What is a border? First off, it’s war. Literally, the border is a relic of the Mexican-American War of 1848, when America “bought” half of Mexico’s territory (about 500,000- square miles) at gunpoint. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo still stands, marking the Rio Grande as the “line” which “separates” us from them. The border is a monument without a museum, doused with techno-media and military machines in order to revive its symbolism with a vengeance. Yet the war never really ended, only moving underground, in shadows, in stealth. Bodies still pile up at the edges, and governments still negotiate new treaties (trade agreements) all the time.
Through such agreements, the border becomes a form of property. It is enclosure, forming the body proper of the country, its outline, its image in the sand. Once this illusion becomes solidified in the minds of the citizens, its defense becomes unquestionable. Who wouldn’t want to defend their property? The border becomes the consensual hallucination of an imagined community of “citizens” who share nothing but a relationship to what’s “outside.” We’re not them, they say, those are ‘aliens’. If to be an alien means to embody the subversion of their entire system of property, then by all means indict us! Property does not make the border possible, but on the contrary, the border makes all property possible. And with that, capital as well.
Property, we know, is theft. And theft, capture and control are the main functions of any state. Besides cops, prisons, and government buildings, the border is the closest thing you’ll get to the material manifestation of the state in all its naked force. The collusion between capitalists, militarists, racist libertarians and “pluralist” democrats to “contain the state of emergency”, i.e., the loss of their profit, is blatant at every border site. Every “border zone” is chaos, and so the state tries to covers it up with a thousand bureaucracies, rules and technologies. The state tries to organize the chaos from above, but we all know how that goes: more resistance from below.
To contain resistance, the border becomes a prison. With 17 federal detention centers, hundreds of county ones and thousands of private ones, the border escapes its geography and encroaches inland. By the fall of 2007 the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) will spend an estimated $1 billion per year to detain more than 27,500 immigrants. ICE operates eight Service Processing Centers and seven contract detention facilities. Additionally, immigration detainees are being held in local jails and private prisons across the United States.
To guard this mobile prison, they need police. But how can the border also be a police force? By militarizing itself, and distributing the mindset of militarization to everyone it can. Everyone becomes a border guard, with ICE being just the last step in the long chain of control. Neighbors, colleagues, workers, friends — no one is safe. With a little help from the fear-mongering media, the virus of the bordermind sets in and spreads. Migrants — living in hiding, working in backrooms — are killed coming in and killed getting out.
DECONSTRUCTING ALL BORDERS
How do we escape from this long border war? Where they have ideology, we must have Imagination. In some sense, we know the border is an imagined act, albeit an enforced one. To overcome this, we must imagine as well, and we must enforce our imaginations too. A world without borders is not a dream, it is how you live. Some say that migrants are the most victimized social class in the world. Others say that the global movement of migrants is the largest social movement in the world. Both are exaggerations, yet both are somewhat true.
Resistance doesn’t begin at the fence because the border doesn’t begin there either. Borders are massive investments, they are literally their own economies, and every economy, in the end, is based on debt, credit and the faith that everything will be paid back in full. Resisting the border means breaking that faith, that credit in the ideology of exclusion. This resistance is as layered as the border itself, and hence is inconsistent, contradictory and unpredictable.
From underground railroads to class solidarity, lobbying to strikes, boycotts to riots, childcare to legal defense, noborder camps to farmworker rights, the resistance is as open as the air. There is no “resistance” itself, only resistances which could link up to tear down, break away and immunize the border regime wherever it emerges.
This article was excerpted from a longer version published in the New York Rat, Issue #8, May 2007.