Walls Are Dumb but President Biden’s ‘Smart Border’ Is Even Worse

In December 2019, the city of Chula Vista announced with much fanfare that it had been designated as California’s first Welcoming City. This designation honored the community’s commitment to include its undocumented residents. Located 15 minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border, Chula Vista has one of the highest populations of immigrants in the United States, about 30 percent of its population of 270,000. Rachel Peric, the director of Welcoming America, said this “inclusive environment” was a “model . . . to ensure residents of all backgrounds—including immigrants, can thrive and belong.”

College student Nicholas Paúl told me his city’s designation “was a proud moment” for his community. Raised on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, Paúl is emblematic of many residents from Chula Vista. “I’m a fronterizo,” he told me. Every weekend he crossed the border to Tijuana to visit family and friends. “It’s a way of life,” he said. “It’s not something that is unique to me. It’s my whole family, my whole neighborhood.”

So it came as a shock to Paúl a year later, in December 2020, when an exposé by San Diego’s daily newspaper revealed that the Chula Vista Police Department was sharing information from automated license plate readers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, and of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“They collect information not only about license plates but also the car—make, model, color, location coordinates,” Paúl said. Police mounted cameras on four patrol vehicles that constantly take pictures of license plates while they roam the city. Paúl and other Chula Vista residents feared that they were targeting the city’s undocumented population, possibly his very neighbors. Furthermore, the license plate reading program had been in effect since 2017, so this was happening even as Chula Vista received its Welcoming City designation.

Paúl’s testimony is in a new reportSmart Borders or a Humane World?, that I coauthored with immigrant rights organizer Mizue Aizeki, and border scholars Geoffrey Boyce, Joseph Nevins, and Miriam Ticktin for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Projectand the Transnational Institute.

Read the rest here at The Border Chronicle.

The U.S.-Haiti Border: How the United States Blocks Haitians Wherever They Go

Five days after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in Haiti, the United States sent a jumbo jet flying over the countryside. As people stood amid the wreckage, the prerecorded, disembodied voice of Raymond Joseph, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, spoke from the sky: “Listen, don’t rush on boats to leave the country. If you do that, we’ll all have even worse problems. Because I’ll be honest with you: if you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”

The U.S.-Haiti border had arrived. It came with 16 Coast Guard cutters roaming Haitian shores and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security opening up detention beds run by the private prison company GeoGroup in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. U.S. officials call this elastic apparatus in Caribbean waters, which can expand at a moment’s notice, the “third border.” Here, there is an enforcement web of many agencies—including the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, CBP Air and Marine, ICE, and even U.S. Southern Command—that emanates from the U.S. in Puerto Rico and South Florida. All these agencies participate in joint annual exercises, known as Integrated Advance, that are meant to deal with “maritime mass migration in the Caribbean.” Integrated Advance is part of Operation Vigilant Sentry, the DHS migration interdiction plan in the Caribbean. In 2015, officials even disguisedthemselves as migrants heading north on boats as part of the exercise and set up a command and control center. “A migrant operation is one of our most likely missions at Army South, so we have to be prepared,” said Major General Joseph P. DiSalvo, Army South’s commander.

Read the rest here at The Border Chronicle.

For the US, the Climate Plan Is More Walls and Armed Agents at the Border

Not long into our conversation, the young woman at the migrant resource center in Sasabe, Sonora, told me why she had left her home in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala: floods had ruined her family’s crops. Her name was Flor* and she was 19 years old. Two Category 4 hurricanes battered Central American coasts in late 2020, unleashing intense flooding throughout Guatemala, drowning harvests, and threatening starvation for the coming year. The migrant center, called Casa de la Esperanza, is just two blocks from the US port of entry. Mexican flags fluttered throughout the town on September 15, the day before Independence Day. Flor told me it was exactly a month since she had left home. She was sitting next to her companion, Esmeralda, who was 20 and also from Guatemala. They told me they had already tried to cross into the United States the week before, but were arrested and deported by the US Border Patrol.

Earlier that week, the World Bank released a report titled Groundswell, which predicted that, if global carbon emissions are not mitigated, 216 million people will be on the move by 2050 from six different regions, including Latin America, as a direct result of the changing climate. This came a month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s August report delivered a dire warning: unless there are “immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees celsius will be beyond reach.” Outside the migrant center, you could see the 30-foot wall going up the hill; it had been constructed by the Trump administration in late 2020, around the same time Flor’s crops were being submerged by catastrophic flooding. The red, rusty wall left a wide scar of razed land visible from miles away.

Read the rest here at The Border Chronicle.

9/11’s Border Legacy: Razor Wire, “Smart” Surveillance, and Billions in Security Contracts

Along the 20-foot border wall in Nogales, Arizona, six lines of coiling razor wire blanket the rust-colored bollards from top to bottom. Shortly after Joe Biden was inaugurated in January, Nogales mayor Arturo Garino asked that it be cut down. Although the wall itself predated the Trump administration, the razor wire was installed by the US military in 2019. Today, it is the most visceral reminder of Trump’s viciously anti-immigrant administration. But the concertina wire, and the wall, aren’t going anywhere. In February, the federal government issued a call for bids from private industry to maintain border wall infrastructure. As Garino said, “I know that the government has a tendency of, when they put something up, they always keep it up, doesn’t matter what administration is there.” Indeed, the maintenance of this flesh-slicing wire is but one layer of a complex and massive border apparatus and industry that Biden has inherited.

Read the rest here as first published in The Border Chronicle.

Interview at Teen Vogue: The Case for Open Borders Is Laid Out in the Book ‘Build Bridges, Not Walls’

Interview conducted by Will Meyer starts like this:

“The iconic abolitionist activist Angela Davis once wrote that “walls turned sideways are bridges.” This creativity and openness to our fellow humans — this bridge-building — is what we need to do to address the unfolding crises of climate change, mass migration, and late-stage capitalism, according to investigative journalist and author Todd Miller. Miller has spent decades studying the politics of border regions, tracing the human and environmental toll of decades of militarization, forced displacement, and detention. His fourth and latest book on the subject, Build Bridges, Not Walls, from City Lights Books, makes an abolitionist case against borders.

In a recent phone conversation, Miller spoke to Teen Vogue about the personal, political, and spiritual case to tear down border walls.”

Read the rest here.

‘Build Bridges Not Walls’ Interview on KJZZ

“The U.S. border with Mexico has been a hot-button region for generations.

The figurative temperature was turned up during the four years of the Trump administration as a new stretch of border wall was a top priority, and as rhetoric about undocumented immigration became more intense.

How different would it be if we didn’t have borders between nations and walls were uncommon, rather than on the rise?

Todd Miller explores those concepts and others in his book “Build Bridges Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders.”

The Show spoke with Miller about what images come to mind when he thinks about the Arizona-Mexico border.”

Listen here for the interview with Steve Goldstein.

Empire of Borders: The Expansion of the U.S. Border Across the World. Interview on Solidarity Radio

“In this Conversation, we spoke with Todd Miller, author of Empire of Borders: the expansion of the US border around the world. Miller has authored four books: Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders (City Lights, 2021)

Empire of Borders: The Expansion of the U.S. Border Around the World (Verso, 2019),

Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security (City Lights, 2017), and Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security (City Lights, 2014). In this conversation, Todd gives us an update on where we are on border expansion — and the colonial history of border creation and enforcement. We also talk about how borders work to maintain a neoliberal global economic system and why we need to look towards abolitionist movements and transnational solidarity to create a world without borders.”

Listen here!

Seeking Sanctuary: An excerpt from Tucson journalist Todd Miller’s new book, ‘Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders’

On a cold evening in January 2018, the very same night of Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address, several students and I visited the San Juan Bosco shelter in Nogales, Mexico. In the shelter’s chapel was a group of people, many recently expelled from the United States, seated in metal chairs. The funeral of a six-week-old baby from Honduras a few days before had left a somber mood that still weighed heavily in the space. The child had died of exposure to the cold. The baby’s young, moneyless parents had just reached Nogales en route to the United States when the tragic death occurred.

Read the rest here, as published in the Tucson Weekly.