The Arizona/Mexico border, 2007 - Soy una raya en el mar
It's hard for an outsider to fathom why, when America is fighting a life and death struggle with Islamic ‘terrorism,’ it should divert billions of dollars towards cutting their supply of pool boys, nannies and below-minimum-wage agricultural labourers. But macho politicians, unable to latch on to the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are finding that immigrant-baiting allows them to act tough on ‘homeland security’ and dog-whistle the racism in their supporters’ hearts.It makes no economic sense, but it is because the wars in the Middle East are failing that life is being made impossible for this most vulnerable layer of American society - undocumented migrants. It is far easier to call for roundups in Georgia and Idaho than it is to call for a ‘surge’ in Falluja or Helmand.
In the course of making this work in 2007, I spent two days being shown around the desert border of Arizona by a Public Affairs officer of the US Border Patrol. Curt, crisp and vaguely sinister in the way of much American officialdom, he never dropped his PR guard; except once. Ambling through scrub at the foot of a drainage ditch, at a place where migrants dump their desert clothes and empty water bottles, I found a large bone in the dirt. “Is this human?” I asked. He squinted, paused and then adjudicated, ”No, that’s cow. Cow is less paperwork.”
In future, the agent’s callous judgement calls will be unnecessary - the border is being automated. Defence manufacturer Boeing has been given what could be a $2 billion contract to install a massive system of fibre-optic fencing and radar systems to keep out the wetbacks. Night-vision cameras networked to motion detectors buried in the desert sand will form an electronic barrier that will make the Berlin Wall and even the Israel/West Bank Fence seem like so much Lego.
For now, the border fence itself is constructed from large, corrugated, clip-together metal panels uprighted into the earth - actually recycled First Gulf War, clip-together ‘instant airstrip.’ And until the cyber wall is built, the National Guard and Border Patrol are using large industrial lighting units dotted across the rolling hills, like a Christo installation. In the evening, from the Mexican side come the sounds of dogs barking, laughter, children’s games and the warm spill of orange street lighting. On the US side; nothing but the eery green light of mercury halide lamps; the endless, growling sound of their diesel generators and the quiet crunch on gravel of the Border Patrol’s SUVs.