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. 


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.


The Empire’s War on the Border – Full Documentary // Empire_File018/19

“Join Abby Martin as she investigates why there are thousands of bodies on the US Mexico border–and uncovers a hidden war–in this full-length documentary, originally aired as a two-part series.

Discover what is not only a shockingly high body count, but a humanitarian crisis manufactured by the U.S. government. Sinister tactics by a bloated Border Patrol, a for-profit prison pipeline, and a court system that looks more like a slave auction, all surround the senseless death of thousands.

From NAFTA’s impact to hidden camera footage of “Operation Streamline”, learn about this U.S. policy of death, and the humanitarian disaster caused by the U.S. deportation machine.”


This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly.

“Letters to the Future, a national project involving more than 40 alternative weeklies across the United States, set out to find authors, artists, scientists and others willing to get creative and draft letters to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks—and what came after.”

Where I Place My Greatest Hope

To my 35 year-old child,

When you read this it will be 2050. Right now you are seven months in the womb. When I see you now—your heart thumping in colorless ultrasounds—I am mesmerized by your beauty, your innocence, your potential. I know that by the time you read this you will have seen a lot, you will have seen too much.

In 2015, my child, we hear a lot of climate predictions for what the world will be like in 2050; these forecasts are frightening. For example, the common projection for climate refugees—people on the move due to hellacious typhoons or hurricanes, rapid sea level rise, or disastrous droughts—is 200 million. But who would’ve known, as long ago as 2015, that Arizonans would be among the uprooted?

Nobody was expecting the semi-collapse of Phoenix, though the city was, along with Tucson, already in trouble. Both cities were rationing water and battling ever-more tenacious wildfires. When a fierce dust storm knocked out Phoenix’s electricity grid in June of 2040, and the air conditioning didn’t come back on, ever, for many it was the last straw. It wasn’t the first migration out of the city, but it was the largest.

What people weren’t expecting, however, were the Homeland Security checkpoints around U.S. cities and between state borders, or the new laws that only permitted people with certain documents to travel. And, of course, the subsequent arrests, incarcerations, and deportations if those laws were not heeded.

But I write you, my child, before all this happened. I write to you from Paris, in November of 2015. I write to you one week from what many are saying is the most important climate summit in history. I write you in the hopes that I am wrong, because we all know there is a much better world possible and it’s still in our grasp.

It’s critical, I think, for you to understand where I am right now. Two weeks before the climate summit began, coordinated violent attacks across Paris dramatically altered the tone of the negotiations. The French government “cancelled” the marches, which were to be attended by varied international organizations that would put formidable grass roots pressure on participating nations. The government said they couldn’t provide sufficient protection to the organizers, though the best protection for them—and for you, my child as we now see—would have been to embrace that more urgent conversation that demanded a better world.

The impacts of the Paris attacks spanned the globe. In the United States, for example, most politicians barked about military operations and let this critical moment for the climate fall to the wayside. The fires of xenophobia were fanned all the way to the upper-echelons of government, conflagrating all across the media landscape. Witnessing this rapid mobilization of the counterterrorism hawks just seemed to prove that, if that were the impetus, we could move just as forcefully to protect the climate. But, no. A slightly-reformed yet catastrophic “business as usual” strategy carried on; we guaranteed your frightening reality.

For the astute contemporary historians in 2050, they will see that the calls for more border militarization in 2015 had already been happening for some time. The U.S. military and Border Patrol were already preparing for what official documents called “mass migration” due to climate destabilization. That’s why there are all the checkpoints now, on the I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, entering Phoenix, entering California. I know you don’t like them; we didn’t like them either. As I sit in Paris right now in 2015, your future, I am deeply saddened to say, looks bleak.

But I have a feeling that I am wrong. Maybe I have overestimated the trends of the power structure, and underestimated the strength of the people. Maybe it’s you, my beloved, that gives me hope. Maybe I see in your potential actions, in your imagination, in your creativity, and in your capability the seeds for a much happier world. It is clear that your vibrant generation will be forced to act. It will have to reach across these fortified borders, and refuse to submit to them. It will take this sort of unity. This is where I place my greatest hope.


It was a typical scene for many on the Tohono O’odham Nation: a Border Patrol agent pulled behind us in a green-striped vehicle after we had stopped to check directions. We were a group of five people in two cars. We had no idea what they wanted. Documentary filmmaker Adam Markle was going to interview tribal member Joshua Garcia at the San Miguel border gate, only a mile away. It was October 12, Columbus Day, a fitting date to be on the land of the Tohono O’odham.

The agents were about to give us a taste of what the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona described in extensive detail in a new report. It says that Border Patrol practices along this 2,000-mile border have become “de facto stop and frisk.” It also asserts that this border Native American reservation, which hugs the U.S.-Mexico boundary and is only a fraction of its original land, has become a prototype of a “modern day police state.”

Read the rest here on nacla.org, where it was originally published.