Imagine a World Without Borders. Excerpt in Yes! Magazine

“Below us in Nogales, the agent abruptly halted his lecture and tore up the hill again, spitting gravel from his wheels. I was relieved, because you never know how such a scene might play out. Every day such displays of asymmetrical power take place, small acts of aggression that never make the news. Before long, the agent returned to his perch under the camera post, an elevated spot providing unobstructed views of the surrounding area. This whole scene would not have happened before 1994, when there was only a chain-link fence with big holes through which people would cross back and forth. According to longtime resident and musician Gustavo Lozano, back then the only worry was the occasional presence of a kid at the hole asking for pocket change. When Lozano occasionally got caught by the Border Patrol and thrown back into Mexico, there was no incarceration, no formal deportation on his record. He told me that he would often cross from Mexico into the United States to pay a bill at a department store for his mom, to play basketball with his cousins, to hang out with his family. As late as the 1980s, on holidays such as September 16—Mexican Independence Day—officials opened the borders completely and a parade zigzagged back and forth as if the international boundary simply didn’t exist.

Ambos Nogales is one place that exists on both sides of the U.S.- Mexico border. Ambos means “both,” and as the name suggests, communities on both sides of the border share deep familial, community, social, economic, and political ties. They also share common infrastructure. As Ieva Jusionyte writes in her book Threshold: Emergency Responders on the U.S.-Mexico Border, “extending from northern Sonora to southern Arizona, the railway, the highway, even the sewage pipeline facilitate dense ties between the two sides of the border. It becomes impossible to disentangle one town’s everyday logistics from the other’s.” The border cannot stop the roots of trees and the vast mycelium networks symbiotically entangled with them from reaching across to the other side.

At Ambos Nogales, the border is not designated by a mountain, lake, or river. This border first came into being as an imaginary line in the sand with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, that is, if a transaction at gunpoint can be considered a “purchase.” Officials from both countries put up the first permanent fence in 1918 after what was known as the Battle of Ambos Nogales. The battle resulted from spiking tensions after the implementation of passport requirements by the United States, which included limiting the number of times Mexican citizens could cross the border. Repeated shootings by U.S. Customs agents and military, including the killing of two Mexican citizens, precipitated the combat. In his book Violent Borders, geographer Reece Jones argues that borders are implicitly violent, often from their very inception.”

Read the rest here as it appeared in Yes! Magazine.

What Purpose Does a Border Serve? An Interview With Yes! Magazine

“At a time when migration across the U.S.’s southern border continues to grow and a new administration looks for different solutions, Todd Miller’s fourth book, Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders, seeks to reframe the issue. The book makes clear that our border “problem” is endemic, transcending whichever party is in power. But rather than pointing the finger at migrants or even individual decision-makers, Miller takes aim at the border apparatus itself: a relic of colonialism that divides nations, communities and families alike, and which may have outlived its usefulness.”

YES! Senior Editor Chris Winters spoke with Miller from his home in Arizona. This interview has been condensed and edited for publication.

Chris Winters: You’ve written about borders before, and you’ve got a lot of personal experience living on both sides of our southern border. But why did you choose this time around to write about not just “the border,” but about borders in general?

Todd Miller: The previous work that I had coming up to this book was looking at borders from different angles. My first book was called Border Patrol Nation, so I was looking at the post-9/11 expansion of the border apparatus. The second one was Storming the Wall, which looks at climate change and displacement and how borders are playing a part in that. And then I looked at also the internationalization of the U.S. border in the third book, called Empire of Borders. …

There’s a lot of in-depth reporting, and looking at all these different aspects, all these different angles, and really getting to know intimately what is exactly going on: unpacking this apparatus, looking at all the different components of it, looking at the strategies—for example, the strategy on the southern border. “Prevention Through Deterrence” is a strategy to inflict suffering on people. That’s what it is, it’s purposely blockading certain areas, so that people circumvent them and go through the Arizona desert where I live. And the idea is that the suffering or potential of death of going through those areas will deter people, that the word will get back. And that’s been the strategy for 25 years.

My argument is that border security is not about security at all.

And then watching … the $1.5 billion budget for border and immigration enforcement [in 1994] going to $25 billion today. … So I’ve lived on both sides of the border, and just watching this thing just build up, build up, build up, build up with all kinds of technologies—drones, surveillance towers, motion sensors—it’s just a militarization of the border, really. And this is what just really led to this book: What is this thing that we’re told is sacrosanct? That we’re told that you can’t question?

Read the rest here!

Interview with Leonard Lopate on Build Bridges, Not Walls

"(4/27/21) By the time Todd Miller spotted him, Juan Carlos had been wandering alone in a remote border region for days. Parched, hungry and disoriented, he approached Todd and asked him for a ride. While his instinct was to oblige, he hesitated; aiding an unauthorized person’s entrance into the US is a federal crime. Todd has been reporting from international border zones for over 25 years. In his new book Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders, he invites readers to join him on a journey that begins with the most basic of questions—what happens to our collective humanity when the impulse to help one another is criminalized? Join us for a discussion of abolishing international dividing lines in this installment of Leonard Lopate at Large on WBAI."

Listen here!

Conversation with Nick Estes on Build Bridges, Not Walls

“Todd Miller has been reporting from international border zones for over twenty-five years. In Build Bridges, Not Walls, he invites readers to join him on a journey that begins with the most basic of questions: What happens to our collective humanity when the impulse to help one another is criminalized? A series of encounters—with climate refugees, members of indigenous communities, border authorities, scholars, visionaries, and the shape-shifting imagination of his four-year-old son—provokes reflections on the ways in which nation-states create the very problems that drive immigration, and how the abolition of borders could make the world a more sustainable, habitable place for all. Is it possible to create a borderless world? How could it emerge, and how might it be better equipped to solve the global emergencies threatening our collective survival? Build Bridges, Not Walls is an inspiring, impassioned call to envision—and work toward—a bold new reality.”

Watch here.

A Conversation about Build Bridges, Not Walls on the Honduras Now podcast

“Drones, walls, extreme surveillance, racism, and tension are some of the things you will experience when near the US-Mexico border. How have border walls become the solution to a crisis that isn’t really a crisis but a human-made US policy problem that must be fixed? 

Today, we speak with author and independent journalist Todd Miller, who recently published a book called “Build bridges, not walls: A journey to a world without borders.” With over a decade of research, conversations, and visits to many border walls around the world, Todd Miller explains the impacts of a border mentality and how we can create the conditions for a world without borders.”

Listen here!

A lucrative border-industrial complex keeps the US border in constant ‘crisis’

I’ll never forget Giovanni’s blistered feet as an EMT attended to him on the Mexico side of the US-Mexican border in Sasabe, a remote desert town. On the back of one foot, his skin had been rubbed away and the tender, reddish, underlying tissue exposed. One toenail had completely ripped off. Giovanni, who was from a small Guatemalan town near the Salvadorian border, had just spent days walking through the Arizona desert in the heat of July.

When I think of the “border crisis”, I think of Giovanni’s gashed feet. Stories of death and near death, of pain and immense suffering like this, happen every single day. This displacement crisis is not temporary; it is perpetual.

This is something that I’ve witnessed in my own reporting for more than two decades. The border by its very design creates crisis. This design has been developed and fortified over the span of many administrations from both political parties in the United States, and now involves the significant participation of private industry.

Read the rest here as it appeared in The Guardian.

Excerpt from Build Bridges: The Struggle for Empathy Within the Border Patrol’s “Culture of Cruelty”

One day in 2008, Border Patrol Agent Brendan Lenihan was working alone in southern Arizona when he received a dispatch to investigate a motion sensor that had been triggered nearby. The US borderlands with Mexico hold thousands of hidden sensors, and only Border Patrol knows where they are. Lenihan went up a narrow road into the Las Guijas Mountains, named for the 19th-century Spanish miners who searched for gold there. The closest community to him was Arivaca, Arizona, a small unincorporated town located about eleven miles north of the border.

Its population was concerned about the increasing number of people entering the town in distress or injured, or dying in the surrounding desert. When Homeland Security installed a checkpoint in 2006, people from Arivaca could not leave their community—to go to the grocery store, to go to the doctor, to go to school—on any paved road without going through a Border Patrol blockade. In a few years this imposition would cause a great deal of activism, including protests at the checkpoints themselves, and a petition signed by more than half of Arivaca’s 600 people demanding the blockades’ removal.

Lenihan’s green-striped truck scraped against mesquite branches as he drove up the narrowing trail between large rock faces. As he pushed farther in, he didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes the sensors expose people attempting to cross the border, other times they reveal stray cattle. The trail came to an end by an abandoned mine shaft close to the top of the ridgeline. With nowhere left to drive, Lenihan parked and got out of his car. He paused to survey the sweeping view of the San Luis Mountains, the Altar Valley, and the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, home to fleet-footed pronghorns, pumas, and more than 300 species of birds. To the west was Baboquivari Mountain with its pronounced, vivid peak—the region where I met Juan Carlos. Agent Lenihan told me it was a “beautiful spot,” as if he could have just sat there, staring out onto the borderless landscape, for the rest of his shift. He could see not only hundreds of miles, but millions of years, if you considered the lifetimes of the mountain ranges.

“Seen from space,” wrote retired astronaut Scott Joseph Kelly in 2020, following in the global-consciousness footsteps of his predecessors, “the Earth has no borders.” Among the “side effects of seeing Earth from the perspective of space, at least for me, is feeling more compassion for others.” Kelly’s words seemed to foreshadow what Brendan Lenihan was about to experience, one of the most powerful stories of empathy I’ve ever heard.

Read the rest here as published at Literary Hub.