Tag Archives: civil liberties

The False Nationalism of the Border Wall

One of Donald Trump’s most significant victories has been to increase the proximity of much of the nation to the border wall planned for the southwestern boundary of the United States–irrespective of their actual geographic location.   The range of constituencies that united around the need for a border boundary–nationalist; white supremacist; racist; xenophobic; unemployed; economically insecure; fundamentalist–seems daunting to unpack as an assembly.  But if perhaps incompatible with one another, their collective fixation on a geographic site was perhaps most striking as a new form of mental mapping of territory in an age of GPS, when the relevance of boundaries and boundary lines have all but vanished in cartographical terms.  Whereas states map the world by geographical positioning.  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.

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.  For the tool of the wall is a conceit of boundary drawing, affirming collective identity, and rejecting what is cast as contamination, in a throwback to a vision of purity.

If compelling in its linear bluntness, the concept of the border wall serves to concretize a response able to contain what seem to be proliferating dangers of immigration flows on which many have lost purchase–and the ability to adequately map.   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:  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.



Fence:Wall Trump



To be sure, the proliferating crises of globalization and population have been narrowed and refracted from a global point of view to the point of view of only one nation–in a new iteration of America First.  Whereas solutions to the border, first treated as a site that required monitoring in the Nixon era, 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 that Trump first proposed–“a great great wall,” as if to distinguish it from China’s Great Wall–along 2,000 miles of borderlands would call for a massive increase of border patrol agents, and a 50% growth of immigration officers that would make the border region a site to obscure and deny legal rights in the country, collectively define migrants as criminals, and create prison bars through which to view all lands south if the ‘border’ and the new governance of the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on the border, where we plan to build tent cities of 1-5,000 at military posts in Texas for unaccompanied children crossing the border, run by Health and Human Services,–removed from any court system or representation.removed from any court system or representation.

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 migrants both undocumented and not.




The cognitive power of the border wall were recently incarnated 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 image of a vertical 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 promise of poured concrete.




The inverted flag painted on the oldest fencing by deported US veterans in 2013 was meant to suggest a symbol of distress at the deportation policies.  Deported former soldiers 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.  After disabled US Navy veteran Amos Gregory, a San Francisco resident, completed the painting with twenty deported veterans to paint the flag, he was shocked at charges of creating an  iconography deemed “hostile toward the United States of America.”  Gregory, a US citizen, chose the image of an inverted flag as a distress signal that is used at sea–to show honor to the flag, and to “mean no disrespect” to the nation, but raise alarm at its  policies.  The collective dismay when asked to remove the mural by US Border Patrol, who argued it sent the wrong message, sent a message of censorship as an attack on freedom of expression; Gregory had incorporated crosses to commemorate on the wall the migrants who died as they sought to enter the United States for better lives and livelihoods to find a place for their commemoration, as well as to call attention to an undermining of ideals of freedom he cherished by placing their memory on the wall–not to dishonor the flag, but to use it as a symbol of extreme gravity  

The current mock-ups suggest a similar undermining 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.

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 csensual 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, allowing migrants to move 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


—the border wall maps 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.


border detentionENDIsolation Immigration Detention/Freedom for Immigrants Map immigrant jails (red); visitation centers (lavender); Jails (blue); private prisons (black)


While nationalist in its tenor, Trump presented the border wall almost intentionally as biblical in epochal tones as if it proclaimed new era of mankind, or a shift in government that makes the end of a republic, and a declaration of the purity of the nation or the project of making America great again–and doing so in uppercase.  But Donald Trump’s perennial projection that “we are currently beginning to build” a structure that will define a new era not only 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.  The escalation 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 poor sanitary and living conditions, even as relations between the US and Mexico have declined with talk of the border wall–despite the clear presence of the border wall through many twinned cities on either side of it.



1.  The border wall has concretized and 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.  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.


1.  Although claimed to originate 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 gentering 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.  While 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 has since the 1990s provoked concern about border fencing, the gesture of a monumental wall to across the southwestern border, Trump defined the “border wall” as a platform of his campaign, mirroring the expansion of physical boundaries among over sixty nations, as a testament to his own nationalist credentials. 

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 an image of invading threats from entering ostensible gaps.




For all its American jingoism of retrenching against globalization, nationalism, and faux populism, the image of this remapping of the nation may have a surprising pedigree in its distinctly authoritarian relation to borderlands.  In an article 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.

The comparison between Putin and Trump, while negative, is  instructive.  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 “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” would definitely have amplified the demand for a border wall and could  find no better fault line to exploit than through the image of a border wall.

Osetinskaya suggests an equivalence of rampant discrimination and hate abuse in Russia to what immigrants in the Unites States experience is false; despite her admission that “Many Russian people think illegal migrants are evil and responsible for a wide range of crimes”–a distortion of American xenophobia if there ever was one–only normalizes the immigration ban as reflecting American feelings, leading her to conclude that “Putin and Trump’s immigration policies are very different.”   It is hard to know what Osetinskava’s claim means–it may naturalize Trump as a leader, or offer Americans a whitewashed image of Putin–but her statement suggests the deeply similar authoritarianism of Trump’s policy, and its privileging of “border security” over liberty.

If a constellation of short barriers existed for some time, the continuous wall suggests that its history is increasingly forgotten, as a foreclosure of futures and its future effects dominate attention.  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 the contiguous 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 Dieago through Cuidad Juárez/El Paso to Matamoros/Brownsville.




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, an image 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


–erasing 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 that have effectively  flattened our attention to ecological costs, human consequences or the historical complexity of cross-border relations.


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.  




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, but prompt us to ask how the possible panels–faux sections for the future border wall–suggest a formalist sort of patriotism,


Johns Flags 1997.pngJasper Johns, Flags (1997)

Johns Flags 1 (1973).pngJasper Johns, Flags 1 (1973)


whose stripes echo bars, and the misplaced nationalism of the border wall.

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 is concretized in an image of state authority that intertwines deeply 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 an image 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 the image of a dangerous, crime-ridden borderlands seem 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


2.  The promise of building the wall is 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.  The mythic character of the wall as a substitute for a society of laws seems deeply retrograde:  it recalls 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, o

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 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.

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Filed under border wall, immigration, nationalism, Trumpism, 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.

GLobal Alerts.png

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