Strongman on the Border

28. The policies adopted by the Trump administration attempts to bolster fears of the border through the institutional destruction of families of migrants in new national DHS policies of removing kids of all ages and infants from the parents of apprehended migrants who are deemed to have violated he law–and housing them hundreds of miles from their parents, in an act of psychological torture designed to discourage future families from attempting undocumented entrance to the United States.  The targeting of the family unit–whose intactness is the central drama of Coco, as much as the film may well gtrigger almost primal fears or memories of family separation along the actual border by gruff border guards who seek to determine if a traveller has papers or citizenship–attempt to subvert the deepest fears of all-too-familiar social figure of the border guard by placing them within an animated family film.

The sense of a warfare across the border are felt in the psychological ripples of the trickle-down effects of Trump’s election.  The effects of Trump’s election was championed  to have lead to a decline in apprehensions of attempts at cross-border immigration, the dramatic image of the threat to separate families is actually intended to magnify the risks families might face to be separated before their cases are heard, and the danger of their physical separation, staging a tragic family drama of parent-child separation as a disincentive to further immigration, in particularly inhumane and insensitive ways.  The invasive technologies themselves–facial recognition; iris scans; full body searches–are not only invasive but remap the notion of civil liberties in the first year of the Trump administration, as if a declaration of intent to create the wall seemed already to remap the country with deep psychological effects, visiting a sharp sense of trauma on refugees or migrants by stripping them of rights or their belief that they might be entitled to rights.  The dramatic image of the separation of families is intended to magnify the risks families might face to be separated before their cases are heard, in what seems the utmost disincentive.

29.  By redesigning the notion of a nation around the practice of excluding immigrants, the Border Patrol stands to perpetuate and codify egregious violations of civil or international law on a routine basis.  In an era of web-maps and individual tracking, the grand project of remapping the boundaries of the country so that they are as certain as the lines on a paper map seems fairly perverse:   but an insistence on cartographically rendering a boundary between two proximate nations appeared a pragmatic question of national security by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, validating a marginal discourse on the nation as if it were common sense–and indeed a matter of urgency so pressing that it becomes a point of focus for how Americans are able to define their relation to a larger world.  

The distorted attention to the border as a site of the entrance of gangs, criminality, unwanted drains on public funds–problems that are not even able to be mapped on Mexican populations or with Mexican or Central American origins–has provided a fictional basis to project endemic social problems across the border (drug addiction; the proliferation of guns and gun violence; an increasingly violent society) and to adopt the fiction of the map as a tool to elaborate a fictional geographical imaginary particularly potent because it can be defined by a single line.

 The conceit of the fence, wall, or impenetrable barrier–almost a sexualized image–has assumed a spectral prominence as it continues to haunt and pervert political debate on what the role of government is in society, as if it is an anti-New Deal, a revision of public assistance, and a protection of isolationism as much as race, and an emblem of a tribalized society.  The specter of the need of a border wall is particularly dangerous to our civil society because of the broad brush of criminality that stands to tar immigrants, and because the standard of legality that the border wall is predicated upon. Indeed, while we cannot blame a foreign nation with whom we are not at war collectively for any crimes, not engaged in hostilities, identification of the ‘illegality’ of the undocumented immigrant provide a means to construct the collective guilt of an other, and define the border as a site of crime.  Indeed, the increased invitation of ICE officer detaining immigrants without any prior criminal convictions, as “non-criminal” arrests doubled since 2016, suggest the criminalization of presence in the United States alone that corrode our civil spirit or sense of the legality of administering national borders.


ICE arrests, 2014

ICE Arrests (2014)


If the conjuring of deep existential threats across the border are contained by a wall, there was a strong promise of “not looking” that the wall promised:  not looking at the economic disparities of income the border, longstanding inequalities of pay and indeed the dangers of poor wages and unemployment entering the nation, so prominent in nativist views of the immigrant undercutting wages that are “natural” to the nation, and bringing drugs, methamphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, and criminality into the pure nation on the hill of the United States.  The same “not looking” that has become typical of our response to poverty, homelessness, and indeed the sex trade or sexual abuse, as well as to the poor labor markets in part of our own country, and south of the border. The creation of a sense of being “wronged” both in terms of trade deficits with Mexico and jobs “taken” by free trade agreements in the United States that perpetuate an image of national vulnerability–


Enter a caption

–an unemployment market, allegedly buoyed by the concentrations of undocumented workers in different job sectors of the nation that occupy jobs which could be held by Americans, even if few would take the hospitality, construction, or agricultural jobs–

Undocumented legal services tomigrants im:2010

Undocumented sectors of work.pngBusiness Insider, from data from American Action Forum

–the maps alone create a false sense of being displaced and reflect a sense of being deeply aggrieved, which intensified a perceived need for protection from the outside, melded eerily with terrorism, illogically, but primarily in a notion of a neo-Schmittian opposition, organized along the duality of enemy and friend, and accompanying justification of sanctioning of extra-legal reaction to a perceived or designated enemy, even if there be no sense of justification in the body of the law.  The opposition Schmitt drew between ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ that was recycled and rehabilitated in the administration of George W. Bush provided a new basis and logic for considering the border that was not based in maps, but which maps were quick to reveal and data visualizations to provide alleged evidence in quite persuasive ways.

30.  The deep extra-legal enmity to the “immigrant” who was undocumented, and hence illegal, placed him or her, regardless of age, vulnerability, economic status, or need outside of the law, and indeed placed the relatives of legal immigrants in a state of being a priori outside of the law.  Continued and incessant demonization of the immigrant, and the invisible status of homelessness as a huge affliction of twenty-first century America, suggests the absence of attending to our union in the promoting such attention to the wall.

Even though less than a third of undocumented immigration–and illegal border entries–occurred at sites without border fencing, the image of the wall that he repeatedly returns, as if a promise to a future vision of the United States–was again raised in the image of a “great wall on the southern border,” in his first State of the Union address, imagined as the basis of a “fully secure border,” elevated to the position as a defense of the nation to China’s Great Wall, against the entrance of “savage gangs pouring into our most vulnerable communities” and the “open borders that have allowed drugs and gangs” into our country of a “lawless immigration system.”  The image recalls the much earlier anti-immigrant rhetoric that developed in the late nineteenth century, in reaction to the arrival of immigrants, in Kendrick’s cartoon of 1885, protesting the United States being treated as “dumping ground for European Refuse,” echoing President Trump’s claims that “they give us their worst” because they are allowed to in our immigration lotteries.  The sad figure of the waving flag, before the arrival of a broom pushing anonymous dark, huddled caricatured figures, suggests a fear of mass-immigration cast in the third person–“them”–to whom “we” in the United States amazingly open our arms, without “getting” the global geopolitical picture.

Mock Incredulity.pngCharles Kendrick in Life (July 1885), “And We Open Our Arms to Them!”

The savage imagery of the other, poised against the gate, was taken in Trump’s first State of the Union as a justification for modernizing or reforming the immigration system seemed far more of a throwback to an earlier image of immigrants as refuse, in need of being held back by a barrier lest they invade.  The conceit of the 2016 election was to reimagine the national imaginary with no place for immigrants, and as a citadel that needed to be protected, as if it were a city on a hill.  The spatial imaginary that Trump expressed while announcing his candidacy collectively identifying Mexican immigrants collectively with a decisive vagueness as “in many cases criminals, rapists, [and] drug dealers” essentialized a ethnic group as criminal to justify wall building along our southwestern border on patriotic grounds, opportunistically perpetuating a spatial imaginary particularly dangerous to the nation and without legal grounds.   

31.  Even if it is not built and is not yet solid–and will never be begun–the increasing obstinacy with which the image of the wall persists has stuck so stubbornly in the gears of our democracy to be able to help to shut down government:   for the refusal to consider the status of the children of undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children or those who work in the country.  In denouncing DACA as a decree that was unconstitutional in the course of the presidential campaign, and affirming the lawless nature of amnesty, Trump has worked to erase any sense of the human migrant, and to shift focus unwarrantedly on the image of violating the barrier of the wall as if it were a proxy for the law–even if the barrier has no legality but as a tool of border management created by the Department of Homeland Security in 2006 to define what it called, in strikingly dehumanized terms as a “Border Calculus” that could assist in the apprehension of immigrants.

Border Calculus DHS Strategy

The image of a vigilante guarding was long popular among those beside the border, but is now amplified through policies of mass incarceration and policing with authority that replaced the law.  The deeper project is to teach the nation to “unsee” the presence of undocumented immigrants as individuals across the nation.  Indeed, DACA will be conceded by the Trump administration, if the wall is built, in large part because the insistence on the need for the border wall’s construction captures the mindset of Trump’s promise to the nation to not to recognize internal social problems in the United States, but to build a wall to contain them.  Trump’s use of an “us” versus “them” dynamic about the border served as a place-marker in his public remarks, casting the undocumente immigrant as other and “non-American,” underscored by delegating authority to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest, detain, and remove unauthorized immigrants reclassified and labelled as “illegal,” or as targets of law enforcement who are stripped of any recognition or individual rights.

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, immigration, mapping the US-Mexican border, undocumented migrants

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