Why Walls Won't Work
Repairing the US-Mexico Divide
(Oxford University Press)
The trouble with walls, according to Michael Dear, is that you can sneak under them, frame doors through them, or jump over them. Already, the existing parts of the Berlin Wall between Mexico and the United States, there are special doors placed in such a way as to not be noticeable . . . doors that can be opened quickly and quietly at night when the helicopters are gone for people to zip through. Over the last few years, over sixty tunnels running between the two countries have been discovered, with exotic ventilating equipment and well-disguised entrance and exits.
How many more are there? The exact quantity has been predetermined by the well-known "Ambient Roach Paradigm." ARP states that if you see five roaches in the course of a day, you have an infestation of approximately twenty times that figure, perhaps 100 roach families meeting their production quota in your kitchen, behind the cooler. By this logic, we can predict anther 1,200 tunnels between Mexico and the United States, still to be discovered, for hundreds of thousands to slip through. And more on the way.
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Dear is much taken with Dwight Eisenhower's final speech, the one he gave as he was preparing to leave office in 1961. The president warned of an upcoming oppressively expensive finance unit of American military, the "military-industrial complex,"
The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new to the American experience [Eisenhower said]. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
The prescience of this warning --- from an ex-military hero --- was and is extraordinary. And was universally ignored. The United States Military Budget for 1960 was slightly over sixty billion dollars --- $60,000,000,000. The present figure is close to seven hundred billion dollars --- $700,000,000,000. Rep. Ron Paul reported that "We occupy so many countries . . . We're in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world." This would tend to confirm Eisenhower's fears.
Dear suggests that a similar complex has come into existence on the United States - Mexico border. He calls it the "Border Industrial Complex,"
the multidimensional, interrelated set of public and private interests now managing border security --- encompassing flows of money, contracts, influence, and resources amount a vast network of individuals, lobbyists, corporations, banks, public institutions, and elected officials at all levels of government.Dear cites the studies of journalist Ben Ehrenreich of the "common-interest alignments" between the Mexican Drug cartels and the BIC. His warnings bring to mind the fine days during Prohibition where the Anti-Saloon League and Methodist ministers joined in concert with bootleggers around the country to insure that Prohibition would continue, as would their prosperity (and sanctity).
In the same way, according to Dear,
The war on drugs has become more profitable than the drug trade itself, not only for the cartels but also for their hit men, for funeral directors, bankers, businessmen, weapons manufacturers, security consultants, and military contractors, as well as for the builders and operators of private detention centers; and for politicians of all stripes who can leverage campaign contributions from contractors, and win votes with alarmist rhetoric about immigrant hordes and the need for "comprehensive border security."
"The feeding frenzy, Ehrenreich surmised, will be hard to stop since so many people are vested in its continuation."
Dear teaches planning at the University of California-Berkeley. If this book were a scholarly reading, it would still fascinate those of us who have a life-long affection for the border, opting for the chance to live between two worlds. To travel north for our medical appointments and BLTs, to head south to buy our medicines and to eat chiles rellenos. Dear is convincing when he states that those of us here are in a distinctive cultural and population mix unlike anyplace else, one that, most bitterly for those of us who love the border, is subject to distant, disinterested national governments trying to dictate our social and political lives.
By contrast, "from the earliest times, this vast subcontinental region was interconnected by communications networks that linked distance and diverse civilisations . . . "
Looked at another way, [there is] a deep history that is prepared to ignore lines on maps revealed connecting tissues of a "third nation" that already existed in these lands long before the US-Mexico boundary line was so bloodily and laboriously inflicted.
It is obvious that Dear also has an abiding affection for this area, an affection that led him to research the border, beginning with its history before it had a history --- including a study of the original nation- states of the Gran Chichimeca, Hohokam, and the Anasazi, the Indians who originally settled the region).
Then, with the coming of the Anglo invaders, the United States waged its inevitable Manifest Destiny war with Mexico and, in 1848, at the conclusion of that conflict, imposed the ruinous Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. 900,000 square miles of land, almost 55% of Mexico's total, was ceded to the victors. That area taken included Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada and part of Colorado. Some astute critics have recently had second thoughts about our down-home blind willingness to take over both Texas and Arizona at the same time, often wondering if we could in some way bribe Mexico to take back these two abominably regressive states.
At the same time, Mexico has taken matters into its own hands over these many years by reclaiming the area stolen from them through the one agency of which they are so capable: producing babies. Sometime in 2016, it is estimated that the pale ashen people population of California will, for the first time in 150 years, be a decided minority, with the so-called and much more lively minorities being at last in the majority.
§ § §
Dear writes, at the conclusion of this fine book, "From the perspective of a long history of borderland connectivity, the Wall is an unprecedented historical aberration." He avers that those of us who live in the middle of this battlefield have created a "Third-Nationhood." We live on, and often right on top of what the Mexicans have called La Linea. It is defined "not only as an arc of physical separation but also delineated a cognitive transition from one citizenship to another, and from legality to illegality." Despite our thoughts that the border does not and never should have been put in place, the rise of a "strict enforcement-only mentality" has created the Border Industrial Complex, "charged with defending the boundary of Fortress USA and imprisoning upstart invaders in a new American Gulag."
The vacuous nature of this public-policy response is less surprising when viewed in the context of this country's current obsession with mass incarceration. The US has the highest rates of imprisonment in the world, and people of color are disproportionally impacted by this punitive culture.
"Why should undocumented migrants be exempt from this national obsession?" Dear asks . . . with some wistfulness.