Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Steps toward an authoritarian government in the US: The Border Is All Around Us, and It’s Growing

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Laila Lalami writes in the NY Times Magazine:

The Border Patrol agent watched our Prius approach, then signaled for us to stop. Behind him stood several others in green uniforms, hands resting on holsters, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. German shepherds panted in the heat. “Are you all U.S. citizens?” the agent asked, leaning against the driver’s-side window and glancing around our car. “Yes,” said one of my companions, an artist from Iowa. “Yes,” echoed the other, a poet from Connecticut. Then it was my turn. “Yes,” I said. The agent’s gaze lingered on me for a moment. Then he stood up and waved us through the border.

Except this was not a border: This was the middle of Interstate 10 between El Paso and Marfa, Tex. No matter. At the Sierra Blanca checkpoint, agents can make arrests for drugs or weapons, share information with federal agencies and turn undocumented immigrants over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. There are many such checkpoints scattered throughout the continental United States — borders within borders.

Borders mark the contours of nations, states, even cities, defining them by separating them from all others. A border can be natural — an ocean, a river, a chain of mountains — or it can be artificial, splitting a homogeneous landscape into two. Often it is highly literal, announcing itself in the shape of a concrete wall, a sand berm, a tall fence topped with barbed wire. But whatever form it takes, a border always conveys meaning. Hours before my encounter with the Border Patrol, as the airplane I was on began its descent, I saw from my window seat the wall that separates El Paso from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. On one side were gleaming towers, giant freeways and sprawling parks; on the other, homes huddling together in the afternoon light, winding streets and patches of dry grass. Here you will find safety and prosperity, the wall seemed to say, but over there lie danger and poverty. It’s a message that ignores the cities’ joint history, language and cultures. But it is simple — one might say simplistic — and that is what gives it power.

For much of the United States’ history, national frontiers were fluid, expanding through territorial conquest and purchases. But at the start of the 20th century, as Arizona and New Mexico approached statehood and the country’s continental borders became stable, so did the desire to secure them and police them — first through congressional acts that prohibited immigration from certain countries and later through the building of fences and walls. During his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump often promised to extend a wall along the Southern border and have Mexico pay for it. At his rallies, this promise was met with cheers and chants of “Build that wall!” When Vicente Fox, a former president of Mexico, declared that his nation had no intention of paying for any such wall, Trump’s response was, “The wall just got 10 feet higher.” The more it was challenged, the higher it became, as if literalizing the border could make all debate about it disappear.

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Whether the administration can find the money to construct an immense border wall remains to be seen. In the meantime, the legal apparatus around it is already being built. This month, speaking to Customs and Border Protection officers in Nogales, Ariz., Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised them “more tools in your fight against criminal aliens” — including charging immigrants who repeatedly cross into the United States illegally with felonies and, when possible, with document fraud and aggravated identity theft, which can carry mandatory prison time. His language was the language of war: Nogales, Sessions said, was “ground zero” in the fight to secure the border, a place where “ranchers work each day to make an honest living” while under threat from “criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into war zones, that rape and kill innocent civilians.” Under the new administration, he said, his Justice Department was prepared for the fight: “It is here, on this sliver of land, on this border, where we first take our stand.”

In this kind of rhetoric, the border separates not just nationals from foreigners, rich from poor and north from south, but also order from chaos, civilization from barbarians, decent people from criminals. Location becomes character, with everything that designation entails. A person is either American and an honest worker, or she is not American and is a criminal alien. The two categories are seen as inherent and inflexible.

In January, Trump signed an executive order temporarily barring nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, even if they were green-card holders or refugees who had already been cleared for resettlement. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 9:39 am

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