Posts tagged with "US-Mexico Border":
So much of what is built on the border is to contain, restrain, detain, constrain, restrict, wall off, fence up. When there is so much natural beauty there—the river, the desert, the mountains to enjoy and celebrate. So many families who want to be together, so many people who just want to be. I wish that we were building more bridges (flat, easier to cross and connect), tearing down the walls that we have; wish that we had immigration and asylum laws that matched our values and our interests so that we weren’t locking so many people up. Wish that there were no more private prison companies so that there wasn’t a profit motive to do that. —Beto O’Rourke, El Paso native, U.S. Representative for Texas's 16th congressional district, and the 2018 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in TexasTexas, the state with the longest continuous land border with Mexico, has been uniquely formative in the construction of spaces and narratives that define national dialogue in the borderland. The state is home to more ports of entry than any other state. These entry points are legible crucibles of bio-political power, routinely collapsing spaces of speculative commerce, incarceration, and the projection of national identity. Assessments for constructing a new border crossing, connecting Tornillo, Texas, with Guadalupe, Chihuahua, began in 2001. A new bridge, a 2,000-acre industrial park, and 300 acres of "border facilities" were initially meant to bring economic development to the remote area and improve regional health, reducing pollution from idling traffic at congested bridges in El Paso. A presidential permit was issued for the bridge in 2005, but its construction would be stalled, and its purposes changed. In 2008, the Juarez Valley, a remote collection of agricultural communities in Mexico south of Tornillo, saw one of the highest murder rates in the world, gaining it the reputation as the “Valley of Death.” Victims of the violence would increasingly flee to Tornillo to seek asylum. Some speculate that the rampant violence was a scheme sponsored by the Mexican government to evacuate residents in the area in preparation for, and to expedite construction of, the bridge. In 2010, modular detention facilities in nearby Fabens, Texas, built to accommodate the flow, were over capacity. Violence in the valley eventually stabilized and plans for the new crossing were rekindled. The Tornillo-Guadalupe International Bridge opened in 2016 and was hailed as an achievement in cross-border infrastructure. The adjoining U.S. checkpoint exemplifies an architecture designed to manage, block, and process bodies, an outpost at the edge of empire. The architects of the LEED Gold facility describe the materials and performance as specially suited to the site’s desert context, with integrated technologies promoting the efficient monitoring of populations, noting that the design “inspires the spirit of place.” The optimism for the port to rapidly realize a future characterized by collaborative binational security efforts was captured in its christening. It was named for Marcelino Serna, the most decorated U.S. soldier from Texas to serve in WWI, who happened to be an undocumented migrant. The anticipated traffic never came. Less than a year after its opening, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had shut down the only lane dedicated for northbound commercial traffic. Without the economic engine to support the new complex, the overbuilt site quickly found new use in a growing economy of detention. Tornillo opened a temporary overflow center in 2016, typical of an increasingly common ephemeral incarceration infrastructure. These pop-up sites are rapidly installed and disassembled by specialist companies who navigate remote terrain in far-flung locales as easily as their practices navigate the constraints imposed on such facilities by case law. Tornillo continues to be an ideal site for such installations, far from the public eye yet enmeshed in the infrastructure of detention. In June 2018, Tornillo would be home to its most notorious tent city. The Tornillo checkpoint currently holds over 300 minors in tents just south of the bridge. As the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" policy has separated families across the country, the Tornillo site grows as a center of life for the unwanted, the detained, and the displaced. For a few days, however, a contrasting occupation resisted the isolation, anonymity, and placelessness of the remote facility. On Father’s Day 2018 and the following Sunday, floods of protesters descended upon the border checkpoint, appropriating the isolated node as a center of active resistance. The site joins a growing host of detention sites in the border state, which index nationwide trends in detention. Taken collectively, the sites represent a growing impact of private speculation and profit models impacting the construction of detention facilities, all of which are adapting—and therefore helping to realize—a near future in which the remote, prolonged detention of families and children is commonplace. Since 2006, Texas has been home to the much-maligned T. Don Hutto Residential Facility, which, at the time it was built, was the only privately-run facility used to detain families. The largest detention site in the U.S., the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, can house up to 2,400 women and children. The site is part of a constellation of for-profit, superscaled sites on a stretch of interstate highway between Laredo and San Antonio dubbed "detention alley." A new contract seeks a 1,000-bed center nearby—similar to a 1,000-bed facility built outside of Houston last year—which will be the eighth in the South Texas area. As military advisers advocate for detention centers on military bases to create even more “austere” and “temporary” environments, Texas leads the charge here as well. Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio housed migrant children in 2014, repurposing a dormitory once used for recruits. El Paso’s Fort Bliss housed 500 unaccompanied Central American children in 2016. A June announcement revealed that two Texas military installations—Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base—would be among the select sites to continue the trend. Other sites in the state, such as the now infamous former Walmart in Brownsville, signal a shift toward speculative investment in detention trickling down to private properties and actors. At the Paso Del Norte International Bridge, connecting downtown Ciudad Juárez with downtown El Paso, CBP is pushing the edge of U.S. jurisdiction beyond the spatial limits of the bridge. Although due process of asylum claims is guaranteed within the port of entry, agents have ventured onto—and reportedly across—the bridge to deny access to the port. Uniformed border agents ask for documents on the bridge to identify and turn away Central Americans seeking asylum, a few hundred feet from their destination. On June 27, CBP confirmed to El Paso immigration rights advocacy groups that this prescreening and advance rejection has become official policy borderwide. Without access to the legal framework enabled by the ports, many asylum seekers cross in unsanctioned locations. Those caught crossing outside the ports, some with otherwise credible asylum claims, face criminal charges and deportation. By denying a space for lawful entry, the policy artificially amplifies the numbers of illegal crossings and a myth of increased illegitimate entry. The port thus transforms from a site capable of processing identities to an instrument which actively constructs and deconstructs citizenship.
#Tornillo Port of Entry and one of the 100(!) immigrant children’s shelters for the children #separated from their families. Here in #tornillo up to 200 separated children are housed in tents in the desert where temperatures easily rise to 100degrees #Fahrenheit during the day.. #mexico🇲🇽 #USA #border #2sidesoftheborder. And #antitrump #flyers in #elpaso #familiesbelongtogether
Bilbao and Baan have become frequent collaborators as of late, having released Landscape of Faith: Interventions Along the Mexican Pilgrimage Route, a photographic journey along La Ruta del Peregrino in Mexico earlier this year. The pair also worked together for The House and the City: Two Collages, an exhibition on display through August 5 at the Steven Holl-design T Space in Rhinebeck, New York. That show uses collages to juxtapose different ideas at urban and personal scales and to create new spatial interventions by reusing tried-and-true typologies in new contexts.
Self-Interned, 1942: Noguchi in Poston War Relocation Center The Noguchi Museum, 9-01 33rd Road (at Vernon Boulevard), Long Island City, NY Closing January 28, 2018The show is centered on sculptor Isamu Noguchi's decision to voluntarily report to Poston, a Japanese internment camp in Arizona, in order to contribute his designs and skills to support the forcibly displaced residents. It features over two dozen works by Noguchi from 1941 to 1944, created pre- and post-internment, evoking this dark moment in American democracy and the impact of this experience on his art. Damon Rich and Jae Shin: Space Brainz—Yerba Buena 3000 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA Closing January 28, 2018
In one of the most remote stretches of the United States–Mexico border, a different kind of border crossing has emerged: A remotely managed mash-up of new document-processing technology, rowboats, and donkeys.
The Boquillas Port of Entry (POE) does not have the large processing volume of a typical port on the Southwest U.S. border with Mexico. In high season, the crossing will process a couple of hundred visitors a day; no vehicles are allowed. Most days only a few tourists pass through.
For years, the U.S. government shuttered the remote crossing, citing security concerns after 9/11. Only after National Park Service rangers and teams of scientists expressed a need to reconnect across the binational divide did the port reopen in 2013; a new processing facility was also constructed to manage the minimal security concerns.
It is hard to imagine a less likely area for illegal entry. The crossing is hours from the nearest large city, in Big Bend National Park (BBNP), land controlled and managed by the National Park Service (NPS). The surrounding landscape is majestic, but foreboding for those on foot, with steep canyons, ravines, thick vegetation, and the Rio Grande providing a host of formidable natural barriers. Park visitors are warned of the dangers of heat stroke, exposure, and dehydration, even in mild months.
The binational imaginary here is pervasive and persistent. BBNP is part of the most expansive and biodiverse desert region in the U.S., and shares a transnational ecosystem with natural preserves on the Mexican side. Here, the two nations seem knit together by the river valley, and diverse advocates on both sides voice strong opposition to the proposed expansion of the International Border Fence through the region.
In the early 20th century, landscape architect Albert William Dorgan imagined transforming this land into an International Peace Park, a hyperbolic simulacrum of the real and imagined opportunities latent in border space, complete with replica frontier towns and hydroelectric power. Even in this idyllic proposal, national security concerns crept in—a scenic motorway for tourists was proposed, with a double use to support expedited military deployments.
While cultural affinities remain, the binational dream of a joint international park has faded in the midst of stark juridical differences and philosophies of land management on the two sides of the river. In the U.S., the NPS manages and enforces the conservation and protection efforts. While the Mexican land enjoys protected status, it is mostly privately owned, and is allowed to maintain traditional land uses. Communal land (ejidos) transforms the territory through farming and agricultural water use.
The remoteness of the area, coupled with strong ecological and cultural affinities, has produced unlikely cross-border partnerships, enacting an exuberant transnational territory despite calcifying juridical barriers. Longstanding agreements, in place since the 1960s and more recently amended, have allowed both U.S. and Mexican firefighting services to cross the international boundary within a “zone of mutual assistance”—a ten-mile swath on either side of the border—when property or lives are threatened. Select Mexican nationals form a crew of experienced firefighters—Los Diablos—with permission to work within U.S. territory. Supported by the Park Service and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), they set controlled burns to rid the banks of the Rio Grande of invasive plant species. BBNP has a “sister park” partnership with two adjacent protected areas in Mexico, and park officials travel through the Boquillas POE to share conservation techniques. The reopening of the port has helped park officials to connect more often and more directly, avoiding long detours through “narco territory,” perilous regions with high cartel activity.
The border crossing station is itself supported by an unlikely partnership. The port of entry falls under the purview of the Big Bend Sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which happens to have the most “border miles” of any sector on the southwest border with Mexico. Unlike other POEs, it is the first to not be managed on site by U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents, but by an NPS ranger. CBP remotely manages the site through nearby mobile patrols of border patrol agents stationed in the park, capable of collapsing on the site in short time if needed. Sensing technology and nearby checkpoints further limit unauthorized movements.
When we visit early on an August day in 2017, we wait for the port to open. It is only open certain days at certain hours. A park ranger warns us that if we do not make it back by the time he closes the port, we will need to stay in Mexico for the night.
Down a short, winding path from the POE, surveillance cameras and a wake of turkey vultures monitor a boat launch, while a small rowboat grandiloquently named the Boquillas International Ferry shuttles a few travelers at a time across the Rio Grande for a $5 round-trip fee. The river crossing is easy, relaxed—the 30-foot journey over in under a minute. Once in Mexico, visitors can travel by burro, taxi, or on foot to the former mining town of Boquillas del Carmen, about a mile away.
The town is welcoming, but sleepy in the early morning and August heat. Visitors are rare this time of year. Children ride burros to the crossing in hopes of a busier afternoon. When it's time to return, we need to work to get our passport stamped, waking the Mexican customs official and asking that he open the office to complete the processing.
According to a press release in 2014, issued on the first anniversary of the new international crossing, the “state-of-the-art” border crossing employed “cutting-edge technologies” to secure this new outpost, building on the “already robust border security in the area.” As we reenter the POE, this technological infusion is evident, if awkwardly executed. Two kiosks with document scanners are wired into an old-school telephone receiver. Fingerprint scanners, like those now common at airport customs processing facilities, provide secondary ID confirmation. The telephone rings, and a Border Patrol agent located five hours away in El Paso asks a few questions and welcomes us to the United States. If there is robust security here, it is in the untold sensors, cameras, and field agents invisible from this unassuming ranger station.
As congressional committees call for “advanced unattended surveillance sensors” and other managerial landscape technologies to more intensely control the most remote stretches of the Southwest border, the un-monitored border will become an even more distant memory. Clandestine human movement will be discovered less through formal checkpoints and more through distributed networks of mobile, responsive patrols, hyper-managed by a constellation of federal, local, and private actors and technologies.
At Boquillas and a dwindling number of other crossings maintaining an informal atmosphere, generational customs survive by striking opportunistic alliances with emerging security officials and technologies.
The Boquillas crossing can be seen as an experiment in “unmanning” the border, a retreat from generations of border security dependent on human, face-to-face contact in dedicated brick-and-mortar facilities as an essential fail-safe to controlling cross-border migration. As sensing capability improves, buoyed by biometrics, unmanned vehicles, and surveillance technology, we can imagine these encounters of authentication and enforcement taking place even further afield, rendering physical installations and human actors unnecessary.
The collision of private law enforcement and privately managed immigration enforcement at sites of detention is dramatically altering the landscape of migrant processing and justice—largely to the disadvantage of the detainee.
On Jan 25, President Trump issued an executive order, which, in addition to mandating the well-known “border wall,” directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to “immediately construct […] facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico,” to support increased deportations of undocumented migrants. An internal memo circulated by the administration in April called for nearly double the existing detention capacity to accommodate 80,000 detainees on any given day. Twenty-seven new locations had been scouted; 21,000 beds had already been found. With such rapid growth, decisions privilege expediency and cost over the quality of services and care for detainees.
It is highly likely that the new federal detention capacity will be met in partnership with private prison companies. Currently, 65 percent of detainees in the U.S. migrant detention system stay in private facilities run by companies (commonly for-profit) that contract with the federal government. Both commercial contractors and government vendors contributed to the search for detention spaces outlined in the April memo.
The same criticisms that apply to the private prison industry, and which led the Department of Justice (DOJ) to mandate an end to its use in August of 2016, apply to the burgeoning private detention industry. A 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) noted that a majority of migrant detention facilities were initially built for use as prisons, and that these structures impose more restrictions than necessary for the detainees. The shared typological features between prisons and detention centers flatten the important differences between criminal sentencing and migrant detention. Where the two intermingle, the distinction between legal and extralegal, private and federal, detention and incarceration is dangerously elusive.
One of the largest private detention facilities in the U.S. is the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) in Chaparral, New Mexico. The center is part of a 15-acre site that includes the Otero County Prison Facility, which first partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold detainees awaiting rulings in 2003. Residents of Otero County reportedly “liked the business [of migrant detention at the prison facility]—a half dollar a day per immigrant” and agreed to expand the practice, supporting the construction of a dedicated ICE detention facility, the OCPC, right next door, in 2008. Both the prison and the detention facility are operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), one of the nation’s largest private corrections companies.
In its early years, the OCPC was known in immigration advocacy circles as “The Hub,” due to the number of detainees who were transferred to the secluded site for processing from out-of-state. This transfer practice reportedly limits detainees’ access to community support and legal assistance otherwise available at the location of their arrest, and places them in jurisdictions known to hand down less favorable rulings.
The architecture of the OCPC clouds important distinctions between immigrant detainee and convicted prisoner to preemptively deny justice and erode the humanity of migrants.
When we visited the OCPC in June 2016, MTC employees emphasized that the center’s architecture is designed to maximize processing efficiency and prevent escape, not unlike a prison. In their language, spaces of intake manage “bodies”—not people. Walls that once ended in drop ceilings have been extended to seal completely to the roof, after speculation that a detainee could access the ceiling cavity.
Much of the staff’s experience is in criminal justice; many have spent time as correctional officers or administrators in jails and prisons before stints at the center. The distinction between civil and criminal immigration violations does not register in our discussions; staff mistakenly refers to detainees as “inmates.” The boundary between incarceration and detention on-site is fluid. The prison next door is used as a failsafe overflow center during overcrowding and operational malfunctions. When beds fill at OCPC, or the kitchen power fails, detainees are sent for up to 72 hours to the federal prison.
Other flattening abstractions permeate the space. Detainees wear color-coded uniforms, which provide a glimpse into their histories with the detention complex. Blue suits are for first-time non-violent immigration law offenders, mostly those picked up after walking across the U.S.-Mexico land border. Repeat offenders wear orange; those with violent or extensive criminal histories wear red. The center staff tells us they prefer dealing with the red population. Ironically, they are easier to manage; their criminal history is seen as an asset. Having spent time in jail, the regulated routine in the center is familiar territory, and they are more likely to comply with orders. To the detainees, as to the guards, it is all part of the same system.
Detention facilities like OCPC are specializing, taking on new roles. Our visit to the OCPC was just after a major transformation: Instead of providing long-term housing for detainees awaiting decisions on their cases, the processing center was converted into a last stop for detainees before deportation. Why? In 2015, DHS issued a report criticizing ICE transfer and deportation practices for presumed inefficiencies. ICE Air Operations (IAO), a shadow network of commercial and chartered flights that shuttles detainees domestically, had not been filling its seats. This report is likely the impetus for shifting strategy in Otero, which has become an overblown departure gate for deportation flights out of El Paso, Texas. When we visited, the typical stay at the OCPC is a mere two weeks, the daily operations consumed by the logistics of travel arrangements, rather than providing legal services and care for those detained. A chart in the offices maps out which detainees have been assigned seats on the three scheduled flights for the week, each filled to their 136-seat capacity.
Sites like Otero continue to contort themselves under changing directives, becoming autonomous islands, one-stop-shops for migrant processing and deportation. A DOJ directive began temporarily relocating federal judges to borderland detention facilities in March in an effort to speed deportation, further exacerbating questions of whether due process is respected in such off-grid locales with limited oversight. Existing teleconferencing rooms have since been repurposed to makeshift courts, while new courtroom space has been added to the OCPC. The wholesale restructuring of the space of migrant justice is just beginning. The construction of pop-up “port courts” is now proposed at ports of entry.
As the OCPC settles into its next-generation of use, it is consolidating even more security functions. Plans are underway to build a shooting range on site to support training for the detention center and prison staff. Guards will no longer need to go off-site to nearby Fort Bliss, thanks to a “bullet catcher” berm encircling the range. In December, DHS reported that private detention facilities—despite continued “documented occurrences of deficiencies and abuse”—will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future. As a stopgap, the agency suggested positioning ICE wardens at private centers to provide federal oversight and accountability.
As the sites accelerate their transformations from isolated anomalies to quasi-urban, self-sufficient nuclei of privatized federal detention, we call for immigrant advocates and legal service providers to co-opt the logic of their shadow system of airfields, courts, and fly-in judges, grafting a parallel network supporting migrant advocacy on this nascent infrastructure.
This is the first in a series of reports from El Paso, Texas–based AGENCY, entitled Border Dispatches, an on-the-ground perspective from the United States-Mexico border. Each month, we will explore another “sleeper agent,” a critical site or actor reshaping the diffuse, overlapping binational territory we know as the borderlands.
Over the last decade, our changing national security priorities have contorted federal law-enforcement training sites to respond to new and sometimes contradictory demands. In Artesia, New Mexico, several replicas simulating different areas of the International Border Fence (IBF) are built on the site of the Border Patrol Academy (BPA). The “mock fences” are a minor but instructive example of the material residue created by our nation’s ongoing obsession with the promotion and maintenance of a physical international boundary, a hard line separating the U.S. from Mexico. A close reading of the fences, and the training installation of which they are a part, reveals volumes about the shifting whims of the securocratic territory they both describe and inhabit.
The BPA is on the site of the Artesia Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), one of four national training centers that serve 95 federal partner organizations as well as thousands of other local and international security forces. The site has specialized in providing unique training environments not available elsewhere, including drug and fingerprint labs, and all-terrain vehicle courses. After the 9/11 terror attacks, the site began hoarding grounded jetliners to train air marshals in counterterrorism operations. The site was a good fit for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), capable of supporting both its “priority mission” (counterterrorism) and “primary mission” (preventing illegal entry to the U.S.). The real physical environment of Artesia, and the otherwise-remote site’s particular coincidence with the logistical networks of the CBP, was recast as an invaluable training asset.
In 2004, The FLETC Artesia site was selected as the location for a newly reconsolidated BPA, due to its strategic location near a focus of CBP activity—near hot spots for the eventual assignment of academy graduates—as well as the region’s signature climate and terrain. Artesia lies just four hours from the Southwest border. While seemingly distant from border operations, it is strategically close enough. Many of the geological and ecological features of the site are shared with a large percentage of the territory agents are charged to protect. It is here that the agents rehearse known threats and prepare for new ones, the simulations scripting a generation of borderland encounters to come.
Upon arrival, trainees are issued a fake sidearm, to become accustomed to the relentless presence, bulk, and weight of the weapon. Classes are led by retired USBP agents, and use a technique called scenario-based training (SBT). Training takes place mostly in situ, informed by the simulated physical constructs throughout the site and the desert terrain itself. Simulated checkpoints, barns, and inspection areas for railcars and vehicles are scattered throughout the center to host scripted encounters. In addition to physical training, the center uses Spanish-speaking role players, playing a range of border-crosser types, from harmless asylum-seekers to armed smugglers. Classes are taught in high-risk Spanish terminology.
According to FLETC documents, in 2013 $1.2 million was dedicated to “add realistic fencing and check stations to enhance border patrol training venues” at Artesia. Since 2014, training exercises have included engagements with a “towering, steel” mock IBF that “realistically simulates the field environment.” Six different mock-IBF sites were planned that year, mimicking the various construction materials deployed in the constructed border throughout its length. Each mock fence was to measure 90 feet long, “and will vary in height from 19 feet to 10 feet,” according to the documents. “The materials will mirror what is used on the international border, to include bollard fencing, as well as fencing constructed from landing mat materials.” The staged constructions create backdrops for scenarios culled from the experience of actual agents in the field, including “when assailants are throwing rocks or other projectiles, or subjects are using vehicles as a weapon against the agents near the IBF.” Only four such mock IBFs are advertised as available for training on the FLETC website currently.
In recent years the Artesia FLETC has further blurred the boundary between real and imagined operations when its collection of novice trainees and academic exercises would play host to the endgame of the agency’s ultimate objective—migrant detention. While it appears a simulated detention facility was completed in 2010 for training purposes, a real-world detention center would soon emerge on-site. The training venue proved an expedient solution for federal law enforcement in 2014 when an influx of Central American migrants filled other nearby detention sites. A temporary detention center, holding as many as 672 detainees at one time, was built, conflating the space of border-patrol simulation with the reality of its impact. Ten acres of the site, including existing dorms and classrooms, were converted to serve as medical centers and processing centers, among other uses. Attorneys visiting the site noted the strange proximity of the training simulacra around the detainees’ temporary home. News reports show cribs for child detainees lining the interior hallways of the FLETC trainee barracks.
While residents of Artesia have often shown support for the training operations, and the positive economic impacts trainees bring to town, the reality of detention on-site proved to stress the relationship. Residents, in an echo of the paranoia surrounding the crossing of the IBF, expressed concern about the hastily constructed perimeter security at the facility, noting the ease with which the eight-foot chain-link fence might be crossed by a determined detainee. The temporary facility was closed at the end of 2014. The future of the site, and the blurring of the boundary between real and imagined conflict, remains uncertain. Asked in 2016 by the Roswell Daily News whether the FLETC would ever be used again as a detention site, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) reportedly answered that chances are “slim right now…but you never know.”
The current administration’s charge of building a border wall requires built mock-ups of the proposed designs in Otay Mesa near the Mexican border. In a way, the practice of sampling potential walls resonates with the sampling of border parts at the BPA, reinforcing a kind of thinking about the boundary as merely a collection of obstructive infrastructural parts devoid of the real-life consequences of blockage and armament. As the duties and performance criteria of the IBF expand to deter and collect more bodies, shifting tactics are indexed and foreshadowed in the space of training.