The U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 25 north of Las Cruces. (Heath Haussamen/NMPolitics.net)
COMMENTARY: We’re accustomed to occupation around here. The Spanish took this land by force in 1598 from the Native people who were here. After Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, the United States took the land, again by force.
We’re still living in occupied territory. Presidents deploy the military to stop an invasion that isn’t happening. They’ve funded a wall that has cut communities in half and blocked wildlife corridors while doing little to stop illegal immigration. The U.S. Border Patrol’s size has more than quadrupled since the early 1990s. It isn’t just patrolling the border, as its name would suggest. It’s become a paramilitary force that’s policing those of us who live within 100 miles of the line.
We not only have to pass through security to head south into Mexico or get on an airplane in El Paso. To drive east toward San Antonio, west toward Tucson or north to Albuquerque we have to pass through militarized checkpoints. Cameras scan our faces and licenses plates. Dogs sniff our vehicles. Armed agents look us over and ask questions, with the threat of harassment and detention if we don’t comply. Our Fourth Amendment rights in those situations are reduced.
Though the occupation has worsened under the Trump administration, it’s our history of resisting and resiliency that give me hope.
Our current president is fortifying the wall by diverting billions of dollars from other projects. His administration has enforced a broken immigration system in the cruelest ways to deter future crossings — intentionally traumatizing kids by ripping them away from their parents, skimping on hygiene and medical care, corralling asylum-seeking migrants in camps that lack transparency and accountability, and handing kids over to privately run facilities where sexual assault and other crimes are more likely. Children are dying.
And we’ve pressured Mexico to house many asylum seekers on its side of the border, in more dangerous conditions, to ensure fewer will ever attain legal residency. Enduring abuse is now a criteria for immigrating to this fictionally labeled nation of immigrants.
That’s because our federal government has been infiltrated by white nationalists and other nativists. We’re led by a president who fans the flames of economic fears and racism to activate his voting base by pointing America’s anger at immigrants. People are unsurprisingly responding with compliance. Hate crimes are up. Most domestic terrorists are white supremacists. The white supremacist terrorist who traveled from the other side of a Border Patrol checkpoint to kill 22 people in El Paso said he wanted to stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas — a land that was Native before it was Spanish before it was Mexican before it was American.
The incendiary rhetoric coming from the terrorist and the president has long been part of the internal culture of the U.S. Border Patrol, which has a frightening history of dehumanization of migrants and political opponents, abuse of people and power, intolerance for accountability and critics, and, in some cases, violence.
Previous presidents, with the bipartisan backing of Congress, have endorsed that culture in the Border Patrol by increasing funding and ramping up militarization of the borderlands. It’s politically popular, in other parts of the country at least, to occupy my home with force.
Here in the borderlands, we’re just trying to live our lives. Our families and communities are multi-ethnic and multi-national. We know that the shit the president says isn’t reality. The threat to our lives isn’t coming from Mexico or Central America, the Middle East or Africa. It’s apparently coming from the Dallas area. Many people around here have told me they’re afraid since the El Paso shooting. Some have changed their shopping patterns, from making sure they face the doors when they check out to avoiding Walmart.
I’ve made some changes in how I act, knowing that, as long as our government is activating and supporting white supremacists, the terrorist who struck El Paso probably won’t be the last to come for people who look like my girlfriend and our daughters.
The Border Patrol recently reopened its inland checkpoints. They’d been closed for months so agents could focus on the surge of border crossers. Once again the cameras are watching us, the software is analyzing us, the dogs are sniffing us, the armed agents are sizing us up. I feel the occupation more acutely after getting a break from having to hold my breath every time I pass through a checkpoint, which I’ve done ever since I witnessed an agent threaten my girlfriend in 2016.
We’re used to occupation in these lands. I suspect that’s why we tolerated the inland checkpoints and other slow creeps of power that have made citizenship here mean less than it does in Dallas or Denver.
But in recent times, we’ve begun to resist.
When the Trump administration abandoned asylum seekers in our communities, we organized. In Las Cruces and Deming, in El Paso and Albuquerque, in Santa Fe, Denver and Dallas, local governments and nonprofits, churches and people raised money and pitched in to shelter migrants and get them on busses or airplanes to more permanent destinations. Regardless of whether we think Trump or Congress holds greater responsibility for the deadlock on immigration reform, we have done our best to tell the federal government that our communities won’t let the United States mistreat these people, at least here. They will be fed, sheltered and loved. They will be treated humanely.
We are working in other ways, through protest and policy, to resist and hopefully change the immoral and horrific actions of our federal government. Many have woken up to our nation’s bipartisan history of feeding the monster Trump has unleashed.
The people of the borderlands have resisted and survived occupation and oppression for hundreds of years. We’re more resilient because of it. We will continue to fight the current occupation. Though the struggle may be long, if history is any indication, we will win.