Strongman on the Border

15.  For if the terms “zero-tolerance” and “tough on crime” have returned to the border, and encouraged an expanding prison space along the border, as if no tolerance policies created a sense of strict enforcement in the eyes of criminals, the demonization of the migrant as an enemy of an elusive public good has created and justified a landscape of detention is justified, increasingly naturalized along the border to support the increased detention of violators of immigration laws in federal custody without any rights.  It effectively perpetuates the spread of a cartography of fear that is growing inland from an expanded border, more insidiously than the Great Fear that preceded the French Revolution, that has spread from the borders to reinstate itself as a national view, based on a sense of the increased level of immigrant arrests by local authorities, replacing a nation of laws and rights in a prosecutorial map of the expansion of incarceration and detention.

2015 ICE immigration detention centers

16.  The fear of a victimization, lost jobs, eroded privilege and downward economic mobility has joined fears of worsening health–and indeed an attack on masculine identity–has dominated the psychological burdens not only of white nationalists but of many lower middle class whites.  Despaired by the epidemic of homelessness, poor health and often decreasing life expectancy, it is tempting to turn the attention to the border as a site of incursion, and it has been a strategy that has been encouraged by maps that falsely promised the restoration of borders as a form of renewal of a new religion of the nation.

The creation of the border wall, after all, was proclaimed by our Attorney General as a means to prevent the “filth” of cartels, drugs, and the end of an “abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws” and “to follow through on a commitment to end lawlessness,” and create a “rational immigration flow and protect the nation from criminals.”   Attorney General Sessions was only adopting the incredulous self-confidence of Candidate Trump’s own claims during the campaign that “A nation without borders is not a nation,” although when it came out of the mouth of the Attorney General, its diminution of the status of laws in defining the nation seemed all the more absurd.  But when Trump launched his campaign, he proposed a new idea of the nation, and as much as describing the borders of the United States, he sought to obscure his own lack of political experience or familiarity with government or civil institutions by describing the borders as the bottom line and the bottom line with which he hoped the electorate would agree.  Is it a coincidence that a candidate who relied increasingly and unprecedentedly upon foreign contributions tired to make his case for the Presidency by stirring up a protectionism around a religion of the nation?\

For in promoting a religion of the nation that transcended legal formalities or individual rights, in an arrogant manner of declaring the nation’s exceptionalism that seemed extremely important to his electoral base–and indeed served to create a huge sense of his personal power to redesign national policy, without ever developing a powerful idea of national policy that would help the nation.  Trump’s addressed the nation with a car salesman’s confidence and cockiness, boasting of the ease of binding the nation with a wall able to obscure what the civil institutions that long defined the the nation were, promoting a new image of national sovereignty.

The notion of a ritual purification of the border suggests the appeal of the border as an altar for purifying the nation, and a site for a compact of rebirth, based not on laws–the “horrible laws” and “bad laws” inherited by the Trump administration–but a new religion of the nation that provided a new basis for and way of belonging.  For although commitment to law is the basis of a secular state, by furthering the religion of a nation.  Indeed, as an increased number of Americans consider the need to introduce bills outlawing Sharia law in America, and Texas and Arkansas went so far as to enact the legislation under discussion in forty three states since 2010 and introduced in 2017 in some fourteen states “to protect Americans’ constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws, and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Sharia Law,” with the endorsement of anti-Muslim organizations, the new laws undermine secular law by fostering a religion of the country that seems to cut against the idea of a secular state.  When Attorney General Sessions announced that the United States is fundamentally not only “an idea,” but as a “nation-state” is defined by its Constitution, laws, and borders,–“We have a Constitution, we have laws, we have borders, and we must help protect them”--he builds on the deep fears Trump nourished as a candidate by conjuring of the unwitting immigration of terrorist cells or jihadists among Syrian refugees, during the 2016 Presidential election.

The insistence on protection  led to an unprecedented assertion of states’ “rights” to deny admittance to refugees and agitation of congressional banning of refugees, given the lack of power of the government to compel individual states to accept refugees, and a language of resisting the decision of the government to accept Syrian refugees who were suddenly remapped as dangers.  The renewal of a religion of faith at the border is embodied” by a “get tough” approach to the prosecution of immigration “violations” at the border that is promised to rid the nation of the “filth” brought by both cartels, gangs, and criminal organizations that would mark the end of the dangerous “abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws,” and an end to the “catch and release” practices of the Obama era which Trump dismisses as having replaced laws–“We don’t have laws.  We have catch and release.“–a term that sounded awfully weak, to the dismay of his constituents.  It is only because “no wall [is] in place yet,” explain patriot groups, that the national guard is sent to the border to stop the caravan.

Indeed, Trump had prepared for the Caravan for weeks, as they had become one of his prime interlocutors, and he used those attempting to seek asylum to portray the scale of the danger to the United States of those attempting to evade immigration laws or fraudulently enter the United States, and of an illustration of his vigilance to prevent them from doing so–even if there was, as yet, no promised border wall.


17. The arrival of a border wall is heralded as the single site that will be able, akin to an altar to the nation, by its “great and powerful impact” and to make good on a “commitment to the end of lawlessness.”  The multiplication of immigrants across the US-Mexico border has been associated with criminality, drugs, and national decline in ways that are not only rhetorical, but amplified by maps that suggest the lack of the borders’ security and need to affirm them as a prerogative of national security.  Faced with the prospect of horrific bombings occurring on U.S. soil, the fears of accepting refugees was soon extended by America Firsters and the Trump campaign to an entry of all from Islamic countries, as if a cult of the nation could be codified in secular law, leaving that curious faith-based object masquerading as secular law–the “Muslim Ban”–circulating in American courts, and spiraling up to the U.S Supreme court, even as it was repeatedly struck down.

The justification that “we have a constitution, we have laws,” once used to question the erosion of democratic liberties in the dissolution of former Yugoslavia–“We have a constitution, we have laws, we have political institutions, we have courses, yet something is missing . . . that cannot be found in the electoral process“–is adopted to include the border as a naturalization of the centrality of the border to our long-established nation state, which wasn’t so precarious only two years ago.  If America sent troops to protect the borders of nations in the former Yugoslavia, soldiers and 4,000 national guards are being sent to our own borders, to patrol, monitor and secure them in what seems an analogous manner, as if to recall the forts built on the Texas-Mexico border in the late nineteenth century, to protect against invasion–although now, soldiers are sent to “ensure proper security” before a wall can actually be built.

As if to invalidate the system of laws that the chief executive is entrusted to represent, Trump argues the current “horrible” laws leave the border dangerously unprotected.  His own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, helped connect the dots when he implied that the state of current laws effectively eroded national identity.  “A nation that cannot protect its borders is not a nation at all,” the Attorney General ominously noted in the fall of 2017, noting that even with the reduction of illegal immigration by half, the extreme danger of not knowing “who is entering our country” by resolving the ways “smart attorneys” have used and exploited what he terms “loopholes in the law” that undermine the intent of Congress.


Secular law seems beyond the point, anyway:  there is no way to allow those “illegally entering the country” to have a jury trial or even be granted full rights, as practices of “expedited removal” for all save those with “an actual, legitimate fear of returning to their homeland,” as if fear is the sole criteria to which we as a nation can respond.  The rights of immigrant are sacrificed to the religion of the nation, which is more of a sacred law than one respecting liberties.

The increased assertion of a prerogative to defend the sacred nature of the country, dear to The Donald and to The Pence, rears its angry head as justified by a primacy of the religion of the nation that seems folded into secular law, or masquerading as a secular state even without the protection of liberties. As Trump inveighs against the “horrible” laws that prevent adequate security at the border, and the hiring of new Border Patrol agents and immigration agents–not law officers or those trained in legal protections–even as “dirty immigration lawyers . . .  are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process,” raising the risks of even attending to requests for asylum, as so many are staged.  When President Trump described how “horrible” laws leave the southern border unprotected, leading to the need for the national guard’s presence “until we can have a wall and proper security,” the questions of security take prominence over the law that allow daily border crossings through “gaps” in the existing stretches of border fence.


Borders are usually encountered as a site of transit.  Even as the border disappears in global projections, where sooth surfaces replace the lines that used to divide nations, and just as cross-border flows were normalized and encouraged, the border has been recreated as something needed to be secured, in a somewhat trenchant sign of the rejection of restoration, and a religion of the nation that affirms the sovereignty of the state within daily life so fully, and suggests the inherent ambiguity of the secular state and the religion of the state in ways that threaten to undermine the law.

For the law is being redefined as a basis for the protection of the religion  of the state–rather than with secular ends, or to guarantee liberties and freedoms–in a gambit to preserve its integrity.      Border wars are a thing of the past.  But the ability to map globally, to man out from the nation to view its relation to other global networks, including flows of Syrian refugees, seems to have created a foolish interchangeability of borders, where all border crossing is seen to pose national dangers.  Trump’s continued attack on social media on what he termed a “‘Weak Laws’ Border” placed the prominence onto Border, but continued to denigrate the law as able to permit border crossing.  Trump returns to attack the “weak laws” that Trump inherited as if to attack the legal process of immigration, transforming the border from a site of transit protected by laws to a site renewing a religion of state.  The centrality of the border in this sense of the state, promoted by the Border Patrol who administer the region and its 136 stations for Ports of Entry–offices whose extreme density along the southwestern border provided the statistics by which cross-border transit has defined.

Border Patrol Stateions 2015Pew Charitable Trust ©2015/source:  U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agency

18.  The notion of girding the nation with a wall may have served to vacate any questions voters had as to Trump’s suitability or competence as a political candidate.  He had, after all, adopted and championed the notion of a concrete border wall as if it were his own invention, and his own means of re-inventing the nation.

For Trump has cemented the tie between the border and national sovereignty, and alerted audiences of the needs to guard against threats to the nation from across its borders, using the mapping and remapping of the border by Border Patrol as a threat whose visualization demanded immediate attention of the electorate.  Trump took the time to claim, misleadingly, that his endorsement from the Border Patrol Agents’ Union, arguing instead during public rallies that he was endorsed directly by ICE and the Border Patrol Agency, describing on the very day of signing executive orders to order the building of a Border Wall and boost the number of immigration law enforcement officials who he argued, by returning to the false conceithad “unanimously endorsed me for [the office of] president” in the past–although it was proclaimed as the first time that the ICE union endorsed a Presidential candidate–even if many of the Latino agents have themselves strongly objected to his statements on Mexico and migrants, the image of the BPC insignia with a map of the borders was prominent in Trump’s advertisements, much as the graphic fear mongering Border Patrol has long adopted was assimilated to the Trump campaign that portrayed the nation as a victim to cartels, gangs, and violent criminals–topoi dear to Trump–as his foregrounding of violent criminality is nourished by lies fed by xenophobia and hate.

Trump used the endorsement to claim in signing an Executive Order that the project of wall building was part of a project “to restore the rule of law in the United States,” even if it was against international law or human rights laws and conventions.  As President, Trump unsurprisingly treated the Muslim Ban as of a piece with the construction of the wall as a protection of an aggrieved nation.  It was as if in a global world, where we watch the arrival and movement of Syrian refugees on a global level, borders not themselves  viewed as a sign of security but of breaching, and the fear of the accommodation of Syrian refugee flows encouraged terrorist traffic rather than being a form of humanitarian aid.

The fear of border-crossing seems to have shifted in recent years, from Syrian terrorists to Mexican criminals, as if the other border threat on the southwestern border replaced the fear—and echoed the need for a growing externalization of the border to protect the image of national vulnerability which had become the primary optic to view Syrian immigration.image.pngForbes

–save that now “our horrible, horrible and very unsafe laws” only compel the need for both military presence and a wall.

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

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