mexico border, the imagined continuity of the border as a line has been perpetuated in two-dimensional maps that portray a fantasy of stopping trans-border traffic, alienated from the practice of preventing border crossing or the physical topography of the region, intending to silence the stories of those who attempt to cross it or live on the other side, raising questions about the accuracy or truthfulness of their cases for asylum and the opportunism with which they exploit “loopholes” in American immigration laws to exploit a “porous” border created by faulty laws.  (The problem of who would pay for the costly conceit was tabled through the blame Trump distributed on the laws he had inherited.)

Such an unwarranted but effective rhetorical manufacture of the border wall as if it exists, or will, is an odd, tenuous, mentally tangible conceit, even if it is not there:  the President keeps it alive with bizarre reassurances to the nation with repeated public statements that seems to reassure his constituents of its reality, whatever else they had heard.  “The wall is going to get built, folks–in case anybody has any questions, the wall is going to get built;” “the wall’s getting built, ok?” in a faux populist avuncular tone.  Trump took to promoting the desired barrier with an abandon recalling P.T. Barnum, as the attraction of the Trump Era; the monomania of even hoping to brand a wall he has hoped might in the future bear his own ubiquitous surname, in the manner of the Eisenhower Freeway System, be his gift to the nation–and proudly celebrating it as his Big Idea and the Big Idea that he conceived of because he wasn’t a politician, or beholden to any interests, and ready to change the status quo.

The fiscal irresponsibility about the wall is astounding, but is only able to be explained as a deep desire to keep its promise alive.  Trump had threatened to allow the government to shut down if the U.S. Congress didn’t approve funding for the wall he claimed Mexico would pay for, blustering in 2017 “if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall;” the threat may return again, in 2018, because the wall has been excluded from the budget–and seems to relish “a good [government] shutdown” to force funding of the wall as a way to make his case about a break from politics as usual–although as support for the border wall wanes, the value of a shutdown may start to seem irresponsible.  (Trump still asserts giddily he would never need pay for the border wall, persuading voters he could charge it,–unilaterally–to Mexico’s government–as if to credit card company or by juggling the books–making its costs suddenly disappear.  Trumpd quite gamely asserted in an improvised turn that seemed a sudden realization, that its construction would in fact bring economic benefits to Mexico as well, and be embraced by their government.)

Continued assertion that aggressively expanding the current 652 miles of border with a wall of 1,302 miles would expand the Secure Fence Act of 2000 from 700 miles of border fencing to the full 1,954 miles.  Even as Mexican President Vincente Fox Queseda replied on Twitter Mexico “is not going to pay for that fucking wall,” it is promoted within the national imaginary, tabling the crucial questions of   who was going to pay for the estimated $15-25 billion, a cost that Trump has ended up holding, even as he claimed he could hold costs to $8 billion, have created questions that the fanciest accounting couldn’t cover, and that the days of paying 12.6 million for a Scottish golf course, $79.7 million for a set of UK golf courses, and $16.2 million for a West Virginia winery in a virtual tidal wave of cash that points to money laundering in a virtual tidal wave of cash that points to money laundering, in its use of covered accounts and transfers through shell companies, expectating that a mere $8 billion could be covered by the U.S. government even with the oversight of the General Accounting Office maybe wasn’t preposterous or absurd.  Even if the bill might be run up over time, running over could be explained.  (Trump was after all used to having easy access to cash up to paid $400 million.)  The rhetorical evocation of a Border Wall might still force it to metastasize into a reality.


31.  While the Border Wall has been cast as a necessary or urgent protection of sovereignty, the wall was most of all a barrier to citizenship and inclusion, and is most strongly rooted in a cartographer of fear and exclusion.  It defines limits of civil rights, as such, and a new improvised sort of legality, achieved through a map–or, rather, a profusion of maps.  Although the office of the President does not have authority over who enters the country or not, the remapping of the wall is a new definition of sovereignty, tied not to laws, but to a religion of the nation.  And the repeated performative invocation of the wall needs to be paid attention to–demands attention–for it is a sign that the legal principles of the nation state are in free-fall.  The trick of the cartographical magnification of the nation’s border remains significant in the Trump presidency, as it was in the Trump campaign, and in the Secure Borders project.

The decades-long enactment of a peaceful march was converted into a cause for panic in American media who this year mapped the migrants’ on-foot progress across Mexico as if it were a threat to national security, by mapping the itinerary of families against the conceit of an invisible Border Wall:  and indeed, the photographs of asylum-seekers perched atop an actual “border wall” on the beach in Tijuana, appearing to look past it the United States was seen as a threat to national sovereignty.  Despite the desire of Pueblo sin Fronteras to illuminate refugees’ plight by marches on Easter processions for over a decade, what once foregrounded the lack of power of refugees came to foreground the dangers migrants posed to the far more powerful and larger nation, as if it presented a threat to our national sovereignty–or, at the very least, our standing as a nation.  For as the “MAGA” ideology of the Trump campaign presumed a shift in border policing as a sure sign of national decline, Trump has quickly manufactured the false data that border apprehensions had immediately decreased in “unprecedented” fashion as a result of a Trump presidency to cherry-pick data in misleading ways, the arrival of a “Caravan”–and the projection of future caravans that would carry “illegal” migrants–was mapped to  justify the border’s militarization and suspension of immigration laws.

Rather than according rights to and protect foreigners, the march was so captivating because the wall has come to stand for the profound skewing of rights accorded foreigners or secular principles of pluralistic tolerance in liberal states.  The dominance of a national security agenda above human or legal rights suggests a new notion of the nation and the function of government.  This year, FOX TV has mapped the progress of a “Caravan of Illegal Migrants” almost obsessively as their progress became the latest poster child illustrating lax immigration laws.  Their impending arrival seemed to test the need for a promised border wall.  The caravan of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador crossed the borders of Mexico since 2010 in hopes to draw media attention to migrants’ plights on a global scale.  Organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras, they sought to foreground the absence of recourse or pity, and the huge dangers of Central Americans face–many migrants brave by secretly boarding trains to journey to the border.

In the face of Trump’s insistent return to a border wall, the public procession became an occasion to illustrate resistance to the anti-migrant stance Trump has promised as a central part of his “America First” platform as a Presidential candidate by which he energized audiences, and of which so many were terrified his election symbolized, so prominently did a Border Wall figure in his spatial imaginary he had promised and so plausible was its creation from a man who styled himself as a builder.  Indeed, if Trump had no political experience, he was known for his ability to build, as well as to promise to open suspiciously easy pathways to personal wealth.  The repeated rhetorical evocation of the wall as a source of national strength was, in a bizarre way, challenged by the increasing panic in reaction to the migrants’ pedestrian pilgrimage for the right, as folks seated in comfortable television studios fed fears of “hordes” or a “caravan of illegal aliens” headed to the border, provoking Trump’s announcement on Twitter that troops would arrive to contain the threat that the undocumented posed, and Trump himself focussed attention as a means to forestall imminent dangers he even refrained from describing that might otherwise enter the country.


Converting images of refugees walking across borders to Trump’s America First lens was not happenstance:  the religious origins of this political procession across borders was all about crossing borders, mobility, and putting the plight of people first; the expression of traversing national borders that had expanded over thirteen years as it had grown to an occasion for international attention was a sign of globalism, and was headed to a collision course with the vision of strong borders that Trump had long campaigned, with the full endorsement of the union of Border Patrol guards.  The notion that the migrants were within their liberties in requesting entry to the United States at a recognized port of entry was obscured by the religion of the nation:  migrants’ rights activists were told they “hate[d] America,” as the arrival of migrants was treated as an attack not only of the nation’s safety but its sovereignty, embodied by conjuring migrants–women, families, children—as an “army” at the border.

The haunting specter of a horde of advancing migrants fit seamlessly with Trump’s media diet of images of migrants threatening European sovereignty or Christianity, triggering the notion of a borderless nation and the dangers of a border without a wall; migrants fleeing crime, gangs, and persecution became seen as themselves posing threats of gang violence, in a bizarre mis-mapping of their own stories and motivations for moving across Mexico on foot in an an orderly procession  Trump had referenced the dangers immigration had posed to national peace of other nations recently.  It recalls and illustrates a new notion of government that Trump’s endless campaign has promoted, and team emptying of a notion of government as following or executing laws:  the role is now of protecting ‘us’ from outsiders, defending citizens who feel abandoned, and locating pride in security –job-security; economic security; personal security–in the defense of our borders.  The site of the border seems, indeed, a site for the sacrifice of those who are the weakest victims of globalization as they seek asylum across the border.  The notion–an early modern conceit, to be sure–of the sacrifice of the lives or salvation of individuals for the good of the city-state or commune is to an extent enacted by the suspension of rights, laws and liberties–and even the presumption of innocence–at the border.


32.  The primacy of the wall as a basis for Homeland Security was in fact already suggested in the “barrier fence” built on the border after 9/11 as a 150-foot corridor parallel to the border, to demand it assume autonomous authority, as a region of policing consuming national resources on its own and staffed by a para-state:  the creation of such a concrete barrier would demand a cost of $25 million/mile to construct, if one combines land buyouts, concrete costs, construction labor and related costs, as of a year ago.  Homeland Security first claimed jurisdiction over a  “highway of surveillance” begun to be built after 9/11, re-defining the border an artifact for the Homeland more than the nation, designed to “deter crossings” and decrease apprehension time of illegal aliens and “potential illegal aliens” (PIA’s) who approach the border outside of a “port of entry” (POE), rather than at the red squares of legal entry, and to allow visibility of approaching “aliens” as if they had no rights:   the boundary Wall built that would be built along the US-Mexico border would stand as a visual guarantee of the absence of those rights.

The plans alone cannot capture the desolate nature of the area of the no-mans land around the wall, and the imposing structures after which it was modeled, fitted with surveillance towers to deny ability for words, casting a shadow over all who approach its monstrosity.


image.pngFAIR, January 2017

image.pngFAIR, January 2017

misrach-wallRichard Misrach, “Border Cantos

Wall, East of Nogales, Arizona (2015)Richard Misrach, from “Border Cantos


We must remember that the wall is indeed pre-legal, an archaic artifact that predates civil society–and has no place in a nation of laws.  Despite Trump’s limited experience with the law, but it is more strongly tied to his disparagement of it.  The cognitive violence of the wall lies not only in the obstruction that it creates on the ground, but the dangerous model it creates for remapping sovereignty, and for creating a sharply uneven access to justice, from immigration courts to the rights we accord others.  If the wall deflects attention from deep-running national problems from homelessness, climate change, credit-card debt, health-care, and widespread economic inequalities, it also offers an impoverished sense of the collective that is designed to demonize and erode the legality of immigrant, who it places against the nation–and definitively outside of it.

The expansion of the border line into a policed zone creates an area outside state sovereignty, a “safe zone” policed and created by the Border Patrol, seems to seek to bracket rights by isolating the nation from those who would seek to present their cases for immigration or asylum before a court law.  As if to trump borders, the wall extends into each country, effectively creating a space virtually separate administration by US Border Patrol, policed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and funded by DHS, better understood as a “border region” that exists outside of existing maps–and the authority of the U.S. Border Patrol to stop and seize anyone suspected of traveling without papers within a hundred miles of the border as they work to maintain the safety of the United States.  The creation of this new border–an expanded area of control that is administered effectively by the U.S. Border Patrol, who do not respect the civil rights of migrants, allows the possibility of detention or being sent to detention camps by Border Patrol officers, whose officers are stationed some distance from the border, both in federal lands and private lands, to cover the itineraries of migrants’ routes.




33.  The US-Mexico border had historically assumed definition as maintaining economic inequality between neighboring lands.  But the wall became a symbol of deep-set grievances about downward social and economic mobility within the United States, and a promise to prevent an array of ills associated with migrants–an economic drain, criminality, drugs, and foreigners taking advantage of a legal system that allegedly had failed to prioritize American jobs. The impending arrival of the “Caravan” prompted a fear of the breaching of this boundary, and offered immediate evidence of the inability of laws to contain exaggerated flows of migrants seeking residence in the United States, who were unable to be stopped in other ways.  For the Caravan–despite its status as a peaceful procession of protest against the travails of immigration of the disparate and disenfranchised–bizarrely became, in the alchemy of Alt Right rhetoric that views all through a religion of the nation, an illustration of the porous nature of borders that have allowed losses of jobs and status, due to a failure to secure borders.

The Caravan’s progress brilliantly collided with the America First narrative he promoted.  Trump set out his mission to “protect our borders against the ravages of other countries” in his inaugural address, but had adopted a deep sense of economic uncertainty and inequality that the securing of the border would promote, as an illegal way to close the loopholes in existing immigration laws.  The slogan of “Secure Borders” that was so central to the new religion of the nation Trump championed in his candidacy, and the relentless attention he has directed, with the Border Patrol union, to transnational threats that he sought to evoke, and which crude maps and data visualizations had lent so much currency.

Despite the long history of a flow of financial remittances and funds and benefits from the United States to Mexican rural states, revealing beneficial ties  between American cities and residents of Mexican rural states, as Guagnajuato, Jalisco, San Luis Potosi, Michoacón, and Zacatecas,–these ties have been effectively replaced by fearful dehumanized images of transborder cartels and the flow of drugs trafficking, criminality, and human trafficking.  Such oppositions are heightened symbolically by elevating a spatial imaginary of an indelible border line, obscuring the regular migration of economic and political refugees throughMexico from other territories, or distribution of Central Americans and Mexicans in the United States.  The below map reveals just how false it is to drawnthe dichotomy of the border, which only seeks to conceal the actual intensity financial flows between Mexican populations in the United States and Mexican states–based on the long-distance ties between urban communities in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Omaha, Chicago, Seattle, and Indianapolis, connected to southern Mexican states by established channels of finance that are able to bridge thousands of miles.


Formal US-Mexico Remittance Flows in US-Mexico Corridor, 1999-2003/research by Raúl Hernández-Coss, map by Ryan Morris (2007);  data from Mexican consulates in the U.S.

MPI Map Mexcian Born:2003.pngMigration Policy Institute(2003)

For maps–even poor data visualizations–effectively serve to concretize, selectively show, and visually foreground the danger of transnational networks argued to have compromised the United States’ economy and autonomy–and to justify the suspension of legal and civil rights.  The extra-legal basis by which the wall was begun, by waving the environmental protections that would have prevented its initial construction, set an odd if fitting precedent for the illegality of its conceit as a barrier to border crossing and indeed a basis to criminalize and demonize unauthorized cross-border traffic as a sovereign threat.

Is it any coincidence that the very maps produced by anti-immigrant groups such as Secure Borders, the Center for Immigration Studies, or the anti-immigrant Immigration Reform are disseminated on FOX, as well as on social media, as if to constitute a new reality for many Americans?  The close relations between Trump’s policy and FOX news has been increasingly noted and reported in surprising detail–there are even regular interchanges between Trump and FOX broadcasters on the air and on social media–and claims Trump talks nightly to Sean Hannity before bed, and starts his day with “Morning Joe” at 6 am, as if to immerse himself in FOX; his former Press Secretary steered Trump to watching “Fox & Friend”–rather than other stations–to calm him, but the Presidency appears increasingly consumed by the Filter Bubble of its own.  Hannity has become transformed from a newscaster who still betrays his southern California provenance to “the leader of the outside kitchen cabinet,” according to a White House official and White House staffers sense, an immersion which his recent appointment of FOX-tied figures to two new cabinet portfolios suggests more than a bit of an echo-chamber.  The television shows Trump watches–from “Fox & Friends” to “Hannity”–provide a feed of information to the President in danger of replacing the Presidential Daily Briefing, and provide the very sense of breaking the mold of a politician for political party Trump has come to espoused:  the increasing circularity of a feedback loop that constitutes this “outside the mainstream” politics is both a basis for Trump to consolidate and affirm his status as a break from politics as usual about the border, and the increasing recreation of the very images of the border as a source of danger perpetrated by anti-immigrant groups in misrepresentative data visualizations.  Hannity provided Trump with most of his information for birtherism, charging Obama as an illegitimate President not born in America, Hannity reflected the basis for Trump’s transformation to a candidate, and has the basis for the Republican party to be reborn into defending his own platform.

When we have concentrated a lot on the ecosystem of information among online sources, Facebook ads, and “filter bubbles” in regard to the 2016 election, we do so at a risk of relating it to the the broader information ecosystem.  We may wrongly exclude the very consumer of television news that seems to drive the machine or wag the dog.  While the tide pools of Facebook spawn some bizarre creatures, we neglect at our own considerable peril how the same feeds were bolstered by “real-time” media megaphones of cable television news, which nourished many of the same images of the border and need for a border wall framed by anti-immigration data visualizations.

Cable television now seems granted platform of respectability for, and indeed a platform for representing the non-objective visualizations of cross-border transit that present the need for a border wall as if they were images of apparent objectivity.  Trump was never prepared to cite statistics or sources of the border threat when pressed in the Republican presidential debates, or later–“if I weren’t here, we wouldn’t even be talking about immigration” was the best he could muster during the Republican primaries, to the consternation of his opponents–as if he acknowledged that such data visualizations–visualizations based on Border Patrol statistics that take the border as a simple line, and a basis to measure “illegal” immigration into the country–were the basis for his arguments, and should be accepted as illustrations of a problem, without questioning the data beneath them and the persuasive images they created.

The very visualizations created from Border Patrol and DHS statistics create an obsessive attention to trans-border criminality–and defined or mapped migrants as criminals–but neglect the rest of the nation, manufacturing the criminality at the border by instances of the violation of the law–measuring the amounts of seized drugs, the numbers of apprehensions of folks without proper documents, or the numbers of Border Patrol agents.  The checkpoints of the border that suggested the false continuity of a line waiting to be defended and a wall waiting to be built, with little sense of the inhabitants on the other side, created this threshold of criminality.  Their locations now not only secured the economic advantages in the United States, but demons associated with border flow, from lack of jobs, low wages, to drugs and extreme violence.


usmexicoborderhdimapHuman Development Index on Both Sides of Border:  2009 Human Development Report

The danger and in their obsessive attention to the policing of the border line as if it were a membrane of national identity nourished within U.S. Border Patrol was prepared by television news, in a sense, before it became a platform of the Trump campaign.  If Trump had seen the concept promoted on FOX, and other news sources, it assumed a reality in his own mind, as well and gained a prominence that he and his constituents shared–so that they understood exactly what he was describing, even if the rest of the nation didn’t, when he announced it as a platform of his campaign.  When Trump tweeted to affirm his trust in the border wall on Twitter–“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it”–he claimed a sense of paternity for the border wall, having raised the issue on August 5, 2014, in all caps, while I celebrated my birthday–“SECURE THE BORDER!  BUILD A WALL!” in the vaguest of imperatives that seemed to have launched a movement, and which he defended a year later as “very easy” since “I’m a builder,” and comparing the covering of 1,900 miles of the border as a synch after building ninety-five stories tall, as it sounds good.  Trump’s persuasive assertion of a wall of increasing elasticity of thirty-five, forty or fifty feet or more has served as a vehicle for bullying Mexico’s president, those considering immigration, drug cartels, and a megaphone to address his constituents.  It need never be built, as it seems so valuable a bullying device that draws strength from is mutability and its invocation, as if it constituted a cult object more than an actual project.  The nation has been transformed into a collective of cargo cults, awaiting for the long-announced wall to arrive.

The projection of the border wall has been encouraged outside the normal form of government bureaucracy and revision, but has been rolled out to Americans as a fetish for the nation and a basis for public safety, leading it to assume considerable weight in a new national imaginary.  Former and current White House staffers noted that in recent months, Sean Hannity and his show jointly fill a “void” created by the departure of Steve Bannon from Trump’s inner circle in the White House.  The presidency has been a means for Trump, it seems, to have direct access to the FOX talking heads that have echoed in his own head for so long–and the dramatic increase of the number of cable news personalities this March, when the arrival of John Bolton, frequent FOX commentator, former “Fox & Friends” co-host Heather Nauert as acting undersecretary in the U.S> State Department, and her co-worker as Secretary of Veteran Affairs, with former cable commentator Larry Kudlow as Economic Advisor  creates an odd sounding board indeed.   Hannity’s prominence in the shadows may well explain the increased growth of the border wall in Trump’s imaginary, the source of Hannity’s words on television–and Hannity was the source of birtherism–may be seen as the organ that feeds the mental imaginary we attribute to Trumpism, but offered the very mental furniture of which Trumpism is built.

The  confluence between Trump’s own voracious TV-watching habits –and the credence Trump gives the authority of ratings and the screen–suggests a sense of moral relativism and indeed a broad relativism that shifts meanings for its audience.  Such unprecedented relativism may explains the appeal Trump perceived of affirming the creation of a border wall–which he first described as a “real wall”–of the sort that anti-immigrant groups had demanded to fix the problems proposed, and created visualizations about border crossings in order to promote, that were later translated into concrete prototypes.  Indeed, the conceit of the wall has triggered an ever-expanding discourse of illegality–from its initial construction in variance with environmental mandates and precepts of conservation, to the illegality of border crossing and apprehension of allegedly “illegal” immigrants.  The circularity that stations purporting to present “news” has created in identifying, powerfully symbolizing, and calling attention to the border as a site of danger in need of national attention and neglected by national politicians was born at the edge of the nation–among anti-immigrant groups in states that share a border with Mexico–but their powerful info-graphics migrated from Texas to online images to cable news to the White House, as they have come to represent the very needs that established politicians have neglected.

image.pngApril 4, 2018

The same network early listed Trump’s prime agenda as President on the eve of his inauguration by FOX, or the first of the multiple sound bites that provided energy to the Trump campaign–simplified terms that suggest little coherent program, and at times read more like crossword puzzle clues, designed to suggest a broader coherence with



When Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci–who lived through fascism–saw the veneer of political respectability that fascism lent to  what were once marginal political demands, he could not have predicted the popularity of a construction as the border wall.  But it is difficult to see a more adept promoter of political veneer than the promoter of as many facades as Donald J. Trump, who is ever eager to adopt fascist rhetoric as another facade: Trump has has placed his name–and literally written it in gold–on more facades of buildings than one can count to invest them with elegant respectability, using tax shelters, accounting tricks, and financial shell games to promote his appeal.  The promotion of a new veneer of political normalcy on programs that were less for the nation than shifted priorities from legal protections.

The geographically marginal place of demands arrived from the political margins of the border, long voiced in Texas and along the southwestern border, have moved to a central place in the Trump campaign and Presidency and Republican platform:  the position of the U.S. Border Patrol has been elevated from being first voiced at its boundaries into the platform of a political party:  recent analysis based on the data from Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) have revealed he migration of concerns about cross-border immigration and the presence of “illegals” in the United States to the common topic of GOP candidates’ campaigns–elevating what was not even among the top ten issues in 2014 into a primary way for candidates to cathect with constituents, and indeed to map national priorities.  As even moderate senators like Susan Collins of Maine announce public support of the Border Wall as a basis for a coherent program on immigration, and opposition to rethinking family separation as a policy, there seems little political position outside the support of the wall within what has been presented as an “immigration solution”–barely concealing its deeply racist and ethnocentric origins of celebrating white nationalism in the false guise of “race realism.”  The wide remapping of areas of governance and governmentality in coded sacred terms–both in the sanctifying wall of the nation, and in the recognition of Israel’s capital in Jerusalem–suggest a terrifying resurgence of the symbolics of geography at the same time as the evacuation of authority of the paper map.

The elevation of concerns about cross-border migration to a mantra have grown, as the cry has been identified with job loss, in symbolically effective terms.  For the wall is a prominent part of the promise that Trump made to the nation during his campaign, with little thought to its impact on the nation or for refiguring the place of America in the world.  Did FOX help move an issue that had originated along the border to a central platform of a national political party?  Conviction that the presence of “illegals” in the nation is the greatest problem, despite evidence to the contrary, has become a basis for partisan affiliation, even among non-border states:  ross-border immigration, granting of legal status to DREAMers, and the existance of Sanctuary Cities refusing to cooperate with Immigration  and Customs Enforcement or sharing data on arrests have become blurred.   Among a large and largely rural share of the electorate, the blanket term of “immigration;” prominent GOP consultants argue they “don’t see immigration going away soon” from national debate, so preeminent has it become.  The prominence of this constellation of issues–or soundbites–are nowhere better concretized than in the construction of a border wall, which links them, even if not pertaining to all, as a symbol of national resistance to earlier immigration policies, and seems akin to a new religion and confession of national allegiance–far from the border itself.


Troy Balderson.pngTroy Balderson for Congress/OH12

The concentration of national attention on the border as a promise has created an increasingly insular and isolationist mentality, to be sure, and has devalued the nation.  Emphasis on the border also serves an alarmist tendency, in ways that demands counter-acting, that acts to mask the routes, stories, and identities of migrants, insisting on focusing attention on the transgressive activity of border crossing and the need for greater apprehension of migrants who move along or across the US-Mexico border, and the false conflation of the construction of a border wall–shortened to “the wall,” in Balderson’s political ad to Ohioans and in much cable news–as an objective response to geographical realities.

This is important to remember, and insist upon.  For promoting the border wall as a means to curtail an overly porous frontier from attracting criminalized migrants–and serves to call for redrawing the border barrier within the nation’s own space, with less attention to the continued existence of the laws that define the nation-state:  the border zone is presented as a site of apprehension, as the stories of migrants are reduced to nameless data provided by Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection to materialize the border as a fixed frontier, rather than a permeable zone, casting it as a line  whose fences and gates need to be replaced rather than as organized on a mountainous topography whose border is partly defined by the Rio Grande.

The imagination of the border is suggested in the roughly 30 new facilities whose construction is planed in a leaked internal DHS memo that will be able to jail, at capacity, more than 70,000 individuals each day, expanding the existing network of detention that constitutes something of a shadow state, housing migrants accused of breaking the law without access to legal counsel or representation, since no immigrants are accorded constitutional rights that are accorded to other criminal defendants, and those in remote geographical locations unlikely to have contact with non-profit legal representation.  Curtailing access to justice or legal rights is a primary aim of building a promised Border Wall.  A wall would ensure caseloads do not reach American courts–already with a backlog standing at 572,608, according to the Immigration Court Backlog Tool; failure to prioritize border violations would demand massive increases of detention facilities, assigning judges to detention facilities to try detainees lacking legal representation, or try them by video links.

If the Army Corps of Engineers began to construct border fences, under the authority of the George H.W. Bush’s Attorney General, from 1990, first building fence on a stretch of just fourteen miles of the border near San Diego in 1993 that was ten feet in height, the imagined continuity of the border as a line has been perpetuated in two-dimensional maps.  The fence near San Diego was expanded by US Border Patrol themselves to 14 miles of triple-layered fencingin 1996, waiving all environmental and conservation laws that would apply.  For maps and data visualizations of sloppy but powerful design have helped to trump the laws, and indeed served to create a fantasy of stopping trans-border traffic, quite alienated from the practice of preventing border crossing or the physical topography of the region.  The trick of creating a need for a border wall is indeed easily achieved by a map–or by a set of maps, repeatedly circulating in social media.  The cartographical magnification of the nation’s border remains significant, as it foregrounds the danger of transnational networks argued to have compromised the United States’ economy and public safety.

34.  The very “gaps” announced to exist along the border proclaimed the dangers an “open border” that, for lack of an effective blockade, create a sense of a porous nation and unprotected boundary–shifting attention from questions of homelessness, urban blight, poverty, poor education, low employment, and poor health care, in the guise of creating greater transparency on our border problems in compelling ways.  The focus on the map alone, in a blanched out landscape of light shades of grey, suggest that it is the only thing that is worth noting,–that our attention should be directed there alone, as it is the story that is waiting to happen.  How many stories are able to be told about this map of incomplete border barriers?


Complexes of Walls.pngComplexes legend wall.pngUSA Today/Interactive Map of Border Current Wall’s Existing Barriers ©Mapbox ©OSM

The compelling images of criminality along the same divide, mapped here in homicides, reveal a clear two distinct socioeconomic worlds that desperately need to be kept separate lest the difficulties on one side of the wall breach into the other, creating a sense of cultural contamination similar to the transmission of bacillus or quarantine–as seems illustrated by the leeching over the border at one point.

Homicide rates US-Mexican border

The imagined gaps between patrol checkpoints and in the materials of the limited fencing and vehicular obstructions along the existing border, and an increasingly existential relation to them, only inspires immediate panic about territorialities and being in the world–the very sense of panic that generates demand for a border wall.

Heterogeneous FenceComplexes legend wallUSA Today Interactive Border Map, ©OSM and ©Mapbox

The attention to the border, and the stories that it compels, even in skeletal form, stripped of life–and indeed because of single-minded focus on its extent and its gaps, rather than its lived reality, inevitably suggest suspending questions of legality, given the dire need to protect the nation–and to maintain its integrity.  This is the ultimate lie of the map, but the justification that it creates for a separate legal regime of the border, and the deep justification for preventing the border’s illicit breach.

The extra-legal basis by which the wall was begun, by waving the environmental protections that would have prevented its initial construction, set an odd if fitting precedent for the illegality of its conceit as a barrier to border crossing and indeed a basis to criminalize and demonize unauthorized cross-border traffic as a sovereign threat.  Indeed, the creation of the wall seems to trigger an ever-expanding discourse of illegality–from its initial construction in variance with environmental mandates and precepts of conservation, to its accusations of the illegality of border crossing, to the illegality of apprehension of unauthorized immigrants.

At the same time, emphasis on the border serves an alarmist tendency to mask the routes, stories, and identities of migrants, insisting on focusing attention on the transgressive activity of border crossing.  Such an emphasis promotes the border barrier to curtail an overly porous frontier from attracting immigrants who are criminalized–and serves to call for redrawing the border barrier within the nation’s own space, with less attention to the continued existence of the laws that define the nation-state:  the border zone is presented as a site of apprehension, as the stories of migrants are reduced to nameless data provided by Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection to materialize the border as a fixed frontier, rather than a permeable zone, casting it as a line  whose fences and gates need to be replaced rather than as organized on a mountainous topography whose border is partly defined by the Rio Grande.


The language of need and urgency of the “security of the Wall on the Southern Border,” tweeted our Twitterer-in-Chief in all caps style concealing its circular logic in 2018, calling for preserving “the safety and security of our country,” as he cast the tragic seekers of asylum who traversed Mexico on foot as a poster child for the Border Wall.  But the group of women and children and a young man who were initially admitted to the United States and recognized as fleeing violence may erase the stories of the hundreds who made the voyage, or who await seek to make the case for sanctuary.  All of a sudden, in Trump’s rhetoric as amplified on the alt Right news, the notion of a single, symbolic “Caravan” multiplied fearsomely into Caravans of immigrants poised to cross the border, counter-suggestions of caravans of deportation that would be the most fitting response, and images of forced migration across borders that bizarrely seemed to multiply the landless condition of refugee in a bitter anti-humanitarian language of disenfranchisement and a stripping of rights.  The recent metaphorical extension of the border wall to the chain-link fences of confinement of apprehended undocumented immigrants–“walls built from chain-link fences”–takes the wall as a “legal” alternative to mute the of the cage-like structures where immigrants are detained before their cases are heard–including  nearly 2,000 kids were separated from their parents and held in juvenile detention centers in only a period of six weeks.

The stripping of rights begins with the attack on existing immigration laws as insufficient.  President Trump has laughed repeated accusations over social media that removed transborder immigration from questions of legality:  rather, in promoting fears of threats to sovereignty by a porous borer, above stories of migrants or numbers of cross-border traffic, migrants are cast as threats to sovereignty and status.  In deploying National Guards to the border, based on the same spatial imaginary of responding to a national threat through “strong action today,” he attacked the “weak border laws” he had inherited, which encourage the arrival of thousands of Centtal Americans he described as “flowing into our country illegally,” exploiting our unproductive immigration laws:  if the laws allowed what expanded to a “caravan” of over a thousand Central Americans, magnified on the loudspeaker of Fox News and factorially multiplied in Trump’s imagination, to cross the border, as if that was where they were headed.

The border wall he promised would replace the vagaries of immigration laws that he, as chief executive, could not defend, and which his own Attorney General disdained as so corrosive of the nation and he defined as dangerous to public safety.  The complex imaginary of a border that was not protected, and laws which offered “loopholes” for undocumented border-crossers to escape detection, or gain temporary asylum into the nation, used language that stripped immigrants of identity, liberty, or rights by expanding the ability of National Guards to be deployed to assist the border patrol “by guarding our border with our military,” in efforts to surveill and deport to satisfy, as if this were not already previous practice despite the rejection of $25 Billion in funds to create a promised ‘border wall’ on which Trump had campaigned.  Deploying National Guards to the border, he undid the “weak border laws” he inherited, as if the laws themselves allow the overturning of the sacred compact with the state.  National Guardsmen  deployed to assist border patrol “by guarding our border with our military” to surveil and deport compensate for the congressional rejection of $25 Billion in funds to create a promised ‘border wall’ on which Trump had campaigned, despite the refusal of elected representatives and despite a lack of due process. By showcasing the border’s loose protection, maps conjure the arrival of migrant as breaking laws by entering American society without due legal process or procedure.

This has become a grounds to strip those already disenfranchised of their rights.


The on-foot travel of this Caravan was followed at considerable expense all week, with high revenues for advertisers, by more American newscasters and photographers than the caravan itself ended up being upon its arrival at San Ysidro.   The event created international effects, as Mexican authorities were urged to work to offer asylum to many, and national guard soldiers sent to guard the southwestern border, as their arrival was used to orchestrate a push for the urgency of border-building, or at least invoke the need in performative terms on social media.

The group of migrants have become something of a poster-child and cautionary exemplar for those who might consider migration in the future, however, or a tipping point in the immigration system that Donald Trump famously continues to rail against on social media in a gambit to boost his own retrograde border policies or increase their popular support.  The fears of arriving migrants at the border–and at what stands as a border wall–has indeed provided an advertisement for the expansion of the border wall, even if any migrants are processed duly for asylum, and make an exemplar of the hopeful migrants to discourage the scope of the imitation of this annual attempt of thousands to travel on foot though Mexico from Honduras, to seek asylum there, even as they were retained on the Mexican side of the border, under the pretext of a lack of adequate personal documentation.  Even as protestors have scaled the wall as Border Agents have acted to halt the advance of migrants, they show the fear of the permeable “open borders” on which Trump has campaigned against, and that the Border Wall would resolve.




35.  The arrival of the faceless “caravan,” tracked en masse in right-wing media to the fascination of the nation, heading, as if ineluctably, to the border, seems to create a narrative of us v. them, nation v. enemy or threat, and order versus chaos.  One did not need to read the street signs on the roads that they took, but they became emblematic of the many arrows, vectors, and rivers of migrants who had been described in earlier infographics.  The horde-like characterization of those seeking asylum served not only to de-individualize their plights, but to distance their individual stories, and indeed convert the women, children, and transgender seeking asylum into a nameless mass which lacked any rights, and whose plight–and courage to perform the difficult itinerary on foot–only encouraged their appeal to be rebuffed, and their rights diminished.




As the larger group of migrants arrived at San Ysidro port of entry, even as the arriving migrants prepare to present themselves for asylum, the border wall and presence of the National Guard stands to erase the idea that petitioning for asylum lies within American law–if not for the few hundred who have made it to the border, for those who may follow.  The notion that presenting oneself at a port of entry–or to the Border Patrol authorities–constitutes a crime serves as a means of presenting immigration as taking advantage of laws, and as violating a sacred law of the nation, rather than as a normal practice of immigration law.  And the coincident decision to begin openly separating some 50,000 children of migrants from their families who entered the United States only served to remind them of a lack of legal protections, and to disorient them in their new land, in ways that were intended to serve as a monetary reminder to any undocumented migrants considering border-crossing.

In an age when the boundaries of our selves seem increasingly violated by distractive stories of social media that seem tabloid headlines, as if a disruptive set of exclamations, it is fitting that the border becomes such a central focus of attention for the nation.  Nations are, we are told, essentially borders, and that “a border without a nation is not a nation,” and we are getting “control of our borders back” as if we were perilously close to losing nationhood, even if the projected border wall is not built and will not be built, the fiction of securing the border–which was never let or disappeared–provides more than a compelling focus of attention, that incarnates the despair of the loss of status of many Americans, and an illusory sense of returning to a lost state of integrity.

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Filed under border wall, globalization, human rights, immigration, US-Mexico Border

Strongman on the Border

The border was closed and immigration authorities simply ‘at capacity,’ announced newspapers, after a Caravan of migrants from Central America arrived.  In rejecting the ability to process new arrivals who lacked necessary papers of transit, the papers parroted a an anti-immigrant line, revising the southwestern border from a line of passage, or space of transit, in what seemed a meme about the border as a threshold of legality-as if a line defines the legality of those who cross it. The image that suggested migrants atop the wall, or of others scaling a dilapidated section of slatted border fence near San Isidro–“through a dark, treacherous canyon, notorious for human trafficking and drug smuggling”–collapsed multiple tropes of border-crossing on the least likely of targets:  a peaceful procession through Mexico that began on Easter Sunday, crossing borders to call global attention to migrants’ rights.




While the simple visualization of the course of the procession that wound through Mexico City from the southernmost border of Mexico cannot trace the mental geography on which the arrival of migrants was mapped in the United States, the progress of Central American migrants was viewed and mapped by Donald Trump and FOX in terms of the desire to see their arrival from behind the proposed $18 billion border wall that has become a contentious object of debate.  As the number of arrests along the border has grown above 50,000 for the third straight month in a row, and more children separated from parents in an attempt to broadcast cautionary warnings about the dangers of attempting to cross the border, or to appeal to existing immigration laws by asylum pleas, stories of migrants that the proposed wall would silence are increasingly difficult to silence or contain, and the human narratives of migrants are increasingly difficult to place behind the imaginary screen of an insurmountable border wall,–which of course does not exist, save as a mental construct–but is cherished as one and difficult for many to relinquish or deny.  Even though there is no structure corresponding to the height, thickness, and architectural design that Trump had treated audiences during his campaign, the Caravan threatened to remind us that the wall didn’t exist, despite the attention that has been lavished on its proposed construction at a cost of an estimated $18 billion, far below what actual costs might in fact be.

The specter of the arriving migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras–the triumvirate of “failing states” that Trump has demonized and sought to distance the nation–seemed cast as an oddly unstoppable “horde” that had defied Mexican immigration authorities who had not turned them back, and whose arrival was magnified as a threat to create a persuasive image that reminded the nation of the urgent need for the wall.  After months of dehumanizing migrants as faceless hordes, poised at the border, migrants seemed to have arrived at the border fencing, about to breach an inadequate barrier that is a relic dating from the era of the Vietnam War.  The news of the progression of the Caravan–and clouded interpretation of what their aims for crossing the United States’ southwestern border truly were–led them to become a poster child for the urgency with which Donald J. Trump has so stridently advocated the construction of a “real wall,” with an intransigence that almost embodies the physicality of an actual concrete wall, a month before the construction of the border wall began in San Diego and Calexico, CA, replacing some fourteen miles of improvised border fencing that was long ago made of scrap metal to “secure our border” as a way to “make America great again.”  The promotion of building the border wall was a way to ensure “public safety” followed repeated images of migrants attempting to scale or protest before existing improvised fencing–



-whose inadequacy to deal with the border threat Trump had relentless ridiculed as useless during his Presidential campaign.  The danger of cross-border traffic that Trump had repeatedly magnified circulated back to prominence within the national media with the arrival of the migrant Caravan.  The hope for the migrants to gain asylum in the United States was immediately questioned as their true agenda was assumed to be one of evading the border controls before the Wall was built–and the immigration laws that would permit their entry changed.

If the announcement of the construction was a feign of a a show of strength, and promoted as a basis for national pride, it was an insult to migrants petitioning for asylum, as the promotion of the border wall as a sign of national security debased the notion of the nation as one of laws and civil society.  The promotion of the wall as a slogan of nationalism remapped the nation in relation to the border, after all, in the Newspeak of social media and twitter–“Strong Borders are Security”, “Immigrants are Criminals”; “Refugees are Terrorists”–the border wall protected national security and projected the idea that all migrants were illegal.  The spatial imaginary of the border wall echoed the longstanding claim, made without evidence, that the immigrants at the border were “the worst” of their society, and for allowing an untold number of undesirables to enter the the nation.  As well as protesting the treatment of the United States”the dumping ground of European Refuse” as an insult to the nation, the insult was accepted by the nation.  The blame rests on citizens who are accept the very immigrants Europe does not want.  The image, which appeared just before Bartholdi’s “Statue of Liberty” was erected in New York Harbor, raised objections to accepting those rejected by Europe’s crowned heads, of dubious value to the nation that echoed Trump’s position.


European Refuse.pngKendrick, “And We Open Our Arms to Them” Life Magazine (July 12, 1885), 



The very chaotic narrative of depositing “human refuse”–a group of former colonials identified as “not like us” but being advanced by an invisible broom–was repeated in the image of the approaching Caravan, as the legitimacy of their requests for asylum from Central American nations were questioned, and suggested to be fundamentally an illustration of disrespect for the law.  The “Caravan” of over 1,000 migrants seeking a better life was widely mapped as a threat to sovereignty and law, recasting a protest march that promoted migrants’ rights as an invasion of sovereign space–and a grounds to deny migrants’ rights.  The  tweets of President Trump directed the attention of the country to the border to query the status of the migrants who were headed to the nation, as he announced instructions  “not to let these large Caravans of people into our country”–magnifying the migrants as a national threat through a dichotomy between “them” and “us.”   The anxieties about immigration policies that Kenrick’s cartoon registered panic at the caricatured faces of the new arrivals.

In announcing an intent of illegal entry across the border, Trump once again conjured the need for a border wall, as if trying to co-opt the message of migrants to create an image of a cross-border threat.  The construction of border walls against an “existential threat to the nation”–as did the former commander of the southern border who was named Trump’s director of Homeland Security and now his Chief of Staff—creates an urgency for protection that corrodes the possibility of an open society.  Kelly’s disparagement of migrants as “people who would not easily assimilate into the United States,” “overwhelmingly rural,” from countries where “fourth, fifth, and sixth grade education are the norm,” described them with the same disdain as Kendrick’s cartoon from the early Life of the 1880s protested the insult by which ex-colonials were sent to the United States as to Australia or India, which had indeed become “dumping grounds” for convicts, remittance men, and socially unwanted cast-offs, as well as seeing them as barbarians who threatening the social fabric of the United States.  The disparagement of migrants who are seeking asylum as uneducated, of rural origins, or indeed, as Kelly’s remarks must have reminded his audience, criminals.


ICE 2014 arrests gangs--ms13?ICE Arrests of undocumented immigrants, 2014


The disproportionate warnings of a “border threat” or “trouble at the border”  telegraphed on Twitter was inserted in a narrative rooted in the plan to create a border barrier of cast concrete in August 2015, in the heat of the Presidential election–a mission that crystallized support behind Trump’s campaign.  Trump insisted that the border wall he advocated wasn’t rhetorical, symbolic, or virtual–a space defined by hi-tech monitoring–but an impervious barrier that would succeed where other poor-quality fencing had failed.

The build-up of the arrival of the migrant caravan ran against the disproportionate attention that Trump had drawn to the border.  As Trump pedaled the fiction that the wall had already been begun, newscasters on FOX mapped a showdown by the approach toward the border of “that scary migrant caravan” of Central Americans with American law enforcement as inevitable, placing the migrants in a narrative of unwieldly crisis of immigration management on the US-Mexico border.  In ways that intersect with a broad unease of increased immigration–often manifesting itself in extreme xenophobia, othering and racism–a vaguely masked anti-immigrant sentiment that has growth in the United States over the last four to five years which Trump has deftly exploited. For the ‘border wall’ was recognized code for a thinly disguised racism, captured in John Kelly’s characterization of the Caravan–and migrants–as “overwhelmingly rural people” not capable of assimilating, who “don’t have the [necessary] skills” to do so, and are “overwhelmingly rural people,” as if ignoring just how dependent U.S. farms are on immigrant labor.

The disproportionate attention the Trump and his planned border wall directed to the southwestern border made the region seem far more immediate to all Americans–and defined the Caravan’s approach as national news.  Although the formation of such “Caravans”–a name not coined by Americans, though it gained new spin in the mouth of President Donald J. Trump, who had grown frustrated with an uptick in U.S. Border Patrol metrics of illegal entry–the tactic that was long adopted by advocacy groups to foreground migration difficulties was used by the group Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, whose name was seen as revealing their opposition to the redefinition of the southwestern border of the United States, which has also been mapped onto the wall–creating a reflexive panic at the sight of large crowds of unidentified migrants marching toward the border.  The legal and physical obstacles that Trump promised to place on Mexicans or Central Americans seeking entry to the United States were always twinned, but the arrival of the migrant Caravan seemed to give it a new urgency, and to legitimize, as a suddenly mainstream demand of border management, the ability to control human cross-border flows.




The march was described disdainfully as a “political stunt” in media, as the Attorney General and Director of Homeland Security demonized the “Caravan of migrants.”  Trump had promised the nation a border wall unlike the reclaimed corrugated metal fencing in Tijuana, but made of  “precast [concrete] plank,” a protective barrier far more powerful and robust than the inadequate fencing he treated as “a joke” and a disgrace to the nation, and which the multitude of migrants were seen as able to cross, but in need of immediate arrest and detention in a fantasy of border enforcement.  If Trump had promised to be a strongman at the border, the old border wall seemed indeed flimsy obstacles, unable to stop even the crowd from the Caravan who arrived to petition for asylum at San Ysidro, CA.


Migrants arrive at Tijuana


The peaceful protest of the Caravan de madres centroamericanas, to use their full name, was recast as a march of opposition to Trump’s border policy, while for Trump, as some three hundred odd members of the Caravan arrived at San Isidro, a recognized port of entry, in five busloads, and mounted on a fence made of repurposed scrap metal became for President Trump evidence of a crisis of sovereignty.  In response to a crisis he seemed to have created on Twitter, he ordered the Department of Homeland Security to “stop the caravan,” displaying his knack for sound bytes and slogans, and imagine that, searching for the right string of capital letters on his keyboard,  only “a strong, impenetrable WALL. . . will end this problem once and for all”–even if the problem lay with the places the migrants had fled.  The motion of “migrants,” now cast as “illegal aliens” in the right-wing press, even as they hoped for a miracle from god able to “touch the hearts of immigration agents,” was not able to be seen clearly by many, even if their course was carefully mapped over the previous month in increasingly colorful reportage.




The momentum of masses “heading to the border”without visas or documents “who no one in Mexico dares to stop” that Buzzfeed reported conjured an image of illegality, or just “headed here”–in vague terms that meant toward American sovereignty–bolstered by the longstanding promise of security that Trump had promised in the border wall.   For FOX, the group was “a small army of migrants marching to the US.”  The elevation of the border as violated line of sovereign power, translated the border from map to territory  to sovereignty, creating not only a false idea of safety and community.  Trump exploited this idea when his tweet sought to magnify the “small army” to a vague charge about the border “getting more dangerous” in ominous tones.  Trump was long acutely aware that the border wall was, in his eyes, the most politically important subject of discussion with Mexican President Enrique Nieto in earl 2017, as the wall was a crucial to his promises to the American electorate.

For the southwestern border had grown more proximate to much of the nation than it had ever been in previous years.  Evoking the border-crossing reminded the nation of the dangers of the deferment of a national project of wall-building.  Migrants stood for the vulnerability of the nation that was not only a narrative about fraudulent requests for asylum, but a failure of Mexico at “stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their southern border and then into the US.”  The  march became all about crossing borders that needed to be enforced, as “an army of migrants is marching to America . . . all the way from Honduras,” reframing a Buzzfeed story of migrants “boldly crossing military checkpoints” to their imminent arrival.  The story became one about whether their claims for asylum will be granted or if this “freedom march” was unlawfully breaking laws, with an agenda against Trump’s notion of the border wall;  the crisis of  migrants arriving in the United States through illegal networks or in illegal conditions in search of the American dream was recast as an open violation of  American law and immigration protocols.

Federal criminal charges were filed, against eleven of the migrants who presented them to the law for asylum.  As the chief law officer of the United States declared that they revealed diminished “respect for the rule of law” compromising “our ability to protect our great nation, its borders and its citizens,” stating “The United States will not stand by as our immigration laws are ignored and our nation’s safety is jeopardized,” the safety of the migrants was not only elided or bracketed, but removed from the map:  the protest was not an illustration of the conditions of migrants or the dangers of passage in an area where migrants are themselves subject to criminal gangs, cartels, and opportunistic smugglers, who place them on special assignments, but they embodied the threats to the nation.  The executive prerogative that allowed the construction of the wall, over-riding existing laws without congressional approval in ways that remapped the relation of the United States to the world and the legal protections offered those petitioning for asylum.  For while brushing aside the inadequacy of earlier projects of fencing along the border–once mapped as important national projects in 2009–but varying in height–




–the ramping up of a notion of national protection by a “real wall,” announcing  its “beauty” as if to signal its impervious character, and to accentuate an obstacle that would dissuade all migrants from attempting to traverse.  But in promising to expand the border as a monument to national defense in cost concrete seemed to obscure even the legitimate cases of migrants for asylum.

Premonitions of a “public clash” between “some perhaps trying to make it across [the border] illegally,” from the southern Mexican border, the lack of ability to control cross-border movements seemed a particular point of frustration for team Trump, who long identified the border wall as the only means to national security.  Trump  treated the border wall as an executive right, not respecting individual rights or legal process, in response to issues of national security and protection he depicts as an ongoing state of war.  In ways that echoed–or bolstered his radical declarations of absolutist understanding of presidential authority, Trump treated the wall ss a personalization of executive authority, not only imagining that the border wall be named after him–as the Eisenhower Highway System–“Maybe someday they’ll call it the Trump Wall,” he mused back in August 2015—but glorifying his efforts at massive deportation as akin to Eisenhower’s mass deportation effort, a forced migration of populations that stands to obscure laws of individual asylum, human rights and civil protections, and disrupt the American economy.  And so it is not surprising that Trump seems ready to shut down the government again, if funding for completing the border wall is not agreed to by Democrats in the Senate and House, as he tries his hardest to convince the nation of its urgency, and the urgency of revising the supposed “loopholes,” increasing the authority of Border Patrol agents, and streamlining the procedures of extradition–or, basically, of stripping the migrants of any rights.

Such a notion of the border wall that replaces and erases the stories of the people who might cross it, and deprives them of any rights, as it sets up a narrative of deportation.   And the sense of such a protective wall stood as the understory and tacit subject of the caravan that sought to protest the dangers to which migrants had been subjected or fled.  Their stories were predictably subsumed to a story about our nation:  tweets volleyed about “caravans” of deported illegal aliens for a moth, evoking how Trump so often elevated the border wall as a national project–and a form of bluster that trumps the law.  The migrants who travelled together to protect themselves from violence had been mipmapped as the enemies Trump promised to keep outside the nation; Trump even seemed unable to process their existence in terms other than refracted into opposing camps through the prism of the “beautiful” border wall.  The plight of the migrant was erased with the international braggadocio of a unilateral wall desperately needed to ensure national security, as their struggle became a basis to assault existing immigration policies.  The border wall promised to erase existing immigration laws, as Trump seemed to position himself both as a political outsider and to cast immigration in partisan terms.




The very project of the border wall, a poor cartography of nationhood and national sovereignty, suggests an abandonment of attention to context, contextual meaning, and to privilege tools of geometric bounding that seem to have locked much of the nation into a vicious circle of inflexible thinking that sacrifices the individual and the law to an archaic wall.  To be sure, a slim majority of likely voters agreed “the United States should continue building a border fence along the Mexican border” in 2013, and although that decreased slightly when asked about a “wall along the Mexican border,” and aseems to have further decreased among registered voters in 2016 or when asked in 2016 about building a wall “along the entire border,” Donald Trump attracted new voters to a campaign that stressed the inadequacy of current fencing, and need to gird the nation against external threats long improperly addressed.  The border wall has now defined relations between political parties, and become a lightning rod in the broader debate–painfully unresolved–about immigration.

The arrival of a relatively small protest march of migrants became an occasion  recalled he fears of how the border was described as a site of risin violence, an end to low wages, terrorist attacks, urban crime, and national security, dominating the recent round of political ads for House campaigns more than any other issue.  As if on demand, the arrival of migrants at the port of entry of San Isidro led their transit to be compared to that of gangs, criminals, and drug cartels, exploiting how the border was long falsely mapped by Trump as an obstacle to the national safety:  but even if the vast majority of Republicans believe in the need to secure the nation through the building of the wall, or quite astoundingly nearly 70%, as a way to limit immigration, other Americans are far less convinced.  But as the border wall has been recast as executive prerogative, guided by Trump’s sense of the benefits and needs for the wall, we are compelled to examine the logic, however painful.  Greater support for the border wall with distance from the southwestern border among Republicans revealed the appeal of the border wall had grown diffused on national terms.



The need for the wall-and the unsuitable nature of current border barriers, from bollard fencing to pedestrian obstacles,  was suggested by the rhetorical multiplier with which President Donald Trump described “the caravan of thousands of people coming up from Honduras–thousands of people” and “very weak laws” to halt their advance.  Changing “our borders” and “securing our borders” are not only about building fences, but changing “our laws” as a way of “toughening up at the border” that affirms the border as a threshold of national sovereignty.  Cast as “illegal immigrants” even while they were in Mexico, the identity that American television bestowed on the masses often numbered in the thousands seemed a test for “toughening border security,” rather than laws alone, and seemed to suggest that laws would just not work in the face of fraudulent asylum claims and a need for processing people without documents, who have been accepted as a national threat.




1.  The construction of a tall, imperious border wall stands to rewrite the border as a barrier, redefining the question of migrants’ legality, and rewriting the law and lawfulness, replacing existing immigration laws.  The reasons for building a border wall echoes the Border Patrol authorities–and a President increasingly casting migrants as “aliens” and “animals” who need to be penned, contained, and not granted individual or human rights as they constitute dangerous threats to the nation’s safety.  The dehumanization of the migrant as an animal seems the end-result of a rather slippery rhetorical slide:  as twitter becomes a tool of international diplomacy in a performative vein, the wall is the masterpiece of the performative Presidency of Donald J. Trump.  The arrival of any migrants–let alone of “an army of migrants,” seemed to appear on command, recalling fears of how the border was described as a site of risin violence, an end to low wages, terrorist attacks, urban crime, and national security.  The transformation of Buzzfeed claims, while unsubstantiated, were magnified in media loops in an online version of “telephone,” as the Caravan of over a thousand headed north was invested with an attack on Trump’s border policy, and became framed as an international event undermining sovereignty.

The empty notion of sovereignty that was evoked was considerably emptied of meaning, however, and far less robust.  Trump long invested the conceit of the border wall with functions as a defense of the nation, claiming that it will increase national safety.  Yet the insistence on the benefits of building the wall conceal the extent to which the attempted protection of the border conceal the increased levels of violence along the border they have provoked, even as the border has gained a national prominence that it lacked in the past, before Trump announced his candidacy.  Indeed, with areas among the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, declarations of the imminent construction–or groundlessly congratulating himself on the “beauty” of  its construction- in April and May, 2018 to public audiences in Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana.  For these middle-Americas voters–all located at a distance from the border, reveal the immediacy of the border as a response to the epidemic of heroin, gang violence, and low wages long mapped–or appeared to be mapped–on border crossing.  The proximity with which Republican voters geographically removed from the border have connected to the border helped generalize  anti-immigrant politics on a level unthought of only five years ago.

In ways that would have been unthinkable five years ago, the proximity of the border wall to the nation has increased.   Although Trump’s remarks seem to be confined only to prototypes of the wall that were placed near a limited section of the border, the legitimacy that he has granted the conceit of border-wall construction has taken a demand that began in groups like “Secure Borders” in Southern Texas–like the Secure Borders Coalition which included current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who demanded “real border security,” led by Texan Representative Michael McCaul.  (McCaul’s group had advocated the Mexican-American border be lined with five-layer fencing with chain link fences topped with razor wire, concertina wire, and watchtowers as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq.  Their advocacy of the Saudi Great Wall as a model for the U.S. conveniently ignored the radically different role of laws of individual protection of rights in the two states, the border wall has grown to eclipse the notion of civil rights or protections in a democratic state.)


What was once a demand of the marginal groups associated with Homeland Security seemed increasingly legitimized as mainstream, the demand for the border wall that plays to national audiences far from the border of interest to the entire nation, leading to bizarre discussions of how ICE “liberated towns in Long Island” from MS-13 gangs, transforming the entire nation a battleground whose front line is the wall, and defining the border wall as the only secure defense of the southwestern border given the inadequacy–and indeed unpatriotic nature–of what Trump painted as a partisan position of acknowledging migrants’ rights and respecting asylum claims.





Trump has asserted the need for an increasingly militarized barrier, already being tested by U.S. military special forces and US Customs and Border Protection special units, as U.S. Navy SEAL units claimed to have confirm its impregnability–as if to illustrate its strength and military grade, but  in ways unable to be confirmed.  The wall designed to replace inadequate border barriers, fencing, would fix “miles and miles of [inadequate] wall that’s already up,” as a way to enforce “strong borders” that suggest a misunderstanding about strength–and to force demand for its construction.  While the border wall is a show of strength, its promise is a cartographic simplification that seems to focus the nation’s attention not on laws, rights, or legal protection, but fixed attention on the line as a line of legal violation, and the degradation of the border as an obstacle, and as a source of vulnerability.

Rather than see the fixity of the structure Trump had promised would ensure  the safety of the nation, the caravan evoked the impervious barrier which was such a focus of national attention,  The arrival of the Caravan played as national news, as it seemed that most were heading toward detention camps that dot the US-Mexico border, where the processing of immigration claims takes on average almost two years.  And as BuzzFeed reports were relayed on FOX as an “army of migrants marching to America” or a “small migrant army marching toward the United States,” the use of  militarized terms evoked–despite the marcher’s peacefulness–the militarization of a border wall.  When several hundred Central Americans arrived, seeking asylum, and scaled the fence near St. Isidro, holding a Honduran flag, as if to suggest the fear of a loss of sovereignty, rather than what might be a site for international cooperation.



 n wall:commemorated at wall.pngDaniel Gonzalez


Flag on Border at Tijuana.png

J. Omar Ornelas


Trump responded that the need for “a strong, impenetrable WALL that will end this problem once and for all”–implying the problem of immigration, once a concern mostly of border-states, had become a national problem of urgency that might unite the divided nation.  Would it be too much to say that the border wall had indeed become a living force, despite its actual function as a site of migrants’ death, as if the vitality of the wall on one side of the border contrasted with the consciousness of the wall as a site of migrants’ death, and indeed the attempts to commemorate these deaths, on the other side–the most alarming and disturbing of the deceptive truisms of the new Newspeak the border wall presumes, and we would be urged to entertain—that Death is Life?




Migrant Deaths and Water Stations, 1999-2012



The imaginary function of the border wall has created an inexplicable tie between the wall and a project of modernization and modernity, even if the wall seems among the most post-modern, fragmentary, meta-conceptual, and notional sorts of pastiches one could imagine:  the isolated prototypes, on which DHS requested bids weeks after Trump’s inauguration, have become more than a totem of a new sense of sovereignty, as Steve Bannon asserted, eerily but aptly suggesting the living nature of the border wall in the collective imaginary, a point oddly echoed in how U.S. Customs and Border Patrol union that long agitated for a border wall described such a wall as a “vital tool” as their leadership advised the Trump transition team.  The investing with living properties in the wall by Bannon and by advocacy groups seems, indeed, to shift the life of the nation into the “vital interests” that the wall will protect, as if to a living organism–even if the immobility of such a project would suggest the opposite, by intruding in habitat, ecosystems, and dividing open spaces in what were protected lands.  The wall indeed is promised to be constructed through protected lands, interrupting wilderness spaces, as if it demands to be accorded respect as a dividing land, crucial to the nation as a barrier to keep out undesirables alternately identified as dangers to safety, jobs and health.


imageBorder Wall and Federal- and State-Protected Lands (dark green)


Is the border a sort of living form, so closely was it tied to the nation’s “vital interests” of stopping the flow of drugs across the border, ending the reach of drug cartels, and stopping the flow of refugees.  But the increasingly vital form of the border wall seems to have dignified it by its centrality to the nation, and the impermeable membrane that it created for migrants:  the repeated identification of the border wall as defending vital national interests from the “failed states” across the border suggests a retrenchment of national interests, but an elevation of the border wall almost at great costs to the nation.  The pleasure with which Dept. of Justice affirmed that after Judge Gonzalo Curiel sustained Homeland Security’s mandate to build the projected border wall did not violate the Constitution, but fell within its mandate for boarder security, that DHS “can continue this important work vital to our nation’s interest” reflects a confusion between vitality of the nation and wall.  The entity of the wall seems, indeed, to have replaced the nation as a guiding figure of the Trump administration, as if the physical structure were in fact able to express the interests of the state, and the survival of the wall more important than the survival of migrants who might encounter it.

But the Border Wall became a project both Trump and his crowds celebrated as a way to discuss the nation.  The elevation of the border wall into an almost sacral place in a religion of the nation, rather than as a tool of a secular state, and a sign of national identity.  (The border wall has become so central to the state, indeed, that Bannon readily predicted the need for a shut down government if full funding for constructing a border wall was not approved by Congress–much as Trump has earlier threatened a mere hundred days into his Presidency, in April 2017.)   Trump attacked the arrival of the Caravan as an illustration of “Democratic inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad, so one-sided” and that “our laws are so weak, given to us by Democrats, . . . are so pathetic,” treating the arrival of immigrants with cases of asylum as evidence of a partisan dereliction of the protection of the state.  Rather than seeing motion across the membrane of the border as a sign of biological health, the health of the social body depended on the construction of an impenetrable wall, for Trump and his closest advisors.

For Trump seems determined to link his presidency–and even shut down government for it once again this year, suggesting how central the project is to defining new ideas of the state but  invested with a new religion of the state, undermining civil and secular society.  While cast as a project of construction or infrastructure, the wall is a realization of the changing of existing immigration law, and a watershed for chaining the law, “our dumb immigration laws,” which Trump has criticized in vague terms as “very, very bad,” “very, very weak laws,” and even “the worst laws,” as if recognize that the project of border wall building reveals ambitions to rewrite the legal framework of immigration and national legal protections, and indeed the relation of the state and the individual.  In this sense, the project of wall-builting that has become the recurrent subject of tweets, public speeches, and government statements on the border wall’s imminent or current construction.


2. The wall seeks to remap the border as a fixed line as an effective barrier against violence and to preserve jobs, lower criminality and thwart gangs, and prevent drug traffic across the border–as if its construction and enforcement could redeem the nation from a plague of ills.  The urgency with which President  Trump has evoked the need for the border wall–and the intransigence with which he promoted building a barrier across the border–have remapped the sovereign integrity of the union.  The rhetoric of a need for closing the border informed the announcement that no “additional persons traveling without appropriate entry documentation” be admitted into the country until further notice–if ever at all. The finality Trump invested the wall as a resolution of national problems–extending far from the border, where the first anti-immigrant movements began–has indeed taken the southwestern border as a basis to remap the country, and to redefine migrants’ relation to the law in very real ways.  And even if it does not exist–and has not been begun–the rhetoric of stopping cross-border flows caused many of the vulnerable migrants–pregnant women, children, transgender–to be cast as lawbreakers who did not respect the country they sought to enter.

The redefinition of migration as an issue of sovereignty, rather than rights, suggests rather chilling consequences both for migrants, and a shifting relation of America to the world, with harsh consequences for civil society and the law.  Indeed, law seems trumped by a religion of state in the recent proclamations of the Trump Presidency, where “sovereignty” is not about rights or people, but about the power of the state to protect jobs, safety, and goods.  The fear of an arrival of migrants has increased the symbolics of the wall; and even as the United State has long treated Mexico as a significant or primary immigration filter of Central American victims fleeing not only poverty, but persecution and threats of personal violence.  The story of the fear of arrival and the threats of the image of the porous border have increasingly taken the place of the personal stories and narratives of migrants and refugees, in a shocking sort of cartographic charlatanry, as fear of migrants crossing the southwestern border has become primarily perceived as a compelling security threat, in ways that seem to elevate a religion of the nation above the question of individual rights with urgency, as if to elevate the right of state above the individual, by elevating the needs of the state above the individual, and invoking a state of “exception” that allows the suspension of individual rights of any migrants who approach or try to cross the nation’s southwestern border, by criminalizing not only their immigration but redefining the relation of the state to all migrants as potential “illegal aliens” seeking to breach  existing fencing and border policy.




Can one shift the map of the peril of criminalized migrants crossing the increasingly militarized border to reveal the plight of their journey?  As the march of migrants organized by  Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, the peaceful protest of the Caravan de madres centroamericanas, sponsored by Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, in an attempt to protest the difficulties that migrants face as they cross borders from Central America, the very protest march designed to demand safe passage across borders, is cast it as an occasion to fear the arrival of migrants and treated, in a bizarre extension, as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children–and has occasioned the increasing separation of children from their families– the loss of records of about 1,500 children entering the country before the arrival of the Caravan–despite assurances John Kelly provided that separating families at the border “will be taken care of–put into foster care or whatever” in a way that “wasn’t cruel.” As a response to the problem of coming into the United States “illegally,”  the shift to a “zero-tolerance” policy pursued in “the name of the game is deterrence” did’t inspire confidence.

Family separation was described as an effective deterrent–and Kelly reminded his interviewer that if “people say that it’s cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children,” the fault lies with those who attempted to “illegally enter the United States”–which no one “hopes is will be used extensively or for very long.”.  but the emergence of the border as a site of prolonged detention of undocumented immigrants, who wait for their immigration cases to be hear for almost two years on average,  the routine separation of children from their parents and families, and the deportation of those without papers, as all migrants can be stopped and searched and held them without charges in the name of national safety.  The map of the peril of migrants to national security is a basis to strip migrants seeking to enter the nation of any personal rights.


3.  The creation over time of a tortured cartography of fear may recall the latest iteration of the “paranoid style of American politics” that Richard Hofstadter long ago described as an impulse in the national DNA, of impulsively seeing an external nexus of evil, by giving credence with little actual proof that a toxic combination of external forces lie at the root of our most serious social problems–even when it masked them.  Hofstadter argued that it was in fact impossible to appreciate U.S. history without paying attention to such fantasies and  our current matrix of fears has mapped the fears of national decline and economic instability onto the immigration,  condensing heterogeneous fears onto the construction of a border wall, by misreading maps of immigration and mis-mapping immigration.


image.pngMap showing migrants safe and risky routes at “La 72” migrants’ shelter , Tenosique (Tabasco), October 2017. Crisis Group (Froylán Enciso)




The very charge that immigrants bring guns, violence, and dangers into the United States is aptly reputed by an actual map, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Explosives (AFT) with open OSM data, to reveal that as 70% of the firearms siezed in or from Mexico are of American origin, Mexico’s strict gun laws are indeed undermined by the presence of numerous gun dealers–catering to migrants who are increasingly scared of cross-border transit–located just north of the border, where stores provide many of those cast as smugglers, gangs, and criminals who seek to protect themselves from being subject to smugglers’ and cartels’ increasing demands.


image.pngMetric Maps


Yet the evocation of a wall, by now constructed on social media and on twitter, has elevated a demand for guarding the border from the towns, cities, and states that lie along the border to a need to preserve the security of the nation, the Homeland, and national safety and indeed health.  The sputtering incoherence of @RealDonaldTrump Twitter exclamations of increased urgency–“SECURE THE BORDER!  BUILD A WALL!” (August 5, 2014) “WE NEED A BIG AND BEAUTIFUL WALL!”  (Nov 19, 2015) or just, in time, “NEED WALL!” (April 1, 2018); “we must have THE WALL!” (August 27, 2017) ; “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”; “We must have a great WALL to protect us, and to stop the massive flow of drugs into our country” (January 16, 2018); “We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country” (January 18, 2018); “If there is no Wall, there is no DACA” (January 23, 2018)–cemented the wall to the nation in a map of exclamations.  The statements and sound bites seem perverse cries in an echo chamber, but are supported and given currency by maps.  The urgency of these demands work to conceal the complete remove of the border from actual problems that face the nation, but externalize the difficulties of the nation, and raise the possibility of creating an impoverished sense of the nation, and to conceal the plight of migrants, and huge economic imbalances across the border.


4.  But they draw their urgency from how maps suggest the need to remap national safety about the border.  Despite some demeaning of the elevation of the wall on Twitter to a node of national politics, the amount of attention dedicated to the wall–and this magnified in 2018, and became a tacit undercurrent in his tweets about the Caravan–the provocation of renewed fears about the need for a border wall, which he consistently paired against “our country” in an odd collective possessive, since the wall seems always “my” wall.  One might suggest they make the wall a site of constant contact with Trump’s personality and speech, in treating the wall as a celebration of the religion of the nation dedicated to keeping out ostensibly dangerous migrants and refugees, and labeling them as dangerous “illegals” needed to be excluded from the social body and from legal protections.  Trump’s outright leis about removing MS-13 gangs “by the thousands,” or that Mexico would pay for the border wall, create a false geography that was quickly exploited.

Trump’s degree of duplicity about the border astounds.  The dangers of crime, underemployment, gangs, sex trafficking and gruesome violence were in mapped onto the border’s porous or permeable nature in the public imagination, as if to remap the hard southwestern edge of the United States in a satisfying manner, as Trump mapped or trusted maps that effectively tie national dangers to border crossing.  The spectral if necessarily vague map of migration that have been burned into the national consciousness–and perhaps, in a bizarre circulation of images, into the mind of current President Donald J. Trump–and seem to haunt his own insistence on threats to national security and also his failure of establishing an immigration policy.  With the arrests of U.S. Border Patrol on the rise, as the techniques of survival to which migrants who traveled through the country compelled them to develop alliances with criminal organization, cartels and gangs, the Trump government has attempted to invest in the massive construction of a border wall, rather than dedicating funds to the safety and security of  refugees, processing cases of asylum or offering guarantees of safe passage across borders.

The insistence on the border wall has become a sort of fetish to reveal a new policy toward migrants that was extremely heatless in its broad criminalization of their motives:  President Trump cast the need for the wall as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children, and had been protected from prosecution, as if the construction of the wall undermined all immigration cases.  The crude hand-drawn or painted maps painted on the walls of migrants stations that reveal the desperation of their cross-border flights have only been taken as demanding resolute response through the construction of an impermeable border wall.  If the wall has been most frequently mentioned on Twitter, among other social media, the image of the wall has travelled through a variety of maps, images, and visualizations long cultivated by many anti-immigrant groups, and increasingly adopted as a policy of state by the Twitterer-in-Chief who rises each morning early to watch FOX-TV en lieu of reading the Presidential Daily Briefing.

Perhaps President Trump’s favorite strategy of forcing the audience to be dependent on his own decision and whims is the ultimate depowering device, but suggests the extreme dependence on his decision–and the power the Border Patrol exercise over migrants’ lives.  To be sure, the clear echoes of nativist anti-immigrant groups such as “Secure Borders” are quite terrifying–they advanced, after all, in institutional or bureaucratic language the deeply proprietorial belief in an ability to close borders even to the vulnerable.  While debate about “illegal” immigration denies the legality of the entrance of undocumented into the country is about laws; the southwestern frontier is so central to the debate, that it is not surprising that it is also about national maps and maps of cross-border traffic and flows.  The new and increasingly universal coinage of the “illegal”–a proxy for foreigner that has served to undermine the status of refugees seeking asylum by defining them as non-nationals–is defined by border-crossing, rather than being tied to a court of law.  The effect of these maps is to try to affirm the need for a solid, non-porous border, despite the productive nature of the fluidity of the border as a site of entrance; insisting on the need for a “real” border that doesn’t allow passage of individuals, the border wall denies the past historical benefits of a porous border, even while presenting itself as a way to “make America great again.”

Maps both define borders, and provide a form of essentializing national norms by rehabilitating a literal nationalism that trumps the law in ways one barely expected to breath again.


image.pngCenter for American Population Stabilization, Web-Based Interactive Pop-up Ad


Rusian FB ad for Secrured Borders“Secured Borders,” Web-Based Interactive Pop-Up Ad


The increasingly aggressive proprietorial notion of the nation is effectively mapped, perhaps reflexively, by means of a retro sign suggesting disinterest in assuming a role of global or economic leadership in the first; the lower forty-eight become a defensive banner akin to a tattered unfurled flag in the second, as if a flag were elevated above the territory, pulling patriotic heartstrings by rejecting ‘illegals’–a now-universal term of exclusion and disdain for refugees or immigrants cast as not “our” responsibility after all, and as outsiders whose itineraries must be reversed.  The status of migrants has been repeatedly questioned and interrogated in debates about border policies, as if their status eroded as they made progress pass immigration checkpoints across the country.  And as the recent Caravan crossed into Mexico’s border controls, the decision of Mexican immigration authorities to allow Central Americans to cross their border without paper led them to be named as suspect, as they progressed past Mexico City.

The laws of immigration have been questioned, in ways that undermine the claims of asylum of many of the refugees–deemed as “illegal” in American media.  Over the coming weeks, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for a review of longstanding laws granting asylum to all vulnerable or threatened populations, including women and children–who composed many of the marchers who had walked from Central America to the United States Border.  The targeting of the vulnerable seems echoed in the defense of separating children from families of migrants at the border–former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly reminded the nation that rather than feeling sorry for them, given “tremendous experience dealing with unaccompanied minors” who are turned to Health and Human Services to “disrupt this terribly dangerous network” of Mara Salvatrucha–MS-13–gangs.  Yet is such disruption grounds for putting over 10,000 immigrant children into custody, separately from their parents, a policy that has never been adopted on such scale by previous presidents?  The 21% surge in taking children from their parents that occurred in May 2018 alone has left Health and Social Services shelters at 95% capacity, and raises the prospect of housing children in military bases in the future–and promising to give all information about the parents, relatives, sponsors and living conditions of children to the Department of Homeland Security, or access to highly personal or private data, long privileged as protected.  the increase in separating children form their families was a long planned message to be sent across the border.

The faceless horde of immigrants that Trump regularly disparaged on social media as increasing “danger” for the nation, and a proxy for the criminals, drug-sellers, MS-13 gang members, murderers and rapists Trump argued are concealed themselves among those who present themselves for immigration or sneak across the southwestern border, without documents.  Such “illegal aliens” were seen as actively undermining laws and recast as evidence for the need and urgency of building a permanent border wall.  As the aim of separating families is to send a message across the wall, and define the permanence of the border as a–and perhaps to use the separation of children as a pressure point to get Democrats relinquish support for DACA, or the deferring of deportation for children brought in to the country by their parents, who have only known life in the United States.


Fence:Wall Trump



5.  In a successful gambit to distinguish himself as a straight-talking candidate able to alter or disrupt political debate, Donald Trump–a surprise, outsider candidate–long promised to build a wall that would “protect America,” unlike attempts to build fencing along the southwestern border by previously elected presidents.  And in a very deep sense, the promise to built the “wall”–“a real wall,” Trump emphasized, “a physical wall,” as if to underline the massive returns of its construction–served to differentiate him from other politicians and members of political parties.  In ways that recall how political theorist Antonio Gramsci, who lived through Italian Fascism, defined fascism as presenting itself as an “anti-party,” inviting all to “conceal by a veneer of legitimacy vague and nebulous ideas wild and unfettered passions, hatreds, and demands,” the dangers that Trump argued would bee contained by the “wall” served to legitimate the xenophobia it sought to contain.

Trump seemed to orchestrate the expression of passions in reaction to the Caravan.  His tweets mirrored its advance, launching angry public statements escalating in their fear and intensity, granting the “caravan” of migrants a disproportionate role in imagining the continued vulnerability of the United States.  The Caravan took place both on a map and in an incoherent narrative of the threat that migrants posed to the United States, and the specious narrative that Donald J. Trump launched as a Presidential candidate in the Republican primaries alleging Mexico–without grounds save what he “heard” from the U.S. Border Patrol–for sending criminals across the border who threatened the nation’s safety.  The final tweets Trump issued into the ether refusing “to let these large Caravans of people into our Country” confused the issue in typical Trumpian fashion, imagining the quantity of people and the absence of discriminating among refugees–his Attorney General sourly called their arrival on Easter week “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws”–or far more dangerous to the nation than the stragglers who arrived at the old wall in Tijuana in fact appeared.


At Tijuana.png


The veneer of political acceptability that the border wall bequeathed on anti-immigrant sentiment indeed ran against the sentiment of a body of law, presenting as their rationale a hollowed-out notion of the body politic.   For all the hope of providing a better narrative to unite the nation since 2008, the appeal of Trump’s narrative of exclusion, fear, and economic security promoted the image of wall-building and the xenophobic ban of dangerous foreigners entering the nation.  The veneer of political acceptability that Trump provided for defensive acts of exclusion gave legitimacy to a range of xenophobic fears, broad charges of illegality, and xenophobia that celebrated exclusion and the denial of rights.  Trump’s longstanding use of inhumane metaphors for immigrants–dangers to the nation that ranged from “anchor babies,” “immigrant hordes” to bad hombres–underscored the usurpation of rights, and somehow offered a more compelling narrative of national identity than was on offer.

It furthered a fearsome spatial imaginary that was enforced by numerous crude maps of false objectivity.   From announcing his candidacy by collectively identifying Mexican immigrants as “in many cases criminals, rapists, [or] drug dealers” typecast an ethnic group as criminal to justify wall building on the southwestern border as patriotic, opportunistically perpetuating a spatial imaginary dangerous and without legal grounds in a mendacious and tenacious manner.   Trump proposed an alternate reality of the US-Mexico border wall that existed in the mental imaginary  and has come to haunt political debate about immigrants, and national policy, that runs against inclusion.  Only minutes after  Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi happily proclaimed in a joint statement after visiting the White House an agreement not to deport children brought to the United States as children in “a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable” [italics added],  Trump promptly tweeted an affirmation of an alternate reality of the border wall’s continued presence, in an image that stands to haunt our nation and political imaginary, and remains a favored image of political geography.  In affirming that “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built,”  Trump oriented to a map of the nation’s safety, declaring “We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country. We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world.”  The sums demanded to construct the wall almost invited a government shutdown early in the Trump era:   the manner in which adherence to the conceit of the unbuilt border wall might cause a future government shutdown reveals its place in affirming Trump’s political identity and leadership.

Trump asserts that the recognition of the need for the border wall is as apparent as an act of scales falling from one’s eyes, and restoring a clearer geopolitical vision.  The acknowledgment of the need for the border wall less recalls Saul’s infusion with the Holy Spirit, than a demand of how U.S. Customs and Borders Enforcement has insisted on the permeability of the US-Mexico border in a new national spatial imaginary.  The wall reflects not only affirms the guilt of undocumented immigrants as “illegal” guests but distracts from its own illegality, and the massive efforts of incarceration that the prominence of the defense of the border stands to justify.  Trump recently championed the arrest of over 1,500 people who have “entered the country illegally”–in one of the largest mass-incarceration of undocumented populations ever to occur.  And although the seeds of the possibility of an imagined border wall was defined during the 1990s, when the US Government built border fencing in order to keep economic migrants from seeking higher wages up north, in response to the inequalities of globalization, the attempt to maintain and effectively “naturalize” the increasingly steep inequalities of globalization, remains a relatively recent idea.  

The search for constant reminders for the need and urgency of the border wall has become a sort of trope of the Trump residence.  The reminders conceal a profound failure to process refugees seeking to better their conditions, and the deep changes in the ground beneath the feet of the undocumented migrant, whose status has been effectively eroded:   stripped of rights, privacy, or security, the building of a wall designed to obstruct passage and persecute all who seek to cross it undermines the legality of cross-border transit.  Visualizations purporting better to orient viewers to the presence of migrants cast them as “illegally” present to demonize the figure of the refugee and undocumented migrant–cast as an “illegal alien” as transgressing the law, investing illegality of a criminal in those who illegally cross the boundary serves to erase individual histories by tallying them as standing in violation of the law, fueled by the expansion of mass incarceration across the nation from the mid-1980s, fed by images of a “war on crime,” and aggressive drug prosecution and the expansion of the Department of Homeland Security as the largest national law enforcement agency.

6.  Of the almost half million attempting unauthorized  immigration apprehended on the southwestern border, half arrived from other countries than Mexico–any proposal to return all apprehended or deported to Mexico effectively erases the itineraries or needs of the 257,000 from other Central American countries in Central America fleeing poverty, organised extortion, and inner-city violence from areas far south of “Mexico.” Yet as “Mexico” remains a place-holder, removed from any clear geographical relation to the United States in this entire debate, maps of the border purport to make “sense” of the changes in stagnant wages, unemployment, and taxes, and the specters of refugees, terrorism, drugs and gang violence.  The wall was projected onto the nation as a means to create a needed barrier of impermeability; Trump has promised a “real wall”–although what sense any border was ever “real” is unclear–will contain threats in what takes and isolates the border as a threshold of legality.  

By repeatedly magnifying the danger of border-crossing within the national imaginary, Trump worked to create a false–and divisive–consensus elevating border crossing as a threat to economic security, public safety and public health.  The distorted magnification the dangers undocumented immigrants who would traverse it pose to the nation, although in ways that revise and empty the “nation” as an established legal system.  For every urgent suggestion of the need to “revise our immigration laws” are, in fact, attmpets to void them and legal precedent; attacking the “loopholes” that have permitted the vulnerable people including women and children who face threats of violence either at home or on the streets to seek asylum, not as actual stories that deserve attention but as deceptive strategies of evading that must be unveiled lest they undermine public safety.  Trump’s empty assertions in August 2017 that the very high levels of criminality in Mexico necessitate or mandate the construction of a border wall sought to provide an image to his supporters that, indeed “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE,” tying the “nation” to the wall, and to the border.  The circulation of a photoshopped tweet revising the course that “the wall” would take, to include New Mexico, or exclude it as well from the commonwealth, was intended as humor but revealed that the border wall had come to afford a new mental geography of the nation and its relation to the world.




The arrival of the Caravan of Central American migrants seeking asylum and safe transit across borders has threatened the narrative of illegal border crossing but has provoked increased insistence on the imagined spatial geography of dangers crossing our borders.  The Caravan’s arrival reflexively provoked an accelerated project of “revising our immigration laws” as the migrant “Caravan” crossed immigration checkpoints, military bases, police stations, and walked through cities in Mexico without facing any obstacles.  It conjured the needed image of a tidal wave headed to the border, which necessitated the very militarization of the border that the border wall had not created for the national good, and working to create a militarized defenses of the border extending the current melange of heterogeneous border barriers, and left mays seeking visualizations the conjured the new border division the Trump administration sought to create to affirm the border’s impassibility, in an image of the physical naturalization of a “wall” that replaces the “fence.”


Fence:Wall Trump

The nomenclature is not accidental.

If good fences make good neighbors, the “wall” is the language of a strongman on the border, an oddly archaic notion of a boundary doing double duty as a new noun of national protection, acting as an exclusionary boundary, and a verb as providing a defense that is more effectively able to obstruct passage of outsiders.  The deeply archaic sense of wall-building–Giambattista Vico defined it as a pre-legal notion of national self-definition, going back to the Romulan walls that were the first set of walls that defined the integrity of Rome, although how the “wall” would exclude the massive amounts of contraband that enters within established entry points within cars and concealed in shipments–rather arriving than on foot–is never explained.

Yet the fantastic narrative of such on-foot traffic evading border checkpoints–“Does Google Maps indeed help migrants evade border checkpoints?” wondered a website that was promoted on RT, designed to tap into the paranoid strain of the American mind–has lent urgency to the creation of a continuous border “wall” –often just describe as “the wall.”  The militarization of the border as a built boundary, compounded with more border guards is promoted as preventing any such transit, even if the website suggested that the provision of information in the crudest of nline maps may allow migrants to outfox border patrol and U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the ineffective nature of the Ports of Entry as barriers against migrants from Central America or Mexico.  The mapping of “routes to avoid” which are marked by “Border Patrol Checkpoints” as tools to circumvent border barriers.


Google maps borderGoogle Maps/”Routes to Avoid–Border Patrol Checkpoints


Inflating fear of the arrival of the “Caravan of Migrants” provided a powerful rhetorical urgency to the creation of a border wall, in short.  The over-inflated fears of a faceless “Caravan” suggested a surge of undocumented advancing and progressing toward the border, following maps that pointed them to the sights of crossing, as if they were destined to cross in a matter of weeks.

With a tacit blame that Mexico had been overwhelmed from acting to filter on immigration that the United States government has increasingly insisted, the US began attempts to dissuade migrants from crossing the border by calling the National Guard’s arrival, both in an open confession that even the current massive militarization of ports of entry fails to ensure and an excuse for encouraging the border’s increased militarization.


Migrants in Oaxaca, Felix Marquez AP


The arrival of the Caravan of migrants became a test case for the urgent need of a border wall, and of the narrative for its construction.  Despite the peaceful ethos and intent of the migrant refugees’ march–organized annually by Pueblos sin Fronteras, “Peoples without Borders”, and designed to guarantee safe passage across borders,  President Trump cast it as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children, and had been protected from deportation under DACA, confusedly taking fears of the arrival of migrants as an illustration of the dangers of “porous” borders to foreign threats.  Despite the non-threatening nature of the peaceful march that sought to map–and protest–global economic inequalities, the image of the “Caravan” was effectively expanded in the imagination as a looming threat to our security, akin to the thieves, rapists, and gang members he had argued without grounds that Mexico actively “sends” across the border, as if to erase any sense of migrants’ own agency, narratives, or needs of those women, children, and families arriving at the border after a month-long journey.

As President, Trump has enjoyed incorrectly taunting that the Caravan constituted a threat to national safety–either destined to cross the border legally as they petition for asylum, or cross the border illegally to enter the United States, or encourage massive migration of others.  As the migrants’ procession overwhelmed border authorities they encountered, posting social media updates of their progress past towns and border checkpoints in non-violent ways while provoking a theater of confrontation over their month-log trek that let Trump direct increased attention to the border, and focus national attention on the need for an unbuilt and over-budget border wall, as a need to raise the stakes in border management in ways that he had long eagerly argued, hoping to force the inclusion of a border wall in the military budget and achieve a rewriting of the nation, and an emptying of many of the values, shared sense of civil rights, and civil protections that have defined the nation in the past, and seems to have sought to grant legitimacy to the erosion of civil rights.

The imperative of the border threatens to warp the notion of sovereignty by imposing a notion of national frontiers that predate civil institutions or the law, but are a restoration of order–although the notion of an authoritarian border wall itself seeks to dismantle a legal process of immigration, and strip US residents of rights.  While this may be due to Trump’s limited experience with the law, the cognitive violence of the wall lies not only in the obstruction that it creates on the ground, but the dangerous model it creates for remapping sovereignty, and for creating a sharply uneven access to justice, from immigration courts to the rights we accord others.


image.png.Jose Torres/Reuters


Trump had long promised his constituencies as a candidate that the border was was necessary for national safety, in ways that offered a basis for dividing the nation. The idea of a border wall was itself without clear legality or precedent in international law.  But as a response to the “state of emergency” after September 11, 2001, creating boundaries has generated a warped image o the state, in which the executive could bend the law: when Trump summoned self-confidence to declare “A nation without borders is not a nation,” he essentially proposed a new idea of the nation; as much as describing the borders of the United States, he obscured his own lack of political experience or familiarity with government or civil institutions., and boasted of the ease of binding the nation by a wall able to obscure what the civil institutions that long defined the the nation, promoting paint a new image of sovereignty with confidence of the need to replace the existing political status quo

While Trump had no evidence for the urgent need to construct a wall along the border and made the “problem” of illegal immigration so central to his campaign without any evidence, the arrival of the migrants claiming refugee status seemed an opportune chance to redirect attention to the need of a border wall, and increased militarization of the border.  The progress of the Caravan across the Mexican border and Mexican states seemed a veritable illustration of the fear of globalization that Trump tapped so effectively in the primaries and general election, without offering any evidence, as the pressures of low employment, a poor economy and limited immigration checks created a specter of massive immigration and refugee flows.

Could the border not yet wall not yet in existence be manufactured over a month?




The advance of the collective body of refugees–cast as migrants; “undocumented”; “illegal aliens”–was designed to “break down borders” in the very regions that they crossed.  The protection of the nation from migrants fleeing political unrest, persecution, or sexual violence, into a menace to the United States is among the illusions created by the expansion of the southwestern border into the consciousness of the nation:  if the humanitarian crisis was not an illusion, the threat that the crisis posed to the nation was.  Over recent weeks, the defense of the nation that the initial rebuff of what would be some 200 migrants who entered the United States became something of an event of international politics, in an massive effort of staging the nation:  the effort of bullying that the project of wall-building on which Trump long campaigned made the arrival of migrants an opportunity for showcasing of a new border policy that would parallel his intransigent commitment to the construction of a “real” border wall, in an instance of the staging of a bizarre theater of international as well as national politics, about borders–both playing to audiences at home and future migrants abroad, but focussed on American viewers who sought evidence of the promise construction of a “physical” and “real” Border wall as evidence of the new vision of the nation.  The simple barrier constituted the defense of national security that Trump claimed was his primary concern.  Did the gradual arrival of the Caravan at the San Ysidro border, site of the 30 ft. border wall prototypes and the oldest constructed border wall, stage an inevitable drama of confrontation?

The insistence on the readiness of border defenses that the migrants’ arrival provoked became a basis to rehearse Trump’s  after taking the time to visit California to observe new prototypes for the Border Wall he has promised, as if to put news of progress on its construction back in the news,  the limited funding that has been included for funding the massive 2,000 mile construction–a return, in many ways, to brick and mortar from the “virtual border” of the integrated technology of SBInet, the Secure Borders Initiative that served as a web of electronic surveillance device, the failure to contract the promised obstacle to cross-border migration, however improbable its construction, as a network of surveillance spreading out from towers–




–or as a continuous border wall, the promise that Donald J. Trump sold the nation which  replaced the limits of the existing Border fencing, which covers only a mere fraction of the entire border–1,130 of its 3,200 km of its expanse–and sealed potential gaps in its mountainous areas of the Rio go, as well as the terrain near Nogales, or between Nogales and Juarez:  gaps on the Mexican side of the border would be bridged by waiving any legal requirements limiting its construction, based on the 2005 Real ID Act, promising expedited construction of authorized border barriers–despite the somewhat limited or interrupted nature of border fencing separating the United States from Mexico.


7.  The fear of the border’s crossing haas however been fabricated in a range of maps in studies produced by anti-immigration groups.  Visualizations from the  Center for Immigration Studies–allegedly non-partisan; viewed by SPLC as a “hate group” given the links it has drawn between immigrants and criminality and their tortured use of data to make unwarranted claims and ties–and the fear of a compromised sovereignty they raise, and the Federation of Immigration Reform (or Immigration Reform), which similarly purports objectivity, while defending nativism, have gained broad circulation on line that has eroded our sense of a nation, and even migrated into mainstream media.  The graphics and visualizations of both groups have sought to remap the border as a danger zone in ways that have percolated to broader audiences and political discourse, to help remap the policing border as a challenge to the nation.  The border wall not only frames the issue of security in the simplest possible terms–it reveals the “broken system” of politics as usual, and replaces it.

The persuasive value of the border wall is not only a case of the insidiousness of the graphics of many anti-immigration groups that were displayed on social media:  the Trump White House has repeatedly selected multiple anti-immigrant activists from the  Center for Immigration Studies as (CIS) to frame and devise its official policy in ICE and the Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration, tantamount to rewriting official U.S. policy that echoed their frequent depictions of immigrants as terrorists, denouncing “the myth of the law-abiding illegal alien,” and even the “health risks” to Americans of open borders policies, conflating legal questions about immigration as essentially security risks.

The role of maps and visualizations offering false expertise about cross-border migration as a danger that the border wall could stop demands consideration.  For the production of such misleading maps helped shift public discussion away from the effects of such a project on migrants or on foreign policy, and on the preservation of human rights immigration laws.  The current fencing is shown as limited and with openings as if to redirect attention to the linearity of a single wall, as if this will bolster and redefine our nation, per Trump’s eery unfounded statements that nations without borders are not nations.


650 miles of fence BBC.png


As the advance of migrants claiming rights advanced through Mexican cities, its message transformed into one of aggression, the notion of a “via cruces emigrants” was transformed into an arrival of untold dangers and threats, inserted into a narrative of invasion that “securing the border” would respond, and a test of  the ability to control or police the border line:   if the collective cry at Trump rallies to “build the wall!” was the cry of a powerless, seeking to secure borders to calm their fears, the fears of the waning prominence of the wall, so forcefully conjured as a means of national protection in the public imaginary, seemed suddenly at risk.  The alleged illegality of immigration that led assert the legal right to defend “our” borders erodes the law, and respect for rights, even as six companies awarded contracts to create thirty-foot tall prototypes of a border wall with Mexico have completed their full-scale models being tested for their resistance to sledgehammers, scaling, underground tunneling.  Could the blurred legality of a project of wall-building be accepted as a national project as the migrants advance, and it gains greater urgency?





It is striking the degree to which an intense–if relatively marginal–online debate about the border’s enforcement has been elevated through maps.  The simplistic data visualizations of border flow allowed to mobilize ideas of the nation that depend on a sense of illiteracy in reading data, or mapping divides.  In ways that met Trump’s own endless appetite for fostering division and opposition, the wall assumed a huge wedge to be created in American public opinion, and of opening a divide between “our safety” and the other side of the border, law-abiding Americans and the illegal behavior of undocumented immigrants branded as “illegal” for having crossed the border without documents, as if they were not law-abiding.  Poor enforcement of laws in Mexico allowed central Americans without papers to travel through their nation, to undermine the borders, Trump argued, theatrically capturing the attention of the nation without of trace of empathy for their plight as victims of violence within their own nations–but casting the United States as a victimized by global migrant flows.

And as Facebook updates of Pueblos sin fronteras described crossing immigration checkpoints without resistance, and entering nations without papers, the fear of crossing the US-Mexico border was triggered, and Trump injected increasingly militaristic language and policies, from summoning the National Guard to protect the United States’ southwestern border to threatening the “nuclear option” of end DACA, as if the category of immigrants, citizens who were the children of migrants, and refugees could be collapsed into a blurry collective, removed from any individually defining story, but grouped as a collective mass alien who were recognized as alien to the United States and lying outside the “America First” doctrine that has been a reflexive cover or varnish of unthought passionate defenses of the need for building a border wall. The adoption of this nativist point of view seems to rehabilitate its xenophobia, intent as the President’s own statements are to fail to differentiate not only between actual cases that merit asylum, have been granted working papers, and indeed contribute to American society. By making all subject to the threat of deportation–and stripping them of any legal status at all–they are removed from civil society and civil society is eroded.

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, immigration, mapping the US-Mexican border, unauthorized immigrants

The Natures of a City

All too often hidden from view on city maps are urban ecosystems beyond the built landscape or paved roads.  The fluid paths that undergird the city are  most difficult to discern for inhabitants–but perhaps vital to attend to–even if they are omitted from most urban maps that present an ecosystem for cars.  What we most often exclude from the built environment of the city–trees, animals, and insects–gain amazing visibility through open data of habitats and tree cover, and uncover corridors we rarely attend.

For in focussing on the paved physical plant of cities in most of our online mapping tools, we are guilty of treating describing in most on-line maps.  Such maps risk filtering our actual experience of urban environments; they blinder attention to an environment–or to spaces where we don’t drive–and isolating attention to the broader ecosystem in which we live.  We risk desensitizing ourselves to a delicate environmental balance, and mask the habitat cities can create, or the deep fluidity of urban spaces–the extent to which this fluidity is nourished by open spaces, rather than built space.  So much is increasingly revealed by increased attention to the embodiment of urban space in the recent map of San Francisco by the Nature in the City team, and it comes at an opportune time to shift attention from the hulking monoliths destined to crowd the future skyline–


Future Skyline?.png.

–and to remind us of deeper currents that shape urban space, for San Francisco including the fault lines near the city to the landfill or sandy grounds remaining under the downtown area to the unique habitat sandy beaches, green spaces, streets, urban forests, and gardens, as well as parks allow.  As registered in recent LiDAR orthoimagery of trees, shrubs and grasses across the unpaved areas of San Francisco, one can follow the habitats that the greening of a city far beyond its parks allows.  The unique base-map to plot living habitats combine a variety of mapping forms usually seen in isolation, to show the city as supporting a diverse range of habitats we would rarely discover.


LIdar Orthoimagery SFNature in the City basemap/LiDAR orthoimagery of San Francisco with bathymetry

The extensive range of open data in the city of San Francisco made it an ideal subject for mapping a city that is an intersection between a range of avian, mammalian, and watery habitat at the edge of the continental shelf.  San Francisco was long ago described in bucolic terms as that “undulating landscape lying under the threat of seismic risk,” back when Tony Kushner wrote in the 1980s; and Kushner’s conceit that God left stage right after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, chased off-scene by human action, recent data helps us to take stock of the deep patterns of urban environments to restore the divine.

For while we are apt to imagine as architectural landscapes as human achievements–


Jacopo_de'_Barbari_-_Plan_of_Venice_-_WGA01270Jacobo de Barbari, Venetie MD (engraved woodcut perspective map of Venice, 1500)


–they perpetuate the urban myth of a space isolated from nature that erase the discovery that the living detail of urban habitats contains something of the divine.

In an age where the from of cities stands to change boundaries with global warming and sea-level rise, it is incumbent to use open data to re-examine the city as an environment, and less as detached from the world, but revise the mythology of the city, separated form the variety of creatures, plants, and bugs that animate the same place.  And in an era when what a Secretary of the Environment should dedicate attention is still unclear, mapping an urban space that doesn’t account for the flows, currents, and fluid sense of urban space rooted in nature is unconscionable.

The rich open datasets available for San Francisco provide a counterpoint:  they suggest an ability to embody urban space less reliant on the building blocks of city squares, freeways, or paved space, but an intersection of its geography and native or indigenous habitat that have been encouraged once again to develop in the city.  To read it is to examine areas that foster wildness–and a range of indigenous wildlife–across beaches, urban forests, hills, and in its gardens, beyond parks.  The map reveals the many open spaces and gardens in the city, suggesting the forms of vitality San Francisco conserves, despite the challenges of many native inhabitants–from spotted owls to shorebirds like once-threatened snowy plover and the loss of redwoods, by focussing on the species in the city and the Western United States’ largest estuary.  It reminds us that as well as being a flyover spot for birds and shorebirds, San Francisco’s Bay is not the only  biodiversity hotspot for large numbers of endangered shorebirds; for the city’s open spaces provide crucial habitat that provides a model at a time of species die-offs and habitat loss–making the map a positive counter-model for disturbing trends.


1. Attempts to embody a range of rich open data can be recast as  a form of resistance and of taking stock of what is often construed a primarily built space.  Indeed, by rehabilitating it as a site of migrations, habitats, and living surface, enlivening a region beyond built constructions., but whose habitats have been nourished by the work of habitat restoration and ecological encouragement undertaken by Americorps and by Nature in the City in San Francisco, starting from an appreciation of migration hot spots around above and in the city, questioning the health of the hoary city/nature divide and inviting us to measure our relation to urban environments by taking a walk in them, or what is left of them, joining Robinson Jeffers on an “unbroken field of poppy and lupin” where horses pasture where “people are a tide/that swells, and in time will ebb, and all/their works dissolve” and we can “indeed decenter our minds from ourselves.”


clarkia-th classicHilltop Migration Hotspots in San Francisco

The layers of the map attend to the overlap between built and ‘natural’ space, and to integrate open datasets of  species can reveal across space.  The third edition of the Nature in the City map foregrounds and helps to discern pathways that move around and in urban space–orienting us to urban ecology in instructive ways around its built space, by focussing on the green space that is maintained in the city in a range of “open spaces” of different scale, from the dunes and shore to urban forests to private gardens that create corridors and open spaces to preserve local biodiversity in a time of climate change, and the nature that coexists in the city, and can be seen in layers of green space, open space, watersheds, and cultivated land in San Francisco–and let a surprising range of local species pop out of those habitats, larger than its scale, to invite its exploration.

Nautre in the City Centerpiece

By counting and tracking what what exists alongside built space, to reclaim the different patterns that move alongside buildings in San Francisco–from coyote to  hairstreak butterflies or native poppies–and reveal the intersection of built space and broader ecosystems, mapping the city to attend not only to parks and gardens so conspicuously present, but the habitats that intersect around and in its built space, as well as the proximity to underground fault-lines that threaten to undermine its built surface.  And the appearance of the third edition of a spectacular species-centered of Nature and the City’s collation of the environment of the city’s urban space with the mapping of the city’s expansive liquefaction zones on the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake provide a basis to assay its overbuilt urban space as part of its nature–and to situate its buildings in a far more cautionary tale about the risks of seismic activity from nearby fault lines.


For although we are increasingly surrounded by a habitat designed for cars, data on species, plant life both re-orient us to and augment our sense of place.  It is a reflection of how the rise of open data promises ways of negotiating an urban space less exclusively than the built environment, however, and of placing the city in natural settings outside the traditional urban view.   A range of static and interactive maps have emerged that grab visual attention in new ways for mapping urban space.  The view of space they offer is oriented less to vertical monuments and spires of steel and glass that dot urban areas, or indeed to paved space, than patterns of migration of animals, commuters, sea-level, seismic risk or the underground world of potential liquefaction–to lay claim to attention that disrupts our usual focus on records of built property.  The urban view, often elevated, situates the urban plant as a microcosm of human creation in often triumphalist fashion, the rise of open data provides a basis for unpacking the city that stands to destabilize the position of the viewer, and for looking at what is often overlooked.

For while most city maps note clear edges, sharp borders, and crisp divisions to ensure their  legibility, open data–on parks, trees, wildlife sightings, human traffic, cars–challenges our ability to process and draw connections between data in extremely useful ways, that may better orient ourselves to the future of built space–a question that is increasingly on the table–and develop a new sort of visual intelligence to gauge the viability of urban space.  And San Francisco’s Bay Area, recently an important site of greening in America, and of the remaking of the urban space, seems ideally suited to calibrate and take stock of how we are surrounded by actual habitat.  For as such groups as Friends of the Urban Forest, the California Academy of Sciences, and SF Parks have worked to expand and defend “green spaces” of the city in a broader way than parks alone, broadening their appreciation of the role of urban trees, sidewalk gardens, and indeed neighborhood planting events, they have promoted a non-urban sense of the nature in the city and indeed of an “urban forest” that has redefined the city as a habitat–and include the city in the natural world.

As most cosmopolites are increasingly confronted and finding ourselves moving between “non”-places–undefined spaces of transit and liminality, which combine environments but themselves lack defined bounds–airports; highways; websites; hotels; or even tour groups–and look for other places in a decline of public space, we may moreover look at the city and its location as a new space,–less hegemonically mapped or understood as one of government and public administration, but as containing its own natural corridors and environments that are outside the spaces of human government.

The result is a dislocating, but liberating, invitation to measure one’s own relation to urban space–rather than partitioning green pace and built space, maps can open avenues for the shifting conceptualization of relations between nature and cities, often unimaginatively and inadequately demarcated from one another, even for a city like San Francisco, whose distinctive grid is all too often separated from green spaces on its boundary, in ways that the cartographic coloration of both static and web-based maps has tended to reproduce.  Despite the tendency in the 1980s to map the “green city” apart form the “built city”–and focussed on its parks, the importance of understanding spatial continuities of habitat foreground a sense of urban accommodation less anthropocentric in nature but enriching in their density of a new range of information.

ff_sovietmaps_1_hero2.jpgSan Francisco and Surrounding Bay (1980)

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Filed under data visualization, environmental geography, map design, natural history, San Francisco

Russian Blues

The projected map was a subliminal reminder of the stakes of the speech Vladimir Putin delivered to the Federal Assembly.

For all its modern appearance, the glowing map of the Russian Federation that recalling a backlit screen, seemed an updating  of Soviet-style theatricality and state spectacles.  As if in a new theater of state, the map of a magnified Russia seemed to cascade over a series of scrims that framed Putin’s head during the annual State of the Nation address, which he had moved to weeks before he stood for reelection to a fourth term from its traditional date.  Putin was projected to win the election, but projecting the map under which he stood identified him as a spokesman for Russia, and identified his plans with the future of Russia–


Map crisper curved


–and allowed him to present a “State of the Nation” that projected the future global dominance he foresaw of Russia within the world, and allowed him to present an argument of protecting the boundaries of Russia, and the Russian Federation, even in an era when boundaries and the mapping of boundary lines are not only contested but increasingly without clear meaning.  Putin’s involvement in aggressive actions beyond the borders of the Russian Federation–whether in the American elections, as all but certain, if of unclear scope; the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine; or in the elections of Brexit and Hungary, or poisoning of Russians in other countries, all distracted national bounds.  But all were presented, in a cartographic sleight of hand, as a vision of Russia as a state of the twenty-first century.  If our current maps no longer follow the “jigsaw puzzle” of the map that the icon of the luminescent map recalled, and the global reach of Russia’s missiles that he claimed could not be intercepted.


Russian Missiles


Remapping the Russian Federation was the central take-away from Putin’s speech to the Duma–even while allowing that “we have many problems in Russia” with twenty million Russians living below the poverty line, described the need to “transform infrastructure” and claimed that Russia faced a significant turning point in its history, which would alter its relation to space.  Indeed, the argument that Russia “had caught up” with the mapping systems that were used by the American military since the 2003 Iraq War–one of the first international conflicts that Putin had encountered as President of the Russian Federation–and suggested the lack of clear limits to frontiers, or anti-missile rockets to the global scope of a new generation of nuclear-power Russian ICBM’s.  A statement of the resurgence of Russia–and a renewed defense of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation–all but erased or whitewashed Russian military presence in Georgia, Ukraine, and Crimea, presenting the arrival of Russia on a global stage through an awesome holographic map.

The map offered something of a “warrant” or guarantee of the arrival of the Russian Federation on a global stage, and provided viewers a reassuring image of Russia’s prominence on the global map, despite the fairly dire state of domestic affairs and the limited plans for expanding national employment or social welfare.  The value of the map, mesmerizing in its illustration of the entirety of the Russian Federation, provided an illustration of foreign policy and argument of expanded powers of global intervention, by which Putin, former head of state security, sought to suggest its arrival as a ‘strong state’ despite the historical challenges and setbacks of earlier regimes, and what Putin has long seen as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” the break-up of the Soviet Union.  The map met the need to bolster Russian self-esteem, and indeed identifying esteem with the territorial protection of “Russian rights,” irrespective of the boundaries that were drawn or existed on other maps.  For while erasing Russian intervention in Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, the map sought to project an image of the consolidation of Russian abilities for “global governance” as an extension of Russian sovereignty.

It is striking that the map was a reflection of the manner in which Putin had long understood or seen the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as an extension of American claims to sovereignty, in violation of international law, and the new image he wanted to create of Russia’s similar abilities to ignore national boundaries and boundary lines.


Putin weapon launchVideo grab from RU-RTR Russian television (via AP), Thursday, March 1, 2018, allegedly portraying Russia’s firing of a nuclear-powered intercontinental missile

The map affirmed the arrival of a new consensus in the Russian states and ethnic republics–members of which were assembled before him–to recognize the arrival of a new role that Russia could occupy and would occupy in the global map.  Indeed, the made-for-television map of the Russian Federation suggested the new relation between local and global–and of Russian sovereignty and international abilities for “global governance” that would be guaranteed by an expanded arsenal of nuclear weapons, in ways that demonstrated the expansive reach of Putin’s Russia far beyond its boundaries, in ways that would upstage the American use of GPS in the Iraq War, and the precedent that that war set, in Putin’s mind, for flouting international law in the assertion of American sovereignty–despite the multiple logical problems that were avoided in making such a claim.  But it seems that much as George W. Bush’s headstrong rhetoric of fighting “terrorism” was adopted wholesale by Putin in subsequent violations of the sovereign rights of Ukraine, Crimea, or Syria–and the justifications for defense of Russian interests as the same as sovereign grounds.
made for TV maps.png
The broadcasting of Russia’s possession of a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles, unable to be intercepted, as well as designed to frighten the United States or a feign to enter into an arms race, were presented as the basis for illustrating the lack of Russia’s need to respect any cartographic lines or continental divides.

1.  The pre-election State of the Union address, as if a continuation of the diatribe Putin launched against the West for “trying to remake the whole world” unilaterally and in accord with its own interests, provided a broadside of the determination of Russia to defend its own interests, rather than seeking through military invasion or moving of its troops across borders to “reinstate some sort of empire.”  But his discussion of how “turning points” in history determined the foundation of cities in Russia and its relation to “space” seem on the point–and a bit of pointed positioning in regard to Russia’s future positioning on a geopolitical map.

As if to respond to the ion, Putin focussed most theatrically on its development of “invincible missiles” and nuclear-powered arms as defensive weapons in a two-hour address before a packed hall that was punctuated by repeated ovations and applause.  He  omitted any mention of Russian presence abroad, but focussed attention on the Russian nation as able to protect its allies adequately and preserve its place in a “rapidly changing” world where some states were bound to decay if they did not keep up with the pace of change.  As an almost entirely male audience uneasily awaited Putin, turning in their seats, greeting each other, staring ahead stonily or smirking and nervously straightening blue ties.  All faced the glowing blue map projected above an empty stage in the new venue, as if into their minds, as if in preparation for how Putin would remind them of the problems of charting Russia’s future course, even as they may have been most satisfied with the unprecedented foreign influence Putin had achieved in much of Europe, Hungary, England, and the United States.  When Putin took stage with triumphal music, describing how the “significance of our choices, and the significance of every step we take . . . [will] define the future of our country for decades,” and a new time for Russia to “develop new cities and conquer space” after maintaining the unity of the federated nation and its stability in the face of great social and economic difficulties but still faces the danger of “undermining [its] sovereignty.”


Map crisper curved


Projected onto multiple scrims, the glowing image of the Russian Federation lit by glowing centers of population echoed Putin’s discussion of stability, and the need to affirm the “self-fulfillment” of all Russians and their welfare through new economic policies, which he assured them had nothing to do with the upcoming elections, but cautioned that the failure to create technological changes would lead to potential erosion of its sovereignty despite its huge potential.

The glowing national map dominated the room overwhelmingly in which the three-term President spoke, describing the as he aimed to win an election to continue his Presidency through 2024, and convince all Russians of his leadership of the nation.  Below the map, unsmiling, Putin solemnly addressed the nation as if he were its architect and the protector of its bounds; indeed, the projection of the fixed bounds of the Russian Federation onto a set of screens behind him seemed to celebrate its continued power vitality after three terms of Putin’s presidency, even as he recited fairly grim statistics about the state of the national economy.  Describing the need to enhance its civil society and democratic traditions, Putin raised the prospect of once again “lagging behind” other nations, its body politic undermined by a chronic disease, and define Russia’s future, if its modernization was not affirmed in the face of .  The continued coherence of the nation reminded viewers that, notwithstanding threats of dissolution after the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago, and a reduced GDP and natural resources, the Russian state was back.

The map of Russia was projected in isolation from the world, but the image that resembled a back-lit glowing screen became a basis for projecting the power Russia had regained on a global stage.  Rather than imitating the graphics of a paper map, the iridescent blues, splotched with centers of population, called attention to the permanence of the Russian Federation’s borders and affirmed its new place in the world.  The bounds of Russia were protected, the triumphalist image implied, but the place of Russia on the world stage was implicitly affirmed even if it was shown in isolation:  rather than showing people, or including any place-names, the map magnified the idea of Russia, and its futuristic projection suggested the continued power of Putin to transport the nation to modernity, its boundaries protected and affirmed and its defense of allies acknowledged.  While Putin had recently accused the United States of triumphalism, insisting that Russia was indeed “self-sufficient” and denying Russia was “encroaching on its neighbors” as “groundless,” he seems to have relished a new triumphalism, and famously continued to present the invincible military weapons Russia had developed–lasers, ICBM’s, which, nuclear torpedoes, and nuclear-powered cruise missiles–which, while not revealed “for obvious reasons” would definitively displaced the United States from a position of global power and could penetrate US Defense Systems with ease..


Video in State of Union address.png

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Filed under geopolitics, globalism, nuclear strikes, Russia, Russian Federation

The Revenge of the Infographic?

Long before Barack Obama was a candidate for President of the United States, he took time to chastise the nation about the tyranny of the infographic that divided the nation.  Obama used the occasion of his endorsement of John Kerry’s nomination at the Democratic convention in Chicago to remind the nation of the danger of presuming the divide red states from blue states by the clear chromatic fashion that already increasingly increasingly filtered electoral maps of the United States, and has since come to haunt us in the Trump victory of 2016.  And if we were energized by the notion of “swing states” that might be shifted to the Democratic column back in 2012 and 2008 that increased the involvement and political participation of many in the electoral grid, the resurgent immobility of the electoral map divided between what seem to be continuous regions parsed into “red states” and “blue states”–




–as if it were permanent divide as well as a fluid choropleth that refracted the spectrum of the American flag.  Indeed, the stability of the fractured electoral divide invest a sense of permanence as an electoral landscape, as the two-color infographic seems to have crept into our unconscious:  while it may be a proxy for an urban-rural distinction that has been championed both by the Trump campaign and as a dominant gloss of the infographic, has the divide invaded our consciousness in ways we are able to gain little distance?

America was, after all, once collectively energized at the prospect of tilting against the inevitability of a red-blue divide in the nation.  If Barack Obama sought to chasten readers of infographics in order to breath life into Kerry’s 2004 nomination as Democratic candidate for the United States presidency, his words were not only energizing, but prophetic of his own candidacy.  For they articulated the possibility of transcending electoral divides as a touchstone of his campaign strategy, foreshadowing Obama’s later electoral success.  And when we hear Donald Trump’s celebration of the “heartland” as the ‘Real America’ as if it might be searched for and found on the map, somewhere far away from “coastal elites” or intellectuals, it serves to conceal Trump’s truly narrow electoral victory by articulating a “real America” with which we on the coasts lost touch.  The spate of much-publicized post-election pilgrimages into the “heartland” by Mark Zuckerberg as self-defined coastal elites sought to find”normal america” needs to be rethought:  it seems to project a creation of the very infographics we’ve long consumed to understand democracy, or as a surrogate for democratic elections, more than a real place.  For where we find “the real America” alleged in so many maps in the contiguous sea of red–




–we have recently found that the red is both far more fractured, and even often echoes the very sort of “news deserts” that are associated with the dominance of local news in media markets dominated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose dissemination of a right-wing agenda to the televisions of 40% of Americans seems to have increased polarization in the last election.  The decline of local press–and the absence of paper newspapers–seem in another reminder of how the end of the local reporting poses deep dangers to our democracy–and invites unpredicted sorts of vulnerabilities.


Pearson Brodcast.png

Vox, using dSinclair Broadcasting Group data cross-checked with Nielsen; darker areas denote where Sinclair runs more than one station


The divide between red and blue masks the dominant place of far more determining sites of constituencies that are more up for grabs–and my determine the election as extra-urban areas that are demographically distinct, and difficult to cast as blue or red.  The refusal to divide the nation into red and blue states, an increasingly meaningless unit, opened the possibility for change that the dominance of infographics in mediating and reframing our democracy has militated against.

Back when Obama energized the convention by reassuring the nation as well as delegates who had assembled in Chicago that, despite the evidence of infographics, the fissures of a fractured body politic that many maps continued to project were not destined to divide the nation:  “We’re not red states and blue states; we’re all Americans,” Obama urged, “standing up together for the red, white and blue,” even if we were powerfully represented as contentious factions on electoral maps.  The reservations that Obama expressed was compelling as an alternative vision of national unity; it in a sense under-wrote the mantra of “Hope” for a new way of seeing the nation, although this division seemed to return with a vengeance in 2016, as if it haunts the nation.




The divide was, perversely, as powerful back in 2004, back when Obama first chastised the nation so firmly for having adopted the divide as inevitable.  So rhetorically powerful was the visual image of national unity as a rebuke to the fracturing of the map to announce Obama’s oratorical eloquence to the nation.  It seemed a healing balm for a riven republic, even as the 2004 election, despite its clarity of divisions by state, trumpeted in a powerful infographic that suggested isolated bodies of blue set apart form an apparently alienated flyover country that blared bright red indignantly–



USA Today/BeldarBlog

–in ways that were echoed if not accentuated in the county-by-county breakdown that USA Today issued the day after, and the way Bush dominated what have been called the “battle-ground” states–then Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania–as he did nationwide, even if the distribution didn’t break down at all so smoothly along state “lines”–


Mark Newman Red:Blue ma2004countymap-final2.png


–to muster the bulk of electoral votes out of the hands of California, Illinois and New York and served to create a solid electoral alliance all the better able to isolate Texas.

The “real America” might well lie in the edges of the blue and red, or the “purple” counties where political debate needs to be foster and occur.  Indeed, the image of divisiveness haunted the political imaginary of the nation so much the nation may have yearned for imagining a new collectivity by 2008.  Despite the fragmenting of the electoral map that occurred in 2004, where states seemed to vote red in their entirety, it might be noted that the same map could be resolved, in a district-by-district image of magnitudes, in a far more complex picture of the deeper red areas perhaps aligning more clearly with states than the more selective distribution of the strongest Democratic voters concentrated in regions voting Democratic–the “blue”–




–that is echoed in the far more complex county-by-county picture of 2016, whose shadings are much more telling of political truths:  despite the image of a “heartland” or a true America that is red, many of the areas that seem deep red on the electoral map are indeed light pink or shaded, and suggest that these areas–the less polarized–might be the “real” America much more than the deep red areas, which seem in fact the most remote.




The fracturing of the electoral map by manipulating media was not new to such outlets as Sinclair Broadcasting Group:  Trump turned to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, noted Media Matters, for interviews to reach a broader demographic, using a group notorious for revealing their boosterism for conservative causes, from ordering stations in 2004 to run anti-John Kerry segments over normal programming over the country–




–using 173 television stations in 81 markets along “180 program streams” in 51 markets:

image.pngGray Television Group Station Map

–as Trump sought to eat into Hillary Clinton’s midsummer lead in national polls, by speaking to voting markets in newly “purple” regions as Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Colorado, and West Virginia, to circumnavigate traditional media outlets.  We would do well to remember that, in ways that raised raised eyebrows for some, that by November 8, 2016, areas like Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota and Arizona were suddenly shifting pink–as would Florida and North Carolina, suddenly an increasingly light blue.


November 7 projections 538png.png


1. There was a time when the red state/blue state divide was not so powerful in our minds.  The power of such an image of electoral unity was already so ingrained in 2004 that its rejection provided more than a powerful rhetorical image for the man who would be elected President in 2008.  The image of a nation that departed from a fractured infographic became central, in many ways, to Obama’s campaign, and a powerful image of a new political future.  Obama recalled the problematic nature of the chromatic division in his own campaigns several times, most famously, perhaps, to rebuke the danger of returning to a chromatic divide in 2012.  In the heat of the Presidential campaign for his second term, President Obama redeployed the refrain in a tweet simply asserting that “There are no red states and blue states, just the United States,” as if to dispatch or denaturalize the splintered red state-blue geography that haunted our diet of infographics in Presidential campaigns.   When Obama penned the figure of speech in 2004, before addressing the Democratic Convention in Chicago, John Kerry so quickly recognized its rhetorical power that he asked to adopt the image in delivering his acceptance of the 2004 nomination, although we’ll always remember it as Obama’s.

State Senator Obama warned somewhat prophetically of the difficulties implicit in any national mapping that ran against national interests; the junior Senator from Illinois took pundits to task for presenting a picture of the nation that served only “to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states–red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats.”  Obama called out the two-color maps as perpetuating a harmful vision, apt to diminish voters’ sense of their ability to effect political change, and diminishing voters’ agency, by inscribing the voting patterns in a static map that fractured the nation into blocks of like-mindedness as if to portray electoral results as predetermined and not contingent.  (The notion of “swing-states” would only emerge as a way to challenge the authority of this two-color map, of course, during Obama’s own 2008 candidacy.)

But the divides that we have come to perpetuate again in the 2016 Presidential election may suggest that the divides were less starkly drawn between red and blue district than Daily Kos Elections calculations suggest, which shows the dissonance between the map of congressional districts were poor vehicles to mediate the popular vote:  for a map of districts distorts geography; the increased crowding of the population in districts that vote “blue.”  Yet can the divide in the nation in fact be best understood by continuing to contemplate this fracturing, and not attending to the sites of smaller electoral margins–where the decision occurs, or at least which create a sense of tipping points, where the truly consequential electoral decisions seem to be increasingly made?  Obama’s caution not to be seduced by slicing and dicing the country seems particularly perceptive, and suggests the danger of trusting a chromatic divide of the country.


districts 2014.png



2.  Obama’s phrase has gained a quite surprising second life in the recent unpacking of how the electoral outcome of the election was sought to be strategically manipulated through the manufacture of a clearer red-blue divide through the voting patterns of purple states.  What were words of caution have gained a new concrete sense after the indictments released by Robert S. Mueller III have revealed outside interest in sharpening contrasts in the electoral map in the 2016 Presidential race, that suggests that the infographic has indeed gained an upper hand in the electoral process in even more dangerous ways than Obama had described.

It’s indeed pretty hard to see the United States divided into “red” and “blue” states, isolated from the world, in the same way again, as if each state shaded pink, light blue or strong red and dark blue in complete autonomy, showing their political temperatures in isolation of from the outside world.  Indeed, although the 2014 House of Representative race was striking for its salmon pinkness–and the deep red of the US-Mexico border, as well as Iowa, such colors are increasingly difficult to be seen as self-contained or removed from the larger world.



2014 House of Representatives Mid-Term Election 


Back when Senator Barack Obama so eloquently endorsed John Kerry as a presidential candidate, his admonition–or quite gentle–scolding struck such a chord not only as an effective image of patriotic identity, and not a reality check.  But the powerful phrasing became a theme of his campaign, and it was unsurprising when Obama returned to it in his 2008 victory speech in Grant Park, and welcomed the good news of what seemed a remapping of the United States, and he took the time to congratulate American voters for having “sent a message to the world that we have never been just . . .  a collection of red states and blue states” and which confirmed that, appearances to the contrary, we “are, and will always be, the United States of America.”  The words had reverberated in many ears with a sense of freshness, from when they were first uttered, as if seeking to disabuse television audiences of the image that had haunted the nation from before the 2000 election, but which had stuck uncomfortably in the background of the nation’s cerebral cortex, creating an image of sharp divisions,–even if those divisions were far less clear on the ground even in 2004, as Obama had suggested–but full of chromatic variations, even when they appeared entrenched, with some eighteen to twenty states mapped in varied shades of purple.  The blurred nature of this dive into voting habits as much as patterns suggests a point-value to political preferences that is misleading, but as a snapshot of the body politic, it suggests diagnostic tool that was valued in altering electoral outcomes as much as the image of individual agency that Bascom Guffin worked to create, using the concept that political scientist Robert Vanderbei had in fact developed for the 2004 Presidential race.  For the map suggested the actuality of the more complicated chromatic divides that Obama had then recently described.


purple_nationBascom Guffin, “Purple Nation”


Yet the dynamic of the purple regions seems to have been increasingly changed by the emergence in many places of “news deserts”–sites of no or only one local newspaper–in a phenomenon that is increasingly internet-driven, and reinforced by the growing number of news deserts across the nation.  As mapped in interactive form on Carto to reveal the spaces afflicted by the least local news sources–counties with no or one local newspaper, zero suggested by the lightest pink or one by salmon–


News Deserts--light pink = zero newpapers; salmon = 1.pngColumbia Journalism review/C. Chisolm


–the holes within the information network of much of the nation can be observed that intersect with once purple areas in striking ways, and the hollowing out of a news community in both rural and some urban areas.  The growth of “media deserts” up to 2014 mirror the end of Obama’s second term, and the growth of an alt right movement that has gained an increasingly dominant voice in the American political landscape, where the diminution of local news sources has altered the nature of public opinion have left increasing swaths of the nation dependent on online news sources, altering the information economy in decisive ways that helped allow red/blue cleavages to grow, and polarizing news agencies to reach a larger and more decisive constituency.





Even more compellingly, it suggests the end of an economy of local news over much of the nation.  huge gaping holes have widened to leave the nation like a hunk of swiss cheese, in the southwest, modest, and northwest, as the outbreak of three wobbly but hovering blobs over the nation–including the southwestern border, whose hollowing has left them increasingly susceptible and open to both greater malleability and less reporting of the local consequences of issues of national debate.  In this setting, it is no surprise, perhaps, that internet-driven concerns about immigration, crime, and terrorist threats have been stoked and enflamed with greater ease–and populations most easily subject to outside interference because they lacked the resilience of local news.  In what almost seems a free speech violation, and a difficulty of generating public debate, the growing holes of such news deserts–which, much as it would deprive epidemiologists of needed tools to measure local rates of the growth of infectious disease or influenza–create barriers to assess the local impact of issues exclusively cast in national terms?  Is a decline of local reporting indicative of a qualitative change in the nature of communities, now more likely to adopt oppositional agendas rather than articulate their own?  Or is the rise of “news deserts” congruent with the increase in broadcast news that casts both global policy and national politics in increasingly oppositional terms?


Public-health-and-local-media-1024x576.pngDom Smith/Stat News


The expansion of such “news deserts” where no or only one source of news exists, according to the American Alliance for Audited Media.  AAUM measured the number of papers that reached at least 1% of each county, and haven’t converted to an exclusively digital form, as a proxy for the decline of news publications, and the increasing reliance on non-local media; while a focus on newspapers is questionable in an era of the dominance of television and on-line news, the hope to measure and map the reduction of local media within issues about issues of national consequence suggested the distinct shift in public debate.  Indeed, shuttering many smaller news publications, both urban and suburban, deprive communities of a local voice in events that seem to spin far beyond the local in increasingly challenging ways, and place global issues–undocumented immigrants; terrorist threats; refugees–in relation to local concerns in ways both challenging and difficult to grasp.


one to two souresColumbia Journalism Review–light pink without local news sources; salmon with one


Considered another ways, the near-absnence of non-profit news sources outside of metro areas, and few sources of information were available in small towns, and indeed outside the coasts–understanding the “news desert” as an absence of non-profit news, a dearth felt nationwide save in several cities as Denver, Austin, New Orleans, Madison, and Minneapolis–and to consider the different information markets that exist in much of the nation where Trump performed so stunningly.



Each graphic invites us to examine the category and meaning of the ‘news desert,’ a term by no means clearly defined in an era of online news.  Is the fear that a common concern of news media that may itself loose analytic force?   Thomas Jefferson insisted that “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate,” but the expansion of areas without local news venues or voices, or meaningful political endorsements, suggests not only a dangerous remove from national issues, but a vulnerability to external threats in an age where most get their news online and through Facebook feeds–and the expansion of online news threatens to make it impossible for all to feel themselves able to stay informed.


news deserts.pngDom Smith/Stat News


The gaping holes in the above GIF suggests a growing eating out of public opinion.  The hugely successful appeal of Trump’s candidacy in areas of relatively low news presence is not a surprise.  Trump was himself quite acutely aware “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” as he told FOX Business Network as the election approached.  Trump’s avoidance of the mainstream media was notorious, although the success with which this became a strategy blindsided many.  But the sectarian–if not almost Manichean–divisions between red states and blue have been fostered and promoted by a decline in non-partisan or non-profit news sources.  And in a new range of articles on the increasingly partisan news offices at FOX or Sinclair Broadcasting, which reaches 39 percent of households in the country before its pending merger with Tribune Media.  Sinclair’s strategy of integrating national messages with local news suggests particularly dangerous ways of masquerading as local news–and driving fear in increasingly oppositional ways, accentuating the blue/red infographic in ways that were not even on Obama’s radar, although he perceptively sensed the divide emanated from screens more than it existed on the ground.


3.  The increasingly oppositional divisions are not evident in a stark division of political preference and allegiance within the current national map, and enabled a targeting of the parsing of populations and festering of divides.  Indeed, the success of the Trump team may lie in the address of the purplest populations of the nation, in which the success of the Trump vote can be mapped in what seems an inverse relation to printed news subscriptions:  ‘news deserts’ provided a crucial core constituency for Trump’s success, or at least correlate strongly, if one takes the shaky database of newspaper subscriptions that has been provided by the Alliance for Audited Media–an admittedly incomplete dataset whose questionable focus on subscriptions to local newspapers–not really adequate as a proxy for “news deserts” in an age of television and national news, but perhaps suggestive of the power of the local editorial endorsement–even if the description of “traditional news outlets” remains a questionable metric for access to news information.


Politico Deserts.pngLimited Subscriptions to Local Newspapers in America 


The growth of online news seems to have removed regions of the south and northwest from the figure of the local newspaper reporter.  Such a divide echoes the rural/urban divide, and may indicate the remove of much of the polity from public opinion, and a deep-set resistance to opinions broadcast from both coasts during the election seems rooted in the erosion of news communities in ways that demand to be mapped.  The growth of venues such as Sinclair Broadcasting provided ways of growing this divide–or fissure–through a virtual stranglehold on news sources in many sites.


4.  Obama successfully downplayed deep differences between red states and blue states by more than powerful and affecting rhetorical device.  His bridging of a chromatic divide was not only stirring not only to those in cities, but comforting in small towns.  By 2008, Obama’s audience were happy to accept as an invitation as his own coinage, and take it as an invitation to put aside animosity across electoral divides.  But the very notion of such a blue state-red state divide–and the prominence in such a divide of the purple–has recently gained new meaning and relevance in Robert S. Mueller III’s recent indictment charging thirteen Russians of waging information wars during the election.  For the Russians who were identified as arriving from 2014 aimed to splinter existing political divides by fostering increased dissensus and distrust in the political system in the “purple” states as those where the election of 2016 could be most effectively swung.  Indeed, the very vulnerability of the political imaginary that foregrounded a red state-blue state divide for the global image of American politics made something of an unforeseen return, when it was announced that the Russian operatives who had toured several states to conduct something of a political ethnography of the abilities to create greater political divisions and distrust in the political system focussed on the sensitivity of “purple states” as sites to increase and exploit existing political divides, and create increased political tensions in the United States through the results of its elections.

Taking the occasion of the 2016 Presidential election as an occasion to increase political distrust, and for slicing and dicing the nation For the targeting of what were described as “purple states,” in an unforessen appropriation of maps of a less polarized “Purple America” made after the divisive presidential election of 2000, by political scientist Robert J. Vanderbei .  The new visualization was widely adopted by the news media as a dynamic form of infographic, using colors exclusively to communicate the political temperature of Americans.  Yet the image gained a new second life as it provided a ground-plan for planting social media interventions, Special Counsel Mueller’s indictment reveals that the figure of speech, as well as a concrete metaphor, served to target disrupting political consensus from 2014.   Indeed, “purple America” provided not only a target for winning over the electorate for both political parties, but a target for disrupting consensus evident as much from outside of the United States as from within.

If purple can come to seem a sign of vulnerability, this is in large part because of the possibilities of warping through the electoral college produces clear divides, but which indeed offers a sense of stability–affirming a sense of continuities all too easily disrupted by the dogmatic prism of a red state/blue state electoral map, with a brightest red–actually pink–in the Texas panhandle and Dakotas, but the nation is decisively mottled; even in the divisive 2004 electoral map, “red” only dominated Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho, and redness was evident in blue states, as bluenesses in reds.  Drilling down so far is not, in many cases, an adequate picture of the political process, but offers a counter-map to the electoral map, that reflects a sense of cartographical insufficiency.


PurpleStates.jpgEmmie Mears, “These Purples States of America”


Emmie Mears’ deeper dive into the data is a striking photoshop map and suggests an even greater expanse of purple.  The contiguity of purple shades that run the vast extent of the nation pointedly challenged the polarities shared by pundits, and reveals, even in the 2016 Presidential race, a widespread admixture of voting tendencies.  Although Obama’s stirring image of overcoming political divides is often retrospectively cast as pandering to patriotism, it increasingly seems an accurate prognosis of a problem waiting to happen.  While Mears’ visualization was intended to affirm the plurality of political opinions, to undo the tension of oppositional confrontation that was generated already in the nightly news, the danger of adopting such a syntax of a census–familiar from the Dustin Cable’s Racial Dot map or the American Community Survey, which show both diversity and stark lines of ethnicity, education, and income, the danger of the vesting of political preference as a question of character–and not a selection in a given time and place–of course dilutes the representational institutions, and poses the problem of whether a two-party system can ever be able to refract our political diversity.

But it also suggests the broad openings for undermining that consensus, as the recent indictment of thirteen Russians who conducted preparatory ethnography as they planned a long-term project of disrupting American political consensus that would intersect in unforeseen ways with the candidacy of Donald Trump–a long-time fringe candidate, whose ascendancy to the oval office had been represented as an unsavory alternate future in Doonesbury, but whose own deep hunger for approval, recognition, and adulation seems to have created a tenacity to court  audiences without much attention to the public good.  Whether or not Trump shared the vision of the electoral map as ripe for exploitation, although his own deep attachment to the two-color outcome of the electoral map hints at how overjoyed he was with the results, the echo chamber of social media certainly helped dilute the deep purpleness of America that political scientists had mapped.


5.  If it’s the case that Trump proudly selected a framed map of the distorted division of electoral votes in the White House as one of the first images to be displayed to visitors, he certainly took deep satisfaction at the outcome  which was in part the result of targeting public opinion in divisive ways, even if many of the most powerful and divisive images that announced his campaign promises to the public seem to have derived from suspiciously identified social media sources.  The gap in population density between flatland of the regions of “red America” is thrown into a relief in a prism map that offers a county-results in a tiltable 3-D electoral map between counties voting Trump from those voting Clinton, a gap evident in economic integration, education, and lifestyle, that reminds us of the gap in media coverage increasingly centered in cities; but if it corrects the distorted flatland of an electoral map,  it surely exaggerates that yawning gap, as its blue/red dichotomy erased the purple nature of so many counties where social media news feeds helped worked to fill that gap, allowing Facebook feeds to play an increased role in forming a surrogate public opinion that could effectively intensify existing political divides, so that they appear even more extreme that in previous elections with the sort of “political intensity” that indicted Russians planned to foment.  Did the extension of first amendment Free Speech laws to cover data-driven bots and platforms designed to work by keeping viewers engaged help  expand the blue/red divisions that we’ve come to accept in the electoral map?



County-level Margins of Victory legend.pngBlueshift


Indeed, the current rash of twitterbots that issued viral memes from #ReleasetheMemo to #Guncontrolnow and #Parklandshooting that hail from Russia–if not St. Petersburg–need to be held to different standards than First amendment rights, but under if seen as speech acts, protected First amendment, although originating in foreign lands, they are able to gain a pressing reality in our politics for their consumers and followers.  The shape of such activity seems especially prominent in creating an apparent groundswell of the alt Right in the last election.  When Mueller’s indictment forced social media giant Twitter was forced to purge thousands of newly suspected automated bots posting from overseas that Twitter’s legal division had seen as protected by Free Speech, deleting 50,000 accounts linked to Russian bots created such sudden drops in the numbers of the followers of figures like white nationalist Richard Spencer or long-time Trump promoter Bill Mitchell that they were suspected as victims of a purge of followers of the alt right.  If the move provoked cries of censorship, we were reminded how much twitter shaped the election in the valleys of areas colored red, where a third of pro-Trump tweets among over a million tweets issued by automated bots, and pro-Trump rallies belying his lower standings in most polls save on Facebook, as millions of bots nudged the geography of the map from behind the scenes through an unforseen barrage of propagandistic images and texts that directed the mental attention of a Durkheimian collective.

Many images displayed by accounts suspected of originating overseas, as of the platform ‘Secured Borders,’ create a quite viscerally striking image of the very geopolitical imaginary that the Trump campaign openly promoted.  But if they echo Trump’s rhetoric, the deeply offensive images identifying migrants as vermin, as if to deny them of legal rights, derive from a right-wing imaginary already current in central Europe, as other images used in Trump’s political commercials, showing hoards of immigrants racing across border, and  betray historical roots in Nazi visual propaganda.  These images created a geographical imaginary rooted in fear, indeed, and promote a geopolitical imaginary–a divide made visibly clear in cartoonish ways in the contrast between the barren lands to one side of the wall and the green lands across it, where the suited Father Figure Donald Trump stands wearing his red tie and flag pin, in a new and creepy image of the defender of the nation–as if to protect the greenness of its grass.  (The creepy smile and richly solid comb over look so little like our supposed President, it is quite oddly designed, if replete with visual triggers, and its hortatory text lacking a comma, its limited punctuation seeming poorly proofread.)



Secured Borders: immigrant as vermin?





6.  Such a reality seems to heighten not only the “political intensity” but heighten divides along what we map in red/blue terms, despite the limited explanatory power of an electoral flatland’s gaps between blue peaks of populated centers and the far redder expanses. Even after refining the flat electoral map, by adopting opacities to render margins of victory, retaining a contrast designed to foreground sharp differences fails to register the range of purple regions that turned red, driven toward an intensity of political involvement or disaffection by memes of social media still protected as “free” speech.

The issue is not only, moreover, the troll accounts that were tied to a Russian “troll factory” outside of St. Petersburg, Russia.  For the so-called ‘factories’ that mined images designed to provoke visceral responses that would trump reflection released a steady feed of fake news, based on innuendo and insinuation as well as outright slander and attack, that polluted the global media, as they were actively retweeted by the Washington Post, Jack Dorsey, CNN’s Jake Tapper, to fed an information ecosystem that was waiting to be poisoned, as some 3,000 global news outlets inadvertently included tweets originating from confirmed Kremlin-linked troll accounts in upwards of 11,000 “news” articles as the 2016 Presidential election approached, based on an analysis of over 2,700 Twitter handles confirmed to be linked by Twitter to the Internet Research Agency, a group tied to Russian intelligence–including David Duke (@DrDavidDuke), Sen. John Coryn (@JohnCornyn), Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls), FOX News host Sean Hannity (@seanhannity), Brad Parscale (@parscale), Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci), former White House press secretary Sean Spicer (@seanspicer), and Sen. Ted Cruz (@tedcruz)–in ways that transformed Twitter into a tool of information war.  By targeting audiences by zip-code, education, and wealth, raising the specter of those who “come to our country to change our traditions,” and increasing the fear and specter of unwanted refugees.




Tweets on new issues of 2016, from illegal immigration to voter fraud, circulated from Russian plants–in cringe-inducing claims such as “If Hillary wins, she will amnesty 30+ million illegal aliens and Republicans will never win an election again”, or “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands ineligible mail-ins for Hillary votes being reported in Broward County FL”–mirrored the fears of a “rigged” system and election that Trump had repeatedly conjured, and created a new meme in American political discourse that increased skepticism about the political process.

The overlap between many purple regions and regions with distinct patterns of consuming news in print or online media would have only magnified the divides where social media platforms spread disinformation–that infamous “fake news”–to gain a purchase as real in our political system.  Even if the possibility of infection by viral posts can’t yet be traced or measured with certainty as a map, the disinformation moved by bots or “troll factories” created a pitched battle of electoral intensity, that was staged around electoral votes or at least along fomenting clearly defined geographic/regional divides that Russians charged with visiting states in the United States to gain a sense of their ability to exploit a divided political landscape didn’t even need to travel to America to apprehend, as infographics clearly served as a readily available primer on how best to foment increased divisions.  Indeed, even by creating a distracting static whose constant beat eroded dialogue or trust, from internet accusations of the murder of Justice Antonin Scalia, deep distrust of naming a successor, and a year-long vacancy of his seat, as Mitch McConnell forced the sort of divisive deadlock only able to intensify political opposition.  (While the diffusion of the demand among Republicans began from McConnell’s quick tweet incited a sort of collective resistance, issued hours after Scalia expired in Texas, and lent broad currency to the numerous questions about conspiracies of the nature of his death that circulated online.  The  false populism in many ways echoed Trumpism, issued an hour after Scalia was confirmed as dead, and generated disruptive memes on social media–“OMG They killed Scalia” “I hope an autopsy is done to make sure Obama didn’t have him killed”– which supported an unprecedented, as Glenn Thrush and Burgess Everett reminded us, “rebuke of President Obama’s authority” and “categorical rejection of anyone Obama chose to nominate,” irrespective of their merits, to disrupted trust in political consensus during the Republican and Democratic primaries.  (Was it a surprise that McConnell, the senior senator from deep red Kentucky, playing the part of a disruptor, in late August single-handedly blocked bipartisan decisions to alert the American public to FBI reports of Russia’s unwanted involvement in the presidential election, from staging cyberattacks to ties to the campaign of Donald J. Trump?)

The entrance of this gambit within the context of the political election indeed led all Republican nominees to adopt the issue that drove a wedge between red and blue states and their respective media outlets, in what was cast as a rebuke to President Obama’s lack of respect for the institution of Congress to pursue “his personal agenda.”  A yawning gap between red and blue counties reveals the disconnect in our social fabric but of the consumption of news, and sources of opinion, about which the “troll factory” charged with launching disruptive messages into America’s Presidential election from St. Petersburg were able to play a disproportionately outsized role.  The divide was plain in this 2013 map of print news consumption, where yellow shows the swath of land getting news principally from USA Today, a year later by online outlets Huffington Post and TMZ, where the investment in social media may have had particularly pronounced leverage.  And in a period of increased attachment to divisive news sources that intensified an absence of dialogue between political parties, the expansion of divisive posts on social media platforms helped to undermine civic discourse.


7.  When Jared Kushner openly boasted that his father-in-law Donald was able to secure a deal with one of the largest media broadcasters in the United States–the Sinclair Broadcasting Group to ensure superior media coverage, and presumably promote attack ads, he suggested that the Trump team was on board in broadcasting their message to purple states within the political map–targeting a similar audience than that reflected in the yellow expanse below of states that were the most apt to share news stories in 2013–areas that already ran pretty red.


print-news-consumption-2013Media Map Showing Most Shared News in Each State (2013)




The metaphorical trolling of the country that foreground the imminent threat terrorists pose to the nation, raise suspicions about Barack Obama’s or Hilary Clinton’s motivations for being President and ties to suspicious organizations, by the same Sinclair Broadcasting Group.  In ways that