Resisting the Wall
Working for a world without borders
by April Cotte
This article originally appeared in RQ #99, Summer 2008.
At a child’s birthday party in Redford, Texas, where I have lived for parts of the past twelve winters, men were sharing ideas for fixing the roof of the jacal (the traditional earthen structure) that I rented.
They explained how to use a traditional method of weaving "palma" through river cane and then covering it with adobe made from river mud. They showed me an elder’s roof built this way thirty years ago.
I asked if there was enough river cane. One said "sure," full of support and enthusiasm for the project.
Then his eyes dropped and more quietly he said, "if the border patrol lets us."
10,000 Years of Permaculture
Redford and the river valley it follows are on the US/ Mexico border. For thousands of years people here, as in many communities along the Rio Grande, have interacted with the river ecosystem.
Traditional cultural practices make survival possible within the limited-money economies of some of the poorest counties in the United States:
• Along the river people gather plants for animal and human food and medicine. The river environment is an abundant corridor for fishing and hunting.
• River cane and river mud is the lowest-cost roofing and building material in this region for human and animal shelters and shade structures.
• Farmers still depend on the 2000-year-old tradition of diverted river water irrigation. Formerly gravity-fed, irrigation now depends on pumps that must be checked multiple times during the day and night when running.
• Planting on the flood plains is common, and livestock depend on the river to drink.
• Elders are passing on traditions of using river clay to make pottery, and using river limestone to whitewash walls and for sweat lodges.
• Walking along the levy and the river, fishing, boating, wading in the river, swimming during the heat of the summer, picnicking on the banks and enjoying the cool shade by the river are traditional pastimes essential for health and physical exercise.
• Children here are taught to be connected to their whole environment, understanding nature better then many adult naturalists and biologists. They learn the specific relationships between the plants, ecosystems, animals, insects, birds, fish, and humans. They learn to tell when it will rain by the behavior of certain ants or the calls of migrating birds.
Broken Bonds, Dying Towns
Over the past half-dozen years, the U.S. government has attempted to alter Indigenous, tribal, and familial migration routes that are thousands of years old.
In rural Texas/Mexico, families on both sides of the border are related. Up until the events of September 11, 2001, there were many Class B Informal river crossings where people in remote towns between El Paso and Brownsville could legally cross the border to visit with each other, herd their cattle, bring milk to grandma, etc.
These crossings were lifelines for the remote, predominately Indigenous communities on both sides of the Rio Grande.
Following September 11, a Redford woman looked out her window to see a truck dumping cement blocks in front of the traditional crossing.
She went outside and asked, "What are you doing?"
A Border Patrol Agent replied, "Protecting the United States from terrorists."
The recent documentary "Mexiphobia"(1) addresses the devastation the closures of these informal border crossings caused.
"You took almost a hundred years’ worth of history, of supporting families from this interaction across the border," says Linda Walker, a business owner. "You took that away, and so what do you think those folks are doing for a living? You think they’re going to let their kids starve? They’re not. No, they’ve gone back to the things that we didn’t want them doing. They’re making a living, [and] they’re not making it selling tacos anymore."
Another business owner says, "It’s making criminals out of everyday people, the tourists and the Mexicans alike."
Due to these changes, many small Mexican towns are dying. "Everything’s quiet," says Danielle Gallo of Boquillas, a small town in Northern Mexico. "No one plays music anymore. There’s really nothing to buy and nothing to do. Everything has a feeling of destitution and despair, and it’s not a happy place anymore. It’s depressing."
Behind the border tensions are unjust and ineffective global economic policies, which cause mass migration of dislocated people seeking to survive.
When the 1990s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) opened the door for subsidized farm products from the United States to enter the Mexican market, rural semi-subsistence farmers — predominately Indigenous people — lost their capacity to survive. Many became displaced, moving from their land to find work in cities and in the US.
NAFTA encouraged Maquiladoras (U.S.-owned factories near Mexico’s border with the U.S.), but these could hire only some of those workers. Others have had to seek work in the U.S.
World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations provided another blow to Indigenous subsistence farmers by forcing an end to communal land systems. The Mexican Ejido system was dismantled and for the first time since the Mexican revolution, rural people could sell their land and move.
Arnoldo Garcia, of the National Network for Immigrant Rights (NNIR) in Oakland, California, explained: "The [border] wall is part of a policy of militarization that was formulated in the 90s when NAFTA was planned. The government knew that with NAFTA there would be displacement, so they planned a strategy of militarization that was piloted in El Paso and spread to the whole border.
"[Militarization] is beginning on the border with the most vulnerable communities, but is intended to spread throughout the United States as our acceptance increases."
Garcia also described "Operation End Game," designed to end the backlog in deportations by detaining people in Hutto Residential Center (formally a prison) in Taylor, Texas.(2)
For communities right on the border, the intense presence, militarization, and enforcement by border patrol agents also affects local elections and economies. Border Patrol agents and their families have a substantial percentage of the votes in Presidio County even though many are only stationed there for two years.
A local landowner explained that prior to 1985, Presidio was famous for its onion and cantaloupe crops. Farmworkers were local people that lived in Mexico, crossed the border to work in the U.S. fields, and went home on weekends to their own small farms.
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act made farm owners liable if they hired illegal workers. This had an immediate and drastic effect. In 1985 the payroll for farm work in the Presidio region was six million dollars (1985 dollars). In 2007 the payroll for farm workers in the region was thirty thousand dollars.
But are farm workers and other residents of the border areas the problem?
According to Ted Robbins on "All Things Considered," nearly half of all illegal immigrants in the United States enter legally through tourists visas and overstay.(3)
At Texas schools where I worked in the 1990s, I heard Border Patrol Agents state that 80% of illegal human and drug trafficking happens at legal ports of entry through deviousness and corruption.
In February 2008, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff shared with the Daily News: "I don’t see any imminent threat" of terrorists infiltrating from Mexico.(4)
So why all this effort to depict the "dangerous illegal immigrant" who crosses the U.S./Mexico border?
According to a friend, "This racist ideology around immigration provides a scapegoat for the U.S. government as people deal with a failing U.S. economy and momentous losses of services."
I have heard people from across the political and economic spectrum who live on the U.S./Mexico border ask, "Why are they closing our border and not Canada’s? What do they have against brown people?"
Enrique Madrid, Jumano Apache Historian from Redford, Texas, explains that in order to have militarization you have to have an enemy. Propaganda and psychological warfare create that enemy. For at least a century, academic and journalistic references have transformed people on the border from farmers, goat herders, parents and home-makers to bandits, murderers, drug smugglers, human traffickers — and now terrorists.
Once you have an enemy, Madrid says, you can commit acts of war on that enemy. In 1997, Marine Joint Task Force Six (after being told by superiors that 75% of the people in the small town of Redford were dangerous) shot a high school student, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., who was herding his goats near the border.
And since 2001, the government has added the new "War on Terror" to "War on Drugs" and the "War on Immigrants" — all of which target Mexican immigrants.
No Border Wall — No Militarization
The struggle to stop the wall on the border is part of the bigger struggle to stop militarization on the border and to ensure the human rights of border residents and immigrants.
The Department of Homeland Security’s own environmental assessments show that plans for the border wall disproportionately affect low-income, "minority" communities.
In addition, Executive Orders signed by Clinton in 1994 (Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations and EO13045, Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks) would be reason to halt progress on the wall, as would many environmental and historical protection laws.
At this moment in the United States, however, section 102 of the Real ID Act gives Secretary Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security the right to waive any laws that get in the way of protecting US Citizens from Terrorism.
The area within a hundred miles of the border is essentially becoming a de-constitutionalized zone. "It is not just the physical wall," said one local resident, "it is the psychological wall that stretches 50 miles to the checkpoint on the road. All of our activities are monitored. We are constantly watched and checked."
People living in this zone do not have the same rights as people in the rest of the country. Physical violence, verbal violence, and the violence of being oppressed and surveyed by Border Patrol Agents and the FBI are a normal part of life.
Talking with local residents recently, I realized that we were talking for hours about injustices and violence in front of a three-year-old. There is no way to shelter the children when their sibling, friend, or uncle gets shot by marines on a covert operation. Or when the border patrol watches you from high points around your house, can enter your space at any time, asking you to prove your citizenship and that of your children (any age), or speeds through your neighborhood.
You might be thinking: Why don’t people move from the border, move from those towns?
In Redford, many of the people have ancestral ties dating back thousands of years. They do not know of any other place that their people came from. This is their place.
One of the boys in Redford said, "We want a safe place. We don’t want too much accidents. We want people to drive slow for other kids to ride their bikes safe. That there is not too much violence like in other towns and not too many accidents happen. For people not to fight. Redford is fun. We can go on
field trips and do whatever we want to. That there is not too many Border Patrols."
Other Redford children said, "We want to be able to go to the river like we always do and do things like fish and hunt." They were excited to rebuild the jacal that I rented, and helped collect the river cane and mud — which ended in a mud fight.
A World Without Borders
What would Redford be like without borders?
Redford could be like it was for thousands of years, an abundant farming town with families and friends spending time together, growing food, having barbecues, building things, tending animals, hunting, playing by the river.
Perhaps the bi-national dances in the schoolyard would be revived. The farms could grow labor-intensive crops again because there would be enough people to work in the fields. The children could play by the river and would not have to worry about their parents being arrested, or Border Patrol vehicles with no lights racing by them when they ride their bikes around town.
What would a world without borders be like?
I envision a just global economic system. My neighbor Enrique speaks of trade agreements with "conviviality," a North American Union like the European Union between the US, Mexico, and Canada.
Without barriers to migration, the US and other dominator countries would need to support the well being of every community and economy on earth. The diversity of all ecosystems and their particular benefits to humans would be honored, and resources would be available in all places so that people would not need to migrate to pockets of richness. Goods and resources would be equally distributed, not hoarded by one country at the expense of another.
The idea that a wall is needed shows failure in the current way global capitalism is set up.
No Border Wall Movement
The No Border Wall movement stems from many branches across the border. For low-income, Indigenous and Mexican American communities on the border, no border wall, no virtual wall, and no militarization of any kind is acceptable. Any message that fails to include that perspective adds to these peoples’ vulnerability.
The 500-year-old genocide on the US/Mexico border must be stopped. Arnoldo Garcia says, "This crisis is not ours. It is being imposed on us. We need to create long-term relationships and long-term plans between border communities and inland communities."
We need inland allies — people living further from the border — to fight fiercely against the border wall, because it is risky for those on the front line, along the militarized zone of the border, to do so. Repercussions occur especially in the sparsely populated rural communities.
Resources and Actions
How can you learn more and get involved? Here are some activities and groups you can contact:
• Ophelia Rivas, a Tohono O’odham woman, boldly took a stance against the wall in 2004 despite differing opinions among tribal leadership. She started O’odham Voice Against the Wall Project. Visit www.solidarityproject.org
• In early 2008, the Southwest Workers’ Union organized a meeting to bring together people who were working to stop the border wall and who might be allies in this work. Visit www.swunion.org
• Border Social Forum was organized by Ruben Solis of the Southwest Workers Union and other groups in Juarez in 2006. Groups from all across the US and Mexico attended. Visit www.narconews.com/Issue43/article2195.html
• Eloisa Tamez, a Lipan Apache landowner in South Texas, and others calling themselves Lipan Apache Women’s Defense have taken a strong stand against the Border Wall in the media and the courthouse. Lawsuits filed on her behalf by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles show that the Consultation Process of the Department of Homeland Security is illegal. Articles on this can be found atwww.nnirr.org. Financial and other support is needed. Please contact Margo at Sumalhepa.email@example.com, or April at firstname.lastname@example.org
• No Border Wall website, elist, and blogs began in South Texas with Sierra Club organizers, and now have a broad base including birders and citrus growers, conservatives and liberals. The elist is being used by the 2008 No Border Wall conference community.
• Groups in San Diego are doing actions and filing lawsuits to stop illegal ICE (Immigration, Customs Enforcement) raids on city buses in which agents enter public local buses ask people for citizenship and pull people who admit they have no paperwork off the bus to waiting prison vans.
• Regular demonstrations have been held in Taylor and Austin, Texas against Hutto Residential Center (formerly a prison), where families caught "illegally" in the United States are being detained and maltreated.
• Organizers are connecting No Border Wall with May 1 immigration rallies across the country.
• Plans are underway for direct actions in South Texas to literally stop the building of the wall on private property. Contact Stephenie at No Border Wall (email@example.com)
• You can also comment about this issue on the Reclaiming Pagan Cluster organizing list, LivRiv@yahoogroups.com
• Please write letters to Senators, Congress people, DHS, the President expressing your opinion about the border wall and all forms of militarization on the border.
• Support showings of "The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez," a documentary showing the fatal outcome of militaristic propaganda in the small border town, Redford, TX. It is scheduled to run on PBS in September 2008.
1 Mexiphobia, a film directed by Nevie Owens, has played at numerous film festivals in the West and Southwest. A trailer can be seen on YouTube.
2 National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights http://www.nnirr.org
Over-Raided, Under Siege: U.S. Immigration Laws Destroy the Lives of Immigrants (Executive Summary)
3 "Nearly Half of Illegal Immigrants Overstay Visas," All Things Considered, Ted Robbins, June 14, 2006. www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5485917
4 Michael Chertoff’s Deepest Fears, Terrorists Entering U.S. from Canada, Daily News, Washington Bureau, James Gordon Meek, Sunday, February 10th 2008, at www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2008/02/10/2008-02-10_michael_chertoffs_deepest_fears_terroris.html
April Cotte teaches Earth-awareness skills to young people and adults. In Reclaiming circles, she has co-taught Earth Activist Trainings as well as Witchlets in the Woods workshops. She lives much of the year on the border in Texas.