The Border-Industrial Complex in the Biden Era: Robotic Dogs and Autonomous Surveillance Towers Are the New Wall


First, it was the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) vehicles speeding along on the road in front of our campsite. Then it was the Border Patrol’s all-terrain vehicles moving swiftly on a ridge above us. I was about 10 miles north of the border with Mexico, near Peña Blanca Lake in southern Arizona, camping with my six-year-old son and some other families. Like fire trucks racing to a blaze, the Border Patrol mobilization around me was growing so large I could only imagine an emergency situation developing.

I started climbing to get a better look and soon found myself alone on a golden hill dotted with alligator junipers and mesquite. Brilliant vermilion flycatchers fluttered between the branches. The road, though, was Border Patrol all the way. Atop the hill opposite mine stood a surveillance tower. Since it loomed over our campsite, I’d been looking at it all weekend. It felt strangely like part of French philosopher Michel Foucault’s panopticon — in other words, I wasn’t sure whether I was being watched or not.  But I suspected I was.

Read more here as originally published by TomDispatch and The Border Chronicle.

An Open Letter to the Biden Administration: It’s Time to Lean In to the “Open Borders” Accusations

“C’mon President Biden, let’s stare down the real crisis on the border, the crisis of imagination. It is possible to do things another way.”

I know everyone is accusing you of maintaining open borders. Many of the accusers are the usual suspects: Texas governor Greg AbbottThe Federalist, Fox News. Senator Ron Johnson got more dramatic and said you are “throwing open” the U.S. borders. And Border Chronicle antagonist and Fox News reporter Bill Melugin recently tweeted a video of a small group of men struggling along the edge of the Rio Grande with some coiling razor wire. Stephen Miller, immigration adviser to Donald Trump, quoted the tweet and shouted (as you only can on Twitter) that this is an example of “completely open borders.”

Read the rest here at The Border Chronicle.

“Lines of Life and Death”: A Podcast with Geographer Joseph Nevins on Global Apartheid and the Right to the World

Lauded border scholar Joseph Nevins dissects the global border apparatus, shows its parallels with South African apartheid, and calls for both freedom of movement and the right to stay home.

Who has passports? Who can get visas? Which people have to risk their lives crossing lines, and who can fly and cross borders with ease? And what if heavily policed borders are actually a human rights violation? What would be the remedy to that?

In today’s podcast we welcome geographer Joseph Nevins to discuss all this. Joe is the author of two important books on border and immigration policing, Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War On “Illegals” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary and Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid. He is a professor at Vassar College.

I have known Joe now for more than a decade, and over those years he has been a mentor, and inspired me with his insight, wisdom, and scholarship. Please join us in this conversation as we take a step back and unpack the global border apparatus, talk about global apartheid and the right to the world, and discuss what those “lines of life and death,” as Joe puts it, really mean.

Listen here at The Border Chronicle.

“The American Homeland Is the Planet”: How the U.S. Exports Its Border to Ukraine

“Since 9/11 the United States has expanded its southwestern border enforcement abroad. Yes, even to Ukraine.”

On March 26, the U.S. Department of State announced that it would provide Ukraine with $100 million for law enforcement, critical infrastructure, and “essential border security.” Included in this would be personal protection, tactical, and communication equipment; medical supplies; and armored vehicles for the Ukrainian Border Guard Service. On April 5, the director of the State Department’s Bureau for Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), Todd Robinson, wrote on Twitter that the INL’s support “for the State Border Guards . . . is unwavering in the face of Russia’s devastating war. I had a chance to personally review equipment & supplies we are providing to support Ukraine’s efforts.”

Read the rest here at The Border Chronicle.

Reporter’s Notebook: This Year’s Border Security Expo in San Antonio Was the Biggest Ever: “Why Would You Even Want a Solution?”

“Robo-dogs, ghost drones, Palmer Luckey, and protestors outside, plus other observations from my week at the Border Security Expo in Texas”

At the end of the panel “Drivers That Have Led to an Increase in Mass Migration,” on the morning of March 29 at the San Antonio convention center, a man approaches a microphone set up in the aisle for people to ask questions. The convention hall is packed with people in business suits, mainly from the border industry. According to organizers, almost 1,500 people have come this year, making this the best-attended Border Security Expo in its 15 years. There are bright lights on the panel, where five men sit, including former Customs and Border Protection commissioner Robert Bonner and former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan. It is dark in the audience, so it is difficult to see the man when he begins his question. He says he’s from South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley. He says his son is in the Border Patrol. He repeats a point that the panelists had made earlier, that cartels are making a lot of money on the other side of the border. But, he says, the expo floor here is filled with companies, so there are evidently a lot people making money on this side of the border too.

“Why,” he asked, “would you even want a solution?” There is an audible hush in the audience and a prolonged silence among the panelists, many who themselves have gone through the DHS revolving door and now work for private companies (including Homan and Bonner). The pause goes on for so long that the man has to step forward to the microphone again and ask, “Would someone be able to address that question?”

Read the rest here at The Border Chronicle.

The Most Beautiful Place in the World: An Audio Interview with Isabel Garcia about What the Border Could Be

Southern Arizona’s legendary human rights champion rates the Biden administration’s first year at the border and suggests the time has come for a “quiet revolution.”

With 2021 coming to a close, and one year of the Joe Biden administration under our belt, I thought there would be no better person to assess what has happened (and offer a way forward) than Isabel Garcia, the cofounder of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, based in Tucson, Arizona, a grassroots organization that has fought the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border—and promoted human and civil rights—since 1993. Isabel herself has been on the front lines of border struggles and immigrant rights since 1976, in the streets, at the border, in the courts (now retired, she was a legal defender for decades), and in the offices of policy makers.

In the interview, Isabel discusses the continuation of border militarization under Biden (including the Covid-era Title 42), the court case of a Tohono O’odham woman who blockaded the border-wall-constructing bulldozers with her body, the bipartisan nature of border fortification and the Democrats’ historic role, and activists’ decades-long attempts to stop it.

“Since 1976 we have been fighting for immigration rights,” she says. “I was a young woman. And we have fought within the Democratic Party. And we have fought the Democratic Party over and over and over again on the militarization of this border. Every single bill that comes along … it doesn’t matter what decade, it has been presented as a compromise, compromising what? Obviously compromising the border.”

Isabel says that if people understood the history of labor, immigration, and the border, the conversations today informing policy discussions would be much different. She suggests three major policy issues to tackle: U.S. foreign policy behind displacement, legalizing all noncitizens, and demilitarizing the border.

What stands out most is Isabel’s vision that in the borderlands—if we got rid of all the guns, gates, and guards—we could create one of the “most beautiful places in the world.” To do that, she suggests, there needs to be a “quiet revolution.”

Listen here.

Not a Border Crisis: Harsha Walia on Why It’s Time for a New Political Project

Renowned author and scholar explains that it “is not a crisis of the border but one that is due to the border.”

In the national conversation on borders, meaningful discussions about alternatives—including open borders, no borders, or demilitarization—are often deemed impractical and not given the consideration they deserve. This is one of the reasons that today we speak with author, scholar, and activist Harsha Walia, who wrote at the end of her 2021 paradigm-shifting book Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism, “A no borders politics is not abstract, it is grounded in material and lived impacts of our world, scarred by warfare and warming.” Harsha is also the author of Undoing Border Imperialism.

In today’s interview Harsha reframes the border and shows that bordering is not simply a wall but an expansive, omnipresent regime, one that is connected to capitalism and colonialism and that has racist roots. In this sense, she points out three things to keep an eye on with regard to the Joe Biden administration, and argues for the importance of a no borders political project. As she writes in Border and Rule, “Like the regime of private property, borders are not simply lines marking territory; they are the product of and produce social relations that we must emancipate ourselves from.”

We owe Harsha a great deal of gratitude since she answered these questions under much duress, surrounded by floods and mudslides after torrential, record-breaking rains drenched her home in British Columbia, Canada.

Read the interview here.

Build Bikes, Not Walls: A Reflection on Open Borders

It was August 2019, and I was at Imperial Beach, south of San Diego. Five hundred miles away (seemingly) was Tijuana and a hulking border wall that juts out more than 100 feet into the foaming Pacific Ocean. Before I knew it, my (almost) four-year-old was making a beeline for the wall. Above us, a Border Patrol agent perched on the embankment was more preoccupied with the surfers out in the Pacific Ocean who seemed to be antagonizing him by sliding back and forth across the boundary line between Mexico and the United States. But soon the agent turned his attention to William, who was running to the rust-colored bollard wall where we could see people standing on the other side, also on the beach but in Tijuana, a couple of them waving. The agent’s disembodied voice boomed over the intercom, sounding both robotic and godlike. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but he demanded that William not take a step further toward the wall. I almost felt bad for the agent, being forced to yell at surfers and a mischievous four-year-old while surveying the beach in Mexico and people lounging under their sombrillas.

On the sand, about 20 feet from the border wall, William had questions. Why couldn’t we talk to the people waving at us from the other side of the wall? Why was the wall even there? After I explained, he told me with decisively, “We’re going to smash the border wall.” Then, after a celebratory pause: “And after we smash the wall, we are going to turn it into bikes.”

Read the rest here from The Border Chronicle.

The Climate Border Industrial Complex

How the border industry benefits from climate displacement and protects the polluters.

It was the summer and the sun was beating down. Josh Garcia, a supervisor for the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Youth Council, was driving two teenagers back to their homes on the San Xavier reservation near Tucson. It had been an exhilarating day. They had climbed and sung to a sacred mountain and gotten a glimpse of a mountain lion walking in the distance.

And now a Border Patrol agent was screaming at them. “Get back!” the agent yelled after forcing Garcia out of his truck. They were standing in the secondary inspection area at a Border Patrol checkpoint near the small town of Three Points, just outside the reservation, about 40 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nearby stood a group of armed employees of G4S, a transnational company with headquarters in the UK. They wore gray uniforms and black boots. One of them tossed the apple he was eating to the ground, Garcia told me afterward*, as they advanced behind the green-uniformed Border Patrol agent. What sparked the border agent’s anger, and led the battalion of G4S agents to advance, was that Garcia had said, “We don’t consent to a search.”

Garcia had been through the checkpoints and often faced this type of harassment. But that day the menacing G4S employees were something new. Employees of a multinational corporation were stationed on the only road from the O’odham reservation to Tucson because the company had contracts with Customs and Border Protection, 25 of them signed from 2008 to 2019 and collectively worth $653.3 million. The company’s nondescript white van that was parked off to the side was in fact a moving jail cell in which they transported arrested migrants (and, for that matter, possibly Garcia). “We understand the bigger picture and challenges of keeping borders secure,” the company boasts on its website.

Read the rest here at The Border Chronicle.