Where is the border?
Update: May 18, 2017 Today my partner Diana, our eleven-year old grandson J, and I headed out to the desert northwest of El Paso where the landscape is filled with yucca and mesquite. The land there was once filled with volcanoes and volcanic stones are everywhere. We were on our way to our favorite site when we were stopped at a mobile Border Patrol station. Living on the border, I'm accustomed to the Border Patrol. They go through my campus regularly on bikes, as they have for decades. This time was different, however. The agent who came up to my window was armed with a rifle. I'm fairly white skinned so agents usually don't ask me much. He asked where we were coming from, where we were going, and what we were doing. He was a nice man but the threatening weapon he carried intimidated me. When I opened the trunk for Diana to get her identification, the other agents quickly came over and surrounded her, hands on their pistols. The nice agent said he would call ahead so no one else would stop us and I guess he did. Although la migra was everywhere in the desert, no one else asked us anything. I thought how lucky we were to encounter a nice agent but still our breath was taken away. My heart was palpitating and we were both angry. Two older women with a young boy, I thought, and we have to explain ourselves? Three American citizens, I fumed, and we have to justify driving down a public highway? Then I realized it was not about being women, or older, or US citizens. It's about intimidation of everyone in Trump's America.
I teach borderlands history at a university located on the US-Mexico border. You can see Mexico from many spots on campus. It is not uncommon to see Border Patrol officers riding their bicycles through campus. I've seen it since I was a graduate student in the 1980s. It is almost impossible to ignore the border.
A few months ago, I sat in one of my graduate classes discussing scholarly work on the history of border and I asked my students: Where is the US-Mexico border? They looked at me like I had asked an insane question. But I was serious.
The borderline, as we know it today, has been shaped by wars, treaties, the changing river. It took over a century to define the borderline we have now.
But is that the border? Do migrants take the border with them when they move to the interior of the United States, as some cultural studies scholar argue?
Is the border defined by the Border Patrol? When my students and I reviewed the Border Patrol website, we came away with the understanding that the entire United States could be the "border region." I know that each time I drive away from my border city I inevitably run into a Border Patrol check point where I am asked my citizenship, many miles from the border.
Once, walking in the desert with my partner, we were stopped four or five times to ask what we were doing. (We were looking for rocks.) The officers knew who we were by the second time, but kept stopping us anyway. I remember crying.
The ACLU website includes a valuable section on the Constitution and the 100 mile border zone. In 1953, the federal government defined a border zone where the Border Patrol has expanded rights to interrogate and stop people. The 4th amendment of the Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Customs and Border Patrol has the power to search us without a warrant within this 100 mile zone. See the ACLU document here: https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-factsheet-customs-and-border-protections-100-mile-zone?redirect=immigrants-rights/aclu-fact-sheet-customs-and-border-protections-100-mile-zone
Does this mean we give up? No, it means that it ever more important for us to know and stand on our rights. Whether we are immigrants or citizens, we must educate ourselves-- an attack on our Constitutional rights, even if it is justified by federal regulations, affects all of us.
In the next post, I'll write about immigrants rights. Join me then.
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