Tag Archives: undocumented migrants

The False Imperative of the Border Wall

President Donald Trump’s most astounding victory is to remap the proximity of much of the nation to the proposed border wall.  For 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.  It has effectively magnified the borderlands through the terribly exaggerated violent penstroke of an executive order, which stand to reverberate endlessly in our spatial imaginary of the nation–even if its need is hardly warranted as a form of national defense.  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 and inseparable from it–as if to make the current project of re-bordering an improvement of our national security–a process of re-bordering that is a new performance of sovereignty, simultaneously symbolic, functional, and geopolitical in nature.

 

 

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 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.  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.   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.’  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 mistakenly understood 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.  For 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!”–removed from any logic argument.

By isolating the artifact of the wall as a sort of grail and site of redemption and religion of the nation, the tribalist cry to Build the Wall! has become a false imperative that Trump sees fit to treat as a basis for shutting down the government, and indeed as a logic for his particular brand of governing.  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.  Much as his earlier call 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.  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–no doubt 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, suggests the disorientation of the project, as well as a distortion of what a border is and should be that shows little understanding of effective governance.  

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 Richard Serra sculpture than the imposing frontier he desires and has promised America–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 that it has never held in American politics.

 

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The increased proximity of the nation’s inhabitants to the border was intentional, and assisted the transactional nature of the wall 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.     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.  The growth of such 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.

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

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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The momentum of masses “heading to the border”without visas or documents “who no one in Mexico dares to stop” that Buzzfeed reported conjured an image of illegality, or just “headed here”–in vague terms that meant toward American sovereignty–bolstered by the longstanding promise of security that Trump had promised in the border wall.   For FOX, the group was “a small army of migrants marching to the US.”  The elevation of the border as violated line of sovereign power, translated the border from map to territory  to sovereignty, creating not only a false idea of safety and community.  Trump exploited this idea when his tweet sought to magnify the “small army” to a vague charge about the border “getting more dangerous” in ominous tones.  Trump was long acutely aware that the border wall was, in his eyes, the most politically important subject of discussion with Mexican President Enrique Nieto in earl 2017, as the wall was a crucial to his promises to the American electorate.

For the southwestern border had grown more proximate to much of the nation than it had ever been in previous years.  Evoking the border-crossing reminded the nation of the dangers of the deferment of a national project of wall-building.  Migrants stood for the vulnerability of the nation that was not only a narrative about fraudulent requests for asylum, but a failure of Mexico at “stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their southern border and then into the US.”  The  march became all about crossing borders that needed to be enforced, as “an army of migrants is marching to America . . . all the way from Honduras,” reframing a Buzzfeed story of migrants “boldly crossing military checkpoints” to their imminent arrival.  The story became one about whether their claims for asylum will be granted or if this “freedom march” was unlawfully breaking laws, with an agenda against Trump’s notion of the border wall;  the crisis of  migrants arriving in the United States through illegal networks or in illegal conditions in search of the American dream was recast as an open violation of  American law and immigration protocols.

Federal criminal charges were filed, against eleven of the migrants who presented them to the law for asylum.  As the chief law officer of the United States declared that they revealed diminished “respect for the rule of law” compromising “our ability to protect our great nation, its borders and its citizens,” stating “The United States will not stand by as our immigration laws are ignored and our nation’s safety is jeopardized,” the safety of the migrants was not only elided or bracketed, but removed from the map:  the protest was not an illustration of the conditions of migrants or the dangers of passage in an area where migrants are themselves subject to criminal gangs, cartels, and opportunistic smugglers, who place them on special assignments, but they embodied the threats to the nation.  The executive prerogative that allowed the construction of the wall, over-riding existing laws without congressional approval in ways that remapped the relation of the United States to the world and the legal protections offered those petitioning for asylum.  For while brushing aside the inadequacy of earlier projects of fencing along the border–once mapped as important national projects in 2009–but varying in height–

 

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–the ramping up of a notion of national protection by a “real wall,” announcing  its “beauty” as if to signal its impervious character, and to accentuate an obstacle that would dissuade all migrants from attempting to traverse.  But in promising to expand the border as a monument to national defense in cost concrete seemed to obscure even the legitimate cases of migrants for asylum.

Premonitions of a “public clash” between “some perhaps trying to make it across [the border] illegally,” from the southern Mexican border, the lack of ability to control cross-border movements seemed a particular point of frustration for team Trump, who long identified the border wall as the only means to national security.  Trump  treated the border wall as an executive right, not respecting individual rights or legal process, in response to issues of national security and protection he depicts as an ongoing state of war.  In ways that echoed–or bolstered his radical declarations of absolutist understanding of presidential authority, Trump treated the wall ss a personalization of executive authority, not only imagining that the border wall be named after him–as the Eisenhower Highway System–“Maybe someday they’ll call it the Trump Wall,” he mused back in August 2015—but glorifying his efforts at massive deportation as akin to Eisenhower’s mass deportation effort, a forced migration of populations that stands to obscure laws of individual asylum, human rights and civil protections, and disrupt the American economy.  And so it is not surprising that Trump seems ready to shut down the government again, if funding for completing the border wall is not agreed to by Democrats in the Senate and House, as he tries his hardest to convince the nation of its urgency, and the urgency of revising the supposed “loopholes,” increasing the authority of Border Patrol agents, and streamlining the procedures of extradition–or, basically, of stripping the migrants of any rights.

Such a notion of the border wall that replaces and erases the stories of the people who might cross it, and deprives them of any rights, as it sets up a narrative of deportation.   And the sense of such a protective wall stood as the understory and tacit subject of the caravan that sought to protest the dangers to which migrants had been subjected or fled.  Their stories were predictably subsumed to a story about our nation:  tweets volleyed about “caravans” of deported illegal aliens for a moth, evoking how Trump so often elevated the border wall as a national project–and a form of bluster that trumps the law.  The migrants who travelled together to protect themselves from violence had been mipmapped as the enemies Trump promised to keep outside the nation; Trump even seemed unable to process their existence in terms other than refracted into opposing camps through the prism of the “beautiful” border wall.  The plight of the migrant was erased with the international braggadocio of a unilateral wall desperately needed to ensure national security, as their struggle became a basis to assault existing immigration policies.  The border wall promised to erase existing immigration laws, as Trump seemed to position himself both as a political outsider and to cast immigration in partisan terms.

 

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The very project of the border wall, a poor cartography of nationhood and national sovereignty, suggests an abandonment of attention to context, contextual meaning, and to privilege tools of geometric bounding that seem to have locked much of the nation into a vicious circle of inflexible thinking that sacrifices the individual and the law to an archaic wall.  To be sure, a slim majority of likely voters agreed “the United States should continue building a border fence along the Mexican border” in 2013, and although that decreased slightly when asked about a “wall along the Mexican border,” and aseems to have further decreased among registered voters in 2016 or when asked in 2016 about building a wall “along the entire border,” Donald Trump attracted new voters to a campaign that stressed the inadequacy of current fencing, and need to gird the nation against external threats long improperly addressed.  The border wall has now defined relations between political parties, and become a lightning rod in the broader debate–painfully unresolved–about immigration.

The arrival of a relatively small protest march of migrants became an occasion  recalled he fears of how the border was described as a site of risin violence, an end to low wages, terrorist attacks, urban crime, and national security, dominating the recent round of political ads for House campaigns more than any other issue.  As if on demand, the arrival of migrants at the port of entry of San Isidro led their transit to be compared to that of gangs, criminals, and drug cartels, exploiting how the border was long falsely mapped by Trump as an obstacle to the national safety:  but even if the vast majority of Republicans believe in the need to secure the nation through the building of the wall, or quite astoundingly nearly 70%, as a way to limit immigration, other Americans are far less convinced.  But as the border wall has been recast as executive prerogative, guided by Trump’s sense of the benefits and needs for the wall, we are compelled to examine the logic, however painful.  Greater support for the border wall with distance from the southwestern border among Republicans revealed the appeal of the border wall had grown diffused on national terms.

 

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The need for the wall-and the unsuitable nature of current border barriers, from bollard fencing to pedestrian obstacles,  was suggested by the rhetorical multiplier with which President Donald Trump described “the caravan of thousands of people coming up from Honduras–thousands of people” and “very weak laws” to halt their advance.  Changing “our borders” and “securing our borders” are not only about building fences, but changing “our laws” as a way of “toughening up at the border” that affirms the border as a threshold of national sovereignty.  Cast as “illegal immigrants” even while they were in Mexico, the identity that American television bestowed on the masses often numbered in the thousands seemed a test for “toughening border security,” rather than laws alone, and seemed to suggest that laws would just not work in the face of fraudulent asylum claims and a need for processing people without documents, who have been accepted as a national threat.

 

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1.  The construction of a tall, imperious border wall stands to rewrite the border as a barrier, redefining the question of migrants’ legality, and rewriting the law and lawfulness, replacing existing immigration laws.  The reasons for building a border wall echoes the Border Patrol authorities–and a President increasingly casting migrants as “aliens” and “animals” who need to be penned, contained, and not granted individual or human rights as they constitute dangerous threats to the nation’s safety.  The dehumanization of the migrant as an animal seems the end-result of a rather slippery rhetorical slide:  as twitter becomes a tool of international diplomacy in a performative vein, the wall is the masterpiece of the performative Presidency of Donald J. Trump.  The arrival of any migrants–let alone of “an army of migrants,” seemed to appear on command, recalling fears of how the border was described as a site of risin violence, an end to low wages, terrorist attacks, urban crime, and national security.  The transformation of Buzzfeed claims, while unsubstantiated, were magnified in media loops in an online version of “telephone,” as the Caravan of over a thousand headed north was invested with an attack on Trump’s border policy, and became framed as an international event undermining sovereignty.

The empty notion of sovereignty that was evoked was considerably emptied of meaning, however, and far less robust.  Trump long invested the conceit of the border wall with functions as a defense of the nation, claiming that it will increase national safety.  Yet the insistence on the benefits of building the wall conceal the extent to which the attempted protection of the border conceal the increased levels of violence along the border they have provoked, even as the border has gained a national prominence that it lacked in the past, before Trump announced his candidacy.  Indeed, with areas among the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, declarations of the imminent construction–or groundlessly congratulating himself on the “beauty” of  its construction- in April and May, 2018 to public audiences in Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana.  For these middle-Americas voters–all located at a distance from the border, reveal the immediacy of the border as a response to the epidemic of heroin, gang violence, and low wages long mapped–or appeared to be mapped–on border crossing.  The proximity with which Republican voters geographically removed from the border have connected to the border helped generalize  anti-immigrant politics on a level unthought of only five years ago.

In ways that would have been unthinkable five years ago, the proximity of the border wall to the nation has increased.   Although Trump’s remarks seem to be confined only to prototypes of the wall that were placed near a limited section of the border, the legitimacy that he has granted the conceit of border-wall construction has taken a demand that began in groups like “Secure Borders” in Southern Texas–like the Secure Borders Coalition which included current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who demanded “real border security,” led by Texan Representative Michael McCaul.  (McCaul’s group had advocated the Mexican-American border be lined with five-layer fencing with chain link fences topped with razor wire, concertina wire, and watchtowers as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq.  Their advocacy of the Saudi Great Wall as a model for the U.S. conveniently ignored the radically different role of laws of individual protection of rights in the two states, the border wall has grown to eclipse the notion of civil rights or protections in a democratic state.)

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What was once a demand of the marginal groups associated with Homeland Security seemed increasingly legitimized as mainstream, the demand for the border wall that plays to national audiences far from the border of interest to the entire nation, leading to bizarre discussions of how ICE “liberated towns in Long Island” from MS-13 gangs, transforming the entire nation a battleground whose front line is the wall, and defining the border wall as the only secure defense of the southwestern border given the inadequacy–and indeed unpatriotic nature–of what Trump painted as a partisan position of acknowledging migrants’ rights and respecting asylum claims.

 

 

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Trump has asserted the need for an increasingly militarized barrier, already being tested by U.S. military special forces and US Customs and Border Protection special units, as U.S. Navy SEAL units claimed to have confirm its impregnability–as if to illustrate its strength and military grade, but  in ways unable to be confirmed.  The wall designed to replace inadequate border barriers, fencing, would fix “miles and miles of [inadequate] wall that’s already up,” as a way to enforce “strong borders” that suggest a misunderstanding about strength–and to force demand for its construction.  While the border wall is a show of strength, its promise is a cartographic simplification that seems to focus the nation’s attention not on laws, rights, or legal protection, but fixed attention on the line as a line of legal violation, and the degradation of the border as an obstacle, and as a source of vulnerability.

Rather than see the fixity of the structure Trump had promised would ensure  the safety of the nation, the caravan evoked the impervious barrier which was such a focus of national attention,  The arrival of the Caravan played as national news, as it seemed that most were heading toward detention camps that dot the US-Mexico border, where the processing of immigration claims takes on average almost two years.  And as BuzzFeed reports were relayed on FOX as an “army of migrants marching to America” or a “small migrant army marching toward the United States,” the use of  militarized terms evoked–despite the marcher’s peacefulness–the militarization of a border wall.  When several hundred Central Americans arrived, seeking asylum, and scaled the fence near St. Isidro, holding a Honduran flag, as if to suggest the fear of a loss of sovereignty, rather than what might be a site for international cooperation.

 

 

 n wall:commemorated at wall.pngDaniel Gonzalez

 

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J. Omar Ornelas

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Trump responded that the need for “a strong, impenetrable WALL that will end this problem once and for all”–implying the problem of immigration, once a concern mostly of border-states, had become a national problem of urgency that might unite the divided nation.  Would it be too much to say that the border wall had indeed become a living force, despite its actual function as a site of migrants’ death, as if the vitality of the wall on one side of the border contrasted with the consciousness of the wall as a site of migrants’ death, and indeed the attempts to commemorate these deaths, on the other side–the most alarming and disturbing of the deceptive truisms of the new Newspeak the border wall presumes, and we would be urged to entertain—that Death is Life?

 

 

CrossesAguaPrieta--Dec08NogalesStreetCrossesFb08ShpO

Migrant Deaths and Water Stations, 1999-2012

 

 

The imaginary function of the border wall has created an inexplicable tie between the wall and a project of modernization and modernity, even if the wall seems among the most post-modern, fragmentary, meta-conceptual, and notional sorts of pastiches one could imagine:  the isolated prototypes, on which DHS requested bids weeks after Trump’s inauguration, have become more than a totem of a new sense of sovereignty, as Steve Bannon asserted, eerily but aptly suggesting the living nature of the border wall in the collective imaginary, a point oddly echoed in how U.S. Customs and Border Patrol union that long agitated for a border wall described such a wall as a “vital tool” as their leadership advised the Trump transition team.  The investing with living properties in the wall by Bannon and by advocacy groups seems, indeed, to shift the life of the nation into the “vital interests” that the wall will protect, as if to a living organism–even if the immobility of such a project would suggest the opposite, by intruding in habitat, ecosystems, and dividing open spaces in what were protected lands.  The wall indeed is promised to be constructed through protected lands, interrupting wilderness spaces, as if it demands to be accorded respect as a dividing land, crucial to the nation as a barrier to keep out undesirables alternately identified as dangers to safety, jobs and health.

 

imageBorder Wall and Federal- and State-Protected Lands (dark green)

 

Is the border a sort of living form, so closely was it tied to the nation’s “vital interests” of stopping the flow of drugs across the border, ending the reach of drug cartels, and stopping the flow of refugees.  But the increasingly vital form of the border wall seems to have dignified it by its centrality to the nation, and the impermeable membrane that it created for migrants:  the repeated identification of the border wall as defending vital national interests from the “failed states” across the border suggests a retrenchment of national interests, but an elevation of the border wall almost at great costs to the nation.  The pleasure with which Dept. of Justice affirmed that after Judge Gonzalo Curiel sustained Homeland Security’s mandate to build the projected border wall did not violate the Constitution, but fell within its mandate for boarder security, that DHS “can continue this important work vital to our nation’s interest” reflects a confusion between vitality of the nation and wall.  The entity of the wall seems, indeed, to have replaced the nation as a guiding figure of the Trump administration, as if the physical structure were in fact able to express the interests of the state, and the survival of the wall more important than the survival of migrants who might encounter it.

But the Border Wall became a project both Trump and his crowds celebrated as a way to discuss the nation.  The elevation of the border wall into an almost sacral place in a religion of the nation, rather than as a tool of a secular state, and a sign of national identity.  (The border wall has become so central to the state, indeed, that Bannon readily predicted the need for a shut down government if full funding for constructing a border wall was not approved by Congress–much as Trump has earlier threatened a mere hundred days into his Presidency, in April 2017.)   Trump attacked the arrival of the Caravan as an illustration of “Democratic inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad, so one-sided” and that “our laws are so weak, given to us by Democrats, . . . are so pathetic,” treating the arrival of immigrants with cases of asylum as evidence of a partisan dereliction of the protection of the state.  Rather than seeing motion across the membrane of the border as a sign of biological health, the health of the social body depended on the construction of an impenetrable wall, for Trump and his closest advisors.

For Trump seems determined to link his presidency–and even shut down government for it once again this year, suggesting how central the project is to defining new ideas of the state but  invested with a new religion of the state, undermining civil and secular society.  While cast as a project of construction or infrastructure, the wall is a realization of the changing of existing immigration law, and a watershed for chaining the law, “our dumb immigration laws,” which Trump has criticized in vague terms as “very, very bad,” “very, very weak laws,” and even “the worst laws,” as if recognize that the project of border wall building reveals ambitions to rewrite the legal framework of immigration and national legal protections, and indeed the relation of the state and the individual.  In this sense, the project of wall-builting that has become the recurrent subject of tweets, public speeches, and government statements on the border wall’s imminent or current construction.

 

2. The wall seeks to remap the border as a fixed line as an effective barrier against violence and to preserve jobs, lower criminality and thwart gangs, and prevent drug traffic across the border–as if its construction and enforcement could redeem the nation from a plague of ills.  The urgency with which President  Trump has evoked the need for the border wall–and the intransigence with which he promoted building a barrier across the border–have remapped the sovereign integrity of the union.  The rhetoric of a need for closing the border informed the announcement that no “additional persons traveling without appropriate entry documentation” be admitted into the country until further notice–if ever at all. The finality Trump invested the wall as a resolution of national problems–extending far from the border, where the first anti-immigrant movements began–has indeed taken the southwestern border as a basis to remap the country, and to redefine migrants’ relation to the law in very real ways.  And even if it does not exist–and has not been begun–the rhetoric of stopping cross-border flows caused many of the vulnerable migrants–pregnant women, children, transgender–to be cast as lawbreakers who did not respect the country they sought to enter.

The redefinition of migration as an issue of sovereignty, rather than rights, suggests rather chilling consequences both for migrants, and a shifting relation of America to the world, with harsh consequences for civil society and the law.  Indeed, law seems trumped by a religion of state in the recent proclamations of the Trump Presidency, where “sovereignty” is not about rights or people, but about the power of the state to protect jobs, safety, and goods.  The fear of an arrival of migrants has increased the symbolics of the wall; and even as the United State has long treated Mexico as a significant or primary immigration filter of Central American victims fleeing not only poverty, but persecution and threats of personal violence.  The story of the fear of arrival and the threats of the image of the porous border have increasingly taken the place of the personal stories and narratives of migrants and refugees, in a shocking sort of cartographic charlatanry, as fear of migrants crossing the southwestern border has become primarily perceived as a compelling security threat, in ways that seem to elevate a religion of the nation above the question of individual rights with urgency, as if to elevate the right of state above the individual, by elevating the needs of the state above the individual, and invoking a state of “exception” that allows the suspension of individual rights of any migrants who approach or try to cross the nation’s southwestern border, by criminalizing not only their immigration but redefining the relation of the state to all migrants as potential “illegal aliens” seeking to breach  existing fencing and border policy.

 

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Can one shift the map of the peril of criminalized migrants crossing the increasingly militarized border to reveal the plight of their journey?  As the march of migrants organized by  Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, the peaceful protest of the Caravan de madres centroamericanas, sponsored by Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, in an attempt to protest the difficulties that migrants face as they cross borders from Central America, the very protest march designed to demand safe passage across borders, is cast it as an occasion to fear the arrival of migrants and treated, in a bizarre extension, as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children–and has occasioned the increasing separation of children from their families– the loss of records of about 1,500 children entering the country before the arrival of the Caravan–despite assurances John Kelly provided that separating families at the border “will be taken care of–put into foster care or whatever” in a way that “wasn’t cruel.” As a response to the problem of coming into the United States “illegally,”  the shift to a “zero-tolerance” policy pursued in “the name of the game is deterrence” did’t inspire confidence.

Family separation was described as an effective deterrent–and Kelly reminded his interviewer that if “people say that it’s cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children,” the fault lies with those who attempted to “illegally enter the United States”–which no one “hopes is will be used extensively or for very long.”.  but the emergence of the border as a site of prolonged detention of undocumented immigrants, who wait for their immigration cases to be hear for almost two years on average,  the routine separation of children from their parents and families, and the deportation of those without papers, as all migrants can be stopped and searched and held them without charges in the name of national safety.  The map of the peril of migrants to national security is a basis to strip migrants seeking to enter the nation of any personal rights.

 

3.  The creation over time of a tortured cartography of fear may recall the latest iteration of the “paranoid style of American politics” that Richard Hofstadter long ago described as an impulse in the national DNA, of impulsively seeing an external nexus of evil, by giving credence with little actual proof that a toxic combination of external forces lie at the root of our most serious social problems–even when it masked them.  Hofstadter argued that it was in fact impossible to appreciate U.S. history without paying attention to such fantasies and  our current matrix of fears has mapped the fears of national decline and economic instability onto the immigration,  condensing heterogeneous fears onto the construction of a border wall, by misreading maps of immigration and mis-mapping immigration.

 

image.pngMap showing migrants safe and risky routes at “La 72” migrants’ shelter , Tenosique (Tabasco), October 2017. Crisis Group (Froylán Enciso)

 

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The very charge that immigrants bring guns, violence, and dangers into the United States is aptly reputed by an actual map, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Explosives (AFT) with open OSM data, to reveal that as 70% of the firearms siezed in or from Mexico are of American origin, Mexico’s strict gun laws are indeed undermined by the presence of numerous gun dealers–catering to migrants who are increasingly scared of cross-border transit–located just north of the border, where stores provide many of those cast as smugglers, gangs, and criminals who seek to protect themselves from being subject to smugglers’ and cartels’ increasing demands.

 

image.pngMetric Maps

 

Yet the evocation of a wall, by now constructed on social media and on twitter, has elevated a demand for guarding the border from the towns, cities, and states that lie along the border to a need to preserve the security of the nation, the Homeland, and national safety and indeed health.  The sputtering incoherence of @RealDonaldTrump Twitter exclamations of increased urgency–“SECURE THE BORDER!  BUILD A WALL!” (August 5, 2014) “WE NEED A BIG AND BEAUTIFUL WALL!”  (Nov 19, 2015) or just, in time, “NEED WALL!” (April 1, 2018); “we must have THE WALL!” (August 27, 2017) ; “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”; “We must have a great WALL to protect us, and to stop the massive flow of drugs into our country” (January 16, 2018); “We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country” (January 18, 2018); “If there is no Wall, there is no DACA” (January 23, 2018)–cemented the wall to the nation in a map of exclamations.  The statements and sound bites seem perverse cries in an echo chamber, but are supported and given currency by maps.  The urgency of these demands work to conceal the complete remove of the border from actual problems that face the nation, but externalize the difficulties of the nation, and raise the possibility of creating an impoverished sense of the nation, and to conceal the plight of migrants, and huge economic imbalances across the border.

 

4.  But they draw their urgency from how maps suggest the need to remap national safety about the border.  Despite some demeaning of the elevation of the wall on Twitter to a node of national politics, the amount of attention dedicated to the wall–and this magnified in 2018, and became a tacit undercurrent in his tweets about the Caravan–the provocation of renewed fears about the need for a border wall, which he consistently paired against “our country” in an odd collective possessive, since the wall seems always “my” wall.  One might suggest they make the wall a site of constant contact with Trump’s personality and speech, in treating the wall as a celebration of the religion of the nation dedicated to keeping out ostensibly dangerous migrants and refugees, and labeling them as dangerous “illegals” needed to be excluded from the social body and from legal protections.  Trump’s outright leis about removing MS-13 gangs “by the thousands,” or that Mexico would pay for the border wall, create a false geography that was quickly exploited.

Trump’s degree of duplicity about the border astounds.  The dangers of crime, underemployment, gangs, sex trafficking and gruesome violence were in mapped onto the border’s porous or permeable nature in the public imagination, as if to remap the hard southwestern edge of the United States in a satisfying manner, as Trump mapped or trusted maps that effectively tie national dangers to border crossing.  The spectral if necessarily vague map of migration that have been burned into the national consciousness–and perhaps, in a bizarre circulation of images, into the mind of current President Donald J. Trump–and seem to haunt his own insistence on threats to national security and also his failure of establishing an immigration policy.  With the arrests of U.S. Border Patrol on the rise, as the techniques of survival to which migrants who traveled through the country compelled them to develop alliances with criminal organization, cartels and gangs, the Trump government has attempted to invest in the massive construction of a border wall, rather than dedicating funds to the safety and security of  refugees, processing cases of asylum or offering guarantees of safe passage across borders.

The insistence on the border wall has become a sort of fetish to reveal a new policy toward migrants that was extremely heatless in its broad criminalization of their motives:  President Trump cast the need for the wall as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children, and had been protected from prosecution, as if the construction of the wall undermined all immigration cases.  The crude hand-drawn or painted maps painted on the walls of migrants stations that reveal the desperation of their cross-border flights have only been taken as demanding resolute response through the construction of an impermeable border wall.  If the wall has been most frequently mentioned on Twitter, among other social media, the image of the wall has travelled through a variety of maps, images, and visualizations long cultivated by many anti-immigrant groups, and increasingly adopted as a policy of state by the Twitterer-in-Chief who rises each morning early to watch FOX-TV en lieu of reading the Presidential Daily Briefing.

Perhaps President Trump’s favorite strategy of forcing the audience to be dependent on his own decision and whims is the ultimate depowering device, but suggests the extreme dependence on his decision–and the power the Border Patrol exercise over migrants’ lives.  To be sure, the clear echoes of nativist anti-immigrant groups such as “Secure Borders” are quite terrifying–they advanced, after all, in institutional or bureaucratic language the deeply proprietorial belief in an ability to close borders even to the vulnerable.  While debate about “illegal” immigration denies the legality of the entrance of undocumented into the country is about laws; the southwestern frontier is so central to the debate, that it is not surprising that it is also about national maps and maps of cross-border traffic and flows.  The new and increasingly universal coinage of the “illegal”–a proxy for foreigner that has served to undermine the status of refugees seeking asylum by defining them as non-nationals–is defined by border-crossing, rather than being tied to a court of law.  The effect of these maps is to try to affirm the need for a solid, non-porous border, despite the productive nature of the fluidity of the border as a site of entrance; insisting on the need for a “real” border that doesn’t allow passage of individuals, the border wall denies the past historical benefits of a porous border, even while presenting itself as a way to “make America great again.”

Maps both define borders, and provide a form of essentializing national norms by rehabilitating a literal nationalism that trumps the law in ways one barely expected to breath again.

 

image.pngCenter for American Population Stabilization, Web-Based Interactive Pop-up Ad

 

Rusian FB ad for Secrured Borders“Secured Borders,” Web-Based Interactive Pop-Up Ad

 

The increasingly aggressive proprietorial notion of the nation is effectively mapped, perhaps reflexively, by means of a retro sign suggesting disinterest in assuming a role of global or economic leadership in the first; the lower forty-eight become a defensive banner akin to a tattered unfurled flag in the second, as if a flag were elevated above the territory, pulling patriotic heartstrings by rejecting ‘illegals’–a now-universal term of exclusion and disdain for refugees or immigrants cast as not “our” responsibility after all, and as outsiders whose itineraries must be reversed.  The status of migrants has been repeatedly questioned and interrogated in debates about border policies, as if their status eroded as they made progress pass immigration checkpoints across the country.  And as the recent Caravan crossed into Mexico’s border controls, the decision of Mexican immigration authorities to allow Central Americans to cross their border without paper led them to be named as suspect, as they progressed past Mexico City.

The laws of immigration have been questioned, in ways that undermine the claims of asylum of many of the refugees–deemed as “illegal” in American media.  Over the coming weeks, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for a review of longstanding laws granting asylum to all vulnerable or threatened populations, including women and children–who composed many of the marchers who had walked from Central America to the United States Border.  The targeting of the vulnerable seems echoed in the defense of separating children from families of migrants at the border–former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly reminded the nation that rather than feeling sorry for them, given “tremendous experience dealing with unaccompanied minors” who are turned to Health and Human Services to “disrupt this terribly dangerous network” of Mara Salvatrucha–MS-13–gangs.  Yet is such disruption grounds for putting over 10,000 immigrant children into custody, separately from their parents, a policy that has never been adopted on such scale by previous presidents?  The 21% surge in taking children from their parents that occurred in May 2018 alone has left Health and Social Services shelters at 95% capacity, and raises the prospect of housing children in military bases in the future–and promising to give all information about the parents, relatives, sponsors and living conditions of children to the Department of Homeland Security, or access to highly personal or private data, long privileged as protected.  the increase in separating children form their families was a long planned message to be sent across the border.

The faceless horde of immigrants that Trump regularly disparaged on social media as increasing “danger” for the nation, and a proxy for the criminals, drug-sellers, MS-13 gang members, murderers and rapists Trump argued are concealed themselves among those who present themselves for immigration or sneak across the southwestern border, without documents.  Such “illegal aliens” were seen as actively undermining laws and recast as evidence for the need and urgency of building a permanent border wall.  As the aim of separating families is to send a message across the wall, and define the permanence of the border as a–and perhaps to use the separation of children as a pressure point to get Democrats relinquish support for DACA, or the deferring of deportation for children brought in to the country by their parents, who have only known life in the United States.

 

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5.  In a successful gambit to distinguish himself as a straight-talking candidate able to alter or disrupt political debate, Donald Trump–a surprise, outsider candidate–long promised to build a wall that would “protect America,” unlike attempts to build fencing along the southwestern border by previously elected presidents.  And in a very deep sense, the promise to built the “wall”–“a real wall,” Trump emphasized, “a physical wall,” as if to underline the massive returns of its construction–served to differentiate him from other politicians and members of political parties.  In ways that recall how political theorist Antonio Gramsci, who lived through Italian Fascism, defined fascism as presenting itself as an “anti-party,” inviting all to “conceal by a veneer of legitimacy vague and nebulous ideas wild and unfettered passions, hatreds, and demands,” the dangers that Trump argued would bee contained by the “wall” served to legitimate the xenophobia it sought to contain.

Trump seemed to orchestrate the expression of passions in reaction to the Caravan.  His tweets mirrored its advance, launching angry public statements escalating in their fear and intensity, granting the “caravan” of migrants a disproportionate role in imagining the continued vulnerability of the United States.  The Caravan took place both on a map and in an incoherent narrative of the threat that migrants posed to the United States, and the specious narrative that Donald J. Trump launched as a Presidential candidate in the Republican primaries alleging Mexico–without grounds save what he “heard” from the U.S. Border Patrol–for sending criminals across the border who threatened the nation’s safety.  The final tweets Trump issued into the ether refusing “to let these large Caravans of people into our Country” confused the issue in typical Trumpian fashion, imagining the quantity of people and the absence of discriminating among refugees–his Attorney General sourly called their arrival on Easter week “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws”–or far more dangerous to the nation than the stragglers who arrived at the old wall in Tijuana in fact appeared.

 

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The veneer of political acceptability that the border wall bequeathed on anti-immigrant sentiment indeed ran against the sentiment of a body of law, presenting as their rationale a hollowed-out notion of the body politic.   For all the hope of providing a better narrative to unite the nation since 2008, the appeal of Trump’s narrative of exclusion, fear, and economic security promoted the image of wall-building and the xenophobic ban of dangerous foreigners entering the nation.  The veneer of political acceptability that Trump provided for defensive acts of exclusion gave legitimacy to a range of xenophobic fears, broad charges of illegality, and xenophobia that celebrated exclusion and the denial of rights.  Trump’s longstanding use of inhumane metaphors for immigrants–dangers to the nation that ranged from “anchor babies,” “immigrant hordes” to bad hombres–underscored the usurpation of rights, and somehow offered a more compelling narrative of national identity than was on offer.

It furthered a fearsome spatial imaginary that was enforced by numerous crude maps of false objectivity.   From announcing his candidacy by collectively identifying Mexican immigrants as “in many cases criminals, rapists, [or] drug dealers” typecast an ethnic group as criminal to justify wall building on the southwestern border as patriotic, opportunistically perpetuating a spatial imaginary dangerous and without legal grounds in a mendacious and tenacious manner.   Trump proposed an alternate reality of the US-Mexico border wall that existed in the mental imaginary  and has come to haunt political debate about immigrants, and national policy, that runs against inclusion.  Only minutes after  Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi happily proclaimed in a joint statement after visiting the White House an agreement not to deport children brought to the United States as children in “a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable” [italics added],  Trump promptly tweeted an affirmation of an alternate reality of the border wall’s continued presence, in an image that stands to haunt our nation and political imaginary, and remains a favored image of political geography.  In affirming that “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built,”  Trump oriented to a map of the nation’s safety, declaring “We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country. We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world.”  The sums demanded to construct the wall almost invited a government shutdown early in the Trump era:   the manner in which adherence to the conceit of the unbuilt border wall might cause a future government shutdown reveals its place in affirming Trump’s political identity and leadership.

Trump asserts that the recognition of the need for the border wall is as apparent as an act of scales falling from one’s eyes, and restoring a clearer geopolitical vision.  The acknowledgment of the need for the border wall less recalls Saul’s infusion with the Holy Spirit, than a demand of how U.S. Customs and Borders Enforcement has insisted on the permeability of the US-Mexico border in a new national spatial imaginary.  The wall reflects not only affirms the guilt of undocumented immigrants as “illegal” guests but distracts from its own illegality, and the massive efforts of incarceration that the prominence of the defense of the border stands to justify.  Trump recently championed the arrest of over 1,500 people who have “entered the country illegally”–in one of the largest mass-incarceration of undocumented populations ever to occur.  And although the seeds of the possibility of an imagined border wall was defined during the 1990s, when the US Government built border fencing in order to keep economic migrants from seeking higher wages up north, in response to the inequalities of globalization, the attempt to maintain and effectively “naturalize” the increasingly steep inequalities of globalization, remains a relatively recent idea.  

The search for constant reminders for the need and urgency of the border wall has become a sort of trope of the Trump residence.  The reminders conceal a profound failure to process refugees seeking to better their conditions, and the deep changes in the ground beneath the feet of the undocumented migrant, whose status has been effectively eroded:   stripped of rights, privacy, or security, the building of a wall designed to obstruct passage and persecute all who seek to cross it undermines the legality of cross-border transit.  Visualizations purporting better to orient viewers to the presence of migrants cast them as “illegally” present to demonize the figure of the refugee and undocumented migrant–cast as an “illegal alien” as transgressing the law, investing illegality of a criminal in those who illegally cross the boundary serves to erase individual histories by tallying them as standing in violation of the law, fueled by the expansion of mass incarceration across the nation from the mid-1980s, fed by images of a “war on crime,” and aggressive drug prosecution and the expansion of the Department of Homeland Security as the largest national law enforcement agency.


6.  Of the almost half million attempting unauthorized  immigration apprehended on the southwestern border, half arrived from other countries than Mexico–any proposal to return all apprehended or deported to Mexico effectively erases the itineraries or needs of the 257,000 from other Central American countries in Central America fleeing poverty, organised extortion, and inner-city violence from areas far south of “Mexico.” Yet as “Mexico” remains a place-holder, removed from any clear geographical relation to the United States in this entire debate, maps of the border purport to make “sense” of the changes in stagnant wages, unemployment, and taxes, and the specters of refugees, terrorism, drugs and gang violence.  The wall was projected onto the nation as a means to create a needed barrier of impermeability; Trump has promised a “real wall”–although what sense any border was ever “real” is unclear–will contain threats in what takes and isolates the border as a threshold of legality.  

By repeatedly magnifying the danger of border-crossing within the national imaginary, Trump worked to create a false–and divisive–consensus elevating border crossing as a threat to economic security, public safety and public health.  The distorted magnification the dangers undocumented immigrants who would traverse it pose to the nation, although in ways that revise and empty the “nation” as an established legal system.  For every urgent suggestion of the need to “revise our immigration laws” are, in fact, attmpets to void them and legal precedent; attacking the “loopholes” that have permitted the vulnerable people including women and children who face threats of violence either at home or on the streets to seek asylum, not as actual stories that deserve attention but as deceptive strategies of evading that must be unveiled lest they undermine public safety.  Trump’s empty assertions in August 2017 that the very high levels of criminality in Mexico necessitate or mandate the construction of a border wall sought to provide an image to his supporters that, indeed “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE,” tying the “nation” to the wall, and to the border.  The circulation of a photoshopped tweet revising the course that “the wall” would take, to include New Mexico, or exclude it as well from the commonwealth, was intended as humor but revealed that the border wall had come to afford a new mental geography of the nation and its relation to the world.

 

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The arrival of the Caravan of Central American migrants seeking asylum and safe transit across borders has threatened the narrative of illegal border crossing but has provoked increased insistence on the imagined spatial geography of dangers crossing our borders.  The Caravan’s arrival reflexively provoked an accelerated project of “revising our immigration laws” as the migrant “Caravan” crossed immigration checkpoints, military bases, police stations, and walked through cities in Mexico without facing any obstacles.  It conjured the needed image of a tidal wave headed to the border, which necessitated the very militarization of the border that the border wall had not created for the national good, and working to create a militarized defenses of the border extending the current melange of heterogeneous border barriers, and left mays seeking visualizations the conjured the new border division the Trump administration sought to create to affirm the border’s impassibility, in an image of the physical naturalization of a “wall” that replaces the “fence.”

 

Fence:Wall Trump

The nomenclature is not accidental.

If good fences make good neighbors, the “wall” is the language of a strongman on the border, an oddly archaic notion of a boundary doing double duty as a new noun of national protection, acting as an exclusionary boundary, and a verb as providing a defense that is more effectively able to obstruct passage of outsiders.  The deeply archaic sense of wall-building–Giambattista Vico defined it as a pre-legal notion of national self-definition, going back to the Romulan walls that were the first set of walls that defined the integrity of Rome, although how the “wall” would exclude the massive amounts of contraband that enters within established entry points within cars and concealed in shipments–rather arriving than on foot–is never explained.

Yet the fantastic narrative of such on-foot traffic evading border checkpoints–“Does Google Maps indeed help migrants evade border checkpoints?” wondered a website that was promoted on RT, designed to tap into the paranoid strain of the American mind–has lent urgency to the creation of a continuous border “wall” –often just describe as “the wall.”  The militarization of the border as a built boundary, compounded with more border guards is promoted as preventing any such transit, even if the website suggested that the provision of information in the crudest of nline maps may allow migrants to outfox border patrol and U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the ineffective nature of the Ports of Entry as barriers against migrants from Central America or Mexico.  The mapping of “routes to avoid” which are marked by “Border Patrol Checkpoints” as tools to circumvent border barriers.

 

Google maps borderGoogle Maps/”Routes to Avoid–Border Patrol Checkpoints

 

Inflating fear of the arrival of the “Caravan of Migrants” provided a powerful rhetorical urgency to the creation of a border wall, in short.  The over-inflated fears of a faceless “Caravan” suggested a surge of undocumented advancing and progressing toward the border, following maps that pointed them to the sights of crossing, as if they were destined to cross in a matter of weeks.

With a tacit blame that Mexico had been overwhelmed from acting to filter on immigration that the United States government has increasingly insisted, the US began attempts to dissuade migrants from crossing the border by calling the National Guard’s arrival, both in an open confession that even the current massive militarization of ports of entry fails to ensure and an excuse for encouraging the border’s increased militarization.

 

Migrants in Oaxaca, Felix Marquez AP

 

The arrival of the Caravan of migrants became a test case for the urgent need of a border wall, and of the narrative for its construction.  Despite the peaceful ethos and intent of the migrant refugees’ march–organized annually by Pueblos sin Fronteras, “Peoples without Borders”, and designed to guarantee safe passage across borders,  President Trump cast it as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children, and had been protected from deportation under DACA, confusedly taking fears of the arrival of migrants as an illustration of the dangers of “porous” borders to foreign threats.  Despite the non-threatening nature of the peaceful march that sought to map–and protest–global economic inequalities, the image of the “Caravan” was effectively expanded in the imagination as a looming threat to our security, akin to the thieves, rapists, and gang members he had argued without grounds that Mexico actively “sends” across the border, as if to erase any sense of migrants’ own agency, narratives, or needs of those women, children, and families arriving at the border after a month-long journey.

As President, Trump has enjoyed incorrectly taunting that the Caravan constituted a threat to national safety–either destined to cross the border legally as they petition for asylum, or cross the border illegally to enter the United States, or encourage massive migration of others.  As the migrants’ procession overwhelmed border authorities they encountered, posting social media updates of their progress past towns and border checkpoints in non-violent ways while provoking a theater of confrontation over their month-log trek that let Trump direct increased attention to the border, and focus national attention on the need for an unbuilt and over-budget border wall, as a need to raise the stakes in border management in ways that he had long eagerly argued, hoping to force the inclusion of a border wall in the military budget and achieve a rewriting of the nation, and an emptying of many of the values, shared sense of civil rights, and civil protections that have defined the nation in the past, and seems to have sought to grant legitimacy to the erosion of civil rights.

The imperative of the border threatens to warp the notion of sovereignty by imposing a notion of national frontiers that predate civil institutions or the law, but are a restoration of order–although the notion of an authoritarian border wall itself seeks to dismantle a legal process of immigration, and strip US residents of rights.  While this may be due to Trump’s limited experience with the law, the cognitive violence of the wall lies not only in the obstruction that it creates on the ground, but the dangerous model it creates for remapping sovereignty, and for creating a sharply uneven access to justice, from immigration courts to the rights we accord others.

 

image.png.Jose Torres/Reuters

 

Trump had long promised his constituencies as a candidate that the border was was necessary for national safety, in ways that offered a basis for dividing the nation. The idea of a border wall was itself without clear legality or precedent in international law.  But as a response to the “state of emergency” after September 11, 2001, creating boundaries has generated a warped image o the state, in which the executive could bend the law: when Trump summoned self-confidence to declare “A nation without borders is not a nation,” he essentially proposed a new idea of the nation; as much as describing the borders of the United States, he obscured his own lack of political experience or familiarity with government or civil institutions., and boasted of the ease of binding the nation by a wall able to obscure what the civil institutions that long defined the the nation, promoting paint a new image of sovereignty with confidence of the need to replace the existing political status quo

While Trump had no evidence for the urgent need to construct a wall along the border and made the “problem” of illegal immigration so central to his campaign without any evidence, the arrival of the migrants claiming refugee status seemed an opportune chance to redirect attention to the need of a border wall, and increased militarization of the border.  The progress of the Caravan across the Mexican border and Mexican states seemed a veritable illustration of the fear of globalization that Trump tapped so effectively in the primaries and general election, without offering any evidence, as the pressures of low employment, a poor economy and limited immigration checks created a specter of massive immigration and refugee flows.

Could the border not yet wall not yet in existence be manufactured over a month?

 

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The advance of the collective body of refugees–cast as migrants; “undocumented”; “illegal aliens”–was designed to “break down borders” in the very regions that they crossed.  The protection of the nation from migrants fleeing political unrest, persecution, or sexual violence, into a menace to the United States is among the illusions created by the expansion of the southwestern border into the consciousness of the nation:  if the humanitarian crisis was not an illusion, the threat that the crisis posed to the nation was.  Over recent weeks, the defense of the nation that the initial rebuff of what would be some 200 migrants who entered the United States became something of an event of international politics, in an massive effort of staging the nation:  the effort of bullying that the project of wall-building on which Trump long campaigned made the arrival of migrants an opportunity for showcasing of a new border policy that would parallel his intransigent commitment to the construction of a “real” border wall, in an instance of the staging of a bizarre theater of international as well as national politics, about borders–both playing to audiences at home and future migrants abroad, but focussed on American viewers who sought evidence of the promise construction of a “physical” and “real” Border wall as evidence of the new vision of the nation.  The simple barrier constituted the defense of national security that Trump claimed was his primary concern.  Did the gradual arrival of the Caravan at the San Ysidro border, site of the 30 ft. border wall prototypes and the oldest constructed border wall, stage an inevitable drama of confrontation?

The insistence on the readiness of border defenses that the migrants’ arrival provoked became a basis to rehearse Trump’s  after taking the time to visit California to observe new prototypes for the Border Wall he has promised, as if to put news of progress on its construction back in the news,  the limited funding that has been included for funding the massive 2,000 mile construction–a return, in many ways, to brick and mortar from the “virtual border” of the integrated technology of SBInet, the Secure Borders Initiative that served as a web of electronic surveillance device, the failure to contract the promised obstacle to cross-border migration, however improbable its construction, as a network of surveillance spreading out from towers–

 

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–or as a continuous border wall, the promise that Donald J. Trump sold the nation which  replaced the limits of the existing Border fencing, which covers only a mere fraction of the entire border–1,130 of its 3,200 km of its expanse–and sealed potential gaps in its mountainous areas of the Rio go, as well as the terrain near Nogales, or between Nogales and Juarez:  gaps on the Mexican side of the border would be bridged by waiving any legal requirements limiting its construction, based on the 2005 Real ID Act, promising expedited construction of authorized border barriers–despite the somewhat limited or interrupted nature of border fencing separating the United States from Mexico.

 

7.  The fear of the border’s crossing haas however been fabricated in a range of maps in studies produced by anti-immigration groups.  Visualizations from the  Center for Immigration Studies–allegedly non-partisan; viewed by SPLC as a “hate group” given the links it has drawn between immigrants and criminality and their tortured use of data to make unwarranted claims and ties–and the fear of a compromised sovereignty they raise, and the Federation of Immigration Reform (or Immigration Reform), which similarly purports objectivity, while defending nativism, have gained broad circulation on line that has eroded our sense of a nation, and even migrated into mainstream media.  The graphics and visualizations of both groups have sought to remap the border as a danger zone in ways that have percolated to broader audiences and political discourse, to help remap the policing border as a challenge to the nation.  The border wall not only frames the issue of security in the simplest possible terms–it reveals the “broken system” of politics as usual, and replaces it.

The persuasive value of the border wall is not only a case of the insidiousness of the graphics of many anti-immigration groups that were displayed on social media:  the Trump White House has repeatedly selected multiple anti-immigrant activists from the  Center for Immigration Studies as (CIS) to frame and devise its official policy in ICE and the Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration, tantamount to rewriting official U.S. policy that echoed their frequent depictions of immigrants as terrorists, denouncing “the myth of the law-abiding illegal alien,” and even the “health risks” to Americans of open borders policies, conflating legal questions about immigration as essentially security risks.

The role of maps and visualizations offering false expertise about cross-border migration as a danger that the border wall could stop demands consideration.  For the production of such misleading maps helped shift public discussion away from the effects of such a project on migrants or on foreign policy, and on the preservation of human rights immigration laws.  The current fencing is shown as limited and with openings as if to redirect attention to the linearity of a single wall, as if this will bolster and redefine our nation, per Trump’s eery unfounded statements that nations without borders are not nations.

 

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As the advance of migrants claiming rights advanced through Mexican cities, its message transformed into one of aggression, the notion of a “via cruces emigrants” was transformed into an arrival of untold dangers and threats, inserted into a narrative of invasion that “securing the border” would respond, and a test of  the ability to control or police the border line:   if the collective cry at Trump rallies to “build the wall!” was the cry of a powerless, seeking to secure borders to calm their fears, the fears of the waning prominence of the wall, so forcefully conjured as a means of national protection in the public imaginary, seemed suddenly at risk.  The alleged illegality of immigration that led assert the legal right to defend “our” borders erodes the law, and respect for rights, even as six companies awarded contracts to create thirty-foot tall prototypes of a border wall with Mexico have completed their full-scale models being tested for their resistance to sledgehammers, scaling, underground tunneling.  Could the blurred legality of a project of wall-building be accepted as a national project as the migrants advance, and it gains greater urgency?

 

 

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It is striking the degree to which an intense–if relatively marginal–online debate about the border’s enforcement has been elevated through maps.  The simplistic data visualizations of border flow allowed to mobilize ideas of the nation that depend on a sense of illiteracy in reading data, or mapping divides.  In ways that met Trump’s own endless appetite for fostering division and opposition, the wall assumed a huge wedge to be created in American public opinion, and of opening a divide between “our safety” and the other side of the border, law-abiding Americans and the illegal behavior of undocumented immigrants branded as “illegal” for having crossed the border without documents, as if they were not law-abiding.  Poor enforcement of laws in Mexico allowed central Americans without papers to travel through their nation, to undermine the borders, Trump argued, theatrically capturing the attention of the nation without of trace of empathy for their plight as victims of violence within their own nations–but casting the United States as a victimized by global migrant flows.

And as Facebook updates of Pueblos sin fronteras described crossing immigration checkpoints without resistance, and entering nations without papers, the fear of crossing the US-Mexico border was triggered, and Trump injected increasingly militaristic language and policies, from summoning the National Guard to protect the United States’ southwestern border to threatening the “nuclear option” of end DACA, as if the category of immigrants, citizens who were the children of migrants, and refugees could be collapsed into a blurry collective, removed from any individually defining story, but grouped as a collective mass alien who were recognized as alien to the United States and lying outside the “America First” doctrine that has been a reflexive cover or varnish of unthought passionate defenses of the need for building a border wall. The adoption of this nativist point of view seems to rehabilitate its xenophobia, intent as the President’s own statements are to fail to differentiate not only between actual cases that merit asylum, have been granted working papers, and indeed contribute to American society. By making all subject to the threat of deportation–and stripping them of any legal status at all–they are removed from civil society and civil society is eroded.

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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.

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

jobs.jpgGEI Analysis/Business Insider

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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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.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Renegotiate.pngDeals,” October 18, 2016

 

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

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

 

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

 

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New York Times

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

4773248534_1f5de418ca_o.jpgCarolyn Cuskey/Creative Commons

 

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

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

 

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:

 

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

 

NAFTASUPERHIGHWAYJune 2006 NASCO website image of I-35 Corridor

 

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

 

nafta highway.jpg

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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–

 

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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.

 

 

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

 

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, Mexico-United States Border, NAFTA, North American Free Trade Agreement

Mapping the Material Surplus along the US-Mexico Border

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

110519_mex_border_fence_mpotter-grid-6x2Mark Potter/NBC News

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

the-design-was-also-inspired-by-the-work-ofrenowned-mexican-architect-luis-barragn-who-is-famous-for-his-blunt-stucco-walls-and-use-of-bright-colors

Agustin Avalos/Estudio 3.14

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

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

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

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March 1, 2016 · 1:06 pm

Mapping Migrants’ Deaths along National Divides

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.  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.  Far lesser incidence of deaths form cholera near other street-pumps provided a new way to grasp infection and disease.

 

Snow-cholera-map-1.jpg

 

The dot map of the deaths of migrants creates no such clear distribution, and has no sense of transmission form a single site.  But 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.   Bodies of 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–in ways that force the viewer to scrutinize its mute surface of dots against a deceptively pastel base map in hopes to glean the stories of the individual migrants whose lives ended far earlier than necessary, and the stories of whose travails and travels can never be told, and is reduced to the finality of a bright red dot, arresting attention but disarmingly flat.  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–and increasingly by risking their lives to do so.  This is only 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

 

The attempts of art students schooled in techniques of facial reconstruction at the New York Academy of Art to use artistic abilities in the service of forensic reconstruction to preserve the faces of migrants, in a new project that seeks to restore dignity to these victims of the border, if not to hope to bring them back to life, offers a broader context than the poetic detritus that have been encountered along the border, preserved in terrifyingly mute photographs of isolated commodities migrants left in their wake.

Richard Misrach

 

The terrifying distribution of migrants’ deaths near to the US-Mexico border over the past decade are difficult to confront.  While he border is a line, the deaths are not able to be tied to one place, or vector of location, but congregate along the border, from which they bleed into the edge of the nation in ways that strikes one in the gut, following the paths of those who have risked passage across the desert, alone or in groups.  Their striking distribution in a set of overlapping red dots suggest the accumulation of a terrifying loss of life that have been the costs of globalization and of closing borders to immigration.  The attempt to invest these terrifying deaths with some sense of a proper funeral and form of remembrance are suggested in the project of the identification of the dead that appear only as point data to which the decomposed remains of migrants are so often reduced.  And in some sense, the attempts at facial reconstruction of those who have been killed during the experience of transborder flight is attempted in the exercise of facial reconstruction, which as if in an improvised transformation of the art studio to a morgue confers some sense of dignity to the dead, whose faces look out at us, if stripped of names.

 

00forensics2-superJumbo.jpgNew York Academy of Art Classes/Vincent Tullo/New York Times

 

The restoration of identity to these remains, as migrant deaths continue to escalate, are an attempt to call attention to the actual enormities of the scale of migrant deaths of those attempting to cross into the nation since 2001, and online posting of these clay images in NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System of the National Institute of Justice, but barely skim the surface of the almost 3,000 remains of migrants that have been discovered and geolocated in the Arizona OpenGIS Initiative.  But how such a growth of deaths can be embodied–and the ethics of doing so–remains a pressing and compelling question as the numbers of deaths of migrants continues to grow, even as we are told that attempted border crossings decline.

The deaths of these deceased migrants–not only “undocumented” but stripped of identity save the story of the terrifying circumstances of their deaths, often able to be reconstructed,  raise compelling questions about how we have allowed or tolerated the multiplication of the deaths of migrants who undertake cross-border transit to grow.  For there is a clear inhumanity of compelling migrants to undertake arduous voyages across long, uninhabited stretches of land and undue difficulties that demands to be confronted, and we are forced to come to terms with their loss, if only to ask about the absence of any assistance that was offered to them, and the extreme isolation of such attempts at concealed travel that is something of the analogy to the underground railroad in which African American slaves followed the course of stars to navigate northward on food.

The maps invite us to with the scale of the loss of life and a universal problem of processing the undocumented, and compel us to try to arrive at a better process for managing the nation’s borders, based less on strategies of exclusion:   one is left silent trying to process the 2,000 corpses of migrants who died attempting to cross the border between Mexico and the United States–many found in different states of decomposition in the Sonora desert near Arizona‘s borderline with Mexico.  For the pathways of many migrants trying to circumvent increased border patrols has transformed the lands of many state counties into killing fields.  The recent plans to augment the place of stationed surveillance agents along the border by Donald Trump will not only compel more cross-border transits to be planned and accomplished, but place undue duress on the even greater difficulties to evade surveillance in the expanded borderlands through the interruptions of built boundary walls, and those who attempt to avoid apprehension or detection by travels through the desert.

 

1:3 border is fenced  NPRAlready Built Barriers and Walls (2013)

 

Misrach, Border SignsRichard Misrach

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