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.