I appreciate your taking the time to take a look at my book project, Border Patrol Nation, an in-depth examination of the unprecedented armed build-up on U.S. international boundaries, its rapid expansion into the interior of the country, and the rising industry that is building around it. This build-up's immigration-enforcement (and homeland security) mission is powerful, yet often unseen or even subtle, and is leaving no part of the country, nor even aspect of life--including education, employment, or even the fundamental way we treat our fellow human beings--untouched. In places ranging from the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona, to Detroit, Michigan, to San Juan, Puerto Rico (to name a few), this book will bring these dynamics, their impacts, and even the resulting created mentality, to life.
In April, I returned to New York City where I live, after spending four months doing immersion research for the book project in the Southwest borderlands. Please check out some of the writing that I have done as a result of this trip: a photo essay called A Long and Silent Border War, a depiction of a standoff between a judge and a shackled child in a Border Patrolized courtroom, combat vehicles in New Mexico, a posse-recruitment meeting in the suburbs of Phoenix, a meeting with a tech-savvy citizen-patrol group, the burgeoning border tech industry and its expansion into the university system, and much more on the NACLA blog Border Wars.
So far I have funded this research out of my own pocket, and now I need to fund-raise to do three more research trips: 1. Detroit/Buffalo/Syracuse to look at the expansion of the immigration enforcement web through the northern border region and to get first-hand testimonies from those impacted; 2. North/South Carolina to learn the low-down on companies such as KDH Defense Systems (who just received a contract to make body armor for the Border Patrol) and to investigate the police enforcement of immigration law that is pervading the deep south; and 3. Puerto Rico which not only has a Border Patrol station, but also an active youth program associated with it. On top of this I will learn about the enactment and patrolling of the international boundary at sea, especially between the United States and Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
My fundraising also includes covering my tight budget, as I hunker down and write with a December 1 deadline. I have signed a contract with City Lights Books. The $4,000 I am requesting will cover a good chunk of all of this, but not all, so I hope to raise even more money.
But let me explain a little more about my project:
During the past 15 years I have seen first-hand the massive build-up on the U.S.-Mexico border. I've seen the Border Patrol go from 5,000 to 8,000 to 15,000 to the current 21,000 agents.
I’ve watched the walls go up with cameras and stadium lights and sensors.
I’ve seen the SUVs, the ATVs, the horses, the bikes, and now the armored combat vehicles, bringing the "battlefield to the border," as one ex-Marine put it to me in an interview.
I have also talked to people who would migrate, regardless of this border security build-up. I talked to people before they crossed, on the Mexican side, many of them small farmers who couldn’t make a living anymore, NAFTA’s refugees.
And I have talked to the deported. One man had feet so swollen from blisters that they no longer fit in his shoes, but he continued on. As he showed me his ravaged feet, he described an entire day walking barefoot on the hot desert floor.
Everyone directly involved in this situation describes it as a crisis. Everyone, from Border Patrol to rights activists to ranchers to migrants.
But I had never heard this situation described with enthusiasm, and when I did, I was floored.
It wasn't that the people from the border technology industry who I was talking to were jubilant about the thousands and thousands of migrants who have died attempting to cross through the desert during the last 15 years--they didn't seem to be aware of this at all. The border and its build-up was, rather, a commercial opportunity.
A whole massive world opened up, a world in which the uniformed, armed Border Patrol agent is the most visible element, but only plays one role of many in the creation, re-creation, and expansion of the most massive border/immigration enforcement apparatus that we have ever constructed in the United States.
In other words, the Border Patrol's security apparatus is not only embodied by agents in green uniforms with guns, but also by men and women in suits and ties and t-shirts and jeans, and even teenagers in shorts. This is represented by judges, attorneys, bus drivers, police officers, prison guards, and food service workers. It is not only a job creating industry, but increasingly present in all levels of schooling. And it is not only geographically isolated to international boundaries, but expanding at a rather and sometimes hysterical rate into the country's interior.
The Border Patrol, both literally and figuratively, is everywhere. It could be an actual agent in Syracuse asking a brown-skinned man for his papers in the Greyhound bus station, or a police officer outside doing the same thing to somebody on their way to work. It could be a 20-something engineer with a Justin Bieber haircut creating the next gee-wiz micro-drone in a homeland security laboratory. It could be a teenager earning minimum wage in an economically-depressed North Carolina town making body armor for the border agents. It could be a prison guard in Mississippi.
Where and how fast is it expanding? Who is it touching, impacting, detaining, employing? What is it transforming--politically, economically, socially, and even spiritually? How is it impacting the way we see the world and our fellow human beings?
In this book I will tell stories of the construction and reconstruction of this new world, of the Border Patrol-ization of the nation. It will describe the many facets of this enforcement apparatus: as an industrial force, a source of employment, a way of life, even as a youth program and an adrenaline-pumping movie. I've already interviewed people in border tech companies, Border Patrol agents (including dissenting agents), Border Patrol youth, people in Native American communities, the incarcerated (including the children of the incarcerated and the private prisons where they are held), and the deported.
Vast inequalities between peoples, and the walls (and technology) used to separate them, have become profitable and acceptable. To complete the research for this book, I will need to continue to look wherever racial and social boundaries divide the rich and the poor, such as on the U.S.-Mexico border. This book will challenge readers to re-imagine the immigration enforcement apparatus, and the industrial force behind it, that touches us all in sometimes not-so-obvious yet powerful ways. We must rethink and actively challenge a force that disproportionately targets, impacts, and harasses the poor and communities of color.
Thank you for your support!
*And a special thanks to Daniel Stein (who took the photo of the Stryker combat vehicle in the video) and Mark Miller for their invaluable help with some of the research thus far.
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