Tag Archives: undocumented migrants

The False Imperative of the Border Wall

Donald Trump’s most astounding victory–predating and perhaps enabling his astounding electoral victory as President–was to remap the mental imagination of Americans, and reconfigure proximity of the United States to its southwestern border in the public imaginary.  The goal of this insistence is no less than a remapping of civil liberties, based on his insistence of the need for border security and constructing a Border Wall, and preferably doing so in all caps.  

 

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Condemning “obstructionist Democrats” are the party of “open borders,” and obstructing the work of law and order agencies such as ICE–the Immigration and Customs Enforcement–agents or his beloved Border Patrol, and for filling the national need for border security, and the project of building “the wall,” a super-border structure that would both prevent cross-border migration deemed ‘illegal.’  The construction of border psychosis is evident in the large number of Republican governors of states that have been elected two years into the Trump Presidency–

 

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–as the question of “governing” states most all the southwestern border–save California–has created a new “block of red” that has been generalized to much of the nation, rallying behind the America First cry to defend borders, build prisons for immigrants deemed illegal, and work with federal agencies to apprehend such immigrants, denying their lawful place or rights to work in the United States.  For much of this map of governors, now that the Republican party is increasingly the Party of Trump, reveal the uncertain terrain of the undocumented immigrant, and the massive circumscription or reduction of human and civil rights, as well as a fear of failure to manage immigration.  Although current findings of sixty-nine competitive districts in the 2018 election include many border states–sixty-three districts of the total are held by Republicans before the election, a considerable number of the “battleground states” lying near or adjacent to the planned Border Wall, according to a Washington Post-Schar School survey

 

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–where calls for wall-building originated.  The magnification of the border in the electorate’s collective consciousness was a gambit of electoral politics and staple of the Trump campaign for the Presidency, and it conjured the unprecedented idea that a single President–or any office-holder–might be able to shift the borders of the nation, or guarantee their impermeability to foreign entrance.  The striking appeal of the border was not seen as a question of border protection but rather the construction of a wall, evident in the expansion quasi-tribal collective rhythmic changes at rallies, now repeated as if in a non-stop campaign.  Although the focus of most buildup of the border has been to update existing fencing, the calls for fix-it-all border protection plans gained sufficient appeal to suggest a potential shift in the nation’s political terrain.  Even though Donald J. Trump was, for practical purposes, a quite parochial perspective based in New York and Manhattan, and perhaps because Trump’s own expertise in national building projects was as limited as with working within the law, the project was first floated by the candidate as if from the sidelines of national politics, treating the project as akin to protecting a two-mile southbound side of the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan, beside his pet real estate project, Trump Place, at 220 Riverside Drive, through an Adopt-A-Highway Project, and that the border wall was essentially the same need of securing .  (Although the prominent sign was itself quickly vandalized to read “STOP TRUMP”  as Trump won the Presidency, needing to be replaced, the return of the defaced sign promising the riverfront side’s maintenance was far less an act of good citizenship than a vanity act.)

 

Jon Comulada/Upworthy

 

New York City limits the Adopt-a-Highway program to individuals, companies or organizations, rather than to political candidates and campaigns seeking publicity, but since the Trump Organization maintained the section since 2007 or earlier, it gained an exemption–and a tax write-off for its contributions to maintenance.  And when he spoke to residents of the territory currently known as “America,” Trump seems to have treated the proposed Border Wall as an almost similar project of beautification, and a project of protecting what was his, in a proprietorial way that seemed to conflate his own identity and person with the country, as the current sign conflates his name with the Trump Organization, as his recommendations have contained as little familiarity with the site, scope of the project, or terrain, as many have noted, treating the construction of a continuous border wall as a detail designed to beautify the country, even though the border includes 1,288 miles currently without any pedestrian or vehicular fencing, gate or protection.

 

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It almost seems that the proposed border wall had not been “mapped” per se, so much as it was a rhetorical promise for the sort of project Trump would like a President to do–and a project whose magnitude appealed to his sense of personal vanity.  He praised the benefits of the construction of the wall as a need to “get it done” and imperative that responds to a state of emergency–a national emergency that sanctioned the suspension of existing laws.  The emergency, as Trump saw it, was created by crime, gang violence by MS-13 members, who he has called “animals,” and a source for a loss of low-wage jobs.  The acknowledgment of the need for the wall is virtually a form of patriotism in itself; recognition of the need for the country has become a way to participate in a new nationalism of strong borders–a nationalist sense of belonging that was opposed to the agenda of those unnamed Liberals without clear purchase on the geopolitical dangers and a failure to put America First.  President Trump has argued that the “larger context of border security” necessitates the wall.  Trump has come to repeatedly proclaims in his continued rallying cry stake out a new vision and map of American sovereignty, and indeed of territorial administration.  Evoking a new tribalism in openly partisan terms, Trump even promoted with impunity the false belief that Democrats have united behind an “Open Borders Bill,” written by Dianne Feinstein–distorting the #EndFamilyDetemtion protests and “open borders movement” with an actual legislative bill.  More to the point, perhaps,

The very crude geography and mental mapping that animates this argument is repeatedly a staple of Trumpian rhetoric.  As if  thick red ruled line could be drawn atop a map, Donald J. Trump has become the outsider political voice able, as a builder of vain monuments, to claim the ability to build a new structure able to replace existing border fences, and provide a continuous monument at endless concealed costs, without any acknowledgement of the people who have long moved across the border on the ground.   The transposition of this tribalism of border separation into a partisan dichotomy has promoted and provoked an apparently Manichean opposition between political parties around the defense of the US-Mexico border, and the building of a Border Wall, in an attempt to define the differences between Democrats and Republicans around the issue of the defense of national safety.

 

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President Trump has not only made immigration into a platform for his campaign and for his party:  the stubbornly intransigent logic of Trump’s oppositional rhetoric has not only remapped the nation in mind-numbing ways.  The fixation on the fixity of the border as a means to “Make America Great Again” erases the historical instability of borderlands in the United States, in its place projecting the image of fixed boundaries:  the exact shift in the image of national territoriality seems a not only shift on the border, but a decisive replacement of an inclusive state.  And even as Trump’s recent rallies are–as of September–still interrupted by “Build that wall!” tribal chants, leaving Trump to lie openly by claiming “The wall is under construction,” he reminds us of his need to evoke an inexistent barrier for which such intense desire has developed among his supporters that it is indeed a talisman by which America will, indeed, be able to be Made Great Again.

Continually crying about the urgent need for “building the wall,” even if it would be in violation of international law, is cast as a state of emergency which would reduce crime, the illegal presence of gangs, and existential dangers, and a promise made without acknowledgement of any who live outside America’s national borders, or any foundation in civil law.  The promise to finish “building the wall” is cast as a simple question of volition, in almost pleading tones, that can be addressed to the entire nation as an ability to cathect and commune with the nation in simple concrete terms, no matter the distance at which they live to the actual border.  It is an exercise in the geographic imaginary, in short, and a nearly ritualized deceit which Trump labors to sustain–as if a Border Wall could be conjured into existence as a leap of faith.

 

 

 

Identifying the dangers to the nation as lying external to it, the discourse of the wall have created a subtle remapping of sovereignty, on an almost emotional level.  It focusses on the border, as an imagined line, rather than on people who move across it, laws or citizenship–placing demonized dangers as lying beyond the border and outside of the nation-state.  The disproportionate focus that has been directed to the border–a distortion of attention that is epitomized and focussed on the desire for a continuous “border wall”–functions as a deeply dehumanizing way of remaking the nation, and remapping national priorities, around a fiction and a distinctly new discourse on nationhood, that is mapped by vigilance to the border, rather than to the course of law or to individual rights and liberties.

If maps provided tools for defining and symbolizing nationality, the conceit of the need for a border wall symbolized and also creates a notion of nationhood based less on ties of belonging than on boundaries of sovereignty that exclusion people from the state.  Mapping is long based on ties of exclusion.  But the focus of intense attention on stopping border-crossing and transborder permeability as replaced a logic of maintaining protections on equality or access to the law in the interior, shifting the attention of the nation of spectators by a deeply cruel trick of remapping the nation’s priorities.  For the political rhetoric of creating a fixed border has effectively magnified the borderlands, through the terribly exaggerated violent pen-stroke of an Executive Order casting the border as a vital key to national security, and increase the proximity of the nation to the southwestern border in the political spatial imaginary.  

Is it any coincidence that the same government to elevate the symbolic mapping of a wall on the southwestern boundary of the United States has reduced the number of refugees that it agrees to admit from war-torn lands, already reduced by half through executive orders from the number of refugees accepted in 2016, a limit of 45,000, to a new ceiling of “up to 30,000 refugees” beyond “processing more than 280,000 asylum seekers,” in line with the current 2018 count of barely over 20,900 by mid-September, but now for the first time less than the number accepted by other nations.  Turning a cold shoulder to the crisis in global refugees is ostensibly rooted in a responsibility to guard its own borders, and “responsibility to vet applicants [for citizenship] to prevent the entry of those who might do harm to our country” and reducing grounds for asylum–even as the numbers of global refugees dramatically escalate dramatically world-wide–as if intentionally setting up obstacles for travel, and setting policy to openly prosecute any cross-border travel that was not previously authorized, and actively separating many asylum seekers from their families to deter them from pursuing asylum.

 

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New York Times

 

Such false magnification of problems of “border management” has defined a disturbing and false relation to a deeply distorted image of globalism, of fuzzy borders, and not only apparent but intentional distortion–

 

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–predicated on a false sense of national vulnerability, the urgency of greater border security, and the definition and elevation of national interests above global needs.

The rejection of refugees and closing of borders in the United States in the Age of Trump seems endemic:  if the country resettled some three million people since 1980, when modern refugee policy began, this year, the United States for the first time fewer resettled refugees than the rest of the world–less than half as many as the rest of the world.  The shuttering of borders is echoed in some 800,000 cases for asylum awaiting review, revealing a distorted view of the global situation that is mirrored by the blurred map behind Mike Pompeo’s head, and may suggest a global irresponsibility and deliberate disentanglement from world affairs.  But it also suggests a deep remapping of the place of the nation in the world, not limited to the State Department or Mike Pompeo, of imagining the greater proximity of the borderline to the mental imaginary, and a privileging of so-called sovereign rights over pathways of human flow.

The promised wall planned for the border of unscalable height is a bit of a blank canvas designed to project fears of apprehension onto those who would confront it, a barrier to prevent motion across the border by unilaterally asserting the lack of agency or ability to cross a line that was long far more fluid, in a sort of sacred earth policy of protecting the nation’s territory along its frontiers–and refusing the extend rights or recognition to those who remain on its other side.  Trump’s signing of grandiose Executive Orders as statements of sovereignty stand to reverberate endlessly in our spatial imaginary of the nation–while hardly warranted as a form of national defense, the border wall serves as a phatic act of sovereignty that redefines the function of national bounds.  Indeed, in a country whose history was defined by the negotiation of borderlands, the assertion of the long unstable border as an impermeable barrier seems a form of willed historical amnesia, as well as the fabrication of a non-existent threat.  The repeated indication of the southwestern border seems to seek to restore it to prominence in our national consciousness–and to see its security as being linked to the health of our nation–as if to make the current project of re-bordering an improvement of our national security–a process of re-bordering that is a performance of sovereignty, simultaneously symbolic, functional, and geopolitical in nature.  

The symbolic of sovereignty is far more insistent than the functional, and the symbolic register is the heart of its political meaning, if the structural need is promoted as a response to geopolitical actuality.  

 

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For the Trump train, the wall is a “smart” redefinition of the nation, rooted less in the accordance of civil rights or guaranteeing of human rights, than the subsuming of law to protection of a nation that we imagine as under assault.  If globalization has been understood as a process of “re-bordering,” where the lines between countries are neither so fixed or so relevant to political action on the ground, the border wall maps a defense against globalization in its rejection of open borders.  The proposed construction sets a precedent as an act of unilateral border-drawing, or willful resistance to re-bordering, by asserting a new geographical reality to anyone who listens, and by cutting off the voices of those powerless to confront it.  The deeply dehumanizing conceit of the border wall that was modeled in several prototypes deny the possibility of writing on their surface.

In ways that mirror the inflation of the executive over reality or the rule of law, the border wall serves to reinstate an opposition over a reality of cross-border migration.   And Trump seems particularly well-suited and most at home at this notion of reordering, which he has made his own as a construction project of sorts, where he gets to perform the role of the chief executive as a builder, as much as a politician or leader of a state, and where he gets to fashion a sense of sovereign linked to building and construction, to a degree that the builder turned political seems to be intensely personally invested and tied.  Although Trump has been keen to treat the notion of a border wall as a form of statecraft, the proposed border wall is all too aptly described as a an archaic solution to a twenty-first century problem–for it projects an antiquated notion of boundary drawing on a globalized world in terrifyingly retrograde ways.  For while the construction of the border wall between Mexico and the United States was mistakenly accepted as a piece of statecraft that would restore national integrity and define the project and promise of the Trump presidency to restore American ‘greatness’ rooted in an illusory idea of privilege, but focusses on the privilege of entering the sovereign bounds of the nation alone.  

The proposed wall maps a dramatic expansion of the state and the executive that continues the unchecked growth of monitoring our boundaries to foster insecurity, but creates a dangerously uneven legal topography for all inhabitants of the United States.  For Trump and the members of his administration have worked hard to craft a deeply misleading sense of crisis on the border that created a stage for ht border wall, and given it a semantic value as a need for an immigration “crack-down” and “zero tolerance policy” that seem equivalent in their heavy-handedness to a ban, but have gained a new site and soundstage that seems to justify their performance.  

While it is cast as a form of statecraft, the only promise of the proposed border wall is to exclude the stateless from entering the supposedly United States, and to create legal grounds for elevating the specter of deportation over the country.   For the author of the Art of the Deal used his aura to of pressing negotiations to unprecedentedly increase the imagined proximity of the entire nation to the border–by emphasizing its transactional nature in bizarrely in appropriate ways.  The result has undermined distorted our geographical and political imaginary, with the ends of curtailing equal access to due process, legal assistance, and individual freedoms.  Acceptance of the deeply transactional nature of the promise of a border wall during the 2016 Presidential election as a tribalist cry of collectivism–“Build the Wall!”–as an abstract imperative, removed from any logic argument, but rooted in a defense of the land.  The purely phatic statement of national identity was removed form principles of law, but offered what seemed a meaningful demand of collective action that transcended the law, either civil law, to affirm an imaginary collectivity of Americans without immigrants–and an image of a White America.  

The imperative exhortations that animated Trumpism, as it gave rise to multiple other inarticulate cries repeated on Twitter and at rallies, based on lies and false promises or premises–“Lock her up!”; “America First!”–fulfilled a need for membership and belonging at the expense of others, in ways that subtracted popular opinion–and a false populism of the Trump campaign–from the law.  By isolating the artifact of the wall as a sort of grail and site of redemption and religion of the nation, the tribalist cry “Build the Wall!” offered a false imperative that replaces reasoned discourse.   Trump sees fit to treat as a basis for shutting down the government, accordingly, and indeed as a logic for a brand of governing that doesn’t follow the “terrible laws” of his predecessors.  If the budgeting of a border was was earlier taken as a grounds to actually shutter the government, in 2017, the rehearsal of the threat to willfully “‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes [for] the Wall” once more unnecessarily equated the need for the border wall as a basis and rationale for government.  The Manichean vision of politics of a pro- and anti-border party has been determining in creating a vision of the United States where sovereignty is defined at the border, irrespective of responsibility for the stewardship of the country:  we built walls, impose tariffs, and end treaties, rather than acting in a statesmanslike fashion, and evacuate the promise of the state.  

Much as Trump earlier called for “a good border shutdown” in the Spring of 2017 cast the wall as a part of his notion of governance, the new threat treats the as a bargaining chip able to equate with an act of governance–even if the wall as it is described seems less about governance at all.  Trump rails against the passing of spending bills that do not foreground or grant a prominent place to the proposed border wall that he sees as a point of orientation needed for his constituents and that he still cherishes and his own introduction into national debate:  attacking legislative packages about spending bills that don’t include special stipulations for border security or the construction of a border wall, threatening on Twitter to suspend governmental functions altogether without knowing “where the is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this reicidulous Spending Billaon the eve of the arrival of an apporopriations bill to the White House in the Fall of 2018, as his executive functions seem as imperilled as his grasp on the Executive Branch,  of government: but the border wall retains centrality as the central promise he has made to the nation.

For the unwarranted and ungrounded promise to prevent the imagined threats of organized criminals, gangs, rapists, and drug dealers from entering the country–not that we lack many who are home-grown–through the border wall is a governance of exclusion, racial defamation, and promotion, which has little to do with governing at all.  The apt characterization of the border wall as being an inefficient and irrational fourteenth century solution to a twenty-first century problem by Texas U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar-D of San Antonio–riffing on the suggestion of U.S. Representative Will Hurd-R of San Antonio as a third century solution to a twenty-first century problem ineffective to secure cross-border migration, and gesturing to the new tribalism that the project affirms.  The imperative of the border wall is an insistence of tribalism over civil society, and a reflection of the increased tribalism we feel and see, but mostly feel and fear.  Indeed, it allows these fears to be mapped against cross-border traffic.

The imperative distorted and magnified what a border is and should be that shows little understanding of effective governance, and reclaims an old idea of the border–a fantasy, at root–that rejects the permeable nature of borders in an era of globalism, by rather affirming an imagined collectivity from which dangers–unspecified, but ranging from gangs to drugs to child trafficking–must be kept out.  Although an underlying problem is POTUS’ spectacular lack of understanding of how government works, or of the law, which he has spent most of his life reinterpreting, it reveals his conviction construction contains crisis in essentially fascistic terms, building a structure that has little contextual meaning, but seems to impress, as a negative monument to the the state that is located in a borderland of apparent statelessness, but which Trump seems more and more frustrated at his actual inability to change what still looks more like a rusting twelve-foot tall Richard Serra sculpture than the imposing frontier promised America–

 

imageRichard Serra, Tilted Arc (New York City, Federal Plaza, 1981-89)

 

–but whose offensiveness disturbs, upsets and angers the viewer in a truly visceral way. Resting on the edges of our own borders as the basis for a larger “border complex” that seems to steadily expand, the border complex is not only a unilateral dictation of border policies, but a relinquishing of any responsibility of governance of the inhabitants of the nation, treating the definition of citizen/non-citizen as a primary duality never explicitly adopted as central in American politics and history, but assigning this division a centrality rarely so clearly geographically expressed as a question of national territory.  

Even though the wall is a practical separation between territories, and an assertion of exclusive territorial identity, the imperative of the border wall that is repeatedly cast in urgent, existential terms, has presented itself in discursive terms both as a promise to the nation, in terms analogous to the Contract with America, that separated Americans from others, but which promised to strengthen Americans’ relation to the rest of the world.  The increased proximity of the nation’s inhabitants to the border and border wall was asserted in the Trump campaign:   the transactional status of the wall grew as a means to prevent multiple forces from endangering “our communities’ safety” as the border wall became a narrative plug-in for something like a promise of redemption from higher wages, untold economic dreams, and an acceptance of police security, as if a border can radically change the status quo of the American economy and local family safety.   The proposal of the border wall continues to exist in a deeply transactional sense for Americans, as geographic relations to the actual border has been erased so thoroughly for the border, under the guise of “immigration,” to become a national platform of a political party, and a new model to define and remap America’s relation to the world.

 

1.  The growth of global insecurity echoes profound anxiety at the realization that the lines of control of states cannot be so legibly or clearly mapped in the present moment, an anxiety it reflects by proposing to inscribe the border onto the landscape to make it visible to all and permanently fixed.  The false promise of the border wall has been able to gain meaning on an individual level, allowing each to invest it with meaning and feel proximity to, independent of their own actual geographic proximity–even if the result is to silence the violence that the proposition of such a border wall does to the rule of law.  If the long and energetic tradition of public mural painting that had origins in the Mexico of the 1930s provided a movement of energetic and energized monumental painting on open air surfaces in projects of humanity and considerable color.  But the elevation of their pictorial formal power moreover asserted a new public identity of the nation for observers.  In contrast, the artlessness of the empty screen of the border wall is an evacuation and denial of subjectivity:  the defining characteristic as a concrete surface of the proposed border wall is itss inexpressive surface, its denial of common humanity, and its assault on the collective narratives that were the subject celebrated in muralism.

The wall stands as a sort of rebuttal to a muralist tradition of inclusiveness–embracing varied styles from Rivera to Siquieros to Orozco–through the assertions of a new artistic idiom by which to involve viewers in a revitalized broad civic life.  The border wall is less an illustration of human will, than an image of the assertion of the reason of the state, understood less by legal principles than a tortured logic of exclusion.  For while the extant border was a site of recuperation of muralist public art, the new border wall serves to impose the fixity of the border as a site that offers no place to the individual refugee, migrant, or legal immigrant, but a blank canvas that symbolizes the absence of individual autonomy or subjectivity to cross the transborder space.  Indeed, rather than a collectivist statement of unity, whose monumental forms suggest a human struggle of collective identity and work, the construction of the wall is presented as a testimony of the need for an obstruction of the passage across the border to protect the nation, based on the knowledge and experiences of border communities, presented as a need to ensure and defend safety, national integrity, and economic power.  Like the symbolic language of muralism offered a replacement for the common iconography of sacred art, in its assertion of public identity, the border wall presents itself as nothing less than a new religion of the state.  While the comparison of the proposed border wall to the public panting of collective art muralism intended as an call to collective national consciousness and unity in post-revolutionary Mexico is a provocative comparison to the elevation of sovereign authority over the border by building a wall, the magnification of the border by the project and prospect of building a border wall has served to elevate a perilous image of nationhood, based less on ties of commonality, collective identity, or a rich historical legacy of individual involvement that muralists proposed than an unhealthy focus on the border as a site of danger, a frontier needed to be vigilantly guarded, and a threshold whose guarding substitutes for the defense of civil laws.

For in claiming to protect and secure the nation, the border wall becomes a performative exercise of the religion of the state, as much as it serves as a defense of political sovereignty.  The authority of the US-Mexico border wall, in unintentionally, seems to stand as an open rebuke and rebuttal to the hopeful ideals and huge figures in images of dynamic abundance such as the monumental Allegory of California (1931) by which Diego Rivera depicted the rich bestowal of gifts on of a heroic mother earth figure of California, in San Francisco, whose monumentalism addressed individual viewers by an almost tangible allegory of local abundance —

 

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–which set a basis, in one of the first large projects of the painter in the United States, set a basis for a new tradition of public moralism in western states.  The interchange between active labor, earth, and a united countryside, if not a united narrative of nation, offered an optimistic personification of a monumental Gaia-like state, who, her resources liberated by workers, grants “gold and fruit and grain for all” of its residents, the revolutionary art of Siqueiros that heroized his country, or the twined histories of the Americas that José Clemente Orozco organized of tragic but truly epic historical scope of the Ancient Migration and the Migration of the Human Spirit, extending the collectivist spirit of revolutionary nation.  Affirming a discourse of white privilege, indeed, rather than inclusion, the border wall is an imperative of religion of the nation that girds the border as a sight of defense, mapping the other as outsider in relation to the needs of the state, rather than celebrate the human subject as a force that is part of nature or culture. Rather, the proposed border wall seems to exist outside culture or nature, as an imperative to an endangered and threatened civility of the status quo.

The border wall erases the spirit of the migrant as it prevents migration, alleging compelling reasons of state and the new logic of the religion of the nation that replaces the law and any appeal to the law in its urgency.   Rather than portray a giving sense of the heroism of migration, indeed, the wall interrupts any freedom of migration and transborder or transnational citizenship, reducing citizenship to a notion of territoriality and land, by bounding the terrain of citizenship and affirming a new ordering of space, and a political theology about the boundaries of the state, and the subtraction of citizenship or rights from the “enforcement zone,” “border zone” or denial of the rights of political representation or legal status for all transnational migrants in the “dead zone” of the borderlands.   The absence in this zone of rights of the subject–the refugee, migrant, or itinerant subject–is paramountly defined by their statelessness and inability to fit between strict categories of sovereignty, rather than motion across states being celebrated as a point of access to the bounty of the land, or of the migration of the spirit as a celebration of the recuperation of a modern individual political identity.  By demonizing the practice of migratory mobility, as if by a principle of “earth-first” binding of the nation, the border inverts the celebration of the human spirit

 

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panel21Jose Orozco, Migration of the Modern Spirit (panels 1 and 21) (Dartmouth University)

 

There was a resurgence of the discursive practice of the political messages contained in  muralism as a form of public art in the resistance to decorating the border with monitory signs.  Is the Border Wall not only a map, but also a rebuttal to this tradition, and indeed to the painting of public rebuttals to the wall through paintings and commemorations in the past?  The absolute absence of any affect or visual address within the intentionally blank, sterile and almost industrial character of the wall seems in hidden dialogue or rebuke of an aesthetic of direct involvement of the viewer through its mute surface and corresponding evacuation or denial of individual human rights.  

 

1.  The triumph of industry, of rich historical cultures, or even of cultural conquest and revolutionary violence is compellingly replaced by the absence of any trace of human making or creation–or individual subjectivity–within the surface of the proposed border wall, which rather stands to deny individual liberty:  in place of an aesthetics of broad political involvement, the denial of the presence of those on the other side of the border wall stand as a vicious act of disenfranchisement, and even a denial of human subjectivity.  Indeed, if the heroic or epic narratives of monumental figures engage viewers in a pedagogic manner in muralist traditions by illustrating a narrative of nation, the proposed wall suggests a blunt lack of any national narrative, save the denial of the subjectivity of those on the other side.

 

 

 

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, and prevents the transformation of previous parts of the border wall to public sites of commemoration–remembering the suffering of those who attempted safe passage, or indeed of mural-art that has attempted to assert the fluidity of cross-border transit.

 

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–or that try to imagine the perspective that the future of the border wall will create for the migrant subject who is excluded from hopes of cross-border transit.

 

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Trump Vows To Build Border Wall Between Mexico And The U.S.

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Even as the proposed US-Mexico border wall is presented as girding the nation against multiple dangers, the new bounding of the nation that prevents any intervention or artistic transformation of the wall, by stating its own absolute authority as a re-writing of the nation.  The permanence of the models of the wall seem not so tacitly or subliminally suggested by the physics form of one of the mock-ups, which references the form of a flag, as if to suggest its similar permanence as can image and record of the nation, and proof of the nation’s continued existence, as if the nation could not exist without it:  indeed, the flag-like proportions in mock-ups suggests a new flag for the nation.  As 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–the wall suggested a sort of surrogate for the purification of the country, restoration of the economy, and an elevation of the minimum wage, wrapped into a poisoned promise of poured concrete.

It was no surprise that a group of Mexican-American veterans chose to paint a segment of the older wall near Tijuana in 2013 as if a mural that mirrored the use of the inverted flag to stage a signal of distress to the nation:  indeed, the deported former navy who chose the wall as a site for a cry of emergency and national belonging:  teerily prescient of the flag-like nature of the mock-ups, sections of which uncannily resemble a vertically hoisted flag, the wall sections painted by disabled veteran Amos Gregory, a resident San Francisco resident, who completed the painting with twenty deported veterans, recuperated the tradition of moralism to create a new story of the wall, where crosses of dead migrants replaced the stars of the stars and stripes, as if to appropriate the wall to a public narrative of nationhood.

 

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The inverted flag that a group of U.S to paint the flag, but expressed shocked at charges of using an iconography “hostile toward the United States of America,” and chose the inverted flag as a distress signal–to show honor to the flag, and to “mean no disrespect” to the nation, but to raise alarm at its  policies.  His dismay when asked to remove the mural by US Border Patrol sent a message of censorship as an attack on freedom of expression; Gregory incorporated crosses to commemorate on the wall the migrants who died seeking to enter the United States for better lives and livelihoods,  undermining the ideals of freedom he cherished.  By placing their memory on the wall, he sough not to dishonor the flag, but to use it as a symbol of extreme gravity that respects its ideals–and the etiquette of flag display, in the manner  future protests at the marginalization of migrants seeking asylum as they enter the United States at its border zone.

 

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The current mock-ups suggest, if unconsciously, an actual evacuation of patriotic ideals.  The MAGA President might have been conscious of how several of the so-called prototypes suggested a flag turned on its end, as if in a new emblem of national strength–

 

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–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.

 

1. 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.  At the deepest level, the wall exists in this discourse of urgency not as a proposition, but as an actuality that need only be built, and cannot–or need not–be mapped, less the practicalities of consequences of its construction by acknowledged.  The border wall, viewed in its prototypes, is somehow an expression of the unmappability and existential quality of the border wall that Trump wants; alien from its surroundings, and existing as an obstacle to entrance, it is a redefinition of the border from a site of passage to an obstruction.  The affirmation of the border as a “real border”–which Trump repeatedly ties to the status of the United States as a “real country”–seems to mean an impassible border, which lacks any negotiation, but is recognized as an element of the nation that needs to spatial location but acts to strip all outsiders of their their rights.  All attempts to map the border as a spatially situated place  seem to stand as a challenge to undo the imperative of the wall’s construction.

The faux consensual ties with the electorate perpetuate a fiction that a democracy runs on the contractual obligations between a government and populace, but have early been so focussed on geographically specific terms.  But in an age of anti-government sentiment, the icon of the wall has become an effective icon of describing the ineffectiveness of prior administrations, and an iconology embodying the new role of the executive in the age of Trump:  in an age of global mapping that seems to disrespect and ignore borders, we imagine migrants moving across them with the aid of GPS, or Google Maps, empowered by the location of border check-points on their cross-border transit,–

 

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In a rejoinder to these fears, the proposed border wall would map a continuity among the stations in different sectors administered by the US Border Patrol, already strikingly dense, and apparently easy to connect by a solid wall–

Border Checkpoints

 

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Strongman on the Border

The border was closed and immigration authorities simply ‘at capacity,’ announced newspapers, after a Caravan of migrants from Central America arrived.  In rejecting the ability to process new arrivals who lacked necessary papers of transit, the papers parroted a an anti-immigrant line, revising the southwestern border from a line of passage, or space of transit, in what seemed a meme about the border as a threshold of legality-as if a line defines the legality of those who cross it. The image that suggested migrants atop the wall, or of others scaling a dilapidated section of slatted border fence near San Isidro–“through a dark, treacherous canyon, notorious for human trafficking and drug smuggling”–collapsed multiple tropes of border-crossing on the least likely of targets:  a peaceful procession through Mexico that began on Easter Sunday, crossing borders to call global attention to migrants’ rights.

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While the simple visualization of the course of the procession that wound through Mexico City from the southernmost border of Mexico cannot trace the mental geography on which the arrival of migrants was mapped in the United States, the progress of Central American migrants was viewed and mapped by Donald Trump and FOX in terms of the desire to see their arrival from behind the proposed $18 billion border wall that has become a contentious object of debate.  As the number of arrests along the border has grown above 50,000 for the third straight month in a row, and more children separated from parents in an attempt to broadcast cautionary warnings about the dangers of attempting to cross the border, or to appeal to existing immigration laws by asylum pleas, stories of migrants that the proposed wall would silence are increasingly difficult to silence or contain, and the human narratives of migrants are increasingly difficult to place behind the imaginary screen of an insurmountable border wall,–which of course does not exist, save as a mental construct–but is cherished as one and difficult for many to relinquish or deny.  Even though there is no structure corresponding to the height, thickness, and architectural design that Trump had treated audiences during his campaign, the Caravan threatened to remind us that the wall didn’t exist, despite the attention that has been lavished on its proposed construction at a cost of an estimated $18 billion, far below what actual costs might in fact be.

The specter of the arriving migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras–the triumvirate of “failing states” that Trump has demonized and sought to distance the nation–seemed cast as an oddly unstoppable “horde” that had defied Mexican immigration authorities who had not turned them back, and whose arrival was magnified as a threat to create a persuasive image that reminded the nation of the urgent need for the wall.  After months of dehumanizing migrants as faceless hordes, poised at the border, migrants seemed to have arrived at the border fencing, about to breach an inadequate barrier that is a relic dating from the era of the Vietnam War.  The news of the progression of the Caravan–and clouded interpretation of what their aims for crossing the United States’ southwestern border truly were–led them to become a poster child for the urgency with which Donald J. Trump has so stridently advocated the construction of a “real wall,” with an intransigence that almost embodies the physicality of an actual concrete wall, a month before the construction of the border wall began in San Diego and Calexico, CA, replacing some fourteen miles of improvised border fencing that was long ago made of scrap metal to “secure our border” as a way to “make America great again.”  The promotion of building the border wall was a way to ensure “public safety” followed repeated images of migrants attempting to scale or protest before existing improvised fencing–

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-whose inadequacy to deal with the border threat Trump had relentless ridiculed as useless during his Presidential campaign.  The danger of cross-border traffic that Trump had repeatedly magnified circulated back to prominence within the national media with the arrival of the migrant Caravan.  The hope for the migrants to gain asylum in the United States was immediately questioned as their true agenda was assumed to be one of evading the border controls before the Wall was built–and the immigration laws that would permit their entry changed.

If the announcement of the construction was a feign of a a show of strength, and promoted as a basis for national pride, it was an insult to migrants petitioning for asylum, as the promotion of the border wall as a sign of national security debased the notion of the nation as one of laws and civil society.  The promotion of the wall as a slogan of nationalism remapped the nation in relation to the border, after all, in the Newspeak of social media and twitter–“Strong Borders are Security”, “Immigrants are Criminals”; “Refugees are Terrorists”–the border wall protected national security and projected the idea that all migrants were illegal.  The spatial imaginary of the border wall echoed the longstanding claim, made without evidence, that the immigrants at the border were “the worst” of their society, and for allowing an untold number of undesirables to enter the the nation.  As well as protesting the treatment of the United States”the dumping ground of European Refuse” as an insult to the nation, the insult was accepted by the nation.  The blame rests on citizens who are accept the very immigrants Europe does not want.  The image, which appeared just before Bartholdi’s “Statue of Liberty” was erected in New York Harbor, raised objections to accepting those rejected by Europe’s crowned heads, of dubious value to the nation that echoed Trump’s position.

European Refuse.pngKendrick, “And We Open Our Arms to Them” Life Magazine (July 12, 1885), 

The very chaotic narrative of depositing “human refuse”–a group of former colonials identified as “not like us” but being advanced by an invisible broom–was repeated in the image of the approaching Caravan, as the legitimacy of their requests for asylum from Central American nations were questioned, and suggested to be fundamentally an illustration of disrespect for the law.  The “Caravan” of over 1,000 migrants seeking a better life was widely mapped as a threat to sovereignty and law, recasting a protest march that promoted migrants’ rights as an invasion of sovereign space–and a grounds to deny migrants’ rights.  The  tweets of President Trump directed the attention of the country to the border to query the status of the migrants who were headed to the nation, as he announced instructions  “not to let these large Caravans of people into our country”–magnifying the migrants as a national threat through a dichotomy between “them” and “us.”   The anxieties about immigration policies that Kenrick’s cartoon registered panic at the caricatured faces of the new arrivals.

In announcing an intent of illegal entry across the border, Trump once again conjured the need for a border wall, as if trying to co-opt the message of migrants to create an image of a cross-border threat.  The construction of border walls against an “existential threat to the nation”–as did the former commander of the southern border who was named Trump’s director of Homeland Security and now his Chief of Staff—creates an urgency for protection that corrodes the possibility of an open society.  Kelly’s disparagement of migrants as “people who would not easily assimilate into the United States,” “overwhelmingly rural,” from countries where “fourth, fifth, and sixth grade education are the norm,” described them with the same disdain as Kendrick’s cartoon from the early Life of the 1880s protested the insult by which ex-colonials were sent to the United States as to Australia or India, which had indeed become “dumping grounds” for convicts, remittance men, and socially unwanted cast-offs, as well as seeing them as barbarians who threatening the social fabric of the United States.  The disparagement of migrants who are seeking asylum as uneducated, of rural origins, or indeed, as Kelly’s remarks must have reminded his audience, criminals.

ICE 2014 arrests gangs--ms13?ICE Arrests of undocumented immigrants, 2014

The disproportionate warnings of a “border threat” or “trouble at the border”  telegraphed on Twitter was inserted in a narrative rooted in the plan to create a border barrier of cast concrete in August 2015, in the heat of the Presidential election–a mission that crystallized support behind Trump’s campaign.  Trump insisted that the border wall he advocated wasn’t rhetorical, symbolic, or virtual–a space defined by hi-tech monitoring–but an impervious barrier that would succeed where other poor-quality fencing had failed.

The build-up of the arrival of the migrant caravan ran against the disproportionate attention that Trump had drawn to the border.  As Trump pedaled the fiction that the wall had already been begun, newscasters on FOX mapped a showdown by the approach toward the border of “that scary migrant caravan” of Central Americans with American law enforcement as inevitable, placing the migrants in a narrative of unwieldly crisis of immigration management on the US-Mexico border.  In ways that intersect with a broad unease of increased immigration–often manifesting itself in extreme xenophobia, othering and racism–a vaguely masked anti-immigrant sentiment that has growth in the United States over the last four to five years which Trump has deftly exploited. For the ‘border wall’ was recognized code for a thinly disguised racism, captured in John Kelly’s characterization of the Caravan–and migrants–as “overwhelmingly rural people” not capable of assimilating, who “don’t have the [necessary] skills” to do so, and are “overwhelmingly rural people,” as if ignoring just how dependent U.S. farms are on immigrant labor.

The disproportionate attention the Trump and his planned border wall directed to the southwestern border made the region seem far more immediate to all Americans–and defined the Caravan’s approach as national news.  Although the formation of such “Caravans”–a name not coined by Americans, though it gained new spin in the mouth of President Donald J. Trump, who had grown frustrated with an uptick in U.S. Border Patrol metrics of illegal entry–the tactic that was long adopted by advocacy groups to foreground migration difficulties was used by the group Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, whose name was seen as revealing their opposition to the redefinition of the southwestern border of the United States, which has also been mapped onto the wall–creating a reflexive panic at the sight of large crowds of unidentified migrants marching toward the border.  The legal and physical obstacles that Trump promised to place on Mexicans or Central Americans seeking entry to the United States were always twinned, but the arrival of the migrant Caravan seemed to give it a new urgency, and to legitimize, as a suddenly mainstream demand of border management, the ability to control human cross-border flows.

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The march was described disdainfully as a “political stunt” in media, as the Attorney General and Director of Homeland Security demonized the “Caravan of migrants.”  Trump had promised the nation a border wall unlike the reclaimed corrugated metal fencing in Tijuana, but made of  “precast [concrete] plank,” a protective barrier far more powerful and robust than the inadequate fencing he treated as “a joke” and a disgrace to the nation, and which the multitude of migrants were seen as able to cross, but in need of immediate arrest and detention in a fantasy of border enforcement.  If Trump had promised to be a strongman at the border, the old border wall seemed indeed flimsy obstacles, unable to stop even the crowd from the Caravan who arrived to petition for asylum at San Ysidro, CA.

Migrants arrive at Tijuana

The peaceful protest of the Caravan de madres centroamericanas, to use their full name, was recast as a march of opposition to Trump’s border policy, while for Trump, as some three hundred odd members of the Caravan arrived at San Isidro, a recognized port of entry, in five busloads, and mounted on a fence made of repurposed scrap metal became for President Trump evidence of a crisis of sovereignty.  In response to a crisis he seemed to have created on Twitter, he ordered the Department of Homeland Security to “stop the caravan,” displaying his knack for sound bytes and slogans, and imagine that, searching for the right string of capital letters on his keyboard,  only “a strong, impenetrable WALL. . . will end this problem once and for all”–even if the problem lay with the places the migrants had fled.  The motion of “migrants,” now cast as “illegal aliens” in the right-wing press, even as they hoped for a miracle from god able to “touch the hearts of immigration agents,” was not able to be seen clearly by many, even if their course was carefully mapped over the previous month in increasingly colorful reportage.

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, immigration, mapping the US-Mexican border, unauthorized immigrants

Fear of NAFTA

Our jobs are being sucked out of our economy by the deal her husband signed,” bellowed Trump pompously during the final Presidential Debate of 2016.  If he didn’t provide much evidence for the departed jobs that he conjured to suggest his opponent had encouraged the decline of the American economy, he conjured fear from the audience with apparent desparation.  Despite prominently referencing the bad trade deals made by the United States government from the 1990s, Trump wanted to lay blame at the feet of Hillary Clinton for a treaty that has become quite a symbol of the danger open borders pose to the conservative media as well as to Trump supporters.  Trump evoked NAFTA in a terrifyingly effective way, even if the sort of association Trump was trying to make ignored the benefits of NAFTA brought to both states–but he linked the signing of the treaty to an “open borders” policy as if it were pegged to a narrative of national 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.

 

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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–

 

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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.

 

US Employment Manufacutring, to 2014.pngBrookings Policy Program

 

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:

 

20kristof_cartoon-articlelarge

 

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.

 

SPT-Mexico2016-F3.png

 

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.

 

nafta-powerpoint-9-638

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.

 

NAFTA-related_job_losses_since_1993.gif

 

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.

 

NAFTA:WTO.png

 

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.

 

nasco-trade-corridors-map

 

 

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:

 

Screen Shot 2016-10-21 at 8.54.19 AM.png

 

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.

 

nafta highway.jpg

 

nafta-super-highway

 

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.

 

mwatchmap

walmartclosings0

mwatchmap.jpg

 

 

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.

 

ports_to_plains_map_1.jpg

 

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.

 

MEXICO-JOBS

 

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–

 

TServ-Chart-1.gif

OutsourceMap

 

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

 

 

TServ-01

 

 

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, North American Free Trade Agreement

Mapping the Material Surplus along the US-Mexico Border

When running for President of the United States, Donald J. Trump already betrayed a shaky knowledge of the territory. He didn’t want you to think that a wall had already been built along the southwestern boundary of the United States.  Now occupying the Oval Office, he seeks to convince the nation that it is in fact being built, and that the need for a permanent, impassible “wall” exist, despite Congress’s refusal to allocate new funds for a “border wall.”

But the massive show of force of cyclone fencing, regular patrols, and bullet-proof barriers set a precedent of border fencing since the 1990s, and something like a precedent for redrawing the nation in ways that are designed to resist changes in a globalized world. In ways that Trump has put on steroids as a racist divide between outsiders and “Americans,” and used as a vehicle for an “America First” agenda, as filling a need to remap strong divide between nations that would replace an “open border,” able to protect the nation, the “border wall” has become fetishized as a paradigm of the unilateral mapping of global space–in terms of actual sovereign bounds, and as a way to remap the nation’s involvement in the world and shuns international responsibilities. If the rhetorical role of the “border wall” has replaced its actuality, and mapped the proximity of the nation to the border in both duplicitous and quite dangerously simplified ways, only by returning to the border, and viewing the existing scars on its lived landscape and the traces of the migrants who have crossed it, can we unmapped the mental mapping of the border.

The effectiveness of the current complex of bollard fencing, barbed wire, steel fencing, cyclone fence, prison-wall like bars, and other obstacles has become one of the largest collections of military surplus in the United States, an accumulation of military materiel that appears designed to remind those who see it of their absence of rights.  As much as a defense against globalization or immigration, the border wall stands as a fiction.  Although some Americans lend credence to the idea that a barrier along the border could prevent “unlawful” entry of the country, whether such entry is in face unlawful–and what sort of balance of justice would be reinstated–is unclear.  The frontier is constructed as site for denying justice, and a denial of human rights, both embodied in the a massive build-up of military material and show of force in its regime.  

The construction of the border as a region that denies civil and legal rights–a “negative space” of sovereignty and liberty–has redefined its relation to the state.  While the project of a wall seems to mirror the lines of a map that would separate two countries, the simple division of national zones and spatial division more of a fiction in the transborder region.  The compulsion to create a map that was present on the earth–a sort of scar between two regimes–depends on defining a space outside of either state, overseen by someone who has no interest in securing rights of its inhabitants.

In this sense, Donald Trump is the perfect messenger of a circumscription of personal rights. When Trump urges the nation that no choice exists save a wall– “We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier”–citing that any agreement with Congress for “a fair deal” to be far off, he invokes a notion of fairness and justice that he argues it would create a sense of security–and promote a sense of national security as well as personal security–but relies on evoking the sense of fear and vulnerability that “open borders” conjure.  Without any clear statistics or evidence for its value, save the magnification of border security, the need for a border wall is only a fantasy, based on an imagined. As someone who defines himself outside the political classes, and apart from an interest in preserving civil rights–or a sense of the role of government in the preservation of the nation’s liberties–Trump is perfectly suited to define himself in terms of the border wall, which he seems to be set on developing as a property.

1. The sense of justice or security is altogether absent from the landscape of the wall, and from its already heavily militarized region.  The absence of place along the border is particularly striking as the accumulation of increasing obstacles to cross-border transit seem designed to preserve a sense of the integrity of the nation–and the safety of our own sense of place–in a world increasingly defined outside of the nation-state as a category, where “states” have decreasing presence or meaning for many American citizens, and most inhabitants of the globe.

In an era of the continuous extent of global space, where borders of nations are to a large extent rendered arbitrary in the virtual space of the meridians of the widely adopted Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system–

–there seems an urgency that is more easily created of the need to define a boundary line, and to believe that the ideal border line of a national map can conjure the antiquated entity of the “nation”and defend it against the danger of migrating threats.  Invoking the fear of the dangers of cross-border movements  are so often epeated by the America First movement–“bad hombres,” rapists, murderers, or criminal networks, drug cartels, and multi-nationals that go beyond the current systems of state-based law enforcement, that seem designed to suggest threats that only a clear partition of territories can stop,

Migratory Routes of White Pelicans in the United States Originating from the Gulf of Mexico



Historical and Current Sites of American Black Bear in Mexico

In  ways that echo the growth of border walls world-wide–only fifteen existed in 1990; there are beyond seventy–the US-Mexican border barriers already constitute one of the most massive investments in wall-building–and the most massive project of wall-building that exists.  Rather than offer a spatial division that can serve to protect the nation, or reassure us of the possibility of law enforcement, the complex created around the militarized complex serves only to suspend individual rights, as much as to guarantee the law.  Ie exists in an atmosphere of compromised legality, if not  lawlessness, in the name of security.  

Rather than see to create a secure spatial division, the border has been transformed into a deeply hostile landscape, a site seeking to erase or obliterate any sense of individuality, however much the wall is identified with justice or national protection against the threat of criminal elements.  The rhetoric of wall-building that invokes justice indeed obscures the utter injustice of its construction.  The 2,500 mile barbed wire fence that India is building to separates itself from Bangladesh, the US-Mexico border wall would be by far the longest such wall in the globe, as if a bald rebuttal to globalization and a declaration of American self-interest:  if intended to illustrate American strength against the specter of the threat of the cross-border movement of workers, criminals, or lawlessness, it claims the ability to remove surgically the territorial United States from the dangers globalization has wrought.  

In this sense, the project of wall-building is a promise to protect the sense of “place” of the nation.  At the same time as our sense of the nation and our sense of place has dramatically altered for reasons beyond any individual nation, the wall reified the nation as an entity, even as the distinct nature of the nation is unclear.   John Berger observed grimly, but surprisingly presciently, toward the end of his life, after touring the Occupied Territories in the Middle East, that “The present period of history is one of the Wall,” shortly after 9/11, he foretold the policing of border-crossings and humanity, ” . . . concrete, bureaucratic surveillance, security, racist walls.”  The new definition of walls that are defined to separate hoary categories of race or ethnicity are increasingly evident in all too frequent attempts to create barriers of regional protection.  They are based on the sense that national survival depends urgently on such massive projects of enclosure, as if such projects could be isolated from their huge effects and psychological consequences for those who might confront them on the ground.

The current emptying of words–emergency; invasion; criminality; violence; human-trafficking–make them tags to activate the border within the political imaginary, but conceal the actuality of the borderlands where the military is already present, and the lands are already quite secure–and quite vacant of habitation.

2.  The place of the amassing of materials and military materiel along the US-Mexico border seems designed to create a new experience of the border, and to make it scarily real for those who might seek to move across it or to regard it as part of a zone of permeability.  The exquisite photographs portraits of the wall by west coast photographer Richard Misrach has worked to document  the extent to which border barriers have changed experience of the border crossing.  

The barriers progressively built on the southern border of the United States reveals a new heights of the costs of bureaucratic surveillance in the name of border security.  As if in a second episode of his classic Desert Cantos, begun in the 1970s, which, Geoff Dyer noted, “record the residue of human activity inscribed in these apparently uninhabited lands,” in an attempt to explore “the multiplicity of meanings in the idea of desertness.”  The residue of the human is even more haunting in Misrach’s new project, and the photographs that result of human traces on the border, because they are emblems of the disenfranchisement of the borderlands that hauntingly parallel their military build-up. One might even say Misrach interrogates the landscape in his work–if the word didn’t tragically resonate so closely with the state-security apparatus on the US-Mexico border. Misrach dwells on human traces that lie around the militarization of the borer regions–from the cultural detritus left by cross-border travelers, left on migrations, the security apparatus encountered at border, and the hollow loneliness of the massive redesign of its landscape capture the expanded military-defensive complex at the border.

This evacuated land is the region that Donald Trump has come to champion as a basis for defense from national emergencies. The argument that the border is understaffed erases the rewriting of the transborder landscape that has already occurred. Misrach’s contemplation of magnificent vistas, broad traces of the inscription of authority at the border, and the reduction of the human, are truly Kafkaesque in their nightmarish reduction of the individual before the inscription of authority in its landscape.

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Near Campo, CA. ©2008 Michael Dear

3.  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, long before Donald proposed to build a “beautiful wall” to prevent crossing the US-Mexican border. If the expression reveals a lack of compassion, its problematic nature is even deeper: it reveals Trump’s peculiar identification with an apparatus of border protection, and of human containment, and the removal in his eyes of that apparatus from a discourse of rights.

Trump has celebrated the wall as if it were a new hotel and building project–asserting that he has the needed expertise to build and design it.  Trump presented himself to the American press that he was perfectly suited to such a task, since building is what “I do best in life.”  “I’m a great builder,” he assured his audiences, with considerable self-satisfaction, to suggest his suitability to the position as chief executive, despite his lack of political experience; defining himself apart from other political candidates in the vision of the nation that he supported, Trump added with evident satisfaction, “Isn’t it nice to have a builder?”  

Precisely because he came from outside the political sphere, and outside the government that preserves and respects individual rights, he has been presented as a perfect fit for a region that lies and has developed as outside the securing of individual rights.  By having a “builder” of the nation and the nation’s identity, he suggested, rather than a politician, he could guarantee the increased presence of the military along the nation’s southwestern border, and indeed promised to dedicate an increased amount of the national budget to the defense of this borderland.  Precisely because Trump lacks interest in guaranteeing or preserving the rights of migrants, or rights of asylum to the nation, he is a perfect custodian and symbol of this over-militarized zone without rights.  As a man without military experience, but cowed by military authority, he has become, as President, the perfect surrogate for the stripping of rights for people who try to cross the border.

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

The inspired gesture of a monumental wall to be built across our Southern Border with Mexico, if a sign of weakness far more than one of strength, obliterating hope for the promise of a future, as Berger noted, intended to overwhelm and oppress as a monument to decadence and American insularity.  Outfitted with not only walls, fences, and obstacles but checkpoints and surveillance cameras, the US-Mexican border has become a pure hypostatization of state power.  And although Trump’s promises to build 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.”

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Mark 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  the “illegal” immigrants who were surveilled by the U.S. Border Patrol at the highly monitored militarized border, designed to thwart unregistered immigration.  The argument that the old border fence is now outdated, and contiains gaps–

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

–has been demonstrated repeatedly in maps.  And 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.

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Badge 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.

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Richard 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 grandiosity of the wall as a project of Trump’s megalomania led the architects at the  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

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Agustin Avalos/Estudio 3.14

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 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 substitute surpassing the expansion of border security in recent decades.

4.  Indeed, as the transborder region has dramatically expanded with the expansion of cross-border trade since NAFTA in 2004, the expansion of the trans-border region has been widely neglected, and rarely mapped.  The attention the photographic mapping of the human experience of border crossing–evident in the abandoned detritus and remains of cross-border transit–present a ghostly counter-map to the expanded border region.  

This human map is all too often unfortunately overlooked, even with increased attention Republican presidential candidates have paid to remapping a closed border and constructing a border wall, a project that seems to erase or remove the broad area of cross-border traffic that occurs within the immense region that surrounds the physical border–whose sociological expansion is so oddly conveniently erased by any project of wall building along a region demanding to be recognized as being part of the United States.

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Barajas/Sisto/Gaytán/Cantú/Hidalgo López (2014)

Most boundaries between states are regularly rendered in maps by dotted lines, as if to recall milestones–miliaria–placed at regular intervals on perimeters of lands or counties in earlier times.  But the borer strip that is embedded in an expanded border area is a site of increasing surveillance that seems to engrave itself on the land.  To map the proposed building of a fence along the 2, 428 mile border between Mexico and the United States reveals a the expansion of the policing of the national borderspace, erasing its past status as a transit zone across which people and goods easily moved.

In an age of globalization, borders are increasingly not only policed, but managed at a distance from their crossing lines–and increasingly invoked in Presidential elections as if they have become the primary charges of governmental management.  Constructed to symbolize and symbolically represent sovereign authority, the overbuilt border seems staged a spectacle to impede human movement and to monitor and erase, individual experience, and to bolster the appropriately faceless authority of the state.  Borders once the creation of shared conventions, are colonized by an apparatus designed to impose state authority on helpless people, and constructed at massive cost as artifacts that seem to exist to violently intersect with actual lived experience, confronting the cross-border motion or migration of populations, and concretizing the need for a fixed frontier as a need of the nation.

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Getty Images

5.  The huge popularity of advocating construction on a continuous border wall within Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign to seal the frontier along Mexico’s sovereign territory reveals the degree to which borders become a means to assert failing claims to sovereignty–even as it is an attempt to reassert the authority of an individual nation-state by unilaterally asserting its own abilities to police its bounds.  How the border gained such broad purchase on the national imaginary is unclear, and may require another post–but the incommensurability of the alleged solution and the situation on the ground demands empirical evaluation.  Revisiting the spectacle of the border and the suffering it creates engages broad advocacy to the continuous wall advocated alike by such presidential candidates like Trump and Ted Cruz–and the explicit violence they serve by of subjecting social life of border-crossing to surveillance in the name of national security.

And so it is apt that, in Border Cantos, a recent collaboration between photographer Misrach and Mexican-born composer Guillermo Galindo, the amassing of capital on the US-Mexico border is so eloquently documented and revealed as the brutalizing landscape that it is.  More than any map is able, their collaboration bears witness to the expansion of the border’s imprint on the lives of migrants in incredibly moving ways, by asking viewers to evaluate the costs of the overbuilt structure of the fence, and assembling the artifacts and unintended traces that were found and collected about the border–traces accidentally left by actual migrants from backpacks to sneakers to books to children’s clothing and dolls to the spent shotgun shells that targeted migrants or the bicycles used to overcome border barriers–to reflect their social experience.   These remains are human traces that do not appear on any actual map, of course, but are the remains of the violence that is enacted on how national boundaries are mapped–and the continued violence of the experience of border crossing that intersects with the broad security apparatus on either side of the border fence.  As if to accompany Misrach’s photographs of the human geography of the borderlands–a largely empty space with few humans and only scattered human markers and material possessions–Galindo fashioned musical instruments whose playing is able to generate sounds in his own scores, specific to the surreal fraught space of the overbuilt borderlands, an eery score to accompany Misrach’s haunted landscapes, and remind us of the human presence that is so often necessarily absent from the images.

Such ephemera pale in contrast to the experience of migrants, to be sure, but offer both avenues of empathy and proofs of the brutality with which sovereign authority intersects with the mundane everyday at the border walls, in the built space that runs across the emptiness of the desert borderlands.

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March 1, 2016 · 1:06 pm

Mapping Migrants’ Deaths along National Divides

Mortality is mapped to gain a grasp of geographical distributions of illnesses over space.  The mapping of death helps to embody the pathways of disease, and allow us to see otherwise inapparent vectors of transmission, which have historically provided crucial ways to assign meanings to a disease’s effects and pathways.  In ways, the map manufactures and embodies the pathways of a disease’s infectious spread: the rise of deaths in the borderland between the United States and Mexico can only be mapped as a dereliction of national responsibility that charts an erosion of civil and moral codes.  The recent erosion of civil law and attacks on immigration law conceal a longstanding withdrawal of responsibility along the border, opening the way to creating the borderland as a military jurisdiction—rather of civil law.

We have long mapped diseases to grapple with their causation.  Even before the bacillus of a disease might be known or seen, the founder of modern epidemiology, John Snow, critiqued miasmatic theories of contagion by mapping the distribution with which cholera spread across London neighborhoods during the 1854 London epidemic, visualizing the disease as a social network of contagion by a dot map of neighborhood outbreaks that used a dot map to as proof that “nearly all the deaths had taken place within a short distance of the [Broad Street] pump” whose water was a vector of transmission.  The distribution of mortality around public fountains provided a basis to demonstrate vectors of contagion for Dr. Snow, and by mapping all deaths from cholera to have occurred in recent years in relation to one pump on Broad Street in relation to London’s thirteen city wells by a voronoi diagram.

By locating each and plotting the distribution of deaths from cholera in the city in relation to the significant incidence of deaths form cholera near specific street-pumps revealed a way to grasp infectious transmission from the Broad Street pump that embodied a new notion of contagious diseases that challenged miasmatic transmission—making for the first time a clear spatial argument about how disease existed and moved in an urban environment, and presented a second map, with clearly traced polygons to indicate routes of transmission to the local parish showing routes of walking by which the disease was transmitted—using the recent mapped deaths from cholera in London Edmund Cooper tabulated—

 

—in hopes to encourage a level of civic engage about the origins of cholera infections that had plagued Londoner’s for twenty eras in the city’s fabric.

The source of deadly infections that this famous data visualization revealed suggests the communication of fatalities by a clustering that indicated clear routes of the spatial communication of a viral infection, focused on a large subset of deaths in close vicinity to the Broad Street pump, even without bacteriological or microscopic evidence.

The exact distribution Snow organized contrast to the terrifying distributions of the deaths of migrants seeking passage across the border, which resists any extraction of an explanatory framework or conclusion, but raises questions about the inhumanity of the terrain we have created.

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Dot maps of migrant deaths follow no such clear distribution, and has no sense of transmission form a single site.  It forces us to acknowledge the deep problems of the criminalization of immigration on the Mexican-US frontier by charging its human costs.  The sites of mortality from hunger and thirst are tragically dispersed over a far great undefined space, but embody the human costs of existing border policy, even a decade before Donald J. Trump used the management of the southwestern border as a campaign talking point to pole vault into public politics.

No similar diagrams can be drawn to elucidate the range of dead bodies discovered in the desert of migrants who were attempting transit into the United States for better homes: can one better explain their deaths b a virtual miasma of cruelty that fills the air of the border zone. Their deaths were caused by dehydration and starvation, as well as cold, but suggest nothing so much as a miasma of neglect. The distribution of deaths of migrants in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, adjacent Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Reserve, and O’Odham Reservation already illustrated a dereliction of national responsibilities.

The map is a deeply tragic reminder of the loss of life that is forgotten in the dry expanses of these deserts where the border, such as it is, lies, and the distinctly disturbing regime of a lack of interest or care for human fate that—even with the mortality of children in detention camps at the border—still can stretch incredulity at the evidence it offers of a large theater of cruelty.  They recall the denial of burial to the bodies of enemies in the ancient world, left as prey to dogs and vultures:   the Enlightenment jurist Giambattista Vico faced considerable difficulty explaining to his readers that there was a time when the bodies of anyone was left unburied in an earlier age in his Scienza Nuova, “an inhuman custom—so contrary to what the  writers on natural law of all people’s claim to have been practiced among any nation— . . . which [once] prevailed among the barbarous peoples of Ancient Greece,” described in Homer’s Iliad, and at which he marveled as “crude, coarse, wild, savage, volatile, unreasonable and unreasonably obstinate . . . and foolish unreasonable customs,” far removed from his own age and from the imagination of his readers, so “discordant” was it with our own civil age. Yet the unburied dead whose bodies have been located in states of extreme decomposition along this border zone reveal a discordant reminder of the return of such an inhuman custom on the borders—and within the borders—of what we consider is a region that is distinguished and administered by civil laws. Whether this region can be rightly considered a region of lawfulness or civility seems to be raised and put on the front burner by the discovery and attempted identification of the human remains discovered lying in the desert, often dramatically decomposed, of migrants’ bodies dating from the administration of George W. Bush.

If Vico could scarce imagine the barbarity of leaving bodies exposed to the elements even in war—and the spectacular cruelty of the dragging of the body of Hector around the perimeter of Troy three times—among those who “were held to have spread humanity across the world,” given the sheer physical disgust of leaving the body unburied, and given that “all gentle nations certainly concur that souls [of the unburied] remain restlessly on earth, wandering around their buried bodies,” from Guinea to Peru to Mexico to Virginia to New England to Siam, the readiness of Christians to leave the dead unburied by the border, if not intentionally, haunts the border region with its own inhumanity. The violence of this early heroic age was before the age of laws of nations, for Vico, and belonged to the age of “violent and impious men who dared to enter the cultivated fields [] in pursuit of the weak who had fled thither to escape them,” and belonged to “the vulgar customs of the barbarous Greece” of Homer’s day, and adequate burial in fact constituted one of the three institutions of human society—with marriage and religion—in ways that betray the huge remove of a heroic era, which incredibly lacked burial customs or rites, from our own.

Yet the abandonment of unburied bodies has returned in the no-man’s land of the US-Mexico borderland, where the abandoned bodies of would-be migrants fall between governing bodies and accepted customs.  Migrants that were stopped during the course of their attempts to reach a new life in the US were clustered at a distance from the border but reveal the amazing distances many undocumented migrants travel before they collapse, without food, and most often out thirst and dehydration–leaving them exposed as “prey to dogs and vultures” in the very horrifying ways that Vico was so horrified. The recent spatial distribution of such abandoned cadavers and corpses, left without any rites of burial, force the viewer to scrutinize its mute surface of dots against a deceptively pastel base map as if they might magically be able to glean or recuperate the silent, forever-lost stories of migrants who lost their lives attempting to cross the border, and the stories of whose travails and travels can never be told. The ends of their lives, reduced to the finality of a bright red circular dot in the data visualization, out of scale, arrests attention but is disarmingly and alarmingly flat, resistant to any further narrative or even identifiable name.  Over 2,000 dead migrants whose bodies were retrieved at a significant distance from the border suggest their desperation to make their way across the border by clandestine routes, and the extreme climactic difficulties that they face, with few adequate provisions for crossing deserts whose expanse they feel forced to travel to search for jobs–risking their lives to do so.  

Ex Voto painted to express thanks for successful crossing of the Rio Grande

If the many migrant deaths of those attempting to cross the border between the United States and Mexico are often expressed by crosses that are hung on sections of the fragmentary “border wall,”—

—the precise distribution of the dead in sites of their death is rarely preserved in public memory, and the archive of dead migrants who did not survive passage is rarely assembled as a geospatial record.

The number of the dead remains but a fraction of those who have actually died attempting to travel north, leaving detritus and lost objects in their wake that only beg deciphering as images.  For although their overlap suggest something like a clustering that might belong to an external infective agent, the alarming nature of the red points call attention to the human costs–and the anonymity of lives lost–that are the victims of the intense dangers of border-crossing that migrants accept and undergo, who we have forced to accept and risks of dehydration, heat stroke, hyperthermia, and starvation which have killed them.

GIS Mapping of Individual Deaths on Arizona Border

If the deaths of those attempting to cross the border will probably never be know with precision—and is often lost to oblivion—the recovery of human remains affords a grim picture of the actuality of recovering the dead, and the attempts to name, identify, commemorate and memorialize their fates as well as prevent the loss of their identities, despite the jarringly abstract geospatial symbology of this map, and the minuscule proportion of those remained that have been so far identified.

This project of memory and memorialization, echoing the imagery of northward passage in the famous Underground Railroad taken by fugitive slaves taught to recognize the handle of the Big Dipper to follow the North Star to find their path to freedom, “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” the symbol of the constellation has been adopted by the Humane Borders organization which has identified remains and sought to allow them offer needed geospatial assistance to migrants in their search to find a path north.

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Filed under boundaries, data visualization, GIS, mortality maps, US Border Patrol, US-Mexico Border