Category Archives: human rights

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

Mapping Bannon’s Ban

American President Donald Trump claimed that his attempt to prevent visitors from seven countries entering the United States preserved Americans’ safety against what was crudely mapped as “Islamic terror” to “keep our country safe.”  Trump has made no bones as a candidate in calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” as among his most important priorities if elected President.  The map the he has asked the nation to draw about who can enter the country–purportedly because they are “terrorist-prone” nations–a bizarre shorthand for countries unable to protect the United States from terrorism–as if this would guarantee greater safety within the United States.  For as the Department of Homeland Security  affirmed a need to thwart terrorist or criminal infiltration by foreign nationals, citing the porous borders of a country possessing “the world’s most generous immigration system” that has been “repeatedly exploited by malicious actors,” and located the dangers of terror threats from outside the country as a subject for national concern, provoking anxiety by its demonization of other states as national threats.  And even though the eagerly anticipated “ban” lacks “any credible national security rationale” as governmental policy, given the problem of linking the radicalization of any foreign-born terrorist or extremists were only radicalized or identified as terrorists after having become Americans, country of citizenship seems an extremely poor prognostic or indicator of who is to be considered a national danger.

Such eager mapping of threats from lands unable to police emigration to the United States oddly recall Cold War fears of “globally coordinated propaganda program” Communist Parties posing “unremitting use of propaganda as an instrument for the propagation of Marxist-Leninist ideology” once affirmed with omniscience in works as Worldwide Communist Propaganda Activities.  Much as such works invited fears for the scale and scope of Communist propaganda “in all parts of the world,” however, the executive order focusses on our own borders and the borders of selective countries in the new “Middle East” of the post-9/11 era. The imagined mandate to guard our borders in the new administration has created a new eagerness to map danger definitively, out of deep frustration at the difficulty with which non-state actors could be mapped.  While allegedly targeting nations whose citizens are mostly of Muslim faith, the ban conceals its lack of foundations and unsubstantiated half-truths.

The renewal of the ban against all citizens of six countries–altered slightly from the first version of the ban in hopes it would successfully pass judicial review, claims to prevent “foreign terrorist entry” without necessary proof of the links.  The ban seems intended to inspire fear in a far more broad geography, as much as it provides a refined tool based on separate knowledge.  Most importantly, perhaps, it is rigidly two-dimensional, ignoring the fact that terrorist organizations no longer respect national frontiers, and misconstruing the threat of non-state actors.  How could such a map of fixed frontiers come to be presented a plausible or considered response to a terrorist threats from non-state actors?




1. The travel ba focus on “Islamic majority states” was raised immediately after it was unveiled and discourse on the ban and its legality dominated the television broadcasting and online news.  The suspicions opened by the arrival from Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker that his writers drop the term “‘seven majority-Muslim countries'” due to its “very loaded” nature prompted a quick evaluation of the relation of religion to the ban that the Trump administration chose at its opening salvo in redirecting the United States presidency in the Trump era.  Baker’s requested his paper’s editors to acknowledge the limited value of the phrase as grounds to drop “exclusive use” of the phrase to refer to the executive order on immigration, as if to whitewash the clear manner in which it mapped terrorist threats; Baker soon claimed he allegedly intended “no ban on the phrase ‘Muslim-majority country’” before considerable opposition among his staff writers–but rather only to question its descriptive value. Yet given evidence that Trump sought a legal basis for implementing a ‘Muslim Ban’ and the assertion of Trump’s adviser Stephen Miller that the revised language of the ban might achieve the “same basic policy outcome” of excluding Muslim immigrants from entering the country.  But curtailing of the macro “Muslim majority” concealed the blatant targeting of Muslims by the ban, which incriminated the citizens of seven countries by association, without evidence of ties to known terror groups.

The devaluation of the language of religious targeting in Baker’s bald-faced plea–“Can we stop saying ‘seven majority Muslim countries’? It’s very loaded”–seemed design to disguise a lack of appreciation for national religious diversity in the United States. “The reason they’ve been chosen is not because they’re majority Muslim but because they’re on the list of countRies [sic] Obama identified as countries of concern,” Baker opined, hoping it would be “less loaded to say ‘seven countries the US has designated as being states that pose significant or elevated risks of terrorism,'” but obscuring the targeting and replicating Trump’s own justification of the ban–even as other news media characterized the order as a “Muslim ban,” and as directed to all residents of Muslim-Majority countries.  The reluctance to clarify the scope of the executive order on immigration seems to have disguised the United States’ government’s reluctance to recognize the nation’s religious plurality, and unconstitutionality of grouping one faith, race, creed, or other group as possessing lesser rights.

It is necessary to excavate the sort of oppositions used to justify this imagined geography and the very steep claims about who can enter and cross our national frontiers.  To understand the dangers that this two-dimensional map propugns, it is important to examine the doctrines that it seeks to vindicate.  For irrespective of its alleged origins, the map that intended to ban entrance of those nations accused without proof of being terrorists or from “terror-prone” nations.   The “Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” defended as a legal extension of the President’s “rightful authority to keep our people safe,” purported to respond to a crisis in national security.  The recent expansion of this mandate to “keep our people safe” against alleged immanent threats has focused on the right to bring laptops on planes without storing them in their baggage, forcing visitors form some nations to buy a computer from a Best Buy vending machine of the sort located in airport kiosks from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, on the grounds that this would lend greater security to the nation.


2.  Its sense of urgency should not obscure the ability to excavate the simplified binaries that  justify its imagined geography.  For the ban uses broad brushstrokes to define who can enter and cross our national frontiers that seek to control discourse on terrorist danger as only a map is able to do.  To understand the dangers that this two-dimensional map proposes, one must begin from examining the unstated doctrines that it seeks to vindicate:  irrespective of its alleged origins, the map that intended to ban entrance of those nations accused without proof of being terrorists or from “terror-prone” nations.   The “Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” defended as a legal extension of the President’s “rightful authority to keep our people safe,” purported to respond to a crisis in national security.  The recent expansion of this mandate to “keep our people safe” against alleged immanent threats has focused on the right to bring laptops on planes without storing them in their baggage, on the largeely unsubstantiated grounds that this would lend greater security to the nation.

The lack of compunction to attend to the religious plurality of the United States citizens bizarrely date such a purported Ban, which reveals a spatial imaginary that run against Constitutional norms.  In ways that recall exclusionary laws based on race or national origin from the early twentieth century legal system, or racial quotas Congress enacted in 1965, the ban raises constitutional questions with a moral outrage compounded as many of the nations cited–Syria; Sudan; Somalia; Iran–are sites from refugees fleeing Westward or transit countries, according to Human Rights Watch, or transit sites, as Libya.  The addition to that list of a nation, Yemen, whose citizens were intensively bombed by the United States Navy Seals and United States Marine drones in a blitz of greater intensity than recent years suggests particular recklessness in bringing instability to a region’s citizens while banning its refugees.  Even in a continued war against non-state actors as al Qaeda or AQAP–al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–the map of Trump’s long-promised “Islamic Ban” holds sovereign boundaries trump human rights or humanitarian needs.

The ban as it is mapped defines “terror-prone regions” identified by the United States will only feed and recycle narratives of western persecution  that can only perpetuate the urgency of calls for Jihad.  Insisting national responsibility preventing admission of national citizens of these beleaguered nations placed a premium on protecting United States sovereignty and creates a mental map that removes the United States for responsibility of military actions, unproductively and unwarrantedly demonizing the nations as a seat of terrorist activity, and over-riding pressing issues of human rights tied to a global refugee crisis.  But the mapping of a ban on “Foreign Terrorist Entry” into the United States seems to be something of a dramaturgical device to allege an imagined geography of where the “bad guys” live–even a retrograde 2-D map, hopelessly antiquated in an age of data maps of flows, trafficking, and population growth, provides a reductive way to imagine averting an impending threat of terror–and not to contain a foreign threat of non-state actors who don’t live in clearly defined bounds or have citizenship.  Despite an absolute lack of proof or evidence of exclusion save probable religion–or insufficient vetting practices in foreign countries–seems to make a threat real to the United States and to magnify that threat for an audience, oblivious to its real effects.

For whereas once threats of terror were imagined as residing within the United States from radicalized regions where anti-war protests had occurred,  focussed on Northern California, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the northeastern seaboard and elite universities–and a geography of home-grown guerrilla acts undermining governmental authority and destabilizing the state by local actions designed to inspire a revolutionary “state of mind,” which the map both reduced to the nation’s margins of politicized enclaves, but presented as an indigenous danger of cumulatively destabilizing society, inspired by the proposition of entirely homegrown agitation against the status quo:



Guerilla acts of Sabotage and Terrorism in US


Unlike the notion of terrorism as a tactic in campaigns of subversion and interference modeled after a revolutionary movement within the nation, the executive order located demons of terror outside the United States, if lying in terrifying proximity to its borders.  The external threats call for ensuring that “those entering this country will not harm the American people after entering, and that they do not bear malicious intent toward the United States and its people” fabricate magnified dangers by mapping its location abroad.


2.  The Trump administration has asserted a need for immediate protection of the nation, although none were ever provided in the executive order.  The  arrogance of the travel ban appears to make due on heatrical campaign promises for “a complete and total ban” on Muslims entering the United States without justification on any legitimate objective grounds.  Such a map of “foreign terrorists” was most probably made for Trump’s supporters, without much thought about its international consequences or audience, incredible as this might sound, to create a sense of identity and have the appearance of taking clear action against America’s enemies.  The assertion that “we only want to admit people into our country who will support our country, and love–deeply–our people” suggested not only a logic of America First, but seemed to speak only to his home base, and talking less as a Presidential leader than an ideologue who sought to defend the security of national boundaries for Americans as if they were under attack.  Such a verbal and conceptual map in other words does immense work in asserting the right of the state to separate friends from enemies, and demonize the members of nations that it asserts to be tied to or unable to vet the arrival of terrorists.

The map sent many scrambling to find a basis in geographical logic, and indeed to remap the effects of the ban, if only to process its effects better.




But the broad scope of the ban which seems as if it will have the greatest effect in alienating other nations and undermining our foreign policy, as it perpetuates a belief in an opposition between Islam and the United States that is both alarming and disorienting.  The defense was made without justifying the claims that he made for the links of their citizens to terror–save the quite cryptic warning that “our enemies often use our own freedoms and generosity against us”–presumes that the greatest risks not only come from outside our nation, but are rooted in foreign Islamic states, even as we have been engaged for the past decade in a struggle against non-state actors.  In contrast to such ungratefulness, Trump had repeatedly promised in his campaign to end definitively all “immigration from terror-prone regions, where vetting cannot safely occur,” after he had been criticized for calling during the election for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until they could “figure out what is going on.”

But the targeted audience was always there, and few of his supporters were likely to have forgotten the earlier claims–and the origins of this geographical classification of national enemies terrifying that offers such a clear dichotomy along national lines.  While pushed to its logical conclusion, the ban on travel could be extended to the range of seventy-odd nations that include a ban against nations associated with terrorism or extremist activity–


totalcountriesensnaredintrumpproposals_ea1d4e4541c1a7fc9ec0d213f172e67e.nbcnews-ux-600-480Nick Kiray/NBC News


–but there is a danger in attributing any sense of logical coherence to Trump’s executive order in its claims or even in its intent.  The President’s increasing insistence on his ability to instate an “extreme vetting” process–which we do not yet fully understand–seems a bravado mapping of danger, with less eye to the consequences on the world or on how America will be seen by Middle Eastern nations, or in a court of law.  The map is more of a gesture, a provocation, and an assertion of American privilege that oddly ignores the proven pathways of the spread of terrorism or its sociological study.

But by using a broad generalization of foreign nations as not trustworthy in their ability to protect American interests to contain “foreign terrorists”–a coded generalization if there ever was one–Trump remapped the relation of the United States to much of the world in ways that will be difficult to change.  For in vastly expanding the category “foreign terrorists” to the citizens of a group of Muslim-majority nations, he conceals that few living in those countries are indeed terrorists–and suggests that he hardly cares.  The executive order claims to map a range of dangers present to our state not previously recognized in sufficient or honest ways, but maps those states in need as sites of national danger–an actual crisis in national security  he has somehow detected in his status as President–that conceal the very sort of non-state actors–from ISIS to al-Qaeda–that have targeted the United States in recent years.  By enacting a promised “complete and total ban” on the entry of Muslims from entering the nation sets a very dangerous precedent for excluding people from our shores.  The targeting of six nations almost exemplifies a form of retributive justice against nations exploited as seats of terrorist organizations, to foment a Manichean animosity between majority Muslim states and the United States–“you’re either with us, or you’re against us”–that hardly passes as a foreign  policy map.

Rather than respecting or prioritizing human rights, the identification of Islam with terrorist organizations seems the basis for excluding citizens and nationals of seven nations who might allow “foreign terrorist entry.”   The ban was quickly noted that the list of nations pointedly excluded those where Trump did or pursued business as a businessman and hotelier.  But while not acknowledging this distinction, it promotes a difference between “friend” and “enemy” as a remapping of threats to the nation along national lines, targeting nations not only as suspicious sites of radicalization, but by collectively prohibiting their residents and nationals from entry to the nation.  While it is striking that President Jimmy Carter had targeted similar states identified as the nations that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” back in 1980–President Carter cited the long-unstable nations of  Iraq, Libya, South Yemen, and Syria, following then-recent legislation indicating their abilities “support acts of international terrorism.”  The near-identical mapping of terror does not exemplify an egregious instance of “mission creep,” but by blanketing of such foreign nationals as “inadmissible  aliens” without evidence save “protecting the homeland” suggests an unimaginable level of xenophobia–toxic to foreign relations, and to anyone interested in defending national security.  It may Israeli or Middle Eastern intelligence poorly mapped the spread of growing dangers.

But it echoes strikingly similar historical claims to defend national security interests have long disguised the targeting of groups, and have deep Cold War origins, long tied to preventing entrance of aliens with dangerous opinions, associations or beliefs.  It’s telling that attorneys generals in Hawai’i and California first challenged the revised executive order–where memories survives of notorious Presidential executive order 9006, which so divisively relocated over 110,000 Japanese Americans to remote areas, the Asian Exclusion Act, and late nineteenth-century Chinese Exclusion Act, which limited immigration, as the Act similarly selectively targets select Americans by blocking in unduly onerous ways overseas families of co-nationals from entering the country, and establishes a precedent for open intolerance of the targeting the Muslims as “foreign terrorists” in the absence of any proof.

The “map” by which Trump insists that “malevolent actors” in nations with problems of terrorism be kept out for reasons of national security mismaps terrorism, and posits a false distinction among nation states, but projects a terrorist identity onto states which  Trump’s supporters can take satisfaction in recognizing, and delivers on the promise that Trump had long ago made–in his very first televised advertisements to air on television–to his constituents.


trump-ban-on-muslimsfrom Donald Trump’s First Campaign Ad (2016)

Such claims have been transmuted, to members of a religion in ways that suggest a new twist on a geography of terror around Islam, and the Trump’s bogeyman of “Islamic terror.” Although high courts have rescinded the first version of the bill, the obstinance of Trump’s attempt to map dangers to America suggests a mindset frozen in an altogether antiquated notion of national enemies.  Much in the way that Cold War governments prevented Americans from travel abroad for reasons of “national security,” the rationale for allowing groups advocating or engaging in terrorist acts–including citizens of the countries mapped in red, as if to highlight their danger, below–extend to a menace of international terrorism now linked in extremely broad-brushed terms to the religion of Islam–albeit with the notable exceptions of those nations with which the Trump family has conducted business.




The targeting of such nations is almost an example of retributive justice for having been used as seats of terrorist organizations, but almost seek to foment a Manichean animosity between majority Muslim states and the United States, and identify Islam with terror–  “you’re either with us, or you’re against us“–that hardly passes as a foreign  policy map.  The map of the ban offers an argument from sovereignty that overrides one of human rights.


3.  It should escape no one that the Executive Order on Immigration parallels a contraction of  the provision of information from intelligence officials to the President that assigns filtering roles of new heights to Presidential advisors to create or fashion narratives:   for as advisers are charged to distill global conflicts to the dimensions of a page, double-spaced and with all relevant figures, such briefings at the President’s request give special prominence to reducing conflicts to the dimensions of a single map.   Distilled Daily Briefings are by no means fixed, and evolve to fit situations, varying in length considerably in recent years accordance to administrations’ styles.  But one might rightly worry about the shortened length by which recent PDB’s provide a means for the intelligence community to adequately inform a sitting President:  Trump’s President’s Daily Briefing reduce security threats around the entire globe to one page, including charts, assigning a prominent place to maps likely to distort images of the dangers of Islam and perpetuated preconceptions, as those which provide guidelines for Border Control.

In an increasingly illiberal state, where the government is seen less as a defender of rights than as protecting American interests, maps offer powerful roles of asserting the integrity of the nation-state against foreign dangers, even if the terrorist organizations that the United States has tired to contain are transnational in nature and character.  For maps offer particularly sensitive registers of preoccupations, and effective ways to embody fears.  They offer the power to create an immediate sense of territorial presence within a map serves well accentuate divides.  And the provision of a map to define how the Muslim Ban provides a from seven–or from six–countries is presented as a tool to “protect the American people” and “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” offers an image targeting countries who allegedly pose dangers to the United States, in ways that embody the notion.  “The majority of people convicted in our courts for terrorism-related offenses came from abroad,” the nation was seemed to capitalize on their poor notions of geography, as the President provided map of nations from which terrorists originate, strikingly targeting Muslim-majority nations “to protect the American people.”

Yet is the current ban, even if exempting visa holders from these nations, offers no means of considering rights of entry to the United States, classifying all foreigners from these nations as potential “foreign terrorists” free from any actual proof.


two bans.png


Is such an open expenditure of the capital of memories of some fifteen years past of 9/11 still enough to enforce this executive order on the nebulous grounds of national safety?  Even if Iraqi officials seem to have breathed a sigh of relief at being removed from Muslim Ban 2.0, the Manichean tendencies that underly both executive orders are feared to foster opposition to the United States in a politically unstable region, and deeply ignores the multi-national nature of terrorist groups that Trump seems to refuse to see as non-state actors, and omits the dangers posed by other countries known to house active terrorist cells.  In ways that aim to take our eyes off of the refugee crisis that is so prominently afflicting the world, Trump’s ban indeed turns attention from the stateless to the citizens of predominantly Muslim nation, limiting attention to displaced persons or refugees from countries whose social fabric is torn by civil wars, in the name of national self-interest, in an open attempt to remap the place of the United States in the world by protecting it from external chaos.

The map covered the absence of any clear basis for its geographical concentration,  asserting that these nations have “lost control” over battles against terrorism and force the United States to provide a “responsible . . . screening” of since people admitted from such countries “may belong to terrorist groups. ” Attorney General Jeff Sessions struggled to rationalize its indiscriminate range, as the nations “lost control” over terrorist groups or sponsored them.  The map made to describe the seven Muslim-majority nations whose citizens will be vetted before entering the United States.  As the original Ban immediately conjured a map by targeting seven nations, in ways that made its assertions a pressing reality, the insistence on the six-nation ban as a lawful and responsible extension of executive authority as a decision of national security, but asked the public only to trust the extensive information that the President has had access to before the decree, but listed to real reasons for its map.  The maps were employed, in a circular sort of logic, to offer evidence for the imperative to recognize the dangers that their citizens might pose to our national security as a way to keep our own borders safe.  The justification of the second iteration of the Ban that “each of these countries is a state sponsor of terrorism, has been significantly compromised by terrorist organizations, or contains active conflict zones” stays conveniently silent about the broad range of ongoing global conflicts in the same regions–

Conflict-Map-2015-480x270.jpgArmed Conflict Survey, 2015

–or the real index of terrorist threats, according to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace

18855940_401.png Institute for Economics and Peace


–but give a comforting notion that we can in fact “map” terrorism in a responsible way, and that the previous administration failed to do so in a responsible way.  With instability only bound to increase in 2017, especially in the Middle East and north Africa, the focus on seven or six countries whose populace is predominantly Muslim seems a distraction from the range of recent terrorist attacks across a broad range of nations, many of which are theaters of war that have been bombed by the United States.

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The notion of “keeping our borders safe from terrorism” was the subtext of the map, which was itself a means to make the nation safe as “threats to our security evolve and change,” and the need to “keep terrorists from entering our country.”  For its argument foregrounds sovereignty and obscures human rights, leading us to ban refugees from the very same lands–Yemen–that we also bomb.

For the map in the header to this post focus attention on the dangers posed by populations of seven predominantly Muslim nations declared to pose to our nation’s safety that echo Trump’s own harping on “radical Islamic terrorist activities” in the course of the Presidential campaign.  By linking states with “terrorist groups” such as ISIS (Syria; Libya), al-Qaeda (Iran; Somalia), Hezbollah (Sudan; Syria), and AQAP (Yemen), that have “porous borders”–a term applied to both Libya, Sudan and Yemen, but also applies to Syria and Iran, whose governments are cast as “state sponsors” of terrorism–the executive orders reminds readers of our own borders, and their dangers of infiltration, as if terrorism is an entity outside of our nation.  That the states mentioned in the “ban” are among the poorest and most isolated in the region is hardly something for which to punish their citizens, or to use to create greater regional stability.  (The citation in Trump’s new executive order of the example of a “native of Somalia who had been brought to the United States as a child refugee and later became a naturalized United States citizen sentenced to thirty years [for] . . .  attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction as part of a plot to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony” emphasizes the religious nature of this threats that warrant such a 90-day suspension of these nationals whose entrance could be judged “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”)

4.  It’s not coincidental that soon after we quite suddenly learned about President Trump’s decision to ban citizens or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries before the executive order on immigration and refugees would released, or could be read, maps appeared on the nightly news–notably, on both FOX and CNN–that described the ban as a fait accompli, as if to deny the possibility of resistance to a travel prohibition that had been devised by members of the executive without consultation of law makers, Trump’s own Department of State, or the judiciary.   The map affirmed a spatial divide removed from judicial review. Indeed, framing the Muslim Ban in a map not that tacitly reminds us of the borders of our own nation, their protection, and the deep-lying threat of border control.  Although, of course, the collective mapping of nations whose citizens are classified en masse as threats to our national safety offers an illusion of national security, removed from the actual paths terrorists have taken in attacks plotted in the years since 9/11–


–or the removal of the prime theater of terrorist attacks from the United States since 9/11.  The specter of terror haunting the nation ignores the actual distribution of Al Qaeda affiliates cells or of ISIS, let alone the broad dissemination of terrorist causes on social media.


For in creating a false sense of containment, the Ban performs of a reassuring cartography of danger for Trump’s constituents, resting on an image of collective safety–rather than actual dangers.  The Ban rests on a conception of executive privilege nurtured in Trump’s cabinet that derived from an expanded sense of the scope of executive powers, but it may however provide an unprecedented remapping the international relations of the United States in the post-9/11 era; it immediately located dangers to the Republic outside its borders in what it maps as the Islamic world, that may draw more of its validity as much from the geopolitical vision of the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington as it reflects current reality, and it offers an unclear map of where terror threats exist.  In the manner that many early modern printed maps placed monsters at what were seen as the borders of the inhabited world, the Islamic Ban maps “enemies of the state” on  the borders of Western Civilization–and on what it sees as the most unstable borders of the larger “Muslim world”–



–as much as those nations with ISIL affiliates, who have spread far beyond any country.


But by playing the issue as one of nations that are responsible for maintaining their own borders, Trump has cast the issue of terrorism as one of border security, in ways perhaps close to his liking, and which plays to his constituency’s ideas of defending America, but far removed from any sense of the international networks of terror, or of the communications among them.  Indeed, the six- or seven-nation map that has been proposed in the Muslim Ban and its lightly reworked second version, Ban 2.0, suggest that terrorism is an easily identifiable export, that respect state lines, while the range of fighters present in Syria and Iraq suggest the unprecedented global breadth that these conflicts have won, extending to Indonesia and Malaysia, through the wide-ranging propaganda machine of the Islamic State, which makes it irresponsibly outdated to think about sovereign divisions and lines as a way for “defending the nation.”

18980564_401Deutsche Welle/2016

Trump rolled out the proposal with a flourish in his visit to the Pentagon, no doubt relishing the photo op at a podium in the center of military power on which he had set his eyes.  No doubt this was intentended.  For Trump regards the Ban as a “border security” issue,  based on an idea of criminalizing border crossing that he sees as an act of defending national safety, as a promise made to the American people during his Presidential campaign.  As much as undertake to protect the nation from an actual threat, it created an image of danger that confirmed the deepest hunches of Trump, Bannon, and Miller.  For in  ways that set the stage for deporting illegal immigrants by thousands of newly-hired border agents, the massive remapping of who was legally allowed to enter the United States–together with the suspension of the rights of those applying for visas as tourists or workers, or for refugee status–eliminated the concept of according any rights for immigrants or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries on the basis of the danger that they allegedly collectively constituted to the United States.  The rubric of “enhancing public safety within the interior United States” is based on a new way of mapping the power of government to collectively stigmatize and deny rights to a large section of the world, and separate the United States from previous human rights accords.

It has escaped the notice of few that the extra-governmental channels of communication Trump preferred as a candidate and is privileging in his attacks on the media indicates his preference for operating outside established channels–in ways which dangerously to appeal to the nation to explain the imminent vulnerabilities to the nation from afar.  Trump has regularly claimed to undertake “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in a speech made “directly to the American people,” as if outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review.  And while claiming to have begun “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in speeches made “directly to the american people with the media present, . . . because many of our reporters . . . will not tell you the truth,” he seems to relish the declaration of an expansion of policies to police entrance to the country, treating the nation as if an expensive nightclub or exclusive resort, where he can determine access by policies outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review.   Even after the unanimous questioning by an appellate court of the constitutionality of the executive order issued to bar both refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations, Trump insists he is still keeping every option open and on the verge this coming week of just filing a brand new order designed to leave more families in legal limbo and refugees safely outside of the United States.  The result has been to send waves of fear among refugees already in the Untied States about their future security, and among refugees in camps across the Middle East.  The new order–which exempts visa holders from the nations, as well as green card holders, and does not target Syrian refugees when processing visas–nonetheless is directed to the identical seven countries, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya, while retaining a policy of or capping the number of refugees granted citizenship or immigrant status, taking advantage of a linguistic slippage between the recognition of their refugee status and the designation as refugees of those fleeing their home countries.


While the revised Executive Order seems to restore the proposed ceiling of 50,000 refugees chosen in 1980 for those fleeing political chaos with “well-founded fears of persecution,” the new policy, unlike the Refugee Act of 1980, makes no attempt to provide a flexible mechanism to take account of growing global refugee problems even as it greatly exaggerates the dangers refugees admitted to America pose, and inspires fear in an increasingly vulnerable population of displaced peoples.




For Trump’s original Executive Order on Immigration rather openly blocks entry to the country in ways that reorient the relation of the United States to the world.  It disturbingly remaps our national policy of international humanitarianism, placing a premium on our relation to terrorist organizations:   at a stroke, and without consultation with our allies, it closes our borders to foreign entry to all visa holders or refugees in something more tantamount to a quarantine of the sort that Donald Trump advocated in response to the eruption of infections from Ebola than to a credible security measure.  The fear of attack is underscored in the order.


5.  The mapping of danger to the country is rooted in a promise to “keep you safe” that of course provokes fears and anxieties of dangers, as much as it responds to an actual cause.  And despite the stay on restraints of immigrations for those arriving from the seven countries whose residents are being denied visas by executive fiat, the drawing of borders under the guise of “extreme vetting,” and placing the dangers of future terrorist attacks on the “Homeland” in seven countries far removed from our shores, as if to give the nation a feeling of protection, even if our nation was never actually challenged by these nations or members of any nation state.

The result has already inspired fear and panic among many stranded overseas, and increase fear at home of alleged future attacks, that can only bolster executive authority in unneeded ways.


The genealogy of executive prerogatives to defend the borders and bounds of the nation demands to be examined.  Even while insisting on the need for speed, security, and unnamed dangers, the Trump administration continues to accuse the courts of having made an undue “political decision” in ways that ignore constitutional due process by asserting executive prerogative to redraw the map of respecting human rights and mapping the long unmapped terrorist threats to the nation to make them appear concrete.  For while the dangers of terrorist attack were never mapped with any clear precision for the the past fifteen years since the attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, coordinated by members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, Trump has misleadingly promised a clear remapping of the dangers that the nation faces, which he insists hat the nation and his supporters were long entitled to have, as if meeting the demand to remap the place of terrorism in an increasingly dangerous world.

The specter of civil rights violations of a ban on Muslims entering the United States had been similarly quite abruptly re-mapped the actual relation of the United States to the world, in ways that evoke the PATRIOT act, by preventing the entry of all non-US residents from these nations.  Much as the PATRIOT act led to the detention of Arab and Muslim suspects, even without evidence, the executive order that Trump issued banned all residents of these seven Muslim-majority nations.  The above map, which was quickly shown on both FOX and CNN alike to describe the regions identified as sites of potential Jihadi danger immediately oriented Americans to the danger of immigrants as if placing the country on a state of yellow alert.   There is some irony hile terrorist networks have rarely been mapped with precision–and are difficult to target even by drone strikes, the executive order goes far beyond the powers granted to immigration authorities to allow the “territoritorial integrity of the United States,” even as the territory of the United States is of course not actually under attack.


What sort of world do Trump and his close circle of advisors live–or imagine that they live?  “It is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country,” Trump tried to clarify on February 1, as the weekend ended.   We’re all too often reminded that it was all about “preventing foreign terrorists from entering the United States,” as Trump insists, oblivious to the bluntness of a blanket targeting of everyone with a visa or citizenship from seven nations of Muslim majority–a blunt criteria indeed–often not associated with specific terrorist threats, and far fewer than Muslim-majority nations worldwide.  Of course, the pressing issue of the need to enact the ban seem to do a psychological jiu jitsu of placing terrorist threats abroad–rooting them in Islamic communities in foreign lands–despite a lack of attention to the radicalization of many citizens in the United States, making their vetting upon entry or reentry into the country difficult–confirmed by the recent conclusion that, in fact, “country of citizenship [alone] is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”  So what use is the map?

As much as focussing on the “bad apples” among all nations with a predominance of Muslim members–


–it may reflect the tendency of the Trump administration to rely on crude maps to try to understand and represent complex problems of global crises and events, for a President whose staff seems to be facing quite a steep on-the-job learning curve, adjusting their expectations and vitriol to policy making with some difficulty.  The recent revelation of Trump’s own preference for declarative maps within his daily intelligence briefings–a “single page, with lots of graphics and maps” according to one official familiar with his daily intelligence briefings–not only indicate the possibility that executive order may have indeed developed after consulting maps, but underscore the need to examine the silences that surround its blunt mapping of terrorism.  PDB’s provide distillations of diplomatic, intelligence, and military information, and could include interactive maps or video when President Obama received PDB’s on his iPad, even encouraging differing or dissenting opinions.  They demand disciplined attention as a medium, lest one is distracted by uncorroborated information or raw intelligence—or untrained in discriminating voices from different areas of expertise.

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Filed under Donald Trump, human rights, Immigration Ban, Islamic Ban, refugees

Finding Aleppo in a War-Torn World

The deep frustration at being able to map the Syrian civil war around Aleppo–combining the actual inability to map the factions in the conflict, and the actual unmappability of the deeply unsettling destabilization of civil society in the five-year civil war which is waged by outside actors, as much as by the Syrian government–has sapped confidence in the ability to negotiate a cease-fire or indeed to find a civil solution to a conflict that has both created an ongoing flow of refugees and destroyed civil society in the region, as well as an equilibrium of power.  And the more we are frustrated in being unable to map the conflict and its descent into inhumane violence, the more violent it has become and the farther removed from being able to exist again as a country.




Any theater of war is extremely difficult to endow with coherence in a map–one speaks of the “fog of war” to describe the clouded experience in the confusion of military conflicts.  But the difficulty of gaining purchase on the extent of the destruction of the ancient city of Aleppo that is particularly troubling–and troublingly matched by the difficulty of mapping or imagining the targeting of the city and Aleppo’s inhabitants and the refugees who have left the city.  The failure to describe, document, or respond to the costs in the sustained aerial bombardment in recent months seems an abdication of ethical responsibility before such escalated destruction that almost fails to acknowledge its scope.  The terror of aerial strikes against civilians have led to the targeted destruction of schools and hospitals in the rebel-occupied regions of the city hard to imagine, as a besieged city is isolated from the world.  While we don’t have access to the maps and plans that were used during the sustained engagement of rebel forces in Aleppo, and have rather watched screen-shots of the diminishing areas of the region “held” by “rebel forces” over months, those very images distance us from the human rights tragedies that is occurring on the ground with the dismantling of public health care and social institutions, as if extending so many false possibilities of the tenuous grasp over territory of opposition groups.  With unclear data on suffering, deaths, refugees or destroyed buildings in the encircled city, we map territory as the clearest index of the balance of war, but ignore the scale or scope of its ongoing bombardment and destruction, as the country has not only “gone dark”–



–but the city destroyed under unimaginable sustained assault.




News wire sources have tried to “map” the extent of those lines areas held in the heavily bombed city, to be sure, in recent months.  But the absence of clear lines of jurisdiction or control of a battle that is increasingly waged from a move–but shown as if it were a land war–echoes the military divisions of cities in ways that seem incommensurate with the suffering or mischaracterization of the actors of the war, and the lack of limits with which the Assad regime has enlisted foreign help to destroy its former cultural capital and economic hub, as if trying to efface the opposition that it has for so long successfully tarred by their association to ISIS and the Islamic State–and as a media blitz has tried to portray the battle in Aleppo as a fight against ISIS rather than a defining moment in the escalation of military forces against one’s own people by Bashar al-Assad.

Even though the aerial attacks on Aleppo began as early as July 2012, the escalation of attacks by Russian bombers that began to target buildings and humanitarian supplies with intensity from July 2016.  While we were in the midst of the farce of our recent American Presidential election, we have watched maps of the Syrian conflict at an odd remove, depicting the city the city as a multi-colored sectored region, as if a point of stasis in slippy map of sovereignty, as much as a focal point where five different forces seem to lock horns.  The disservice of these opaque colors seem to erase and to be done such a deep disservice with Microsoft Paint.  And as we do so, we can only fail in an attempt to chart the intensification of suffering that is only like to increase in coming months, as the shrinking green lands held by rebel forces have depicted the so-called “situation in Syria” in increasingly disembodied fashion.


syria97410fps.gifThomas Van Linge/Newsweek/@arabthomness


As we watch the layers of colors, trying to map the levels of conflict from an empyrean remove that has echoed the official policy of not putting “boots on the ground,” we fail to account for the destruction of houses, massive departures of residents, targeting of humanitarian assistance and destroyed infrastructure and human services in the city.  The layers with which we discriminate a war-torn city set to conceal terrifying human costs in the rather terrifying palette of pastels in its curious camouflage, as if to hold out hope for an amicable solution, but to erase the destruction of civilian lives, hospitals, residences, or food and needs supplies that tried to arrive in the light green rebel-held areas of the city that suggest an island around the Citadel of Aleppo.


Rif_Aleppo2.svg.pngNovember 1, 2016/Kami888


For the limited information about Aleppo’s continued destruction by aerial attacks as well as bombardments makes the extent of the human costs its destruction increasingly difficult to render with coherence.  This absence of this coherence perhaps leadt some twenty-nine million to be struck by viewing the dazed five-year old Omran Daqneesh and the tragically bloodstained face from which he gazes somewhat stoically and looks at his bloodied hand–as if dazed to be transported from the scenario of violence in which he lived to what seems a setting of sanitized medical care, his blood-stained face contrasting to the clean orange cushions of an emergency ambulance.  The transferal of Omran from the battlefield like context of Aleppo to the emergency health care vehicle show him dazed not only at his change of context, but almost in shock of being in a controlled ambulance in which he sits, if a sign of hope, is also emblematic of the inability or difficulty to bridge the controlled context of medical and clinical care of the Emergency Medical Services and the rubble of the besieged city, almost the negative image of a controlled environment:  the image circulated by Aleppo Media Centre was emblematic of the dissonance between the emergency services and the onslaught of bombs where civilians are targeted daily amidst the rubble of the besieged city, so that the dazed look of poor Omran seems a substitute for our own helpless bewilderment at the war crime of the sustained aerial bombing of Aleppo’s buildings, health care providers, hospitals, and inhabitants.


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If the image is manipulative–and difficult to include in yet another post on Aleppo–its power seems to derive from the failure we feel between inability of the child who touches his hand to his head, to take stock of his head injury as he tries to process the loss of his family, after being carried by an emergency worker into the new setting of an ambulance.   The image was so poignant it was shared so widely all over the world on Facebook, as we searched collectively for an emblem of good, of one child rescued from the violence of Aleppo–as nine million Facebook users tried to transcend the broken windows, destroyed buildings, and slim hopes for the survival of Aleppo’s citizens, increasingly targeted in inhumane ways to which we are so unable to respond.

For if there is a lack of any coherent purchase on the city’s destruction on such an unprecedented scale of its bombardment, even for the Syrian Civil War, the saving of one child after his family was lost allowed the survival of a child to exist in the blood-streaked face of the five-year-old Omran Daqneesh that circulated globally on social media seemed finally to locate a “face of the Syrian Civil War” against the city’s dire destruction.  Indeed, the actual improvised settings of health care in eastern Aleppo–


624143740-graphic-content-wounded-syrians-are-seen-on-a-table-in_1-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images


–continued as bombs continued to strike the neighborhoods and where the living and dead lay beside one another in emergency rooms that lacked adequate medical supplies.  The absence of medical assistance or facilities, even as Bashar al Assad rejects the last proposal proposed by the United Nations for a local truce that recognized any claims to separate sovereignty of rebel forces, if it was not armed, arguing that it was a violation of “national sovereignty,” seems to have invited an endgame of increased military raids, as the “area held by rebel forces” has shrunk in recent days to a small region curving around the medieval fortified Citadel, sandwiched between advancing regime forces.




The garishly bloodied face of Omran, the sole survivor of an air strike on his family home in Aleppo’s rebel -held territories, seemed a ghost, but served as a respite from images of the dead, and his transport to an ambulance from the horror of Aleppo seemed a promise of the future.  The image posted by the Aleppo Media Center provided little orientation to the actual struggle, but the apparent shock of the contrast of Omram’s evident transport, his face and T-shirt covered in dirt and blood, to safety offered more than a reprieve from image of dead children:  seated in an ambulance, fingering his bloodied head, his place provided a bizarre juxtaposition of a world of safety and medical supplies who had moved from the bombing of his family’s building in a war-torn city we can barely map.  The arrival of the child into a setting of Western safety almost seemed an image of the precareity of saving a child out of its destruction, and preserved an odd ability of hope even as airstrikes would soon hit four hospitals in east Aleppo, and continue to target civilians.

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Filed under Aleppo, data overlays, human rights, Syrian Civil War, Syrian Free Army

Mapping the Material Surplus along the US-Mexico Border

Donald Trump doesn’t want you to think that a wall has already been built along the southwestern boundary of the United States.  But the massive show of force of cyclone fencing, regular patrols, and bullet-proof barriers already create one of the larger and ambitious border fences in the world and have done so since the 1990s.   In ways that echo the growth of border walls world-wide–only fifteen existed in 1990; there are beyond seventy–the US-Mexican border barriers remain one of the most massive investments in wall-building:   if the 2,500 mile barbed wire fence that India is building to separates itself from Bangladesh, the US-Mexcio border wall aims to be the longest in the world, as if an illustration of American strength against the specter of the movement of populations, in hopes to remove the United States from the dangers globalization has wrought.  When John Berger observed grimly but presciently that “The present period of history is one of the Wall,” shortly after 9/11, he foretold the policing of border-crossings and humanity, ” . . . concrete, bureaucratic surveillance, security, racist walls.”

The exquisite photographs portraits of the wall by west coast photographer Richard Misrach documents the extent to which border barriers have changed experience of the border crossing.  The barriers progressively built on the southern border of the United States reveals a new heights of the costs of bureaucratic surveillance in the name of border security.  As if in a second episode of his classic Desert Cantos, begun in the 1970s, which, Geoff Dyer noted, “record the residue of human activity inscribed in these apparently uninhabited lands,” in an attempt to explore “the multiplicity of meanings in the idea of desertness.”  One might use the word “interrogate,” if it didn’t resonate so closely with the state-security apparatus on the US-Mexico border, and the militarization of the regions of the desert that Misrach worked to photograph and explore the meanings of the cultural detritus left by cross-border travelers, as they migrated north, and the massive security apparatus they encountered by which the border is increasingly defined.


Fence on Mexican Border.pngNear Campo, CA. ©2008 Michael Dear


For since the definition of the US-Mexico borderline as a line of passage monitored by the border patrol back in 1924, the expansion and militarization of increasing sections of border wall is in part a spectacle of state.  Their growth reflects increasing concern not only with the border, but the militarization of a border zone.  But increasingly, such a zone seems sealed off form much of the country, and is rarely fully comprehended or seen, but rather invoked as a specter that needs to be expanded to establish national safety and economic security, even if its expansion has already occurred in a hypertrophic fashion:  and long before Donald proposed to build a “beautiful wall” to prevent crossing the US-Mexican border, as if it were a new hotel and building project–noting to the press that he was perfectly suited to such a task, since building is what “I do best in life.”  “I’m a great builder,” he assured his audiences, adding with apparent reflection, “Isn’t it nice to have a builder?”

Trump’s promise is that the continuous wall, to be payed for only upon completion, would remove deep worries about border security.  Widespread national concern about cross-border movement since the 1990s have led to the investment to making the border more physically and symbolically present to potential migrants than it ever was–no doubt reflecting an inflated fear of illegal immigration and the dangers of their immigration by fortifying what was once an open area of transit and rendering it a no-man’s land.  The number of US Agents stationed along the border has almost tripled from 1992 to 2004,  according to The Atlantic, and doubled yet again by 2011, even as the number of US federal employees shrunk.  Investing in the border by allocating over $4 billion each year created a concept in our spatial imaginaries we have not fully digested or mapped, or assessed in terms of its human impact, despite increasing appeal of calls for its expansion and further consolidation–even as the further consolidation of the border zone has made migrants depend on drug smugglers and other illicit trade in hopes for guarantees of cross-border passage.  And in an era when a large portion of Americans seem to interact with government through the TSATransportation Security Administration–or NTSB–National Transportation Safety Board–the fear of external threats to the public safety seem incredibly real.  The inspired gesture of a monumental wall to be built across our Southern Border with Mexico, if a sign of weakness far more than one of strength, obliterating hope for the promise of a future, as Berger noted, intended to overwhelm and oppress as a monument to decadence and American insularity.

Outfitted with not only walls, fences, and obstacles but checkpoints and surveillance cameras, the US-Mexican border has become a pure hypostatization of state power.  And although Trump’s promises to built a “beautiful, impenetrable wall”–“He’s going to make America great, build a wall and create jobs,” folks repeated on the campaign, as if these were causally linked to one another–the massive construction project has been revised, as the “great, great wall” promised at rallies was scaled back to a fence and confined to “certain areas”–with the odd reassurance that “I’m very good at this, it’s called construction,” while acknowledging that the wall was “more appropriate” only in “certain areas.”  Does Trump have any sense of the massive investment of capital that already exists on the border.  The promise of dedicating as much as $26 billion–even $30 billion–to such a soaring, precast concrete monument along the border, standing as high as fifty feet, was a mental fantasy, and election promise, but filled a need for ending perceptions of its permeability grew so great that his advisers see the need to warn folks “it’s gonna take a while,” but promising the ability to do so by fiat and executive order and reallocating funds for immigration services; others demur, “it was a great campaign device.”


110519_mex_border_fence_mpotter-grid-6x2Mark Potter/NBC News


At the same time as deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants now deemed “illegal,” the Department of Homeland Security has effectively rendered the border a militarized zone, interrupting what had been as late as the 1980s was a relatively porous transit zone on which both countries’ economies had depended:  the accumulation of capital on the border has expanded what was once a simple line to create obstacles to human movement challenging for viewers to process from a distance, or to map as a lived experience.  Of course, the existence of the wall has created a blossoming of illegal trafficking, as migrants are forced to depend on smugglers to help them in their quest to cross the imposing border, augmenting the illegal activity that occurs along its path, under the eyes of the many employees that guard the expanded border zone, in a far cry from the border patrol of years past.

The accumulation of obstacles for human transit contrast sharply to the old border fences that they have long rendered obsolete. The growth of the border zone dates from 1986, when granting of “legal” status to Mexican immigrants in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) had the consequence of redefining Mexican migrants as “illegal.”  The investment in increased construction of the border over thirty years to monitor the “illegal” immigrants who were surveilled by the highly monitored militarized border, designed to thwart unregistered immigration.  The old border fence is now outdated–


US_Mexico_Border_ap_img.jpgAP/Gregory Bull:  Border Agent Jerry Conlin looks out over Tijuana beside old border fence 

–since the Customs and Border Protection agency dedicated to “securing the nation’s borders” has come to expand the border between the United States and Mexico to prevent any possibility of human transit, reifying frontiers in ways that are nicely stated in one side of the pin worn by the very officials tasked to secure the border by regulating cross-border movement.  The mandate for U.S. Customs and Border Protection–“Securing America’s Border and the Global Flow of People and Goods”–is fulfilled by a range of devices of detection, surveillance and apprehension–attack dogs; choppers; drones; visual surveillance; horseback; speedboats; binoculars–that seem to expand an impression of total mastery over space in ways that are oddly ignore the human targets of the Agency.

CBP Commissioner USA-2.jpgBadge of the Current Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Reverse)

The division of Border Services that is dedicated to secure the US-Mexico border has attracted a level of investment that multiplied the increasingly inhumane terrifying ways, as “securing the border” has encouraged a material surplus and hypertrophic expansion of the border as militarized region that exists to obstruct human transit that is undocumented.  The border-zone assumes an increasingly prominent place within the spatial imaginary of Mexican migrants, as it has become increasingly accepted as a militarized–and naturalized as such–within the United States at considerable costs.  What are the consequences of such acceptance of the frontier as uninhabited lands?  How can one confront the consequences of its built-up construction from the perspective of the border-crosser?  How can one measure the human consequences of the expansion of this  outright militarization of a space between two countries who are not officially at war?

The separation of customs enforcement from border protection led an increased amount of resources to securing the material border, independent of the enforcement of customs, with effects that can be witnessed in the broad expansion of the border’s expansion as an uninhabited policed area needing to be secured in the abstract–independently from the human traffic that passes through it.


Misrach, Border SignsRichard Misrach/Wall, Jacumba, California (2009)


It is difficult to process the expanse or scope of the expansion of the border or the imposing barriers to border transit that is intended to prevent unmonitored migration and indeed terrify migrants from crossing the border .  The experience of the surplus on the border is especially difficult to capture from an on the ground perspective, distinct from the abstract definition of the border on a map as a simple line.  For the investment in the border obstacles and barriers that have themselves created the terrifying idea of sealing a border to human transit, and protecting the entry of those newly classified as “illegal”–a category that was the consequence of the IRCA, and legislation that criminalized the presence of “undocumented” Mexicans in the United States, and the growth of apprehensions of migrants after the increase in the monitoring of the border after IRCA– and the later increase of border patrols from 1994, in response to the inhumane balancing of needs for Mexican workers with fears of an increased number of Mexican immigrants, as the number of “undocumented” migrants multiplied nation-wide to new levels.  The increased militarization of the border to monitor all and any cross-border transit has created a massive expansion of border fortification under the Homeland Security Dept.

The result has been to create a shocking dehumanization of border crossing as attempts to cross the border in search of a better life have grown.  And the response of Richard Misrach and Guillermo Galindo to recuperate the human experience of border crossing that is erased by most maps.  Recent explorations by Misrach has called renewed attention to the expansive construction of the border as a human experience migrants face and encounter, and the new landscape of border-crossing that has been created across a new no man’s land.  His attention to the remains humans have left along the wall–abandoned detritus and intentional markers of cross-border transit–remap the construction of the border zone so challenging to capture in a territorial map, and capture a new sense of urgency to confront the human rights abuses that have grown with the border’s senseless expansion, and the overbuilding of border barriers and borderlands as a militarized space.  For the accumulated military surplus along border boundary is less a clear divide, than a means of creating a territory of its own within the growing border area:   Misrach’s recent photographs map intensive fieldwork of the region of the border that try to comprehend the scale of its presence for those on its other side or who traverse the border zone–an experience entirely omitted from even the most comprehensive maps of its daunting scale and expansion, which reveal the growing presence that “the border,” border area and the growing expanse of trans-border regions have already gained–a scale that can in part capture the heightened symbolic role that the debates about a border fence or barrier have gained in the 2016 United States presidential election.  The notion only a wall could fill the defensive needs of the United States must be protected from those Donald J. Trump labeled “bad hombres”–we stop the drugs, shore up the border, and get out the “bad hombres”–is laughable, but was a lynchpin to fashion himself as a strong male leader.

The laughability of the wall as a project of Trump’s megalomania prompted Guadalara-based Estudio 3.14 to propose a version in hot pink, stretching along the 1,954 miles of the border, based on the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán.  The wall, including a prison to house the 11,000,000 deported, a plant to maintain its upkeep and a shopping wall, seems specially designed both to daunt migrants and offer eye-candy for Americans.


Agustin Avalos/Estudio 3.14

stretching-from-the-pacific-coast-to-the-gulf-of-mexico-the-wall-would-separate-the-southwest-us-from-northern-mexico-jpgAgustin Avalos/Estudio 3.14

the-designers-imagineda-pink-wall-since-trump-has-repeatedly-said-it-should-be-beautiful.jpg.png Agustin Avalos/Estudio 3.14

Indeed, such a “Prison Wall” reflects the deeply carceral function of the space of the border, whose systems of surveillance systems and technological apparatus make it less a space of transition than a site of expansive investment going far beyond the notion of border protection, both as a spectacle and expansion of territorial control.   The hot pink wall offers a good surrogate surpassing the expansion of border security in recent decades.

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March 1, 2016 · 1:06 pm

1.2 Million Lego Pieces Map Resistance to Imprisonment

The Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei was clearly attracted to the prospect of creating site-specific sculptures for the cavernous nineteenth-century prison structures on Alcatraz island, a long unused federal penitentiary which concretized state power in the mind of many Americans over the last century, as a site to reflect on conditions of imprisonment world-wide.  For the now abandoned structures of the hulking prison island still seem inhabited by ghosts of the past, and high on atmospherics, even as its space has been reclaimed by Ai’s site-specific remapping of the spirits of the imprisoned.


Alcatraz island.JPG


For Ai’s art seems to have relaxed into the monumental fortress like buildings of detention in a defiant forms and brilliantly colored works of art; even if he never visited the site, the former setting of forced imprisonment gives resonance to fitting the pavement with portraits that map ongoing global detention of free speech.  The empty monumental structures of the labor hall, individual cells, sites of solitary confinement and prison corridors  reflect on those detained across the globe and the daily difficulty of wrestling with their conditions of continued confinement by different states, from China to the US.  Indeed, the widespread use of solitary confinement in Alcatraz–a pitch black cell for torturing many of its prisoners that was developed by the prison’s former Chief Warden Edwin James and  E.B. Tiller in rooms whose impermeable layers of steel masked the entrance of light or sound in Alcatraz’ Cellblock D from 1940, long a corridor of solitary isolation cells including a room of bare concrete save a hole in the floor, without clothes–




–with limited interest in the rights or lives of the incarcerated who were allowed to live in an without light or sound and only a metal frame bed, sink, and toilet, and one pair of shorts for up to nineteen continuous days to enforce prison discipline.  Alcatraz was not the first site of isolation by any means, but a site for its preservation where prisoners were forced to Personally, I find it is crucial to use moments of isolation as ways to develop self-control in order as in “control[ling] our inner self, we have won our first battle for freedom,” and the preservation of internal freedoms during imprisonment is celebrated  in Ai Wei Wei’s installation.  And at the same time as the use of solitary confinement has expanded, and unlawful detainees remain in the Guantanamo Bay complex of detention is not able to be closed while it holds five detainees, despite urging to congressional leaders for its closure, it is more than incumbent to remember the need to resist the civil rights violations of such inhumane units of segregation, and to draw sustainable to continue to do so–and to not forget the injustices daily faced by incarcerated populations.


Alcatraz-solitary-confinement-cell-by-Derek-Purdy.jpgDerek Purdy


The cell becomes the only space to “create right” by exercise, meditation, refleciton.  Isolation of prisoners, extended periods of forced solitude, and sensory deprivation is inhumane but continues to be used by many state prison authorities and in the authorities that run and operate units of incarceration the country, where 23-or 24-hour isolation is common and such intentional violations of prisoners’ rights not only in supermax prisons and have exponentially increased as a means to illustrate total control over imprisoned.  If such incarcerated populations are compelled to treat the isolation cell as a laboratory in response to the harsh conditions of dark, unmitigated electric lighting, or cold:  the bright re-imaging the faces of the imprisoned creates the Cell Blocks of Alcatraz as a new sort of performance space to map imprisonment far beyond its walls from the unique perspective Alcatraz offers on solitary isolation,  in contrast to the hard stares of those imprisoned–



Head Shot Pretty Boy Floyd.png



Head Shot.png


We’re actually a part of the reality, and if we don’t realize that, we are totally irresponsible,” the dissident artist Ai Wei Wei has said about his work, and in being “part of the reality [of incarceration] means that we need to produce another reality”–and to map one.  By replacing the colorless pavement of several of the Cell Blocks in Alcatraz with an alternate reality of vibrant colors not only of Lego portraits, but of the colored paper of huge dragons of the imagination, the austere burdens of the grey floors and pale green walls of Alcatraz are in a sense re-inhabited.  Ai’s placement of a set of day-glo images of the imprisoned and detained within a former site of confinement famed as a site of solitary isolation, built in a former fortress in San Francisco Bay to be removed from contact with the outside world, provides a point of reflection on the reality of imprisonment worldwide.

Using a plethora of pieces of lego, ceramic blossoms, and Chinese kites of dragons, and recorded song, Ai has both celebrated the possibility of ongoing resistance in the space of forced sequestration into a message of hope for all those detained, sending, despite his own limited circumstances of travel, instructions for media to inhabit the prison and sought to raise questions of the ever-encroaching global circumscription of freedom that ask us to map and to accept responsibility for the confinement of of global champions of free speech, and indeed to try to open the survival of spirit in the halls of imprisonment.




Ai has long been committed to creating a deeply “social sculpture” and to do so through an awareness of the architectural space in which each of his works is constructed and situated, as well as the sense of space it creates for its viewers or users–from the analogue architecture of his popular blog or twitterfeed to built spaces to the deep sense of cultural inter-relationships that his work communicates.  The canvas of pieces of Lego that temporarily filled the New Industries Building on Alcatraz Island presented an alternate surface of mugshots of recently confined spokespeople or human rights heroes in brilliant colored pieces of plastic–creating the sort of odd juxtaposition of form ant site, media across time, that wasn’t about imprisonment per se, echoing the pixellated images of each figure that we might see in mass media, filling the floor that lies above a basement filled with a wing made of tin teapots and solar cookers–the patience of the imprisoned?–whose confined space stands in juxtaposition with the airy room in which tourists crowded to see–and try to identify–the portraits of politically imprisoned in a mute surface made from $450,000 worth of multicolored pieces of Lego, converting one of the clunkiest of modernity’s concrete metaphors into a tool of subversive playfulness.



The famously outsized scale of many of the pieces in this show recall Ai’s similarly hypertrophied assembly of 1,000 sq meters of plastic backpacks on the facade of the Haus der Kunst that remember the lives lost in the tragedy of a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province, but the metaphorical wealth of the similarly bright mosaics of Lego have less overpowering impact than the five-color statement of the fragility of life–“for seven years, she lived happily on this earth,” the sewn dayglo backpacks read, bitterly–

Haus der Kunst

–but rather an image of the bitterness of the global status quo.  The flatness of the images push visitors to fathom the depths of the resources of their resistance, if only focussing on the bright surface of their spirits, but don’t expose their hand.


Vintge Mug shots.png

The colored pavement of pixellated portraits of one hundred and seventy six recent prisoners of conscience map global imprisonment in a one-brick layer of Lego runs across the grey floor of a cavernous room of the abandoned New Industries Building in the former high-security federal prison.  The choice of a world-famous former prison such as Alcatraz, isolated on an island in San Francisco Bay, by the For Site foundation to locate these technicolor mug shots of detained champions of human rights is particularly apt site.  The temporary construction of 1.2 million Lego pieces serves as a canvas to commemorate the resistance of those charges or convicted of crimes in the complex of one hundred and seventy-six figures create an atlas of imprisonment–from familiar faces from the late Nelson Mandela (imprisoned in solitary South Africa from 1962 to 1989) to Aung San Suu Kyi (under house arrest house arrest in Myanmar for almost 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010) to Liu Xian Bin to Liu Xiaobo (sentenced to eleven years of confinement in 2009) to Edward Snowden (forced to seek refuge in May, 3013 after leaking NSA documents) to the Iranian Shi’i cleric Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi (imprisoned in October, 2006 in Teheran).  Set in the floor of an abandoned structure of forced detention and prison work, the bright mosaic of faces is eloquent in its muteness and sense of survival.

The pavement of portraits  evoke colorized prison mug shots of those confined on the island.  But they depict prisoners of conscience who are located on a global scope, creating a composite microcosm of different clusters of imprisoned from China to Iran to the United States to Burma to Russia.  The new context for the assemblage of faces, included in Trace, are but one part of Ai Wei Wei’s re-use of the abandoned prison’s monumental buildings.  They offer but a way that the Chinese dissident artist re-inhabits the buildings of the former federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island in @Large.  The work that testifies as much to his ability to work in different venues while confined under house arrest, as to call attention to the spirit of many imprisoned or confined who are apt to gain less media attention than the three Nobel Peace prize winners among them, and, although now disbanded, testifies both to the brightness and the fragility of resistance:  the pieces are a composite whose delicate construction was always poised to be dismantled; rather than being laminated or glued to one another, the complex of Lego pieces was often nudged, fragmented, or jostled by the feet of visitors who sought to enter spots around the pillars the room of the abandoned New Industries Building to get a better view of the faces, and a sort of memory gallery of the global resistance of a human spirit.

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Filed under Alcatraz Prison, Art and Cartography, human rights, performance art, prisoners of conscience

Mapping the New Enemy

Maps offer a unique tool to display the relation of power to territories, and the use of a magnified map of Syrian airstrikes performed a useful function in the news conference of Defense Department Spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.  “We hit them [in airstrikes] last night out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution date of some of the plans that we have seen,” said Attorney General Eric Holder–whose tenure at the Department of Justice must have been more consumed by approving surveillance activities than he had expected–on the eve of his resignation from the Obama Administration.  Using such a circumlocution was tellingly (if not intentionally) obfuscating, in ways that may acknowledge the prominent role of the Department of Defense in the decision to launch such airstrikes.  For the Attorney General–whose tenure at the Department of Justice now seems more consumed by approving surveillance activities than he ever expected–boasted about successfully delivering a round of airstrikes of Tomahawk missiles into Syria.

The map’s finality effectlivly obscured the problematic legal status of launching the airstrikes.  Holder omitted that planes fired into Syrian territory on September 23 was not only mapped in the image issued by the Department of Defense, and explained by its spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, against strongholds of the new enemy to the Homeland identified as the “Khorasan Group,” but defined the legitimacy of airstrikes that had expanded the fight against ISIS to a new enemy.  “I think it’s absolutely safe to say [the group’s plots have been] disrupted,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey noted, although he kept alive the justification for future strikes by adding that “their aspiration to conduct attacks in Europe and the United States and elsewhere in the region remains an aspiration.”

The Khorasan Group have yet to make themselves known or confirm their very own existence.  Rear Admiral Kirby described how the attack had disrupted “imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests” from the very  “training camps” and “bomb-making facilities,” destroying a “safe haven” they secured in Syria to develop the very sort of external attacks with which ISIS has not been identified and had even distanced its principal goals.  But the existence of “bomb-making facilities,” almost designed to trigger fears in the American public, keying in as they do to a narrative of terrorist attacks against the Homeland, provided a rationale for extending the airstrikes campaign into Syrian territory in order to eliminate the threat that the Khorasan Group posed.  The dangers that were posed by the group against whom the attacks had been directed, according to US Central Command, justified expanding the war that intended to “degrade” ISIS to a broader fight to protect national interests.  The situation maps Kirby showed also mask both the failure to seek broader Congressional authorization for the strikes and the potentially disastrous long-term consequences of continuing such attacks and targeting  sites that involved untold civilian casualties.  Although the map did their best to isolate the targets for these strikes, they illustrated both the pronounced geographic and cultural remove of Department of Defense decision-making, as well as the costs of staging these attacks from aircraft carriers in the Red Sea or Persian Gulf.

Mapping the airstrikes served several functions, ranging from putting the unknown Khorasan Group on the map to lending legitimacy to incursions into Syrian airspace, without Congressional approval or UN support.  Indeed, the flatly declarative map  advanced arguments about the just nature of the war against the “Khorasan Group” by American forces, even if few had heard of the Group only days before.  With the crude map, the presence of sites of danger suddenly assumed concrete locations and had already been vanquished:  eight “Khorasan sites” according to anonymous sources, were hit by Tomahawk Cruise Missiles launched from ships or submarines in the nearby Red Sea and F-22 Raptor stealth aircraft and Predator or Reaper drones, as if those same sites of training camps where alleged threats against the Homeland were being planned did not lie in Syrian territory or the attacks against them did not violate Syrian airspace.  Rear Admiral Kirby, the Department of Defense spokesperson, bluntly summarized the results of the airstrikes with the satisfied resolve of self-justification:  “We certainly believe that we hit what we were aiming at.”

The map before which he spoke at the DoD news conference suggests more targets, but show eight yellow bursts west of the embattled city of Aleppo, where the Khorasan Group is said to be based, close to the border with Turkey.  The strikingly cartoonish map signs that designate targets of airstrikes are akin to explosive bursts as if taken from an outdated video game that suddenly seem the centers of attention in an opaque landscape, which is so different from the recent maps we have seen of an expanding Islamic State–the alleged focus of earlier airstrikes across the region.  And rather than display the movement of arriving airstrikes, moreover, the explosions ringed with orange suggest an ability to attack across the country.




Such situation maps immediately circulated on the nightly news and online alike, in a remarkable instance of a single map that has been adopted wholesale to explain and describe the airstrikes effectiveness against targets.  Attorney General Holder’s odd obfuscations seemed desperate attempts to justify the bombing of select Syrian sites, and broader justifications that claimed the airstrikes were performed “out of concerns that they were getting close to” attacks.  This affirms claims that the bombings were needed to stop “imminent” attacks on the “homeland” of the United States, in ways that evoked 9/11–although “imminent attack plotting” was newly qualified in Orwellian Newspeak when intelligence identified plans as “in an advanced stage,” albeit without known targets or actual attacks suspected or needing to be feared.  (The discussion of these bombing strikes from planes and ships conspicuously did not include acknowledging possible civilian deaths or casualties–and neither did  President Obama’s speech to the nation–as civilian casualties reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights including at least 300.)

The signs designating hit targets, akin to dated video games, but seemed, placed on a map, to affirm the remove at which Pentagon mappers of the scene of battle, as if to designate the complete obliteration of a place without civilian casualties:







What were these targets they took out, and how immanent was their threat?  The maps issued by the Department of Defense did the difficult work of parsing a national incursion aimed at cells lying within a country but is not part of it, in what seems a new triumph of the logic of a war on terror that knows no bounds.  With “US-only strikes against the Khorasan group” sent into Syrian airspace beside an unspecified number of other international pilots to perform over 200 strikes on a dozen targets, they gave legitimacy to the “Khorasan Group”–evocative less of an insurance firm than an Afghan drug cartel traded on the deep web or Silk Road–as being worthy for attack that did not deviate from a mission ostensibly directed against the expansion of the Islamic State.  Indeed, while the territory that the Islamic State controlled have been so often mapped and re-mapped in recent weeks, the Khorasan Group has suddenly emerged, territory-less, just around September 20, three days before the airstrikes, as “the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack.”  The maps elevated targets of alleged imminent danger at the same time as apparently wiping them out.

The map persuaded public viewers that our bombing campaign was indeed justified, against the specter of a careful construction of the danger of an immanent “homeland” attack.  The designation of the Khorasan Group was explicit, effective and swift.  Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs Chairman, described “imminent attack plotting” as if to compensate for the acknowledgement that, for all its horrors, ISIS did not in itself pose a threat to the United States; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Mayville, a public face for the army, described “The Khorasan group [as] in the final stages of plans to carry out attacks against Western targets and potentially against the US homeland,” although he was loathe to say the effects of strikes definitively degraded or deterred imminent threats to the “West and the homeland.”  The implicit narrative, of course, was of an attack forestalled, and, this time, the eradication of conspirators poised to attempt to hijack another airplane destined for the United States.  The existence of such a super-national entity raised some eyebrows in Syria, as well as in the US-based press; Glenn Greenwald wryly noted how government leaks “after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, . . .  unveiled a never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™.”

The maps issued by the Department of Defense jumped several steps in logic in order to advance this argument, skipping over questions of international law or powers to declare war.  “Imminent” is a key word by argued the attacks made without Congressional consultation were justified.  They almost represented an interesting illustration of the evolving nature of President Obama’s thoughts on Presidential prerogative.  For the situation map legitimized the prerogative to invade a nation’s sovereign boundaries without Congressional oversight.  If Senator Obama had forcefully argued in 2007 “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” holding “military action most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch,” decisive weight fell on the formulation “imminent threat.”  United States Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes described the Khorasan Group as holding “very clear and concrete ambitions to launch external operations against the United States or Europe” in ways that justified their inclusion in an already loosely justified attacks on the Islamic State–even if the strikes were clearly removed from the areas under IS control in maps as the below, as if in the hope that this detail would not be noticed.


SYrian Air Strikes

The singling out of this region of attack is a clear expansion from maps of earlier airstrikes that were diffused by Central Command, where bomb-bursts correlated closely with strategic points held by the Islamic State, as if to demonstrate the effectiveness of the response that the United States was asked to contribute in Iraq:



The strikes seem planned with the intent to show the ability of the American air force to strike targets in western Syria, even should Turkey not grant them permission to use a nearby air base, as well as to generate a confidence in the US government’s vigilance against terrorist threats.  This alternate configuration of the airstrike map did interesting work by isolating the Khorasan Group as something of a separate entity from other Syrian rebels, worthy of intense attention from American air force.  Although the identity of the Khorasan “Group” was much less clear to most Syrians on the ground, including members of the US-backed Syrian Free Army, among whom some eyebrows were quickly raised about the expansion of the attack; Charles Lister quite damningly questioned the proper nouns as a “label created by officials in the US and has no recognition within Jahbat al-Nusra or al Qaeda circles.”  Indeed, a US official even set the size of the alleged cell as but a few dozen.

The relation of Khorasan Group to the Al-Nusra Front was important for the US to solidify, given that the last folks we should to attack are those aiming to topple Assad.  But the two groups overlap in the eyes of Syrians who watched them at first hand–and speculated as to their danger.  Indeed, since the Al-Nusra Front is dedicated to toppling Assad’s bloody dictatorship in Syria, the attack seems to have deemed important as a means to “take out” an international player in Syria–rather than interfere with Syria’s ongoing  civil war.  In a majestic bit of Orientalist rhetoric, among the “hardened al Qaeda members” killed in the airstrikes was the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, Abu Yousef al-Turki, “also known as ‘The Turk.”’

The Khorasan Group were identified as the targets of exclusively US airstrikes indeed do seem to have their own black flag–distinct from that of Jabat al Nusra–that jibe with the evocative hadith from which the name of this “Group” seems to derive:   “If you see the black banners coming from Khorasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice; no power will be able to stop them. And they will finally reach Baitul Maqdis [Jerusalem], where they will erect their flags.”


We were familiar with the terrifying mobilizing force of the closely similar flag of the Al-Nusra front, although it lacks scimitars as the Khorasan flag:



Although the Group may only number several dozen folks, the possibly organization was itself persuasively mapped to 9/11.  The Khorasan Group™ were tied to a bomb-maker in Yemen, responsible for terrorist explosives that have been found on air flights, providing grounds for aims beyond the Syrian and Iraqi fronts–apparent validation of their association with Homeland threats to “U.S. aviation”–as if U.S. aviation has come to constitute a threat worthy of defense or surrogate for globalization. “Khorasan members come from Pakistan,” explained former CIA director Mike Morrell on televisions news programs, and “focus on attacks in the West” and even fixate on the aviation industry itself “as a symbol of the West.”  The argument did not go over well in Syria, but played well in the Homeland, where many Khorasan members have been tied to to al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, AQAP, including al Qaeda’s bomb-builder Ibrahim al-Asiri, of underwear bomber fame and to Musin al-Fadhli, an al-Qaeda insider who knew of plans for the 9/11 attacks, further justifying links to Homeland threats–rather than understanding their actual agendas in Syria.)

The logic of bombs fit closely into the rationale that lent the airstrikes legitimacy.  President Obama explained the parallel ongoing strikes against areas occupied by ISIS, not themselves controlled by Assad, but his opponents, as giving Syrians a choice “in side of Syria other than between ISIL and Assad,” but found it justified to initiate the bombing without Congressional authority as Commander in Chief.  The naming of a precise region in Syria bequeathed a more concrete logic for bombing by mapping a site that became a safe land for “a mix of hardened jihadi from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe,” according to unnamed US officials, which by this past September 13 was identified as posing a greater danger to the US than ISIS itself–the original target of attacks, undertaken at the alleged request of an Iraqi state in need of defense from internal dangers.

The story led to a rather rehearsed an improvised re-mapping of terror threats–and seems to have followed a search  for how one could possible pinpoint a direct threat to the United States in an area of the Middle East where the Islamic State existed, which could be said to pose concrete threats to American well-being and be seen as lying within the broad rubric “national security” rather than military aggression.  The “cell in Syria” that was “little-known but well-resourced” could pose a direct threat to the US, the Pentagon explained, possessed “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”  Televised graphics suggested the vigilance of F-22 Raptor stealth aircraft overlaying Syria, targeting presumed national enemies:




The apparent widespread newsleaks that led to clear hyping created a new sense of who we were targeting and why, providing a basis for attacks that did not need Congressional approval, or require more evidence aside from “aspirational” terrorism.  Reporter Ken Dilanian offered the somewhat more “nuanced” take FBI director James Comey offered that “the U.S. did not have precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target,” but that Syria is “a place where we don’t have complete visibility.”  Director Comey offered that the FBI and US government was working with intelligence of “the kind of threat you have to operate under the assumption that it is tomorrow;” in the words of Pentagon spokesperson Kirby, “I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes [italics added].”  Comey backtracked a bit from the “imminent danger” that the bad dudes posed, even as the battle drum had begun.  “I don’t know exactly what that word means,” Comey added when questioned about the dangers’ identified as “imminent,” Dilanian notes quite amazingly.   The group was identified in the media as able to “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001,” although by mid-September, or days previous [i.e., earlier] to the strikes, no official pronouncements had yet been made about the Group known as “Khorasan.”

The quite nondescript map of airstrikes unveiled and glossed at the DoD news conference does considerable work to tell a single story about the range of airstrikes US planes made with regional “allies” primarily concerned to communicate the danger Islamicists posed their own states.  The map suggested an intensity of concerted actions, as if all of the airstrikes were directed against a common or single enemy, despite their distinctly separate targets of attack:


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The eight strikes convey an odd sense of attacking an uninhabited borderland, which is also the very region where many Syrian refugees have passed on the way to crossing Turkish border:




Who are these new folks who our are enemies?  For Thomas Joscelyn, whose The Long War Journal has described the extended war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Khorasan consists of members of “core Al Qaeda” dispatched to Syria by Ayman al Zawahiri, and are embedded in the Al-Nusra Front, but the references of “seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria,” provides a new nomenclature of evil by which the US can, as CNN put it, “take the fight to the terrorists” hiding in “safe havens” west of Aleppo which, as Samantha Power put it as if to offer a validation for the ongoing attacks, “The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront . . . effectively itself.”  The US-only airstrikes–in which “coalition members” as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar, each eager to address Islamicist threats endangering their own states, were absent–constituted something of the chief area that the US government seems to have wanted Americans to watch.  But the low quality of the DoD map–and absence from it of a layover showing the Islamic State’s regional presence, or terrain–evokes a Google Maps base-map and image, designed less for informational value than to illustrate the clustering of American airpower west of Aleppo–outside regions held by the Islamic State.


SYrian Air Strikes


The ill-defined maps on most new services were strikingly opaque and stripped of local detail, especially for showing such a frequently mapped area of strategic importance to the world.  For they elicited minimal interest in the area or region where the airstrikes occurred, almost disembodied from thickly traced lines marking a sense of territoriality which most folks who have been following the news realize are increasingly of questionable value as points of actual reference or political orientation, but are presumably on the rather minimal base-maps afforded by Google Maps.


The concreteness implied by the use of this new proper name for a seemingly small group of individuals evokes a land “of the rising sun,” oddly quite similar to the Levant, but invested with tones of violence by the hadith of classical Islamic teachings that describes an army worth joining “even if you have to crawl over ice.”  The pre-Islamic area of Khorasan from the 5th century A.D. till the second half of the 19th century A.D. is no real help–but seems to bring us back to Afghanistan and the AfPak problem of old.  Despite much of the skepticism about how a group “suddenly went from anonymity to the ‘imminent threat’ that became the [compelling] rationale for a emergency air war” coming from the right, who mockingly distinguished “core al-Qaeda” from “al-Qaeda in Iraq” or the “Islamic State” that was formerly “al Qaeda in Iraq and al-Sham,” itself unlike “al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” charging Obama with a strategy of “miniaturizing” a problem rooted in the reading of Islamic scriptures that drives Sharia suprematism and the deception perpetrated by a misguidedly Islamophilic President, according to former terrorism federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy in the National Review; Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain offer a parallel critique of how news feeds from Washington have incrementally but steadily perpetuated the myth of a deadly Khorasan splinter aimed at attacking America through hijacked planes, feeding legal justification for bombing Syria to a national press ready to recycle with appropriate graphics for broadcast on Nightly News.

The attacks did not hit the “Khorasan Group” seem rather transparently about a form of “degrading” that had little to do with the organization of the Islamic State.  Multiple news graphics on nightly television focussed on targeting of makeshift oil refineries that have financed the Islamic State’s revenues upwards of $3 million/day from oil smuggled out from eleven fields under their control–refineries that our “partners” were eager to help destroy–as if this somehow lessened the danger of collateral damages of airstrikes by legitimizing their targets.  Yet despite the preemption of an ability to “degrade” what is now the richest terrorist organization in the world, existing investment in institutions and bureaucracies that uphold and strengthen Sharia law and governance and an efficient financial network will simply not be able to be destroyed through use of airstrikes alone.

refineriesAssociated Press Interactive

A collapsed map of the extent of “allied” airstrikes over the region tragically reveals, however, the intensity with which the area has continued to be pounded from the skies by manned or unmanned flights already for a series of months, in what can almost be mapped as an extended war of nerves.

Airstrikes Map


The Department of Defence situation maps that described the bombing of the Khorasan Group west of Aleppo served, in reference to a mythic land or region, to embody the enemy in a new way, giving them a redolent name–even if one not actually apparent on the several situation maps so conspicuously displayed, by evoking a group which once constituted a region, or territory, until the late nineteenth century ruled by the “Khorasan” Kings.  Although the term that jihadists used to refer to folks from that area in the world–described by the West as “embedded” in the Al-Nusra Front–suggests a recycling of the toponym perhaps helps suggest a site of mythic struggle for US airplanes to attack, as if to deflect the question that we are not attacking Syria’s sovereign lands without Congressional authorization, if only since the Group seemed to arrive from a different territory.




The Khorosan region perhaps gains its very nefariousness since it is not a state, but its statelessness manages to overlap with a region of danger, but itself to possess even more terrifying but less recognizably coherent bounds than the Islamic State–and as if the association of the name with the region of Afghanistan communicated its credibility as a national threat.  (The very fact that Jihadists are themselves widely known to refer to anyone who comes from the geographic area as “Khorasan” raises questions about the integrity or identity of an actual fully-fledged “Group.”)



The name inspires terror, indeed, as, while never used to name the interests of a purported Al-Qaeda cel, it is implicitly linked to the threat of redrawing the map of the Mideast in an imaginary optative geography in which the current group of US allies would no longer exist:



Few would be likely to consult early nineteenth-century printed maps to locate the Khorasan Group or follow the rapidly evolving news, but a simple search would have led to a region suspiciously near to Afghanistan, and not a disembodied “Group” that the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested, when he warned on September 13 with  administration sources of “veteran al-Qaeda fighters . . . who travelled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaeda affiliate there, the Nusra Front,” going so far as to admonish the public that “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”

As the thinly informative airstrike maps made their circle on the news circuit, embodying the threat of the Khorasan Group as if it had migrated from Central Asia to west of Aleppo, instead of lying in Syrian “safe-havens,” that constituted a “serious threat to our peace and security” as if they offered grounds that the airstrikes constituted a means “to defend our country.”  The striking thin-ness of the map of airstrikes contrast to even the far greater local detail with which Khorasan was embodied as a region in this 1881 map “Khorasan and Neighboring Countries,” whose topography was delineated with lavish local detail by Lieut. Colonel C.E. Stewart:  if Stewart attempted to concretely render the region, the danger of the “Group” lies in its ability to move, hidden, under the radar as it accomplishes underground and illegal acts of terror both outside and against the recognized group of nations.




Rather than map the lay of the land or encourage interest in its inhabitants, the maps used in news conferences and that migrated to news shows are dense graphics that limit their content to the view from the Pentagon.  It bears remembering that the stories that our current strategic maps tell are far more limited, and seem designed to display far less curiosity about who are the inhabitants of these lands; they go so far as to embody them far less concretely, displaying the overlays of boundary lines between nation-states in thick black lines, as if to create the somewhat outdated illusion that sovereign states of Syria and Iraq still exist in what seems a staging area for war.  The maps situate the location of the strikes against the Khorasan Group–which somehow seems improbably hit without civilian casualties–in the far left cluster of explosions sent by American planes based in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, using symbols that recall the medium of an old arcade video game so clearly that one is tempted to take the thin view of history they offer as their message–in a radically flattened view of the complexity of ongoing conflicts between Syrian opposition, ISIS, Iraqi troops, and Islamist movements.  What, the message of the graphic seems, else do we need to know?


aleppo and raqqa


Where they are located perhaps seems less the point anyway, since they have been “taken out.”

What seems less widely mapped is the extent to which the folks we are attacking are already surrounded, and we sought to display how even an area near the Turkish border–where the United States has an Air Force Base, but from which the Turkish government would not allow United States planes to fly or missiles launched into Syria–but also lying at much remove from what we have mapped as the expanse controlled by the Islamic State as of September 23, 2104.  It allowed us to defend American interests at the same time as we continued to “degrade” the Islamic State from military bases that lie to the South, as both “allies” like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan allowed their airspace to be used, at significant cost.


US Allies in the RegionWashington Post, September 23 2014

ISIS Sept 23 map

0923-airstrikes-ai2html-600U.S. Defense Department; Institute for the Study of War; September 23

Coolition AirstrikesAP Interactive; October 2

BN-EW313_Airpla_F_20141006120849Agence France-Presse/Getty Images


The extreme short-term benefits the Department of Defense claimed for the airstrikes –allegedly stopping planned attacks on the United States–may have unplanned consequence of creating deeper ties between the rebels, Islamic State and Al Qaeda, and cast the US as a protector of Assad.

Syrian reactions to airstrikes have not been mapped sufficiently or in detail.  But unannounced strikes extending beyond attacks on ISIS both raised suspicions about US priorities and intents and suggested an unwarranted deflection of attacking the Islamic State among groups who long hoped that the very same airstrikes would be launched at Assad’s forces, and not at an organization not known to Syrians, who deemed it a creation of the US government and false screen for giving cover to Assad’s government troops to advance.  With houses destroyed, numbers of refugees increasing, and women and children injured in targeted marketplaces in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, local desperation has grown in direct reaction to foreign interference.  Despite claims the US has a comprehensive strategy to defeat the Islamic State, the attacks seem short-sighted in encouraging the very conditions to encourage the spread of extremism, local instability, distrust, and the isolation of local forces, both breeding insecurity and hurting a crumbling infrastructure.  The reclusive leader of the Al-Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Jolani, previously presumed dead, foretold the eruption of a “volcano” against the US and its allies would be the consequence of the attacks, and argued that the airstrikes were leaving Aleppo vulnerable to government forces.  “Short-termism” sadly afflicts the strikes whose results extend far beyond the assassination of Al-Nusra frton leader Abu Yousef al-Turki.  Meanwhile, ISIS advanced within shooting range of Baghdad.

The spread of protests across the country against US-led airstrikes raise questions about what their long-term strategic value really was, aside from leading many to question whether western help would ever arrive.  (Questions about the precise accomplishments of the strikes seem deflected by Pentagon spokesmen.)  Protests against the airstrikes are poorly mapped, but seem to have grown from Islamic State strongholds like Raqqa to cities held by the rebel alliance in Idlib province, as Maaret el Numan, or centers of the Free Syrian Army like Talbiseh, near Lebanon, as well as some forty other towns including Homs and Aleppo–some bearing signs such as “The International Alliance Kills Civilians.”




For the strikes indeed confirmed deep suspicions that official US policy is less concerned with ending Assad’s dictatorship, lent credence both by the public statements from Assad’s foreign minister that the Assad regime was “OK” with such airstrikes, which implied a collusion between Americans and the Assad regime; the occurrence of the first airstrikes to enter Syrian territory without any coordination with rebel groups to whom they might have offered strategic value seems to have sidestepped any support from the Syrian Free Army or its allies.  For Americans find themselves in the intensely awkward position of relying on the OK of the Assad regime to “downgrade” or attack ISIS in Syria.  The strikes seemed to realize fears and distrust about whose interests the United States wants to serve:  Rami abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleges that the airstrikes illustrate the start of “a phase of targeting civilians under the excuse of targeting the Islamic State.”  In a region where the claim “We kiss the hand that holds the trigger against Assad” is common, it is hard to know how bombings undertaken with the Assad regime’s OK would be seen as constructive.  The bombings may have provoked a rise in Syrians declaring allegiance to the Islamic State.

la-apphoto-mideast-syria-jpg-20140929Idlib News Network:  Syrians examining the ruins of a house allegedly targeted by airstrikes in Kfar Derian, a center for Nusra Front opposition


We might remember that most all maps posted above derived from a map that really was carefully staged as a screen, which obscured far more that it revealed.


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Filed under Al Qaeda, human rights, Islamic State, Mapping Terror, Maps and Politics, Syrian Civil War