Mariachi is a folkloric tradition as macho as it is Mexican. Eight years ago, Mireya Ramos and Shae Fiol sought to up-end convention and founded Mariachi Flor de Toloache, New York City’s first all-female mariachi band. With their bandmates Julie Acosta and Eunice Aparicio, the musicians traded in traditional mariachi skirts for homemade suits and created an empowering space for women while staying true to the music and spirit of mariachi.
The videographer is Face du Monde and these are his comments on the video:
“Since I was a kid, it always has been a dream of mine to see "El dia de los Muertos" in Mexico. So last October my friend Max and I decided to travel there. It was my second time in this country I really fell in love with. We spent 3 weeks travelling around Quintana Roo, Yucatán and Campeche states. I made this video to show how this country has his own culture, his own history that you will find nowhere else in the world. "El dia de los Muertos" is an event everybody should see once in his life, it really represents the Mexican soul. I would like to thank all amazing people I met there who made this journey unforgettable.”
LGBTQ migrants from Central America seeking asylum in the US faced hardship and discrimination not only from gangs that prey on migrants as they travel, but also from their fellow travelers. They were a part of a “caravan” of 3,600 asylum seekers, that started to journey from San Pedro Sula, Honduras in October 2018, traveled through Mexico, and reached the Northern Mexican city Tijuana, bordering the US, in November 2018. The members of the caravan were escaping all kinds of violence in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
The LGBTQ group of the caravan traveled together, in a group of around 80, to provide safety in numbers. They were subject to verbal abuse from all ends, and were even denied food and access to showers by other members of the caravan and other local groups. They weren’t about to receive a warm welcome from the US either, as President Trump frequently targeted the group of migrants during the 2018 Midterm Elections.
Migrant caravans from Central America travel through Mexico in the hopes of passing through the US-Mexico border in search for freedom. Many don’t make it in, and those who do are held at the border.
The migrants were fleeing discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ people in their own countries. They were threatened to be killed or tortured because of their sexuality. They embarked on a journey to the US in the hopes of obtaining a new life, with new opportunities to make a living in a more accepting community.
The LGBTQ group of the caravan stuck together and looked out for each other, for fear of being assaulted. They slept in abandoned, dilapidated hotels rather than outside, where they are subject to more violence. To prevent attacks, human rights workers have sent two people in green vests to travel with the caravan. These groups found the migrants through strong media coverage and decided to help.
They trekked over 1,000 miles in a month. Most of the traveling is done by foot when they are unable to hitch a ride on buses, trucks, or tractor-trailers.
When they finally reached Tijuana, they were subject to anger from the local residents, who were angry that they were staying in a house in their neighborhood.
They waited at detention centers in Texas for a very long time after crossing the border. These detention centers had no experience in housing transgender women. However, recently, it was announced that ten transgender women have won their asylum cases, and were allowed to leave the detention center. The immigrant rights group RAICES helped to provide legal support for the migrants to win their cases.
ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur.
We’ve all met a crazy cat lady or maybe a neighbor with an insane collection of pet turtles. Now, let us introduce you to Ramón Medina Archundia: the iguana guy. Archundia loves iguanas so much that he fosters hundreds of them in his front yard in Manzanilla, Mexico. Forty-one years ago, he adopted about 40 of these prehistoric-looking lizards to protect them from hunters and bring awareness to their dwindling numbers. Now, each one represents a new family member that he cares for and treats as if they were his own children. Leapin’ lizards!
The tiny Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen sits nestled between the Sierra del Carmen Mountains and the Rio Grande. Its Chihuahuan Desert location is strikingly beautiful, with green vegetation along the river, the brown soil of the surrounding desert and pink mountain cliffs creating splendid color contrasts.
I have been taking students to this magnificent landscape for 20 years – mostly to Big Bend National Park in Texas, just a mile north of Boquillas. My colleagues and I have also studied the ecological and economic value of this habitat, one of the most biodiverse and ecologically important desert regions in the world.
Recently I returned to study the ecotourism and conservation potential of Boquillas. In the process, I learned about a local vision for the border that is markedly different from the prevailing U.S. view.
Here the Rio Grande forms the line between the United States and Mexico. The river is an ecological gathering place that draws humans and wildlife. For Boquillas residents, the idea of building a wall here is sacrilegious. As Lilia Falcon, manager of a local restaurant, said to me, “We have friends on both sides of the river, we want these interactions to continue.” Her husband, Bernardo Rogel, was more succinct: “We love both countries.”
A fragile ecotourism economy
Boquillas was originally a mining town, with local deposits of silver, lead and zinc that attracted prospectors. By the early 20th century, 2,000 people lived there and a thriving industry was exporting ore.
That boom turned to bust, and by the end of World War I the mines were closed. The town nearly disappeared in the 1960s, but in 1999 when I first visited there, it had about 200 residents. They made their living from cross-border tourism, with U.S. visitors to Big Bend National Park entering Mexico via a legal but unofficial border crossing.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, however, the United States closed all of these informal crossings. Overnight Boquillas lost its income source, ruining livelihoods and jeopardizing years of effort by residents and government officials to build cooperative border relations.
The nearest place to get supplies was now a 300-mile round trip over rough roads deep into rural Mexico. Just three miles away on the U.S. side, gas, food and services in Big Bend National Park’s Rio Grande Village campground were now inaccessible. Relatives who were citizens on opposite sides of the border were separated, 115 miles from the nearest legal crossing point.
After more than a decade of lobbying by residents, the U.S. government created a “remote” passport facility, where people crossing the border could present their documentation by phone to a border agent located in El Paso. Boquillas reopened and merchants and guides returned. In 2018 more than 11,000 visitors crossed over from the United States.
Today Boquillas residents are working again to teach visitors about this part of Mexico, and ecotourism companies are expanding. People here envision a future for the border in which respect, cooperation and shared economic gain will create a prosperous and sustainable future for communities on both sides.
Welcoming visitors and valuing connections
It is obvious to me that people in Boquillas love their town and are hopeful about the future. “I want to show visitors the beauty of my home and to have a more prosperous life for my family,” Lacho Falcón, a local guide whose family owns the only grocery store in town, told me on my most recent visit as we hiked into Boquillas canyon, its massive vertical walls gleaming in soft morning light.
I have heard that sentiment repeated many times as I have gotten to know more people in the town. Thanks to economic activity from tourism, “We have been able to buy a vehicle, improve our house, and most importantly, send our oldest daughter Wendy to college,” said Lucia Orosco. She sells crafts to help support her family, which includes husband Adrián, who manages the ferry crossing over the Rio Grande, and their three children.
Canoeing the Rio Grande is a favorite tourist activity. The river cuts through spectacular canyons, supports abundant wildlife and provides water for this thirsty land. I spoke with Ernesto Hernández Morales from Vera Cruz, Mexico and Mike Davidson from Terlingua, Texas about the river’s potential to unify their countries. As partners with Boquillas Adventures, a Mexican registered ecotourism company that focuses on natural and historic interpretation, they are working to expand sustainable tourism opportunities in nearby protected areas, hiring local residents as guides.
“We see our work as more than a business,” said Hernández Morales. “It’s an opportunity to show Mexico and the U.S. working together for security and prosperity.” Davidson concurs: “It is our goal to provide our guests a high-quality, safe experience…and offer them a glimpse of daily reality on this part of the border.”
Chalo Diaz, a local guide who takes visitors on river trips, is excited about his work. “Boquillas is a beautiful town where you can visit friendly people. Now that the border has reopened, we have improved it and are connected to the world,” he told me.
United ecologically, separated politically?
In 2011 Mexico and the United States signed a cooperative agreement to conserve the spectacular Chihuahuan Desert landscape. This initiative builds on proposals dating back nearly a century to create a cross-border international peace park.
American black bears, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and a host of smaller animals, as well as over 400 species of birds, move across this landscape. Studies show that conserving this region requires maintaining free movement for wildlife. Researchers warn that building a border wall through the area could threaten thousands of plant and animal species by preventing them from moving between patches of the best habitat.
Currently Boquillas is the only access point where people can cross between the protected areas in this region. This makes it critical to future conservation success. People in Boquillas believe that building a border wall would sever this connection, causing hardship and insecurity on both sides.
MATTHEW D. MORAN is a Professor of Biology at Hendrix College.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.
Immigration restrictions were making life difficult for Native Americans who live along – and across – the U.S.-Mexico border even before President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to build his border wall.
The traditional homelands of 36 federally recognized tribes – including the Kumeyaay, Pai, Cocopah, O’odham, Yaqui, Apache and Kickapoo peoples – were split in two by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and 1853 Gadsden Purchase, which carved modern-day California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas out of northern Mexico.
Today, tens of thousands of people belonging to U.S. Native tribes live in the Mexican states of Baja California, Sonora, Coahuila and Chihuahua, my research estimates. The Mexican government does not recognize indigenous peoples in Mexico as nations as the U.S. does, so there is no enrollment system there.
Still, many Native people in Mexico routinely cross the U.S.-Mexico border to participate in cultural events, visit religious sites, attend burials, go to school or visit family. Like other “non-resident aliens,” they must pass through rigorous security checkpoints, where they are subject to interrogation, inspection and rejection or delay.
Many Native Americans I’ve interviewed for anthropological research on indigenous activism call the U.S.-Mexico border “the imaginary line” – an invisible boundary created by colonial powers that claim sovereign indigenous territories as their own.
A border wall would further separate Native peoples from friends, relatives and tribal resources that span the U.S.-Mexico border.
Tribal members say that many Native Americans in the U.S. feel detached from their relatives in Mexico.
“The effect of a wall is already in us,” Mike Wilson, a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, told me. “It already divides us.”
The Tohono O’odham are among the U.S. federal tribes fighting the government’s efforts to beef up existing security with a border wall. In late January, the Tohono O'odham, Pascua Yaqui and National Congress of Indian Americans met to create a proposal for facilitating indigenous border crossing.
The Tohono O'odham already know how life changes when traditional lands are physically partitioned.
By U.S. law, enrolled Tohono O’odham members in Mexico are eligible to receive educational and medical services in Tohono O'odham lands in the U.S.
That has become difficult since 2006, when a steel vehicle barrier was built along most of the 62-mile stretch of U.S.-Mexico border that bisects the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Previously, to get to the U.S. side of Tohono O’odham territory, many tribe members would simply drive across their land. Now, they must travel long distances to official ports of entry.
One Tohono O'odham rancher told The New York Times in 2017 that he must travel several miles to draw water from a well 100 yards away from his home – but in Mexico.
And Pacific Standard magazine reported in February 2019 that three Tohono O'odham villages in Sonora, Mexico, had been cut off from their nearest food supply, which was in the U.S.
Land is central to Native communities’ historic, spiritual and cultural identity.
Several international agreements – including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – confirm these communities’ innate rights to draw on cultural and natural resourcesacross international borders.
The United States offers few such protections.
Officially, various federal laws and treaties affirm the rights of federally recognized tribes to cross between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
The Jay Treaty of 1794 grants indigenous peoples on the U.S.-Canada border the right to freely pass and repass the border. It also gives Canadian-born indigenous persons the right to live and work in the United States.
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 says that the U.S. will protect and preserve Native American religious rights, including “access to sacred sites” and “possession of sacred objects.” And the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act protects Native American human remains, burial sites and sacred objects.
United States law also requires that federally recognized sovereign tribal nations on the U.S.-Mexico border must be consulted in federal border enforcement planning.
In practice, however, the free passage of Native people who live across both the United States’ northern or southern border is curtailed by strict identification laws.
The United States requires anyone entering the country to present a passport or other U.S.-approved identification confirming their citizenship or authorization to enter. The Real ID Act of 2005 allows the Department of Homeland Security secretary to waive any U.S. law – including those protecting indigenous rights – that may impede border enforcement.
Several standard U.S. tribal identification documents – including Form I-872 American Indian Card and enhanced tribal photo identification cards – are approved travel documents that enable Native Americans to enter the U.S. at land ports of entry.
Arbitrary identity tests
Only the American Indian Card, which is issued exclusively to members of the Kickapoo tribes, recognizes indigenous people’s right to cross the border regardless of citizenship.
According to the Texas Band of Kickapoo Act of 1983, “all members of the Band” – including those who live in Mexico – are “entitled to freely pass and repass the borders of the United States and to live and work in the United States.”
The majority of indigenous Mexicans wishing to live or work in the United States, however, must apply for immigrant residence and work authorization like any other person born outside of the U.S. The relevant tribal governments in the U.S. may also work with Customs and Border Patrol to waive certain travel document requirements on a case-by-case basis for short-term visits of Native members from Mexico.
Since border patrol agents have expansive discretionary power to refuse or delay entries in the interest of national security, its officers sometimes make arbitrary requests to verify Native identity in these cases.
Such tests, my research shows, have included asking people to speak their indigenous language or – if the person is crossing to participate in a Native ceremony – to perform a traditional song or dance. Those who refuse these requests may be denied entry.
“Our relatives are all considered ‘aliens,’” said the Yaqui elder and activist José Matus. “[T]hey’re not aliens. … They’re indigenous to this land.”
“We’ve been here since time immemorial,” he added.
CHRISTINA LEZA is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Colorado College.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION
The Mexican border town of Tijuana is home to thousands of Haitians. Most are asylum-seekers, stuck in administrative limbo as they await potential entry to the United States. To help them feel more at-home, Fausta Rosalía—owner of a popular lunch spot—decided to switch up her traditional offerings of tacos and quesadillas to better serve the city’s new residents. Now, she’s cooking Haitian food in the hopes that a taste of home will make life a little bit easier for so many.
As he ended the government shutdown in a televised speech on Jan. 25, Trump reiterated his claim that a border wall between the United States and Mexico would save the lives of Central American migrants, many of whom are women and children.
“Walls work,” he said. “They save good people from attempting a very dangerous journey from other countries.”
Open arms or closed borders?
An estimated 1.3 million migrants entered the European Union in 2015 — more than double the year before. They were seeking asylum protection from war, conflict and extreme poverty.
To put that figure in context, just half-a-million migrants — including asylum-seekers, who typically give themselves up to border agents — were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018.
Most of Europe’s migrants came from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Generally, these asylum-seekers entered the European Union via Turkey, crossing Macedonia, Serbia and other Balkan countries by foot.
Well over 100,000 migrants from sub-Saharan African countries reached southern Europe by sea in 2015, crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.
Overwhelmed with these increased arrivals, national governments in Europe took dramatically different approaches to managing their borders.
Greece, however, was unable to process the more than 850,000 migrantswho arrived to its shores in 2015. It built holding camps on its Aegean islands, where people stayed in overcrowded, often inhospitable conditions for up to two years as their asylum claims were processed.
Other EU governments were openly hostile to refugees. Across Eastern Europe, countries along the Balkan route began to build and extend border barriers.
Europe had five border walls in 2014, built following the 1985 Schengen agreement amid concerns about immigration at the bloc’s external borders. By 2017, it had 15 barriers, according to the not-for-profit Transnational Institute, and a heavily patrolled maritime border.
Hungary, perhaps the EU’s least immigrant-friendly country, built a high-tech fence that uses thermal detection and cameras to monitor movement, with speakers that blare warnings in five languages.
Walls make migration more dangerous
Border walls have not stopped migration into Europe.
Before the walls, migrants traveled in groups, with or without the help of smugglers.
Now, paying a smuggler is the only way for migrants to avoid border guards and pass barriers. For several thousand dollars, smugglers bribe EU border agents, hide migrants in trucks or walk them across EU borders under cover of darkness.
At least 10,000 migrants now live in homeless encampments or squatsacross Italy. And after the French refugee camp known as “The Calais Jungle” was demolished in 2016, nearly as many people scattered to makeshift camps or the streets of French cities.
Stopping migrants before they arrive
Italy, where most refugees arrive by boat from North Africa, has tried to keep migrants out in a different way: It outsources its border security.
In 2017, Italy struck a deal to supply the Libyan coast guard with vessels and anti-smuggling training. The agreement promised US$325 million if Libyan agents would intercept migrants crossing the Mediterranean and return them to Libyan detention centers.
Human rights organizations have questioned the deal, citing Libya’s political unrest and documented history of migrant enslavement and torture. Returning migrants to detention centers in Libya may also violate international law, since refugees cannot be kept safe there.
In my own interviews with African migrants in Italy who’d crossed the Sahara to Libya, many told me that they eventually boarded a boat there not as a final step toward Europe, but to escape imprisonment or torture in Libya.
Last June, 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women, were held at sea for over a week, unable to seek asylum or aid.
Malta, Spain and France have since repeatedly closed their ports to rescue vessels, refusing to bear responsibility for the migrants on board.
Lessons for the US
Migrant routes into the EU also continue to shift in response to closing borders. Spain, for example, has seen sea arrivals increase tenfold since 2015.
In my assessment, Trump’s crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border will have similar results. There are signs of this already.
A decades-old U.S. policy of paying Mexico to secure its southern border with Guatemala to keep Central American migrants out has merely made the journey riskier, according to a 2018 United Nations report.
To avoid apprehension by Mexican border patrol, some migrants get from Guatemala to Mexico by water, on boats that are often operated by traffickers.
As in Europe, migrants now increasingly rely on smugglers to get across the U.S.-Mexico border, who may charge more than $10,000 per family.
That does not guarantee safe passage. Between August and October last year, smugglers abandoned more than 1,400 migrants, including children, in the sweltering Arizona desert. Hoping to find safety in large groups, more migrants are now traveling in caravans.
As the U.S. and the EU struggle to resolve their border crises, migrants will continue to flee their home countries seeking protection. Heightened border control certainly won’t make them safer.
ELEANOR PAYNTER is a PhD Candidate of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION
A few miles south of San Diego lies Tijuana, a favorite weekend getaway for Americans. Some Californians have even taken to living in Tijuana permanently to escape their state’s rising housing costs. However, life in Tijuana has changed drastically over the last few years as conflicts between rival drug cartels have caused the city’s murder rate to skyrocket. The situation presents a new set of risks for those wanting to visit the ever-popular tourist trap.
In 2018, over 2,000 homicides were reported in Tijuana, an increase from the 1,647 homicides reported in 2017. Authorities attribute the bloodshed to warring drug cartels. The Sinaloa Cartel, formerly led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman arrived in Tijuana about 12 years ago and launched a campaign to usurp the resident Arellano Felix Cartel. The fighting has raged ever since, with visitors and locals alike getting caught in the crossfire. In November of last year, two San Diego teenagers and a friend from Tijuana were found dead in an apartment bathroom. The teens had driven to Ensenada for a barbeque and never returned. Authorities said they had been stripped and tortured before being shot execution-style. Police later announced that they had arrested three suspects in connection with the killings, but did not issue any further statements. The situation in Tijuana has intensified with the arrival of a migrant caravan from Honduras intent on entering the US. The migrants arrived in December but their entrance into the US was blocked by border patrol agents. The Trump administration, implementing a practice called “metering,” agreed to only allow a few migrants into the country per day, and the remaining migrants set up a temporary camp while each waited for their chance to cross the border. Later that month, three of the migrants were killed in an apparent robbery attempt when they left the camp to visit a sports arena near the center of the city. It would seem that no one is safe from the violence that plagues Tijuana.
Still, tourism is booming. Tijuana’s vibrant nightlife continues to attract visitors who are looking for a bit of excitement and willing to navigate the risks. Some nightclubs in the city have even started offering limousine rides to and from the border, as a means of ensuring the safety of their customers and, of course, the future of their business. Local authorities continue to mitigate the violence as best they can, but the warring continues, with no end in sight.
JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself.
The Hondurans who banded together last month to travel northward to the United States, fleeing gangs, corruption and poverty, were joined by other Central Americans hoping to find safety in numbers on this perilous journey.
But group travel couldn’t save everyone.
Earlier this month, two trucks from the caravan disappeared in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. One person who escaped told officials that about “65 children and seven women were sold” by the driver to a group of armed men.
Mexican authorities are searching for the migrants, but history shows that people missing for more than 24 hours are rarely found in Mexico – alive or at all.
Mexico’s ambiguous welcome
Nearly 22,000 people were murdered in Mexico in the first eight months of this year, a dismal record in one of the world’s deadliest places.
Central Americans fleeing similarly rampant violence back home confront those risks and others on their journey to the United States. Doctors Without Borders found that over two-thirds of migrants surveyed in Mexico in 2014 experienced violence en route. One-third of women had been sexually abused.
Mexico’s security crisis may explain why so few caravan members want to stay there.
In response to President Donald Trump’s demands that Mexico “stop this onslaught,” Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that migrants who applied for asylum at Mexico’s southern border would be given shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs.
About 1,700 of the estimated 5,000 caravan members took him up on the offer.
A recent poll shows that 51 percent of Mexicans support the caravan. Thirty-three percent of respondents, many of them affluent members of Mexico’s urban middle class, want the migrants to go back to Central America.
But reality in Mexico often falls short of the law.
The Mexican Refugee Assistance Commission is supposed to process asylum applications in 45 days. But its offices in Mexico City were damaged by last year’s earthquake, forcing the already overstretched and underfunded agency to suspend processing of open asylum claims for months.
During that period of legal limbo, asylum seekers cannot work, attend school or fully access Mexico’s public health system. President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who takes office on Dec. 1, says he will offer Central American migrants temporary working visas while their claims are processed.
Mexico City, which in 2017 declared itself to be a sanctuary city, nonetheless put thousands of caravan members up in a stadium staffed by medical teams and humanitarian groups.
Militarizing the US-Mexico border
The first Central Americans from the caravan are now arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, where they face a far less warm reception.
U.S. law prohibits the use of the armed forces to enforce domestic laws without specific congressional authorization. That means the troops can only support border agents in deterring migrants.
But Trump’s decision still has symbolic power. This is the first time in over a century that military troops have been summoned to defend the U.S.-Mexico border.
The last deployment occurred during the Mexican Revolution.
On March 9, 1916, a small band of revolutionaries led by Francisco “Pancho” Villa invaded Columbus, New Mexico.
After Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico, President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to the border – and into Mexican territory. United States Air Force
Officially, the group assaulted the border city in retaliation for then-President Woodrow Wilson’s support of Venustiano Carranza, Villa’s political rival. Villa also had a personal vendetta against Sam Ravel, a local man who had swindled money from him.
President Wilson responded by summoning General John J. Pershing, who assembled a force of 6,000 U.S. troops to chase Villa deep inside Mexico’s northern territory. Pershing’s “punitive expedition” returned in early 1917 after failing to capture the revolutionary leader.
No relief at the border
Central Americans who reach the militarized United States border can still apply for asylum there, despite President Trump’s recent executive order limiting where they may do so. But they face stiff odds.
The U.S. contributed to the instability that created these hardships.
Honduras has been in turmoil since 2009, when the military overthrew leftist President Manuel Zelaya. Rather than join the United Nations and European Union in demanding Zelaya’s reinstatement, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for new elections, effectively endorsing a coup.
The country entered a prolonged political crisis. Honduras’s November 2017 presidential election was contested, with the U.S.-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández accused of rigging the vote. Seventeen opposition protesters were killed in the unrest that followed.
The Central American caravan that started in Honduras seeks in the U.S. a life free of such violence. Its steady progress toward the border shows that even kidnappings, Trump’s threats and soldiers cannot deter them.
LUIZ GOMEZ ROMERO is a Senior Lecturer in Human Rights, Constitutional Law and Legal Theory at the University of Wollongong.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION
In 2002, I began traveling the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border on both sides. From Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, the border measures almost 2,000 miles.
What distinguished my journey was that I began traveling well before the idea of fortifying the U.S.-Mexico border entered public consciousness. Inadvertently, I became witness to the wall’s construction and its impact on the lives of border dwellers, which I reported in my book, “Why Walls Won’t Work.”
Shortly after 9/11, as I explain in the the book, the U.S. built 650 miles of walls and fences along of the 700-mile land boundary with Mexico. The 1,200-mile river boundary has few walls, but the Rio Grande/Río Bravo del Norte acts as a natural barrier and is supplemented by other methods of surveillance, including sound and motion detectors.
Nothing like it ever existed in the territory that is now the U.S.-Mexico boundary. It usurps cross-border connections that have origins in prehistoric times. Twin-city communities remain closely connected through work, family, schooling, leisure, commerce and culture. For them, the territory between the two nations is not a matter of sovereignty, difference and separation, but instead is the very foundation of their way of life.
The wall slices through borderland communities disrupting binational trade worth over US$400 billion every year as well as the lives of more than 10 million U.S. and Mexican citizens who reside in the borderland’s six major “twin cities” – San Diego-Tijuana, Calexico-Mexicali, the two Nogales, El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, Laredo-Nuevo Laredo and Brownsville-Matamoros. Adding a new wall, as President Trump proposes, could only worsen the situation without making any measurable impact on border security.
A third nation
During my travels, I started thinking of the space between the two countries as a kind of “third nation.” I confess, I’ve never heard anyone in a border city refer to their turf as a third nation. Locals have many other ways of describing their special connection across the line, like “twin cities” and “ciudades hermanas” (sister cities). Some even call themselves “transborder citizens” living in a “transfrontier metropolis.”
I’ve often been told by people who live binational lives that they forget which side of the border they’re on. But in my experience, the single most common expression of cross-border connection is when people assert that they have more in common with one another than with citizens of their countries.
Traditionally, the word “nation” refers to a group of people who voluntarily identify with others on the basis of shared history, geography, ethnicity, cultural tradition, language and alliances against external threat. The sentiment that unites them is commonly called nationalism. Both terms are imprecise – which is why experts sometimes refer to nations as imagined communities – but there can be no doubt about their appeal, potency and consequence. When a nation acquires the right to govern a territory, then the territory is considered a formal nation-state.
I define a third nation as a community of common interest carved out of two existing nation-states. Transcending geopolitical boundaries, it occupies an in-between space and fosters an identity that is distinct from each country. The alliance is not solely based on material connections such as trade, but also represents a kind of “mental map,” or cognitive awareness, shared by citizens.
I consider the U.S.-Mexico border to be a third nation, which has evolved out of several forms in the past. Historically, these include the 12th- and 13th-century Chichimeca region, which was located between the Anasazi people of the pre-U.S. Southwest and the southern Aztec heartland of Mesoamerica. It was also manifested along the northern edges of Nueva España (New Spain) which buffered the volatile indigenous southwestern tribes from the more regulated Spanish colonial heartland around Mexico City.
Today, the Tohono O’Odham Indian Nation is bisected by the U.S.-Mexico boundary between Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. It possesses an enduring sense of identity, autonomous tribal institutions and laws, and formal territorial organizations that straddle the boundary line.
Imagining a territory as a third nation draws attention to the depth of integration between peoples on either side of the border. The other terms I mentioned (twin city, etc.) convey a sense of material connectivity and integration, but the “third nation” idea adds the weight of subjective attachment, tradition and shared outlook that transcends the line.
A year ago, I was on the Mexican side of the border in Nogales, where an earlier prototype of the wall had appeared during the mid-1990s. A teenage student asked me what would happen if the walls came down, and I replied: “It will be like it was in the old days.” Hesitating, she asked: “What was it like in the old days?”
I realized then that her generation had lived most of their lives in the shadow of walls. Their parents remember a different time, when they crossed over the line without hindrance to graze animals or join a weekend softball game. They recall the times when crossing the border was as easy as crossing a street.
These days, despite the wall, people continue to traverse the line legally in large numbers but only through official ports of entry. For instance, San Diego-Tijuana is the busiest port on the borderline, processing an average of 70,000 northbound vehicle passengers and 20,000 northbound pedestrians per day. Border crossers have become accustomed to delays imposed by the wall, and tune into media to factor them into their commutes. You might see agricultural workers driving at 4 a.m. from Mexicali, Mexico to fields in the Imperial Valley. Or, parents of Mexican children organizing early morning carpools to ferry their kids to school in Calexico, California using special passes that speed up the commute. They’ve learned how to cope.
But make no mistake: Border people want their former lives back. They insist that the damage caused by the walls be repaired. They ask that no more walls be constructed, and that the $25 billion it would cost to build more walls be diverted to increasing the number and capacity of official ports of entry. They ask for the right to manage their destinies without interference from outsiders.
A 2016 survey of residents in the twin cities confirmed that the borderland is increasingly becoming “one giant economically integrated, bicultural society.” An Arizona respondent emphasized the importance of maintaining connections across the line: “Our lifeline is across the border… Without Mexicans, we don’t exist. Our life is sucked away.” Another, this time from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico in Tamaulipas state, expressed his concern this way: “If [they] build a wall, we will be alone.”
Interviews from the survey show that unlike many people in the U.S., border residents do not equate wall-building with national security. One man, originally from Mexico but now living in Texas, said that he was not opposed to more Border Patrol officers, nor the presence in Mexico of U.S. military helping in the drug war. But walls he resisted, because “A wall is a symbol of discrimination, racism, segregation, not a solution for security, or for reducing violence.”
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, captured a sentiment widely held by survey respondents: “It says something really beautiful that the border, two countries, two languages, two cultures, at this point become essentially one people.”
The third-nation citizens I meet are fiercely independent. They work hard. They have no choice but to shoulder the burdens of our nation’s obsession with immigration, drugs and national security. Yet their aspirations are no different from yours or mine, and now more than ever their voices deserve to be heard.
MICHAEL DEAR is a Professor Emeritus of City & Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION
Once upon a time, there was a highway that stretched 2,448 miles across the American landscape, from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Constructed in 1926, Route 66 actually no longer exists—having been replaced by the Interstate Highway System over the years. This ghostly road, which exists only in historical snapshots, relics, and memories, once represented the heart of American folklore.
You can trace Route 66, down through Arizona and New Mexico, down to a couple of hundred miles away from the border between the United States and Mexico. Drive for a bit longer and soon you won’t be able to drive anymore. Soon you’ll find a border, which might as well be an open wound, spilling out bodies viewed as disposable by our current government.
Recently I read Valeria Luiselli’s 2016 book, “Tell Me How It Ends,” which finds the author traveling down to the border between America and Mexico with her family to research and gather source material. Luiselli wrote her book before migrant stories became a hot media topic when the 2018 news stories about immigrant family separations broke—even before the election of Donald Trump. The book was written under the Obama administration, when the odds were still stacked—albeit slightly less so—against immigrants, especially immigrant children. She chronicles her work as an interpreter for children undergoing the process of answering questionnaires that will determine whether they may stay in the country. For all its politics, it is a road novel, chronicling an author’s journey—but there is no gleaming California at the end of the road—there is no ending.
From March to May of 2018, 50,000 immigrants—from nations including El Salvador, Mexico, and were arrested at that border. Currently, at the border, according to GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America/CoreCivic together detain 15,000 people in immigration per day.
Why? In 2017, the GEO group received $184 million, and the America/CoreCivic group received $135 million for immigrant detention costs.
(Is it starting to become clear, to rise out of the mist? The other ghostly roads that line this nation? Roads that are indeed paved with gold, and green, but that lead to penthouses, to towers, to government offices, to heavy wallets and wounded minds?)
For a long time, I’ve been dreaming of taking a road trip from New York to California. Along the way I imagined winding through the Badlands of Wyoming, lurching up towards the bluegrass fields of Dakota, passing through Vegas—on the way seeing countless icons of the nation’s landscape—stopping at diners and motels—turning down strange unknown paths towards gem mines and sudden lakes. And meeting locals, and exploring the middle of this country that I have only seen from the outside.
Nowadays, when I think about my oft-daydreamed road trip, my thoughts take different shapes. I realize that the migratory lifestyle that I saw as a gateway to freedom is, and has long been, a prison in which hundreds of thousands of people are trapped, moving from one place to another because they either cannot afford to live in one place or because they are on the run from a government that wishes to expel them from a nation that had long represented a hope for redemption.
Still, the ghost of those dreams remain. Like the ghostly relics of Route 66, America lives on.
It lives in the children making the treacherous journey from Mexico to America, all of whom have to jump a train called “La Bestia,” or “The Beast,” in order to reach it. Sixty to eighty percent of migrants are assaulted in some way on the journey, according to a 2012 study. They are running from gang violence and drug cartels (for whose existence America is certainly more than a little culpable).
They are not a “they”—they are individuals. Turned into numbers. Turned into criminals. Seen but not seen. Like ghostly highways, but still alive.
This is not an ending, not a story. The fairytale collapses, or never existed at all. This is not an ending—this mass exodus known as the modern refugee crisis, supplemented by the flux of hate that keeps them imprisoned in liminal spaces even after they have risked their lives to arrive on different shores—this is an open wound.
EDEN ARIELLE GORDON is a writer, musician, and avid traveler. She attends Barnard College in New York.
The past few weeks have seen widespread outrage over the Trump administration’s now-defunct policy of separating migrant families at the border. Four members of the president’s Homeland Security advisory council have resigned in protest, citing the “morally repugnant” practice.
Similar conflicts about policing the borders have erupted throughout much of the world. In Europe, the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel barely survived a controversy over how to deal with the continued stream of refugees seeking asylum in Germany.
How people respond to these controversies depends upon what it is that they think the border is set up to protect.
Borders protect from ‘outsiders’
In recent years, philosophers have provided several distinct visions on what the borders are protecting.
One prominent justification for securing the border begins with the thought that each state has its own distinctive national character, and that the state’s borders protect it from being overwhelmed by outsiders. The country is not just a state, then, but a cultural or ethnic nation - and, some people might believe, it ought to ensure that migration does not disturb that composition.
President Trump’s criticism of European immigration begins with this idea. He has stated quite categorically that the wave of immigration to Europe would permanently change its culture and that was a “shame.”
From my perspective as a political philosopher, whose work focuses on the political morality of migration, this view assumes that the “real” community in a country can be identified with one particular culture or ethnicity. In doing so, it implicitly announces that all those who are not members of that majority are less important to the state.
This view echoes the ideas of racial and religious superiority that have caused immense harm throughout history. Fascism as an ideology began with the thought that only certain European residents were the true inheritors of Europe’s history. The rest were considered interlopers, who were reducing the grandeur of European civilization.
The ownership of the state
Another justification for the border begins with a notion of property rights. Scholar Ryan Pevnick has argued that the state and its institutions are rightly owned by those who have worked to build and sustain those institutions. They can thus refuse to share their institutions with outsiders – in the same way that I can refuse to share my house with those who have no property rights to enter that house.
There are difficulties here, too. Many people present within a given country may have done very little to actually build that society and its institutions. This does not, however, imply that they are not entitled to the rights associated with citizenship.
But, as importantly, there are many people outside the country who have done a great deal to protect and to preserve that country. During the Iraq War, for example, some Iraqis became translators for the United States Army, at enormous personal risk.
If this view is to be coherent, then these individuals would have a right to cross that border. Indeed, this fact was belatedly recognized by the Trump administration. In February 2017, an exception was made to the travel ban for Iraqi translators who had worked on behalf of the United States.
A final justification for the border reflects the importance of democracy. Widespread migration, it is believed, could undermine social trust and solidarity – both of which are preconditions for democratic self-government.
Migrants from countries without a tradition of democracy, based on this argument, might have neither knowledge of democratic norms nor a moral commitment to the preservation of democracy. Concerns such as these led Belgium to recently introduce a requirement that all potential immigrants coming from outside Europe must sign a “newcomer’s statement” indicating adherence to “European values” – including gender equality and gay rights.
The thought that some outsiders are unlikely to be good democratic citizens, though, has a long and unpleasant history. The United States once barred Chinese nationals from citizenship on similar grounds. American politicians argued that the Chinese civilization was incompatible with any form of government other than “an imperial despotism.”
If democracy is this important, those who value it may have some obligation to use migration policy to help people live under democratic rules. President Ronald Reagan, for example, argued that the borders of the United States should be open to those fleeing Soviet oppression. The freedom of United States, he stated in his farewell address, did not belong to the country alone.
Rather, as Reagan said, the U.S. ought to see herself as the custodian of the freedom of outsiders as well – a suggestion that is increasingly important, as the American debate about borders continues.
MICHAEL BLAKE is a Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance at the University of Washington
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION