Empire of Borders

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This is a powerful book, an indictment of a system where borders are used to divide people. After 9/11 “the war on terror” was used to justify a massive growth in the security industry and the strengthening of borders. Yet Todd argues borders are above all to stop the world’s poor from moving into countries where global wealth resides.

Todd has travelled the world, meeting border enforcers from everywhere the US has extended its reach in order to stop migration. He has attended exhibitions and conferences in the US, the EU, and in Israel, home to the largest cluster of border-technology companies, where security apparatuses are sold to regimes of all stripes. This is a world officially out of range of laws which govern most citizen’s lives. “Illegals” have no rights.

Todd has accumulated evidence, illustrated from personal experiences, about the rapidly increasing business of securitising the US against those who move in search of a better life. “Homeland Security” now stretches not to the border with Mexico, not even that of Guatemala, but on into Honduras. Here US-financed border police and military patrol the country picking up Ecuadorians and Dominicans and more, to detain and deport them, on US orders.

Borders are not just walls and razor-wire. They are smart, cybersecurity systems which can provide a superhighway of rapid information allowing the rich to pass in free flow through the airports of the world while the poor are caught further and further away from their hoped-for destination.

Connecting the present bases of incarceration and deportation in earlier US colonisation, from the Philippines to Puerto Rico, Todd shows how US strategy developed in the 1990s. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service established 40 overseas offices and trained 45,000 officials. The aim was to combat illegal immigration through emphasis on overseas deterrence, it being much cheaper to deter people rather than attempt to find, detain and deport them once they got to the US.

The chapter “Armouring NAFTA” shows the brutality of neoliberal free trade economics. The Mexican government handed over more than 80 mining concessions in the 3 years following NAFTA to North American companies, plus 1.5 million acres of land, forcing farmers off their land and creating a cheap and vulnerable workforce. The IMF structural adjustment program cancelled constitutional safeguards in order to make way for US and Canadian multinationals to migrate south.

NAFTA allows companies to sue the government if local resistance impedes profit, thus placing the country’s police and army at the service of notorious US and Canadian gas and oil polluters.

Miller captures moments of activism and resistance, in Palestinian art and the ingenuity and solidarity of specific cases. He looks to the possibilities of a different system, where borders are flexible and negotiated between equals. But his model, the struggle of the Maasai on the Kenyan-Tanzanian border is tenuous. We live in a world where the rich fly over borders unconstrained and the poor are tracked ever more closely. This book, alive to the fact that climate migrants will pose even greater challenges, fuels the argument that we need system change.