Category Archives: US-Mexico Border

Fear of NAFTA

Our jobs are being sucked out of our economy by the deal her husband signed,” Donald J. Trump thundered in the final Presidential Debate of 2016, conjuring fear from the audience with increasingly apparent desparation.  In prominently referencing the bad trade deals made by the United States government from the 1990s, he wanted to lay blame at the feet of Hillary Clinton for a treaty that, as much as abandoning unions, has become quite an icon of the danger of open borders to right-wing media.  Trump evoked NAFTA in a terrifyingly effective way, even if the sort of association Trump was trying to make ignored the benefits of NAFTA to the region–and linked it to an “open borders” policy and a narrative of economic decline.  Calling NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever signed” was no mean feat of exaggeration, but conjured a geographic imaginary of fear more effectively than might be realized–given its quite unfirm grounding in fact–only less than a month before the Presidential election.

 

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Trump’s rhetoric rehabilitated the call a fence along the Mexico-United States border proposed by Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party.  The Donald, in Trumpian fashion, amplified the fantasy of an expansive 2,000 mile fence, into a “beautiful wall,” towering forty to fifty feet height, rather than the six-eight foot tall pyramids of rolled barbed wire long ago favored by Buchanan and conservative Sir John Templeton.  Trump imagined the structure designed to “control our borders,” at over ten billion dollars, as a promise to the electorate of which NAFTA was something of an inversion.  For the spectacle of wall-building transcended questions of policy, transforming a slogan and a promise to take action on the image of departing jobs into a geographical imaginary, able to do triple duty by responding to departing jobs, rising crime, and being left behind by the currents of global trade.

 

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Karl Marx long ago prophesied consumer goods would move seamlessly across borders in the mid-nineteenth century, the fears of jobs moving across the border and Mexicans entering the country played well to the electorate, even possibly including Latinos, over a third of whom supported the candidate in the 2016 Presidential race, against all predictions.

 

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Trump’s ominous evocation of NAFTA was a figure of speech similar to his promise to build the border wall, signifying a staunching of impending economic deflation.  For by blaming NAFTA for breaching the boundaries of the nation, exposing it to the rages of globalism in ways Trump promised to exorcise, NAFTA  decidedly resonated with his voting base:  after all, the map in this header shows imagined corridors of trade that move from the lower forty-eight states to the light turquoise land of Mexico.  But the spatial imaginary of NAFTA that he sought to communicate to television audiences during the final Presidential debate of 2016 was of an undue burden on our economy, destined to prevent true economic growth, and a terrible deal inflicted on the United States from which he presented himself as able to liberate the nation.  Opposition to NAFTA provided a talisman of Trump’s commitment America First commitment, and his unwavering defense of the danger of leaving national borders open.  If the idea that border security led the notion of a “giant wall across our borders” to be something of a fetish for far-right groups as WeNeedaFence.com, which tied its necessity to terrorist threats, the image of NAFTA is something like the negative of such an expansion of border patrol, meant to evoke feared gaps in our national borders.

 

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For the fear of NAFTA seems to have haunted the election in ways that Trump sought to perpetuate.  Karl Marx so famously argued that capital rendered national frontiers artifacts of the past, swept away by the flow of trade move across national borders rendered antiquated artifacts , as industrial products are consumed across the globe across borders:  yet the fears of NAFTA seems to haunt the current Presidential election with a vigor Marx could never have imagined.  For if the circulation of goods may have rendered border lines obsolete, trade protectionism and advocacy of punitive tariffs have helped to resurrect the specter of NAFTA that has continued to haunt the current Presidential election, and has become a mantra that has infected Trump rallies–to the point where, dislodged of any actual truth, it has come to signify among supporters a point that cannot be disputed.  Yet as the place of the treaty in Trump’s campaign rhetoric went virtually unchallenged by Clinton’s campaign, and its place in the spatial geography of Trump voters only grew.

 

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To nourish our economy, runs this line of thought, we must reinstitute border lines to prevent “our” jobs leaching, factories relocating, and trade imbalances growing–yet treaties threaten the local economy in what Trump has painted as if it were only a zero-sum game, predicting that the same harm would be the result of the TPP.  Marx argued that the “instability of life” of the bourgeoisie meant that “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe . . . [and expanding markets] must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”  As if deeply uncomfortable with that image, Trump argued repealing the treaty would keep commodities and jobs in the United States.

 

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Trump pointed evoked NAFTA for the benefit of his audience, in ways that recalled the construction of a border boundary wall–a wall that already exists for Mexican migrants–as a talisman of his protection of this frontier, by describing NAFTA as a treaty that pushed capital and jobs south of the border, or as if by a vacuum sucked them south of the border.  Indeed, Trump may have performed a crucial pivot to gain appeal across many midwestern states by presenting NAFTA as “the worst thing that ever happened,” he takes “the worst trade deal signed anywhere” as if it were a synecdoche for the globalization that has actually seemed to suck jobs out of the United States.  Trump has represented the trade treaty as a way to explain the economic shocks of the new dominance of China–and Chinese imports–in the manufacturing industries, according to the recent study by David Dorn of MIT and Gordon Hanson of UCSD, which mapped regional vulnerability of job markets in manufactures to the growth of Chinese imports to the United States from 1990 to 2007–changes that occurred long before Obama’s Presidency, but are still deeply felt and cast a shadow over the nation from Wisconsin and Iowa to Texas and New Mexico.

 

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The specter of economic deflation is again haunting our Presidential debates, thanks to Trump, who re-introduced it into the 2016 election as a way to redraw the constituency he might best assemble beyond the Republican party–even if this means pivoting from Republican dogma on Free Trade.

 

cracks-in-the-foundation-16-42d5b8.pngThe Nib/Andy Warner

 

Despite Trump’s very limited sense of national geography, the image of NAFTA created a blueprint for something like a national policy.  The liposuction-like prospect of jobs being sucked out of the country was coined by Ross Perot back in 1992, when he contributed a memorable metaphorical onomatopoeia to the political lexicon in a Presidential debate with Bill Clinton and George Bush, leaving the legacy of a much-viewed meme Trump has resurrected and made his own.  Without mentioning the legacy of the claim from the late Reform Party, Trump has used it as a convenient shorthand for impending economic ruin, and a rudimentary spatial imaginary that sounded something like an executive function.

When Trump evoked fears of another unwanted breaching of borders, he adopted Perot’s inimitable evocation of a “giant sucking sound” to conjure factories and jobs shifting en masse south of the border when he ran for president against Bill Clinton and George Bush.  For Perot, the sound of vacuuming presented the cross-border migration of jobs to Mexico as inevitable–if in ways that evoked the scenario of a low-budget horror film as much as macroeconomic theory–and the image of loosing economic vitality across the border was long recycled in Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.  But Trump’s suggestion that the similar inevitability of a breaching of founds of an economic frontiers as a form of national betrayal lies, eliminating national tariffs–one of Trump’s own most favored economic punitive policies of retaliation–seemed like an instance of Clintons caving on leverage in trade imbalances, but also a betrayal of workers, adopting the charge voiced by the AFL-CIO to assume a populist mantle.  (When Pat Buchanan took the Reform Party torch, he also argued that such surrender of border tariffs was a surrender of Congressional authority on trade.)

Trump’s accusation of intentionally exposing the American economy to job-deflation resurrected a lost or largely forgotten charge of national betrayal that he wants to lay at the feet of the Clinton family.  The fears of losing jobs are proven to resonate, but has this occurred?  NAFTA has helped expand a third of our trade exports.  The numbers of jobs exported to plants in Mexico since 1992 does seem cumulatively significant to many.  Indeed, the increase in jobs moving south of the border seems as if it might provide new evidence Ross Perot was right about the inevitability that that “giant sucking sound” of jobs going south, drawn by cheap labor markets in Mexico, altering the American economy forever–

 

jobs.jpgGEI Analysis/Business Insider

 

Yet NAFTA has also led to a growth in corporate profits, with many of the jobs moving to Mexico being for American-owned factories.  And the departure of manufacturing jobs is difficult to lay at NAFTA’s door:  in comparison to the enormous trade deficits with China and the European Union, rising trade deficits with Mexico since NAFTA are miniscule–and most “trade deficits” with Mexico include goods produced by American firms relocated to Mexico–roughly 3,000 factories have drawn jobs just  barely across the border, but outside the American workforce, that have grown the American GDP.  NAFTA’s passage created significant growth of GDP, as growth in exports to Mexico rose 218%, helping manufacturing–improving GDP all around for all three countries, if not producing the “level playing field” Bill Clinton had  once earnestly guaranteed.

 

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NAFTA has produced, it can actually be argued, an expansion of American manufacturing and trade in ways that have helped not only US manufactures, but allowed an economic decentralization in Mexico that led to a tripling of trade between US and Mexico, and the creation of a North American economic behemoth that expanded possibilities of economic competition south of the border and changed the political dynamic of that country in important ways.

 

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And yet, the metaphorical power of NAFTA has created a very deep fear of national compromise, as many see NAFTA as embodying a fundamental erosion of national protections and identity, locating an abandonment of American jobs and a compromise of American independence in the NAFTA flag–often imaged as a threatening compromise not only as of American economic independence, but of national sovereignty for the alt-right, who saw the treaty as concealing a far-flung plan from multiple governments to destroy American liberties in an integrated North American Union, about which Ron Paul had already warned an increasingly credulous electorate back in 2006.

The same slippery borders that whose dissolution and departure Marx had prophecied as a natureal result of capitalist markets became cast as a loss of national integrity, evidenced symbolically in fears of the abondonment of the stars and stripes.

 

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The metaphorical power of NAFTA grew in ways less easily measured in charts than in the geographical imaginaries that fed and nourished fears of economic decline, in ways no data visualization can adequately reveal.  The fears haunt the minds of Trump’s constituents and haunt his oratory, linked to right-wing conspiracy theories that long evoked NAFTA as a question of national betrayal far, far beyond issues of trade–and ignoring the five million new jobs NAFTA has created in America or that jobs the treaty with Mexico has created increased revenues by billions of dollars in all of the fifty states.

 

 

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NaftaMexico/Segretaria de Economia/@MxUSTrade (September, 2016)

 

Trump has rather relentlessly portrayed “jobs are being sucked out of our [national] economy” as a violation of an almost embodied integrity in order to evoke fears of a loss of sovereign power, and the belief of a national catastrophe that NAFTA has perpetrated on the United States economy, echoing Trump’s assertion that American industries packed up and left en masse” since NAFTA was approved.  The longstanding fear of weakening America, launched with increasing eagerness by opposition parties but reaching a crescendo in the Age of Obama, has shifted from wrong-headedness to deliberate perpetration in ways that suggest that the map is being destabilized, as it has migrated from the AFL-CIO to an issue of national integrity to become a pillar of the Reform Party platform.

 

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Shortly before the NAFTA treaty negotiated by then-President George Bush went into effect, Reform Party candidate Ross Perot conjured the unwanted effects that would be the result of the as-yet unsigned treaty as one of jobs being sucked out of the United States back in 1992, inviting viewers of the 1992 Presidential Debates to imagine the effects on their pocket books of the trade treaty in strikingly concrete terms as a “giant sucking sound going south” whereby jobs funneled south of the border as a mass migration–a cartoonish sound.  The auditory effects were no doubt intended to be commensurate with the massive migration of as much as 5.9 million American jobs–as factory owners were compelled by lower wages.  While his appearance on television reduced his popularity, Perot launched an early memes of the early age of digital memory–officially transcribed as “job-sucking sound“–in a haunting spatial imaginary driven by fears of unwanted inexorable economic deflation, and Trump couldn’t let it go.

If Perot’s figure of speech went viral, as many were left scratching their heads at an expression somewhat ill-suited to describe job displacement or to concretely render economic fears, the ugly onomatopoeic simile conjured a departure of jobs in effective ways.  The sound-bite was meant to distinguish Perot from either candidate from the two major parties against which he ran–Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.  Although the expression mostly struck audiences as funny because of Perot’s largely dry delivery of the line, it lingered in political discourse with a long afterlife, and was repeated by Pat Buchanan during his subsequent run for President, has reappeared as a rhetorical figure of speech in discourse on free trade in the European Union, and was used often to express the departure of jobs from wealthier nations before being adopted by Donald Trump as a rallying cry of economic protectionism.

The sense of suction mapped economic fears of geographic displacement in many ways, but the fear was embodied in new ways as it was used by Trump to evoke a national betrayal in ways that were inflected by paranoia of the far right.  Indeed, the departure of jobs has not occurred as they shifted south of the border, despite the broad economic displacement in manufactures as a result of globalization.  The migration of jobs was not mapped by Trump by the maquiladora industry that thrives on the border-region, but as a massive movement of industry.  NAFTA stood for a growing fear of jobs being reassigned to Mexican workers, especially in the auto industry–with Mexico slated to be building a quarter of North American vehicles by 2020, according to the Detroit Free Press–

 

Screen+Shot+2015-08-10+at+7.32.18+PM.pngWorld Socialist Website (2015)

 

635698318093916797-dfp-auto-nafta-mexico-plants-map-prestoMexico’s Auto Plants/Detroit Free Press

 

–and the aerospace and defense industries located in Mexico located close to the border:

 

mexico_ad_2014.jpgAerospace Industry in Mexico

 

This is particularly impressive over a longue durée:  from but four automobile assembly plants located in Mexico in 1980, the blossoming post-NAFTA of an “auto alley” of light vehicle production, aided by low production costs that compensate for the costs of export, have encouraged the expansion of assembly plants in Mexico, even if the sites of parts suppliers are clearly centered in North America–and indeed, the spatial distribution of parts production is clearly centered around Detroit, also a center for assemblers, although some assembly plants of electronics parts that are most labor intensive were pulled south of the border to maquiladora plants just inside Mexico’s northern frontier.

 

img-1-2.pngThomas Klier and Jim Rubenstein

 

maquiladora_industry_4_web-700x352Assembly of car radios in Matamadoros, just south of the Mexican border/World Socialist Website

 

Trump mapped his adoption of a vaguely onomatopoeic description of job displacement onto a narrative of national decline with a decidedly new twist, in the sense that it promised a return to a never quite existent past and a basis to work against globalization.  For Trump co-opted the image of suction to bemoan the impending deflation of our national economy, and suggest his hopes for returning to a status quo ante that is not likely within reach.  For Trump seems to have sought to remind constituents of his promises to protect “our” borders and “our” jobs he used shorthand for globalization, claiming to protect our interests within a transformational process transcending national frontiers.

The trade deficit with Mexico has indeed grown:  it has quintupled to $107 billion from 1992 to 2004.  But US exports elsewhere also declined at the same time by two percent.  The decline of manufacturing jobs in America in broad terms during the first decade of the new millennium don’t suggest a clearly determining link to the signing of NAFTA–if it does suggest a measure of “voter anger” that might be placed at the doorstep of broader trends of offshoring, globalization, and automation since 1980 that have in tandem led the US economy to shed  7 million manufacturing jobs over just twenty-four years, with a rapidity that was more impacted by more far-reaching changes than can be mapped onto NAFTA–however compelling NAFTA appears as a target that might be in our control, and a basis to turn back the tide of globalization within a President’s control.

 

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Candidate Trump evoked NAFTA as a basis for geographical over-generalization, as a somewhat clumsy synecdoche for globalization:  by presenting the treaty as a part of a whole, he mapped the state of the economy to embody the notion of a departure, localizing fears of a funneling of jobs at one site as a focus for orienting audiences’ attention to globalization:  whereas institutions as the World Bank might be more properly as a synecdoche for global finance, which in turn might be taken to stand in for the world economic system, NAFTA is located in the sense that it stands as a synecdoche for globalization from an American perspective:  rather than disembodied, it is a sound of trans-border movement of capital, jobs, and employment, emptying out a closed system of economic goods and benefits, and mapping the downside of globalization for Americans, and manages to label that on actors who are allegedly working against American interests.

This is most probably not consciously done.  But Candidate Trump presents NAFTA as a symptom of a government committed to a logic of globalization rather than American interests, raising a specter of national betrayal long cultivated by the Alt Right, and to which he tries as hard as he can to oppose himself and to which he presents an imagined alternative:  Trump’s conflation of an economic treaty with globalization, and suggests his ability to work, single-handedly, to achieve a Deal that will resist globalization and undo its wrongs.  When Trump invoked the old sucking sound, without acknowledging its role in the Reform Party, he used it to raise fears of a spatial imaginary of jobs going south.  Trump wanted to lend currency and concreteness to the image of involuntary deflation to conjure fears by casting Hillary Clinton as a job-slayer, and link the deflationary trade accord to Bill Clinton, who signed the treaty–if he of course did not negotiate it–by treating “[Hillary’s] husband” as red meat for red states.

Although NAFTA was a product of George H.W. Bush’s presidency and in 1992 was no longer really on the table, Bill Clinton had celebrated its arrival after it went into effect on January 1, 1994.  But NAFTA stood as bogeyman and surrogate for the greater evil of “globalization,” loosely defined as the system of worldwide integration by which goods, capital, and labor travel frictionlessly across national border-lines, and the consequent ceding of control over the paths of global capital, and a consequent decline in state sovereignty–even if Mexico is not “offshore” of the continent, it seems visually emblematic of a permeability of cross-border traffic that Trump believes it lies within the power of the President to re-negotiate, largely as he sees the office as an expansion of that of the CEO, and understands all treaties as open to more advantageous renegotiation to recoup national interests.

 

renegotiateDonald J. Trump for President Ad, “Deals” (October 18, 2016)

 

For NAFTA has become emblematic of the fear of erasing borders haunts much of the spatial imaginary of the alt-Right, and presented as a decline of manufacturing that seems something of an undercurrent to how American needs to be Made Great again, or what it once was–even if the net effect of the treaty has been widely judged negligible, despite the growing trade deficit.  (After all, NAFTA remains hard to disentangle from the overall rise in employment in the United States.)  Yet “open borders” are so linked to illegal immigrants in his mind, and “amnesty,” as well as to the danger of open borders that failed to keep out all those “bad hombres,” themselves in turn linked to accusing Hillary Clinton of welcoming into our borders the “ISIS-aligned” Syrian refugees.

Trump casts all as targets of his wrath and threats to the nation, in a Mad Libs style of debating usually works, even when it is ad-libbed, although he soon strayed into the realm of free association.  “Building a wall against Free Trade” has almost become a platform of Trump’s candidacy, as if safety lies in disaggregation–to repurpose an older cartoon poking fun at Canadian national claims–

 

70563_600.pngPatrick Corrigan, Toronto Star (10/28/2009)

 

or a more recent one that suggests the security that Trump argues the wall would bring to civil society–and it indeed seems the only concrete proposal that Trump has offered to increase safety, save the scary policies of mass-deportation of migrant workers:

 

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The peculiar after-life of Ross Perot’s unlikely figure of speech had been transformed by a world where borders and border walls seem symbols meant to staunch the flow of jobs in a globalized world seems like a new mercantilist project, lest they be sucked out as Perot, and later Pat Buchanan, sought to make the electorate increasingly fear.  But real wages have steadily grown in all three countries, and few jobs have migrated to Mexico, and if the US employment rate started to rise by 2008, the predicted inevitable giant sucking sound was never heard, despite a trade deficit, as imports markedly did as well, jobs grew, and free trade also raised living standards across both borders, despite Trump’s claim of having personally visited sites in recently on his campaign, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida–badly concealed shout-outs to the residents of swing states, cast as mapping sites from which “jobs have fled” across the border, promising that the author of The Art of the Deal could renegotiate the deal or “terminate” it in favor of making new “great” trade deals–both echoing his earlier promises to auto workers to “break NAFTA” and the image of Trump’s Reality TV successor in the wings on The Apprentice, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Current memory of Perot’s sound bite may be somewhat dim, and the genealogy of Trump’s language in the Reform Party faded, but the echo of the party  of which Trump once aspired to be Presidential candidate, before he discovered Reality TV, stuck in some heads, even as Trump packed his sentence with claims to repatriate jobs and  money, even if Hillary Clinton didn’t start smiling until Mike Wallace cut him off.  Trump almost created a new meme of his own about NAFTA’s proposed termination, but evoked the suction of jobs “out of our economy” as if a feared deflation had already occurred.  The fear of suction extracting jobs from the southern border was resurrected in all its onomatopoeic glory to promote a deflation of the economy that fit the themes of deflation to which Trump has returned repeatedly when banging his drum about the dire state of the nation, if with a post-Perot twist:  the loss of jobs unveiled a new campaign strategy, aired soon after the third Presidential Debate in the Trump campaign’s “Deals” ad, asserting that the Clintons collectively have been involved in “every bad trade deal over the last twenty plus years” with the promise to “renegotiate every bad Clinton trade deal in order to put American workers first,” as if to rally midwestern states behind his candidacy.

 

Trump-Ad-NAFTA-640x480.jpgDonald J. Trump for President Ad, “Deals” (October 18, 2016)

 

The Donald’s demonizing of “The Clintons” is rooted in labelling NAFTA a Bad Trade Deal–evidence of the involvement of “The Clintons [as having] Influenced Every Bad Trade Deal Over the Past 20+ Years,” in an economic fear-mongering intended to make folks wary of potential economic losses, while Trump boasts his ability to “Renegotiate NAFTA” as a response to Clinton’s arrogance in “shipping our jobs offshore,” wherever that is, forgetting that “our economy once dominated the world” and borders were more hermetically sealed:  the renegotiation of the weakness as the border seems to be at attempt to find new focus for a flailing campaign.

 

Renegotiate.pngDeals,” October 18, 2016

 

Although free trade was long considered the best benefit to a nation’s economy, the renewed insularity evident in Trump’s open embrace of America First as his slogan and doctrine, and the spatial imaginary he has promoted.  Trump has actively cultivated fears of the danger of movement of manufacturing from our shores and beyond our national borders; images of corporate relocation seem the most pernicious ways government is doing bad to its people, and promoting an economic weakening against national interests:  the absence of sealed borders seem to be a way to cast the United States, a huge beneficiary of economic growth brought by globalization, as in fact afflicted by its ill–rather than developing economies who are most likely suffer from the costs of the frictionless circulation of global capital, and a global economy that increasingly immobilizes cheap labor in foreign manufacturing centers.

Economic integration have provoked a new economic protectionism, reconstitution the frontier, echoed by the actual “crises” of globalization, as a symbolic front of defense to protect local economies, fed by streamed images of refugees moving across borders in search of work, as the relations of stronger developed countries to developing countries are comparably understood as biologically inflected invasions of outsiders–which “we” no longer can unilaterally prevent or contain.  The notion of jobs going south of the border is laughable–the presence of Mexican migrants have a large place in the US urban economy, most concentrated in the nation’s south, but the contribution of Mexican immigrants to the American economy is all but erased, and all too conveniently so.

 

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Moreover, the mutual benefits of NAFTA considerable–and not clearly linked in any way to the symbolic magnification of the border as a site of illegal immigration–an image of cross-border permeability that Trump has perpetuated and rendered as a terrifying object of national concern.

 

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New York Times

 

Fears of NAFTA were recently inflated by Democrat Bernie Sanders, if reducing the loss of jobs south of the border to 800,000, and “tens of thousands” in the Midwest, where he was when he spoke, in Michigan, labelling it a disastrous trade agreement for corporate America, boosting the trade deficit, although the analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, although others differ, and the greatest change seems to have undeniably been the normalization of trade with China–and the expansion of auto making in Asia.  In comparison, the notion of job losses tied to NAFTA seem exaggerated at best, even if AFL-CIO calls NAFTA’s “job killing” trade accord the basis for displacing some 700.000 jobs–although maps this in a way that is deeply out of skew with its color-choices–

 

Jobs-Displaced-Due-to-Trade-Deficits-with-Mexico_videolarge.pngAFL-CIO

 

–and a more grim image that Trump meant to evoke was more like the following, grim totaling of jobs that seem difficult to identify as “NAFTA-related” with any precision, but creates a wonderfully gloomy image of the national economy at the same time as it has in fact grown.

 

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Yet is the alleged displacement of jobs related to NAFTA alone, or its consequence?

Yet the loss of jobs aren’t clearly tied to NAFTA, as much as it seems to make tacit sense that they are, in comparison to the expansion of trade deficits with China, and the WTO, which create a data visualization that tells quite a different sort of story, expanding to a broad level of jobs lost in many eastern and midwestern states, if the mapping of such losses date roughly to the start of Obama’s first presidency, or the economy he inherited from George W. Bush.

 

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The question phrased in micro-economic rather than macro-economic terms may, however, play to some states well–and may indeed describe the Trump/Clinton divide.  For the factories making cars moving south of the border aren’t Ford, Chevrolet, or General Motors, but Toyota, BMW, Audi and KIA, who weren’t driven there by NAFTA, but by globalization writ large:  foreign automobile companies have invested some $13.3 billion in Mexico since 2010, and few American car makers have voiced plans to relocate–Ford’s assembly plant is the only one of the $23.4 billion in passenger cars Americans buy that are built in Mexico exceeds the entire $42.2 billion US-Mexico trade deficit.

In fact, Mexico’s low tariffs with most South American countries and Europe encourages the deal, not the microeconomics of wages, despite Mexico’s car-manufacturing workforce growing to 675,000 and rising employment by car makers in the United States, whose presence in the United Stats largely depends on the ability to shift ‘low-paying jobs’ to Mexico over the last two decades, essentially protecting the 800,000 jobs of car making that remained in the United States, including engineers.  There may be some difficulty, however, as well as little comfort, for those out of work to thinking in macroeconomic terms among the very audience that the current Republican party considers the base which it most wants to get out to vote or that it considers its most dependable rallying cry.

The recurrent Republican demand to shore up our borders and boundaries to keep jobs at home is an illusion in a globalized world, where jobs are lost to sites far further overseas.   Along the northern border, the renewed fear of border-breaching has created one of the weirdest manifestations of a surveillance state to our northern borders, with the clearing of trees on the US-Canada border, known locally and colloquially as the “Border Slash.

 

US-Canada Border Slash.pngUS-Canada Border Slash/Google Map Data © 2016–Creative Commons

 

As the border barrier that Donald Trump has proposed, but already underway, the “Border Slash” would materialize the boundary through 1349 miles of forested land in the forest along the 5525-mile border between the Canada and the United States, in part running along the 45th Parallel, and plans to extend from Houlton, Maine, to Arctic Village, Alaska–to leave no one unsure of a boundary line that exists only on a map, even if its existence on maps since 1783 has been rarely altered, and was better defined in 1872-4.

Fear of jobs fleeing to Canada are not yet articulated, but creating an area for potential surveillance and apprehension that may have started out of concern for forgetting overgrown monuments on the border needing to be cleared has blossomed into the performance of the boundary line is an odd exercise is isolationism.  The Slash, running ten feet into US territory and three meters into Canadian territory, created by the International Boundary Commission, concretized a cartographical divide quite similarly to how Trump has proposed “beautiful” barrier on the US-Mexico border, if markedly less obstructive in its appearance or design.

 

4773248534_1f5de418ca_o.jpgCarolyn Cuskey/Creative Commons

 

Perhaps the lack of clear borderlines mirrors the suspicion of the actuality that mapped borders continue to have, as pressures of economic migration have combined with state security apparatuses to refashion the border as a site of national interest.  The fear of border-leaching jobs has grown in a world where walls seem designed to keep out job-seekers has led to the expansion of so many multiple projects of national self-definition that the notion of protecting jobs by “terminating” NAFTA seems to make sense.  The mounting attacks on free trade, presented as the prime obstruction to economic growth in the US in this most recent Presidential campaign, has been incarnated in a variety of maps that fly in the face of accepted economic consensus that free trade benefits jobs by increasing trade, and cultivate ungrounded if existing fears of the breaching of economic border-lines as an act of national danger.

But the specter raised in cartographical imbalances that have been described as the unexpected if inevitable by-products of trade agreements waged by a political class who took their eye off the interests of the country suggest the monstrosities of free trade has created range from widespread unemployment to a trade deficit of untold proportions that have leached the nation’s virility and emptied its future hopes.  Current maps of trade corridors, presented as leaked documents worthy of Wikileaks or the Panama Papers that are to be perpetrated on an unknowing nation, have been widely re-presented as evidence of the hopes to drain the country of jobs, by a measure of deceit almost analogous to the Protocols of Zion, as if jobs ran south with the pull of the gravity exerted by lower wages south of the border, echoing old fears that images of trade corridors were in fact intended as superhighways, begun as a reporter at Fox News described “NAFTA Superhighways” as if similar violations of the national integrity of our economy.

 

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The globalism fears of the introduction to the national highways of a secret “NAFTA Superhighway” has been widely described online as a scam perpetrated by George Bush to dismantle the nation, and create a North American Union, with the maps provided to prove plans for public-private partnerships the would use Texas as the grounds to lease the highways out to toll highways whose funds would be exported from the United States, allowing Chinese goods to be distributed from the “inland port” of Winnipeg, combining three nations into a transport web for a North American Union which would be but a step toward global government, conjuring the geography of a secret highway system as the infrastructure of a network of corridors of transport replete with inland ports and systems of water redistribution, even if they might also as easily recall oil pipelines, and conceal an attempt to convert the United States into a North American Union that will betray the nation’s constitutional ideals:

 

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Although the corridors of trade may provide a basis for the interconnected economies of North America, they suggest a breaching of the interior–and a potential erasure of economic dominance for those who see our future as in manufacturing jobs:  for presented in slightly different terms, the corridors suggest an “offshoring” of industry that mirrors a relocation of factories outside of our territorial bounds, and outside our jurisdiction.

 

NAFTASUPERHIGHWAYJune 2006 NASCO website image of I-35 Corridor

 

The affirmation of effective transport routes runs against the image of national Autarky–the flawed economic ideal of nations who suspected banks and big business–in favor of dangerously open trade flows, which seem to overwhelm the symbolic uniqueness of American exceptionalism, effectively re-dimensioning the nation in a global context and signaling an active eroding of national integrity.

 

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Striking at the heart of the American economy, others connected the “NAFTA land-grab” to the closure of Wal-Marts, as if it offered evidence of the destruction of local jobs in small towns as a result of the growing “NAFTA super-highway” by lowering property values through the closings of War-Marts and K-Marts on which small towns depend, from Wal-Mart Express stores (blue icons) to Wall-Mart stores (red), Supercenter stores (purple), and Neighborhood Market stores (green) suspiciously mapping onto “red states”:  the bizarre paranoia that seems to have begun from mapping the closure of a string of 154 Wall-Marts–affecting 10, 000 workers, but giving rise to a bizarre conspiracy theories mapping closed stores onto Red and Blue states or secret government plans that takes the distribution of store closures as revealing foreboding patterns of potential political import from planned conversions to FEMA training grounds or underground military tunnels.

 

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If the distribution of War-Mart closures was tied to hidden NAFTA plans, the expansion of fears quickly found cartographical grounding for a range of deep-set economic unease, that necessitates a new sense of security which economic policies alone can’t provide, and that only a “wall” blocking transnational movement is able to provide reassurance.

The alleged uncovering of the globalist conspiracy of a “Port-to-Plains” corridor was demonized as prefacing a dismantling of the integrity of the nation, and heralding an inter-continental union that would in fact lead to the re-writing of the Constitution, as the map is presented as if it provided a crazed confirmation of American identity under renewed attack.

 

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Dots can be easily connected to the worsening of the local economy and disappearance of jobs as factories head south of the border and the trade deficit starts expands, reducing employment in those very areas where corridors of trade seem to exist–after we had gotten comfortable with billions of trade surpluses, which steadily shrunk from $5 billion in 1960 to just $607 million in 1969.  Those days are long over, but the institution of reciprocity brought with it record numbers of job displacement, on the heals of growing trade deficits:  the image of “jobs displaced” called for a recipe for their repatriation that has provided a significant source of steam to the Trump train, even if it now seems more likely to crash.  Indeed, the image of jobs “displaced” since NAFTA seems to have led to the notion of a motion of jobs to Mexico, even if more have been shifted to India and China than remained in this hemisphere.

 

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The result, for Melanie Taub, is a state-by-state emptying of the workforce by shifts in employment that confirms that the national government was just not provident when it signed those trade accords, exposing the US to a rush of outsourcing by the very same companies–NABISCO; Ford; Pfizer; even Wal-Mart–that Trump claims led “millions and millions of jobs, thousands and thousands and thousands of plants,” in somewhat inexact economics, to depart the nation that once nurtured them as 680,000 job displacements occurred across the country by 2010.  Blaming many of the displaced jobs on trade deficits that “decimated” the American workforce and led “good jobs” to vanish ignores a record expansion of deficits, before NAFTA encouraged a small if significant trade surplus:

 

uploads-irw_displacedjobs_06_16_2011v2-2Melanie Taub, Investigative Reporting Workshop

 

Encouraging fears of the outsourcing of American labor, as well as the fearsome byproduct of globalization, threaten to cut at the source of American ingenuity and capital, and are depicted as poised to threaten to eviscerate American wealth and economic resourcefulness:  jobs have crossed borders to unprecedented degrees, and trade deficits expand to the incalculable of $400 to $500 billion that seem impossible to sustain.  But the  attempts to forestall their departure–Chris Christie and Donald J. Trump forego Oreos, for one, until Nabisco brings back its cookie factories to the continental United States.  For the jobs that we need to create in the country are not jobs in cookie plants, although any and all jobs are to be valued, but more highly paying jobs for trained workers.

While numbers of guest-workers in America, often not documented, have surely risen steadily in recent years–

 

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NAFTA trade corridors will increase the traffic of goods between both countries in undeniably productive ways, significantly helpful for the infrastructures of both countries.

 

 

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For Trump, the sound remains one of some sort of unsightly evacuation, or just a painful blood-letting, that the spectacle of a wall–as if one doesn’t already exist–conjures an onomatopoeic simile seen as likely to be staved off, ominously indicating an impending deflation of absolute economic value.  By the end of the debate, he somewhat fittingly seemed most spent, the energy sucked out of his face as he was able only to assemble some vague closing remarks of recycled triumphalism after gloating that he would “keep us in suspense” about his intentions to respect the election’s outcome–the response he seemed happiest to deliver all night, remembering how he had started the campaign “very strongly,” before descending into conjuring fears of folks disrespect, inner cities that are a disaster, and words for people with “no education and no jobs,” before pivoting to the specter of four more years of Barak Obama and the concluding and not that rousing the ad feminam taunt of final and utter exasperation, “that’s what you get when you get her.”

 

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, Mexico-United States Border, NAFTA, US-Mexico Border

Mapping the Material Surplus along the US-Mexico Border

Even though Donald Trump doesn’t want you to think that a Wall has already been built, 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 has gained In fact, the multiplication of border barriers along the US-Mexico border is challenging to map.  The global expansion of border barriers among over sixty nations have not stopped people from crossing them with increasing resourcefulness, but serve as a psychological barrier and helps justify huge symbolic investment in the criminalizing border crossing.  As if to epitomize the growth of border walls world-wide–if only fifteen existed in 1990, we are now beyond seventy–the US-Mexican border barriers remain one of the most massive investments in wall-building world wide, 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, as the specter of the movement of populations is sought to be stopped and kept in place, in hopes to remove the United States from the dangers globalization has wrought.

 

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 a new hotel, 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.

Outfitted with not only walls, fences, and obstacles but checkpoints and surveillance cameras, the US-Mexican border has become a pure hypostasisation 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.

 

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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

Mapping Migrants’ Deaths along National Divides

Maps of collective mortality show not only the distributions of illnesses over geography, but embody vectors of transmission that help assign meanings to a disease’s effects and pathways, before its bacillus might be known or seen.  But maps of collective death also raise compelling questions of how to register loss of life in an ethical or just way, retaining the sense of individuality maps loose, and balance an individual loss of life and a universal problem of processing the undocumented:   there is a cognitive and ethical problem of how to process the 2,000 corpses of migrants who died attempting to cross the border between Mexico and the United States–many found in different states of decomposition in the Sonora desert near Arizona‘s borderline with Mexico–without loosing one’s humanity.

The plight that many migrants who try to circumvent increasing numbers of border patrols has transformed the lands of many state counties into killing fields.  Mapping these deaths over the past decade reveals something of a social pathology of law enforcement:  despite increased border patrols, motion sensors, and new border fences, the Department of Homeland Security has been forced to create temporary morgues in refrigerated semi-trailers to accommodate remains, mobilizing forensic experts, and posing problems of mitigating migrant deaths.  Despite recent attempts to help migrants who travel through the high desert in an attempt to reach a highway where they can be met by setting up conspicuous water towers, mounting body counts have come to task the resources of many Texas and Arizona counties like Brooks County in southeastern Texas or Pima county in Arizona.  Despite autopsies and DNA sampling and identification, the one to two hundred corpses found so far in 2013 of those attempting to cross the border replay recurrent tragedies and human casualties of the failure to deal with our borders.

The below map marking deaths during attempts to cross of the border, noted in red dots, against water stations placed in the region, poses problems of responding to their spike over the thirteen years.

Migrant Deaths and Water Stations, 1999-2012

The semantics of this map of migrant deaths across the Sonoran desert, a poster for Humane Borders/Fronteras Compasivas, bears contemplation:  whereas a map registers an abstraction of space removed from particularities, and a border line demarcates imaginary lines between states, often drawn by surveyors with adequate surveying tools, bounding regional entities of abstract names, the abundant red dots are markers of individual migrants’ deaths, and register actual effects of a erecting an insurmountable fence along the border-line.

A border patrol vehicle observes six miles of border fencing in Douglas, Arizona

Leaving aside the many documented instances of mistreatment by border patrols, the recent rise of deaths by starvation or dehydration raise questions about the defense of borders.  Despite diminishing net migration across the border in recent years, the discovery of remains of some two hundred bodies of migrants each year in the Sonora desert, as measured by the Arizona Recovered Human Remains Project, roughly a third of which remain unidentified, indicate divergences between the law’s intent and its effects.

The mapping of border deaths of migrants, many clustered against the border that they had crossed, make a case against our failure to formulate a comprehensive border policy as obstinately as individual migrants’ remains.

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Remains in Pima County Medical Examiner                     (Joshua Lott/NY Times)

It’s hard to absorb the clusters of red dots that mark individual deaths, which densely overlap with one another near the border in a red field:  it’s hard to sum up the loss of lives in maps charting the record numbers of migrant deaths around the Mexican-US border, dramatically risen to record highs since 2003, just a year after they were strengthened and reinforced at considerable expense.  What has such attention to the border with Mexico accomplished?  In the past year alone, US Border Patrols apprehended some  356,000 immigrants as they attempted to cross the boundary line illegally, considered to be roughly half of all attempts–at least 43% are likely to try to cross again; immigration reform has lent new urgency to migrants’ repeated attempts to try to cross the border after repeated detentions, moreover, since a “path to citizenship” would require prior residence.   (Roughly over 60% of such attempted migrants are construction or agricultural workers, largely male, half of whom claimed to have waiting jobs.)

This raises interesting questions of the ethics of mapping migrant deaths.  The number of deaths due to drowning, dehydration, or other accident occur as migrants try to secure a path across the border the United States shares with Mexico, and are pressed to seek routes of relocation across the desert or Rio Grande that evade American authorities who have come to police the zone–a region that is now policed as if in imaginary defense of the boundaries of the Old West or mythical frontier of the “fatal environment” that leads ranchers to ride horses beside Homeland Security officers, largely for symbolism or show.

John More:Getty Images-Cowboys on Borders(John Moore/Getty Images)

There is something oddly compelling in repeated attempts to redraw this most fluid and open of borders, over which so many pass and where traffic was barely policed thirty years ago, in the face of the unyielding refusal of immigration to cease.  What have been its effects?   Even as the number of border crossings dramatically declined, as migrant deaths increased: border crossings occur in more remote areas removed from surveillance and patrols, which since 2005 have reached an all-time high of over 18,500, the average agent of which makes under twenty arrests each year.  Indeed, the difficulty of crossing at Tecate or near San Diego have pushed most to the Arizona desert east of Nogales.

The possibility of placing deaths along a much-policed national border starts from a wish to draw attention to the intervention and prevention of crossing-related deaths, and indeed map a network of help around the remote areas migrants have so often failed to cross.  Since the addition of some 6,000 guards introduced along the US-Mexico border in 2006 in response to “intense emotions,” introducing physical barriers along the border to transform a surveyor’s imaginary line to a barrier from Tijuana to the Rio Grande, inserting a 700-mile fence to bridge existing barriers in what was already the world’s busiest border crossing–stationing troops “to strengthen our borders and protect our families,” as then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert cheerleaded.

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The redrawing of this border by obstructions and surveillance amplified by the presence of a National Guard attempted to show the US to be “in full control of its borders,” as if the country was leaky or plagued by vulnerability.  Yet the sort of “control” brought by hi-tech fences, motion sensors, and border patrol roads was oblivious to the still-faceless figure of the migrant worker who long crossed it of economic necessity, sealing the border as if by a medical quarantine–or fencing out of animals–that stoked fear of the migrant as the interloper in an otherwise solid national economy, appealing to militaristic values even while assuring the neighbor of the frontier that the President was “not going to militarize the southern border”–although the increased deployment of troops recalled the deployment of Patrols in the 1919-21 Border War which established the current border line, and echoed the manned surveillance flights that ran from Nogales and Marfa through 1921, in a similar unilateral declaration of the defense of borderlands.

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If the current beefing up of the US-Mexican border echoes the unilateral declaration of policing the border with military in the Border War, the creation of physical barriers exceeds it in trumpeting selective rights of state sovereignty above their consequences to individual lives.  The imposition of the wall, moreover, has led to fewer apprehensions of border-crossers despite considerable increases in technology, manpower, and expense.  (A  recent survey conducted by the University of Arizona’s National Center for Border Security and Immigration unsurprisingly found that “Regardless of the consequences and dangers of crossing, however, many detainees remarked that the need to come to the United States is greater than any deterrent.”)

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Yet the consequences of unilateral imposition of a militarized border are only beginning to be mapped.  The volunteer-based group Humane Borders, organized with the aim of mitigating or reducing migrant deaths in the desert–a danger that long predates border patrols.

The dangers of migrant death were iconically represented highway signs of fleeing nuclear families placed by the lanes of cars hurtling down I-5 near the border in the mid-1980s, ostensibly to dissuade border-crossing but even more to prevent “illegals” who tried to run cross its lanes–one traffic sign that has by now found its way into the “History of California” section of the Oakland Museum of California.

Sign Warning of Illegal Immigrants Crossing Road

Such an icon of Mexican families on the run, first posted along Interstate 5 and other roads on the border, terrifyingly naturalized images as normalized highway signage–the faceless black silhouettes of the nameless fugitive family standing in for the unidentified bodies of those killed from the late 1980s. The faceless-ness of this image of the migrant family has only begun to change–and the scope of deaths of migrants crossing the US-Mexican border realized–with the attempt to map, by self-reported GIS data, in a new initiative,  the locations, sex, and number of deaths.  If earlier highway signs oddly echo deer warnings or falling rocks, more than warnings of pedestrians, a family on the run as fugitives naturalized an image of migrants’ perils, the mapping of migrant deaths process the loss of ramping up both border-security and patrols.

Although deaths in the desert account for only a number of migrant deaths for much of the 2000-2004, migrants seeking to evade border police certainly dramatically grew at the same time.  The number of those detained at the border has certainly rapidly diminished since the time in 1999 when border guards detained 1.5 million immigrants–compared to 356,000 in 2012–numbers of individual casualties are considerable, and have grown:  which brings us to the question of mapping border deaths, even if the maps cannot reveal the faces on the migrants who died in their journey.

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Attempts to navigate routes through regions of the Sonoran desert to evade border police–as much as the dangers of highway or interstate crossing en famille–have led to a loss of life rarely measured and not easily processed.  Rather than due to fatalities inflicted by guards or the military–or surveillance planes–these deaths are often due to the extremes to which migrants will go in their search for a path across the desert, often bringing dehydration:  migrant deaths doubled from 2001 to 2002, in large part due to the constraints faced by trying to escape the heightened policing of border lands in Texas and Arizona, and particularly in the Sonora desert. Border-crossing deaths occurred from multiple reasons, less from failed highway crossings, today, than from starvation, or dehydration among families who have paid to be smuggled, or undertaken journeys on their own out of desperation, are both difficult to tabulate or record–how many bodies are ever discovered?–and even raise challenging questions of recognition of bodies of missing persons by forensic experts.  Each year, some 500,000 attempt to enter cross the US border, and perceived vulnerability of the southern border led to an improvised patchwork of steel and concrete fences that cross often pristine desert, as well as networks of infrared cameras, sensors, drones, and some nearly 20,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents that migrants seek to evade.  The consequences of policing the border-line creates an even more challenging barrier than the onrush of cars on freeways as it has encouraged attempts to cross the desert, with little guideposts or signs.

s_b01_85427302(David McNew/Getty Images)

Given the increase in border control or border patrols, the greatest costs occur as a result of the re-channeling of migration through deserts, where migrants face perils of dehydration in the Sonoran desert as they try to reach destinations abroad.  Humane Borders, working with landowners of individual plots near or in the desert, has worked to by self-reporting of migrant deaths on a GIS network to try to re-understand the barrier of the borderlands.  The possibility of creating a self-reported collation of recent deaths about the conditions in which attempted migrants die along the shared border of Arizona and Mexico, collaborating with land owners, after receiving a 2005 donation of GIS software to assemble maps based on self-reported deaths over time in trying to raise awareness of the deaths’ geographic distribution, and to plan the placement of water-stations at sites of need, in hopes to prevent the known–we can’t count the many unknown–migrant deaths in the west desert of Arizona.  The map, compiled and drawn by Dr. John F. Chamblee, who devotes volunteer time to compile individually reported statistics on GIS, provides a compelling poster calling attention to the possibility of responding to needless deaths:  the data visualization of reported cases where migrants crossing the border died attempts to mitigate rising deaths:  the map placing deaths beside the water stations situated to diminish danger to those in the desert–and not only migrants–organizes a compelling visual argument about the lack of attention to migrant deaths.

Migrant Deaths and Water Stations, 1999-2012

If the dense overlap among red dots signifying loss of life overwhelms, magnification on an individual section can leaves one pondering the questions of this loss of life in awe:  the vast majority of these deaths are due to dehydration, a similar proportion to the thousand deaths of hopeful migrants that occurred in the California and Arizona desert between 2000 and 2004.  To respond to the rise in migrant deaths that first rose in that year to 71, and in attempt to “take death out of the immigration equation,” situated both beacons and water stations in the Sonoran desert at strategic sites to respond to the tragic spike of migrant deaths:

2000-2007 deaths:beacons:stations

The number of migrant deaths mapped above locates 1138 migrants at various stages of the trajectories of their paths past the border.  The impact of the density of deaths is even greater when one maps a portion of the 2,269 deaths on the Arizona border, focussing at enlarged scale on the area between Tuscon and Nogales, over the period 1999-2011, noting water-stations at blue icons in the Sonoran desert, to better illustrate the number of individual lives lost over twelve years:

GIS Mapping of Individual Deaths on Arizona Border
Among the some 2,000 deaths of Mexican migrants between the months of October, 1999 to mid-August, 2005, there was a disproportionate amount of deaths due to dehydration occurring within a range of cell phone coverage in the Desert, and the installation of a set of cell phone towers to restore cel phone signals in the sweltering desert promises to end the relative inaccessibility of victims of heat-related deaths.  Humane Borders submitted a proposal to install fifteen cell phone towers in 2005 to ensure greater coverage in an area mapping onto the region of densest number of unnecessary migrant deaths, with hopes of making a critical difference, and allowing migrants to make emergency calls on the cells that are often found on their bodies:  the Border Patrol Search, Rescue, and Trauma team (BORSTAR) dramatically its  migrant rescues in Arizona’s western desert as a result.

Cumulative Migrant Deaths, 2000-2004

A map even more striking when one examines the area within the ring of a lack of coverage, where the absence of cell phone coverage seem to map  true no-man’s land, which most seem to have attempted to cross without maps:

cell Phone Ring of Migrant deaths

Can one imagine how many deaths that occurred outside of cel phone range might have been able to register their loss of directional bearings (or water) as they navigated the empty spaces of the Sonoran desert without clear bearings in sight? The clusters of migrant deaths that lie just outside of a fairly fragmented cell-phone range raises unanswered questions that will never be resolved, but each red dot, each loss of life, and especially the dense cluster south of Sells, hints at the possibility that they could have easily been saved.

Out of Cel Range?

Most of these “bodies on the border” cannot be recognized from the remains discovered after an individual had gone missing: yet as we map the range of missing ‘illegal’ migrants, and the recent spike of border deaths in the Sonoran Desert from those counted in 2000 (71) to those counted in 2001 (74), 2002 (143), and 2005 (200), based on data compiled by Pima County’s Medical Examiner, reveal the inadequacy of immigration reform in the huge rise of deaths along the borderlands from September 11, 2001–when increased fences, border guards, and security towers first encouraged many to undertake border crossing without maps to avoid surveillance around this curving line in the sand.

Line in the Sand(John Moore/Getty Images)

The environmental impact of these border fences on species that live across lands that the fence divides has recently come up for review, noting that animals such as the Ocelot or Jaguarundi in the Rio Grande would be adversely affected by the 21 fences that obstruct drinking from the Rio Grande waters or may negatively impact wildlife management–notwithstanding some environmental successes.

AP_BORDER_FENCE_WILDLIFE

The impact or cost of deaths during attempted border crossings  among those who pay for being smuggled across the Southwestern deserts can never be adequately mapped.  What map can express the losses of life that the definition and maintaining of a border for the right to protect one nation from the imagined dangers of illegal immigration or illicit drugs has created?  What losses are incurred by invoking the “illegality” of a previously fluid border, or, more to the point, the militarization of the patrol and surveillance along that border–changes that have perpetuated an image of the walls that define the border more akin to a wall of mourning than a frontier or territorial demarcation?

CrossesAguaPrieta--Dec08

Beyond the rhetoric of protecting the rights of a nation’s inhabitants, is it ethical insist on protection at the cost of discounting the value of the lives of citizens of other states?  We run into logical and legal problems in presuming a sovereign right to protect borders whose tightening comes at the cost of such dramatic an increase in migrant lives–a cost that we cannot ever hope to map adequately.

NogalesStreetCrossesFb08ShpO Nogales border at night

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Filed under border barriers, GIS, mortality maps, US Border Patrol, US-Mexico Border