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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Where Do the Borders in Our Own Hearts Lie?

from the Sept. 7, 2022 Bulletin

environmental issues immigration and border issues

Todd Miller, a journalist based in Tucson, Arizona who’s also lived in Oaxaca, has written widely about border and immigration issues. His books have examined issues ranging from militarization and the US Border Patrol to climate migration and the expansion of “border” into a global North-South division. His most recent book, Bridges Not Borders, offers an unexpectedly hopeful vision. You can follow Miller’s work weekly at The Border Chronicle.

Most people think of the US border as a wall” that keeps Mexican and Latin American migrants from crossing into “our” land. What does “border” mean to you?

“Protecting territory” regularly gets presented as the only way to understand “border.” But the border actually turns out to be less about land and more about protecting a global system that benefits US corporate and political elites. In this unsustainable system, the tentacles of US power reach into other countries, suck out their wealth, and become a huge contributing factor to displacement, dispossession, and even ecological catastrophe.


The border that separates global North and South has turned into the front line of a war, not an overt war — this war’s death and destruction seldom make headlines — but an invisible war against the poor.


In your book Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, you predict that climate-driven migration will pick up speed and become the major issue for our time. Is border policy changing to get ready for this phenomenon?

I used to see a climate crisis as a problem somewhere in the future. But that crisis has arrived, and it’s been building. Climate change does manifest itself differently from economic crises, but the two get cut from the same cloth. The US military apparatus, interestingly, has not put climate issues into the abstract future. Military planning looks 25 years ahead.


In the 1990s the Pentagon was already talking about climate change, and a 2003 Pentagon report concluded fortresses would be needed to keep out “unwanted starving immigrants.”


That same year saw the U.S. Department of Homeland Security created, ostensibly due to the September 11 attack. But other factors were also likely weighing on military minds. In 2010, Obama linked climate change to national security, and mandated that Homeland Security look explicitly at climate-related mass migrations. A 2021 Pentagon document on the climate threat mentions migration 18 times.


Climate migration has already become huge, with 1.2 million people displaced from Guatemala and Honduras in 2020 alone. In the Central American dry corridor — an area now particularly susceptible to drought — the number of people suffering from hunger has jumped from 2.4 million in 2018 to more than 8 million by the end of 2020, according to a World Food Programme report.  


Our world’s richest countries can somewhat withstand climate disasters, but, even in a nation as rich as the US, poor people will be at great risk of displacement. This could create issues between states. During the Great Depression, remember, California put up at the state border a “bum blockade.” Could this happen again?


Has having children yourself increased your sense of urgency about addressing climate migration fairly? 

My grandmother comes from Marinduque Island in the Philippines, a place that faces rising sea levels. I’ve traveled there. I’ve seen a house with waves lapping on it. I felt like I was seeing a corpse. I saw a man walking with his child and wondered whether that child will be able to grow up on this island. I look at my own children, and I wonder what kind of world will they live in.

Alfredo Estrella/Agence France-Presse. Getty Images

So, yes, I feel more urgency. But — simultaneously and paradoxically — we need to slow down. We need less anxiety and more heartfelt concern. We need to take the time to develop relationships, bonds of solidarity, with people living in endangered places. We can ask ourselves where the borders in our own hearts lie — and then move to take those borders down.


Your thinking about borders draws on US abolitionist traditions. Can you explain why?


The writing of Ruth Wilson Gilmore on prison abolition has affected me profoundly. She notes that 1 percent of “abolitionism” speaks to getting rid of prisons and 99 percent to building a world of justice. We can apply abolitionist principles when we do cross-border organizing to address migration. Only a small percent of our work need be at the border itself. The rest should address fulfilling people’s needs where they currently live, the key to solving the challenges migrations create.


Look at the $400 billion spent on border and immigration enforcement since the Department of Homeland Security started up in 2002 — the drones, the surveillance towers, the prisons, the armed personnel. With this perspective in mind, we need to push to “defund the border.” Instead of militarizing the border, we should be focusing our nation’s attention and money on the cause of border insecurity: human insecurity.

Many in the US, you’ve noted, are suffering from “wall sickness.” How can we stop that contagion?


Wall sickness begins with fear. In my experience with Trump supporters, some fear losing their jobs, and that fear can turn into hate, as “others” get blamed for their own, well, insecurity. Meeting those “others” person to person — including Trump supporters — can be transformative. We need to find and create spaces where those meet-ups can happen. The borderlands could be such a place.


What our elites fear most: the human bond that makes people want to take down the walls and stop the invisible war between the global North and South.

When we live in a psychological bubble, with walls around our minds and hearts, we obstruct how we think and feel. Once we exit that bubble, there’s no going back.