Walls, Borders, and Immigration Policy
— Lux Inferni
It was fucking hot, but that is typical for June in the desert southwest. By the time I had finished the fifteen-minute drive from my home on the west side of El Paso, Texas to the site of the rally in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, the temperature had already reached the day’s peak of one hundred degrees. I was thankful that it wasn’t hotter (the record high is 114). Despite the heat I showed up in all black, from my shirt to my shoes (and even my chonies). Despite the heat I carried a large and motley collection of banners and signs under my arms from my parked car to the wall. Despite the heat I still showed up to protest the existence of an ugly manmade structure that currently divides both a singular community and a homogeneous ecosystem. I still showed up to protest the concerted and continuing effort to build a newer, uglier wall that will extend thousands of more miles than the current one does.
I don’t expect everyone to understand because not everyone lives on the U.S.-Mexico border like I do.
I don’t like walls. I don’t like borders. I don’t like the ways in which walls, borders, and the crossing of arbitrary lines in the sand have been politicized in the U.S., let alone how U.S. politics have distracted so many people from the real atrocities at hand—the ones that are related to longstanding intracontinental relations in North America, that split up families and incarcerate children, that are defended by words like “legal” and “illegal” and “[zero] tolerance.”
But why do I not like these things? Why do I not like them so much that I would show up to an “All Against the Wall” rally on the U.S.-Mexico border, in one-hundred-degree weather, wearing all black, and march one mile in the sand, with drones buzzing overhead and armed Border Patrol agents waiting on nearby embankments, just so I could throw a flower into Mexico over part of the border that the wall construction hasn’t reached yet? There are two reasons. The first reason (section II) is something that I share the knowledge about with the hundreds of other people who were there in Santa Teresa that day. The second reason (section IV), is one that few (if any) of the people who were with me can call their own.
II. La Frontera
This is a truth: The borders and immigration policies of the United States are based on race. Always have been. Always will be. I say that this is “a truth” because it is not the only “truth” related to U.S. border and immigration policies. To say that federal regulation of U.S. borders and immigration “protect[s] the public from dangerous people and materials while enhancing the Nation’s global economic competitiveness” is also to speak “a truth” (https://www.cbp.gov/about). But it is not “the truth”—at least not without including other truths with it. Saying that U.S. borders and immigration policies are in place to protect the public and are also racist is closer to “the truth,” but again, it lacks other truths to make it “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” But my intention here is not to write about “the truth.” Read a fucking book (or more accurately, read a lot of fucking books) to get that. My intention is rather to provide a brief history about U.S. borders and immigration policies. This is a truth.
That Americans today are so concerned about the territorial boundary line that divides the U.S. and Mexico is an historical irony. When the British Parliament proclaimed in 1763 that there was to be a boundary between the thirteen colonies and all of the land west of the Appalachian Mountains—land which, at the time, was considered “Indian Territory”—the Americans pushed westward anyway (Foner, 2017). In fact, The Proclamation of 1763 was one of the larger “Oppressions” that the colonies’ Declaration of Independence referred to thirteen years later, albeit not by name (http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/). For centuries the U.S. has forsaken the sanctity of borders between itself and the North American continent’s indigenous populations, and time after time it has neglected the sovereignty of America’s first nations (Adams & DeLuzio, 2012; Foner, 2017; Guidotti-Hernández, 2011; Harmon, 2008; Hogue, 2015; Jacoby, 2008). Furthermore, the U.S. has continually challenged the territorial claims of other “Indian Territory” usurpers as they have vied for sovereignty in a land of subjection (and subjectivity). Britain, France, Spain, Canada, and Mexico have each come toe-to-toe, face-to-face, and more often than not, gun-to-gun with a petulant nation that has never been able to stop screaming “MINE!” (Chang, 2012; Foner, 2017; Mora, 2011; St. John, 2011; Welke, 2010) And all the while, the peoples who had made up the roughly 2000 different cultures before the arrival of the Europeans looked on in horror and anguish as their communities were continually uprooted and shoved into smaller and more distant spaces, saying, “You fools. It’s not about who the land belongs to. It’s about who belongs to the land.”
The fools remained fools. Immigration policies in the U.S. have always been about who the land belongs to, and more importantly, who decides who the land belongs to. Rich white men who were often slave owners made every important political and legal decision in the U.S. up until the ratification of the thirteenth amendment in 1865, which banned those rich white men from owning slaves (but not from continuing to make every important political and legal decision in the U.S.). In 1790, they used three little words to define who their land belonged to: “[F]ree white person” (http://www.indiana.edu/~kdhist/H105-documents-web/week08/naturalization1790.html). The systematic disenfranchisement of blacks following the Civil War (just because it had a name in the South—Jim Crow—doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist in every state), the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 (ending Japanese immigration), the immigration quota system established in 1924 policy (which disproportionately restricted immigration for people of color), and every decision made about immigration since the McCarren-Walter Act of 1952 all point out one simple fact: immigration policy—or written more correctly, the question of who has the right to become a U.S. citizen—is about race (Ngai, 2004; Welke, 2010). The founding fathers of this country had a dream about the future of their nation and its citizens, and that dream was in only one color. There are rich white men in power today who are fighting to keep that dream alive .
Fuck white space.
IV. La Frontera Satánica
The Garden of Eden was a specifically defined space (and a mythical place, to be clear). It had borders. Those borders served a purpose, according to god (who is also mythical). The borders were designed to keep Eve and Adam away from the dangers of the world that lay outside the Garden. They kept god’s two favorite creations safe. Those borders served another purpose, however. One that went unspoken. The borders kept Eve and Adam, woman and man, ignorant and subservient to god. But then, along came the serpent, and, according to Milton, he decided that he would “excite their minds with more desire to know, and to reject envious commands, invented with design to keep them low whom knowledge might exalt.” Tasting the fruit from the tree of knowledge removed the dark veil of ignorance from Eve’s and Adam’s eyes and it exposed them to the rest of the world. They were no longer subject to a physical space in which a petulant god kept screaming “MINE!” Imagine that world, one without borders, one in which woman and man were free from confinement, labels, and arbitrary lines in the sand (fuck borders). Furthermore, eating that fruit made Eve and Adam equals—equals to each other, to the serpent, to god, with not one of them holding power over the other (fuck racism). The Satanic border is no border at all.
“When I was an alien cultures weren’t opinions.”
(Kurt Cobain, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm6Iz-I5OmQ)
VI.VI.VI. Sin Fronteras
If you have been watching the news over the past few months, bringing the world’s attention to families being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border and children being held in detention centers that might as well be overpriced dog kennels, or if you have been watching the virulent debates unfold on social media, arguing over who is to blame for such inhumanity (or whether such circumstances are even inhumane), then you’ve been duped. You’re being pissed on. And it’s not the clear, odor-free piss from someone who drinks water in copious amounts and at frequent intervals. No, this piss is the dark yellow (almost brown?) and noxious kind, saturated in centuries of racism and rich white men playing god in their own mythical Garden of Eden.
Eat the fruit. Shed your ignorance. Free yourself. Free your equals. Or at least buy an umbrella.
- The definition of “whiteness” has certainly varied from time to time and from place to place over the past two centuries, and several cessions have been made in the fight to preserve white supremacy in the U.S., but that does not change the fact that immigration policy (and practice) is inherently racist.
Adams, D. & DeLuzio, C. On the Borders of Love and Power: Families and Kinship in the Intercultural American Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
Chang, K. Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
Foner, E. Give Me Liberty! An American History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
Guidotti-Hernández, N. Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.
Harmon, A. The Power of Promises: Rethinking Indian Treaties in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
Hogue, M. Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2015.
Jacoby, K. Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History. New York: Penguin Books, 2008.
Mora, A. Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848-1912. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.
Ngai, M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.
St. John, R. Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.
Welke, B. Law and the Borders of Belonging in the Long Nineteenth Century United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
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