The False Imperative of the Border Wall

6.  Such 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.


7.  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

8.  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 near-Benthamite conditions of surveillance and incarceration exist despite no prisoner ever being clearly charged for a crime. It reveals the persistent undermining of justice along the actual site of 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.

9.  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

1 Comment

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

One response to “The False Imperative of the Border Wall

  1. Pingback: Order on the Border: Prologue or Retrospective View? | Musings on Maps

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