The rise of walls in a warming world

When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated before the long, dangerous haul to the United States. The Hondurans told me that they had been stuck here for six long days avoiding Mexican immigration agents. Like many other countries across the globe, Mexico, with assistance from Washington, has been fortifying its southern border.

When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, “No hubo lluvia.” (“There was no rain.”) In their community, without rain, there had been no crops, no harvest, no food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras’ “dry corridor” planted seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.

Central America was, in fact, ground zero for climate change in the Americas, University of Arizona climate scientist Chris Castro told me. According to the best forecasting models, a “much greater occurrence of the very dry seasons” lies in the future for the region. The coming climate upheavals, which also include superstorms and sea level rise, are predicted to leave unprecedented numbers of people with no other choice but to move.

And as it stands right now, there isn’t a legal framework for dealing with climate refugees, neither in international law nor the laws of specific countries.

Instead, that moment in Tenosique was a grim glimpse into the future: young, unarmed farmers with failing harvests facing the only welcome this planet presently has to offer such victims of climate change — expensive and expanding border regimes of surveillance, razor-wire walls, agents with guns and incarceration centers.

Read the rest here, as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

 

Climate Change, Mass Migration and the Border Militarization to Come

“Record heat waves, droughts, floods, super storms, wildfires ravaging California, and now freezing temperatures consuming the East Coast. The world is waking up to the destructive realities of a changing climate. But while the Trump administration publicly espouses climate science denial, it continues to ramp up the border militarization efforts that began in the 1990s and continued through both Bushes and the Obama administration.

In his 2014 book, “Border Patrol Nation”, author Todd Miller looked at the federal government’s fastest growing paramilitary force and the real-world effects it has on the communities it nominally protects, but more often treats as a territory under military occupation. Miller’s 2017 follow-up, “Storming The Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security”, advances on this theme, illustrating ways that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is actively ramping up for climate change. In typical perverse fashion, in fact, it’s become the new normal in Washington – the exact opposite of a humanitarian response.

Occupy.com reached out to Todd Miller to discuss his latest work.”

Click here for full interview by Jacob Resneck.

Interview about Storming the Wall on Unauthorized Disclosure

Click here for the audio interview.

“Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola interview journalist Todd Miller, author of Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security. It was published by City Lights Books in September and was praised by Bill McKibben, Christian Parenti, and Dahr Jamail, who has appeared on this podcast multiple times.

Miller traveled to the Philippines, Honduras, Guatemala, the Mexico-Guatemala border, the United States-Mexico border, and Paris. There he observed and met individuals witnessing the escalating impacts of climate change on their communities. He also attended multiple expos or conventions, where people from the security-industrial complex spoke about how they are preparing for climate change—in order to control borders and make profits off future calamities.

During the hour-long interview, Miller discusses the “21st Century Border,” as well as the concept of “Prevention Through Deterrence”—how countries deter migration by increasing the potential for death. He highlights what he observed in the Philippines and recalls his experience at Milipol, a massive Homeland Security expo he attended in Paris days after ISIS attacked the city and around the time the Paris climate agreement was deliberated over by much of the world.”

The Era of Walls: Greeting Climate-Change Victims With a Man-Made Dystopia

When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate-change refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated to try to board La Bestia (“the Beast”), the nickname given to the infamous train that has proven so deadly for those traveling north toward the United States.

The men hid momentarily as a Mexican army truck with masked, heavily armed soldiers drove by. Given Washington’s pressure on Mexico to fortify its southern border, U.S. Border Patrol agents might have trained those very soldiers. As soon as they were gone, the Hondurans told me that they had been stuck here for six long days. The night before, they had tried to jump on La Bestia, but it was moving too fast.

When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, “No hubo lluvia.” (“There was no rain.”) In their community, without rain, there had been neither crops, nor a harvest, nor food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras’s “dry corridor” planted their seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.

Read the rest here at TomDispatch, where the article originally appeared.

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.