Podcast Interview about Storming the Wall

Check out “Planet Full of Refugees,”  my interview with Blaise Scemama here.

“Sea levels rising, cities flooding, hurricanes raging, fires burning, droughts persisting, and – everywhere around the globe – people are being displaced. The era of the climate refugee has begun.

Journalist and author, Todd Miller, tackles this scary new phenomenon known as the climate refugee in his new book entitled, Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security.

I recently had the privilege of speaking to Mr. Miller about his latest release in my very first podcast entitled “Trailblaise and Todd Miller talk Climate Refugees.””

Climate Change Refugees Face Militarized Borders

Interview with Mark Karlin at Truthout. Full interview here:

Mark Karlin: What is the relationship between the developed nation-state and migration due to climate change?

Todd Miller: There is no climate refugee status. So, in the eyes of the nation-state, a person migrating because of climate reasons is meaningless. For example, when I met three men in Tenosique, Mexico (near the Guatemala divide), they told me that they were headed north because “there was no rain.” In the eyes of immigration officials — whether they be in Mexico or the United States — this would not matter. It would not matter that a mayor of a small town in Honduras called this very Central American drought “an unprecedented calamity.” It would not matter that a million drought-inflicted people throughout the Central American “dry corridor” — spreading from Guatemala to Nicaragua — were on the verge of starvation. A “famine,” as former US Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar described the situation in Guatemala, would not matter. Immigration agents would check your papers, and if you were not authorized to be in the country, you would be arrested, detained and expelled.

It wouldn’t matter if you were displaced by a hurricane. It wouldn’t matter if your coffee crop was destroyed by climate-induced fungus. To the immigration agents, it would not matter if the rising seas had washed through your house, nor if raging floods had coursed down the streets of your neighborhood. The mudslides would not matter. The heat waves would not matter. All that would matter would be the nation-state, its sovereignty and its “right” to control its territorial boundaries.

In the Era of Climate Change, Militarized Borders Reinforce an Unjust World Order

An excerpt from Storming the Wall as published in entriety here in Truthout:

If Ismael, Luis Carlos, and Santos Fernando ever reach the border of the United States, the world’s largest greenhouse polluter, they will come face to face with the world’s largest border enforcement apparatus. Walls of different shapes and sizes stand waiting for them in urban border areas such as Nogales or San Ysidro or El Paso, places poised to become even more barricaded during Donald Trump’s presidency. Also there to meet them are an army of Border Patrol agents in roving patrols on horseback, in Blackhawk helicopters, in fixed-wing aircraft, and at the controls of Predator B aerial surveillance systems. Depending on where they attempt to cross, they might encounter tethered surveillance balloons or any of hundreds of remote or mobile video surveillance systems strategically positioned to alert Border Patrol agents of their movements.

If they cross into the United States, they most likely will do so through a region much like Organ Pipe National Monument, a remote area in in southwestern Arizona where I stood talking to a US Border Patrol agent. As the agent and I talked, we were surrounded by protected wilderness badly scarred with tire tracks by roving Homeland Security trucks whose national security mission trumps environmental protection.

The agent, who wished to remain anonymous, knew nothing about climate change becoming a greater planning priority for both the US military and the Department of Homeland Security. He did know, however, about how border enforcement looks from ground level at a Forward Operating Base. Like those deployed in US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the strategy of a Forward Operating Base is to seize ground and maintain a presence in isolated areas and territories. There are now dozens of such bases in the US-Mexico borderlands.

When I met with the agent I was with students of a border studies class from Prescott College. The agent was off-duty, wearing a blue shirt, a little bit out of breath because he had been jogging.

When we asked the agent what duties are performed at the desolate base his response was: “Depends how busy we are. Sometimes we’re busy finding bodies.” He paused.

“We found five just this week.”

“Did you find any bodies yourself?” I asked.

“I found one,” the agent said, then looked at his shoes. Besides the more than 6,000 remains found along the US Mexico border since the 1990s, the Colibri Center for Human Rights has records of 2,500 additional missing people last seen crossing through the region.

“It’s silly,” the agent continued, “they keep walking until they don’t have any food or water, and then they die.”

As geographer Joseph Nevins points out in the book Dying to Live: A Story of US Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid, there are many reasons given, in the general broad analysis, why so many people die attempting to enter the United States. “To state what should be obvious,” Nevins writes, “if migrants were allowed to freely cross the divide — and, by extension, to reside and work within the United States without fear of arrest and deportation due to immigration status — there would be no migrant deaths.” Nevins describes a system of exclusion that now extends well beyond the context of the United States. It is a system where the super-rich have luxurious enclaves on the world’s sinking islands, able to jet there and claim, “It’s so close!,” while the world’s impoverished majority, confronting more and more cataclysmic environmental changes, face constant impediments to their mobility. One person’s “close” is many people’s “never.”

In the climate era, coexisting worlds of luxury living and impoverished desperation will only be magnified and compounded. On one side are not only the super-rich who will want to continue to consume, possess, and waste without limits. There are those of the middle class, too, who populate US suburbs and cities and live unsustainable consumer lifestyles.

On the other side are millions like Ismael, Luis Carlos, and Santos Fernando, deprived of the resources they need for subsistence living in their home communities. In the middle are the militarized border zones that, as Nevins writes, reinforce “an unjust world order.”

Checkpoint Trauma: An Excerpt of Storming the Wall

Joshua Garcia’s pulse quickens every time he approaches a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. The staggered speed-limit signs on the side of the highway indicate that he should slow down from 40 to 30 to 20 miles per hour. Due to his experiences in the past, and unlike most other drivers, he follows the speed limits exactly.

Garcia has done nothing wrong. He is also a U.S. citizen. But he feels that sense of dread. It is like that feeling of trepidation pulling into, say, that checkpoint on the Colorado border where armed, uniformed officials could order you to pull over. Maybe this time, as on many occasions, they would just wave him through. Perhaps he’d be able to continue on his way back to Tucson as the harsh afternoon light softens into dusk. He hopes that is the case, because he has two kids from the youth council with him.

Sebastian, who is 17, is asleep in the back seat. Fifteen- year-old Amelia is pointing to a sign that says there are dogs on duty. “I want to pet the dog,” she says. Garcia looks at Amelia and jokes, “They’re working dogs, you’re not supposed to pet them.”

In addition to feeling nervous about approaching the checkpoint, there is also exhilaration and afterglow from a great day. That morning, when they drove from Tucson to the Tohono O’odham Nation, a beautiful and muscular wildcat walked across the two-lane road in front of them. “A mountain lion,” the kids murmured. They had to look twice to make sure. And then they were sure. It was the first time either of them had seen one. It was the first time for Garcia, too, the adult leader who had spent thousands of hours walking in the desert. There is something about seeing an elusive and endangered animal, free and wild in its own habitat, that stays with you a long time. Conversations about the lion dominated for the rest of the day. Garcia believes that it was because of the lion that many in the group wanted to walk toward Baboquivari Peak, on a path that climbed to one of the caves where Itoi, the Tohono O’odham creator, resided. From the sacred cave there was a sweeping view of the O’odham aboriginal land that extended as far as the eye could see, including hundreds of miles into Mexico. For a moment there was no international border dividing the land, only the beauty one has of suddenly seeing a vast, inspiring landscape. At the cave they sang to the mountain. It was that sort of day, reconnecting with the living Earth with a sort of reverence that goes against the grain in much of the contemporary United States.

They can see the authorities wave another car forward. They can hear and smell the idling engines. It was another abnormally hot day during the year 2015, which would be the hottest year in recorded history up until that point (only to be surpassed by the very next year). Garcia puts his truck into gear and inches ahead. There are orange striped signs in the middle of the road. There is a stop sign with a trio of orange flags on top, slightly flapping around in the breeze. There are well-armed Homeland Security agents in forest-green uniforms observing his vehicle as he pulls forward into this modern-day bum blockade, located 45 miles north of the international border.

Read more of this excerpt here as published in the Tucson Weekly.

Radio Interview: KPFA Against the Grain, Climate Change and the Border Industrial Complex

“In the wake of the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, while wildfires continue to rage across the West, it would seem like the perils of global warming are self-evident. And in fact, there’s one part of the U.S. government that, unlike President Trump, sees climate change as an undeniable danger: the military and Homeland Security. But not surprisingly, as journalist Todd Miller illustrates, their solution to the dislocations of climate change is a militarized one, imperiling all of us.”

Click here for the interview.

BEYOND TRUMP’S BIG, BEAUTIFUL WALL

I coauthored this article, published in NACLA Report on the Americas, with Joseph Nevins. 

In the fall of 2016, Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico divide seemed like an unlikely presidential candidate’s campaign bluster. Since the New York real estate magnate’s swearing-in as Barack Obama’s White House successor on January 20, 2017, it is now a serious Executive Branch threat. Only five days after the inauguration, the Tweeter-in-Chief signed an executive order requiring “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” It is to be one “monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.” According to the administration’s official request for proposals, released on March 17, the wall should be “physically imposing in height”—about 30 feet high but certainly not less than 18 feet.

The new administration’s walled hopes and dreams face considerable obstacles. Among them are the fact that most people in the United States are opposed to building the new barrier, particularly one with a price tag of somewhere between $15 and $40 billion USD— or somewhere between 101 and 270 times the National Endowment for the Arts’ annual budget, estimates Carolina Miranda in the Los Angeles Times. According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs poll in early April, only 28 percent of respondents support new spending for the border wall, with 58 percent against. The results are consistent with findings of a Quinnipiac survey from February. It found that 59 percent of voters opposed the construction of Trump’s wall, with 39 percent in favor; the gap only grew when voters were asked their opinions of the project if U.S. taxpayers had to finance it.

In addition, and perhaps most significant, is the matter of property. Most of the already-existing walls and fencing stand on federally-owned land. Much of the rest of the land where Trump’s Great Wall would be built is either privately-held or owned by Native tribes. Given this fact, the Trump administration will have a big legal battle on its hands that could involve years of litigation, predicts University of Pittsburgh law professor Gerald Dickinson in the Washington Post.

Regardless of the outcome of Trump’s plans for the wall along the actual international boundary line, it is but one part of a gigantic enforcement regime, one that already is comprised of approximately 18,000 Border Patrol agents in the Southwest borderlands alone (out of a total of roughly 22,000 agents nationally). The U.S.-Mexico borderlands is also already littered with several hundred miles of barricades—in the form of walls, fences, and low-lying vehicle barriers—almost all of which were constructed since the mid-1990s, across administrations, both Democratic and Republican. In some of the most urbanized stretches along the international divide, double-layered barriers exist. In and around San Diego, for example, a corrugated metal wall is paired with a steel mesh fence, portions of which are topped with concertina wire.

Moreover, the apparatus of exclusion goes far beyond the actual U.S.-Mexico divide. It includes a 100-mile-wide “border zone” inside the territorial perimeter of the United States, an area in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has certain extra-constitutional powers, such as the authority to set up immigration checkpoints. And there is also the interior policing apparatus run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency with about 5,800 deportation officers, a force that Trump seeks to almost triple in size. Before even setting foot in the White House, Trump already had the largest border enforcement apparatus in U.S. history at his disposal. And with the definition of “operational control” for that apparatus altered in Trump’s January 2017 Border Security Executive Order—it now reads the “prevention of all unlawful entries” (emphasis added) into the United States—there is an anticipation of another massive border policing build-up.

This build-up will not only be at the Mexico-U.S. international boundary line, nor will it simply be within the United States’ own national territory. Rather, under Trump, we can expect an expansion of the apparatus of exclusion beyond the country’s official territorial boundaries. As then head of the U.S. Border Patrol Mike Fisher explained before the House Committee on Homeland Security in 2011, “The international boundary is no longer the first or last line of defense, but one of many.” This means there is not only an internal thickening of the border policing apparatus within the United States, but also a multilayered, extraterritorial extension of the border.

“The U.S. border starts at Guatemala now,” Daniel Ojalvo, a staff member at a migrant shelter in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, told a reporter from In These Times in 2015. In other words, greater efforts to stop migrants in southern Mexico and in Guatemala precede the Trump administration; in many ways, they are the product of Obama administration policies. With General John Kelly, the former head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), now at the helm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it is reasonable to expect such boundary “thickening” efforts—wall-building of a sort that rarely gets attention—to grow.

This article was published in NACLA Report on the Americas and you can read the rest here.

UN CUENTO DE DOS MUROS: EL VERDADERO Y EL FIGURATIVO

El mensaje central de la campaña presidencial de Donald Trump era que iba aconstruir un muro entre Esta- dos Unidos y México, un muro grande, un muro “hermoso”.

Pero el secreto a voces es que el actual presidente de Estados Unidos no va a construir tal muro, solamente algunas secciones de varios tamaños a lo largo de la frontera. En primer lugar, como ya saben muchos mexi- canos que han ido a Estados Unidos sin documentos, un muro fronterizo de aproximadamente 1100 kilóme- tros ya existe entre los dos países (la línea es 3200 kilómetros aproxima- damente). La mayor parte del muro fue construido después de la “Secure Fence Act of 2006”.

En segundo lugar, parte de la estra- tegia actual que tiene la migra en la frontera es esa de concentrar muros, agentes, y tecnología de vigilancia en los lugares mas “fáciles” de cru- zar la frontera para migrantes sin documentos. Así que a la fuerza mi- grantes van a los desiertos hostiles donde se tiene que caminar por lo menos tres días (y tal vez mas), y no se puede llevar la su ciente agua. Se han encontrado los restos de mas de 6,000 personas desde que fue imple- mentada esta estrategia en los años 90’s.

Read the rest of this article here in the Oaxacan journal El Topil (In Spanish):

A TALE OF TWO WALLS: ALONG A REMOTE STRETCH OF THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDER, TWO VISIONS FOR THE CLIMATE-CHANGED FUTURE ARE UNFOLDING.

The U.S. Border Patrol agent was positioned behind a rust-colored vehicle barrier, on the other side of the international boundary line. He stopped when he saw me, bent down and taking a picture of grass. I was examining a tuft of sacaton, one of the several varieties of native grasses brought back to life by one of the largest ecological restoration projects on the U.S.-Mexico border, at the San Bernardino Ranch, located about 12 miles east of Agua Prieta/Douglas.

Juan Manuel Perez, dressed in jeans and a white cowboy hat, wasn’t fazed. Perez, who is originally from Chihuahua, is the foreman of the organization Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO) and in charge of 45,000 acres of restoration projects spread throughout the region. We walked away from the vehicle and into a nearby wash, called Silver Creek, where Perez showed me what was at the heart of Cuenca Los Ojos (which means “watershed of springs” in English) restoration on San Bernardino: an ancient technique of strategically piling rocks to slow down the flow of water across land. After years of mechanized farming, cattle production, and now drought, this once parched and barren landscape could begin to drink again—could again absorb this precious water.

Since the 1990s, the restoration project has embedded galvanized wire cages, called gabions, on the banks and beds of washes. These gabions are filled to the brim with rocks and go as far as 18 feet deep into the ground. At first glance, they have the striking appearance of an intricate stone wall, a contrast to the border barrier just 100 yards away. But instead of keeping people out, they were built to be sponges shaped to the contour of the streambed and riverbank, slowing the water and replenishing the soil with life. Before they were built, rushing water from monsoon storms would take topsoil and leave cutting erosion. Now, there is water year-round.

Perez gestured to the reviving landscape around him, to the 7,000 acres we could not see. It was not only what was on the surface—the native grasses and sprouting desert willows and cottonwoods—that was so remarkable. It was also what was below: a water table that had risen 30 feet in the middle of a brutal 15-year drought that everywhere else was sucking the land dry. All throughout the borderlands and Arizona, after years of hotter weather and less precipitation, the grass had withered, the earth had cracked, and the animals had died. Yet, water was recharging even 10 to 15 miles downstream from Rancho San Bernardino into Mexico, to places where people hadn’t seen it for decades. From brown to green, from completely dry to lush: to me, it seemed like a miracle.

As Perez and his CLO colleague David Hodges explained this, the Border Patrol agent backed his F-150 truck into the wash where he continued to keep an eye on us. This suspicion is only the most palpable tension between cross-border ecological restoration and one of the most militarized borders on the face of the earth. When sharing resources or doing measurements, what should be a five-minute walk to your neighbors turned into a 50-mile drive through a distant port of entry.

Both border militarization and ecological restoration are two distinct responses to the most challenging ecological crisis of our time: the changing climate. In this microcosm along a remote area of border, these two contrasting visions might just embody the future struggles of the world. As the Trump administration takes office with promises of hyper-racialized border building, you could say what I saw that day on this ranch was a tale of two walls—one about restoration, and the other about exclusion.

Read the rest here on the Edible Baja Arizona website where it was originally published accompanied by the gorgeous photography of Jeff Smith. 

THE GREAT MEXICAN WALL DECEPTION

At the federal courthouse, Ignacio Sarabia asks the magistrate judge, Jacqueline Rateau, if he can explain why he crossed the international boundary between the two countries without authorization. He has already pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor commonly known as “illegal entry” and is about to receive a prison sentence. On either side of him are eight men in the same predicament, all still sunburned, all in the same ripped, soiled clothes they were wearing when arrested in the Arizona desert by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Once again, the zero tolerance border enforcement program known as Operation Streamline has unfolded just as it always does here in Tucson, Arizona. Close to 60 people have already approached the judge in groups of seven or eight, their heads bowed submissively, their bodies weighed down by shackles and chains around wrists, waists, and ankles. The judge has handed out the requisite prison sentences in quick succession — 180 days, 60 days, 90 days, 30 days.

Read the rest at TomDispatch, where it was originally published.