Migration and Borders: The Space for Contradiction
Published on: Aug 31, 2006

With construction of the wall in the San Diego-Tijuana area and the increase of Border Patrol agents, points of crossing have shifted toward the desert and mountains, so the risks and number of deaths have considerably increased, as demonstrated in map number 1, where black crosses indicate where immigrants died in 1995, when the operation began, and red crosses indicate the locations of deaths for 2001, when the operation was working full time. In both cases, the cross size is proportional to the number of deaths in that area.

Map 1

Without realizing it, migrants began crossing over private property, which upset town residents and landowners and led them to organize anti-immigration groups.

What began in 2001 as a diversion of undocumented crossings became the establishment of a new route, with participation of legal representatives (airlines, and other services) and illegal polleros. The Hermosillo airport, located in Sonora, was reorganized to work as an arrival center for undocumented immigrants heading north, what once had been the role of Tijuana City, at the northwest of Mexico. This airport, which once provided only fifty flights per week, now arranges more than three hundred flights in the same amount of time. Other cities became centers for the concentration and distribution of undocumented emigrants. The small town of Altar, for example, is where emigrants go after arriving at the Hermosillo Airport, and from there they depart to the crossing points in the Sonora-Arizona desert, as indicated in map number 2.

Map 2

We cannot say that this process occurred with the participation of Mexican authorities, but at least we can declare that there is an ongoing omission and complicity that has tolerated the transformation of cities like Altar, located in the Sonora desert, to meet the needs of an emigrant flow in transit. If this complicity does not constitute a crime or an act that should be banned, it is clear that the polleros lead immigrants to the border in order to perform an illegal crossing.4

At the beginning of the Bush administration and in the context of the complementary relation between American tolerance and anti-immigration discourse with the Mexican pro-emigration discourse, an incipient negotiation began between the executives of both countries, one that recognized national security concerns create tension in the apparent harmony of this model. Such tension generates changes in the complementarities of border management, of which we are beginning to see the first expressions.

One of the central issues, but not the only one in this process, is a sequel to the U.S. terrorist attacks on 9-11, 2001. The assumption that the same routes used by illegal immigrants to enter the United States might be sought by the enemies of state has gained power, and the connections between national security, borders, and emigration are now evident. American society expects that its institutions know who enters, leaves, and remains in its country and for this purpose a controlled border is crucial.

Migration is no longer the central item on the agenda between Mexico and the United States. As a result of a new process of negotiations, by the end of 2005, one could see concrete expression of national security’s having become the main priority. A simplified explanation would be the following:

On the one hand, a conservative way of thinking sustains that illegal immigration is a risky process that has to be eradicated from the root by expelling close to twelve million people (almost 60% Mexican, and 80% Latin-American) that live in that condition, and imposing control on the borders, especially with Mexico, in order to stop the entrance of illegal immigrants. The House of Representatives approved in December, 2005 a proposal presented by Republican Representative Sensenbrenner that turns undocumented immigrant presence into a crime. Any organization or person assisting illegal immigrants could be charged, even family relatives whose children were born in the United States. (In fact, it could turn organizations, such as the Catholic Church, into criminals as well). The Sensenbrenner bill would increase border surveillance by building more than a thousand kilometres of reinforced border walls, increasing human and technological resources, and supplying much equipment to the Border Patrol.