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From December to April I was on the U.S. southern border travelling between Arizona and Texas. This is a collection of photographs I took during those months.
I begin this photo essay on the Tohono O’odham Nation, located in southern Arizona in tribute to the life of Alfonso Martinez Sanchez, whose body was found in mid-May on the Native American reservation. Sanchez was returning to California to reunite with his wife and five children (between five and 18 years of age), after his deportation in March. Hundreds of bodies have been found on the Nation, and thousands in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands since the build-up of the border policing apparatus in the mid 1990s.
Migrants can cross the actual border line with relative ease, however the Border Patrol—with one substation, one forward operating base, plenty of surveillance technology, and check points on every road leading out of the reservation—is all over the place. Tohono O'odham aboriginal territory extends deep into Mexico and the above pictured vehicle barrier is the artificial boundary that divides their land, and in many cases makes Mexican Tohono O'odham a "national security risk."
Ernest Moristo is one of the many Tohono O’odham who continue to defend the Nation’s sacred sites, under threat mostly because of the increased and unprecedented policing of the international divide. In Moristo's case, he irritated encroaching commercial interests in 2008 by defending the Baboquivari mountain, both a sacred site for the Tohono O’odham and his home. Tribal police jailed him for 30 days. Moristo allowed us to camp on his land at the base of the peak, where we watched Border Patrol helicopters fly overhead.
We also camped on Tohono O’odham David Garcia’s family’s land. Above Garcia stands in front of his grandfather’s abandoned house, about three miles from the border line. After we went to a small nearby cemetery where Garcia visited his mother’s grave, a U.S. Border Patrol agent pulled us over and wanted to know what we were up to.
It is impossible to carry enough water for what is often a three day journey on foot, especially in the summer when temperatures go well past 100 degrees.
An abandoned migrant camp across an arroyo behind Garcia’s land. It appears that they fled in distress, leaving behind half-full water jugs and electrolite solution.
A type of slipper that people slip over their shoes to not leave tracks.
I visited a Correction Corporation of America (CCA) prison in Eloy, Arizona, located just to the north of the reservation. This for-profit prison has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and detains people who are fighting their deportation from the country. I went here with two children, one 11 and one 13, who were visiting their father who had been here for a year. When after three hours of waiting we entered the visiting room, the 11-year-old leaned his head on his father’s shoulder, as the father asked the 13-year-old about his grades in school (which had significantly dropped since their fathers imprisonment). In March 2011, ICE officials had pounded on their door at 6 a.m., and the 13-year-old, from the top of his bunk bed, watched ICE handcuff his father in the driveway. For a year, the children hid their mom every time someone knocked on the door.
Flags: The United States, Arizona, CCA, and Department of Homeland Security.
From Nogales, Arizona, looking across to Nogales, Mexico: As this mini-playground shows, the border education begins at a young age.
Crosses of the dead representing bodies found in Cochise County, Arizona. Every Tuesday, the Healing Our Borders vigil honors these dead in Douglas, Arizona.
An excerpt from a speech President Barack Obama made in May 2011 in El Paso, Texas: "We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. But even though we've answered these concerns, I gotta say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time. Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat." It sure looks like they were digging a moat in Douglas, Arizona, in February and March.
But maybe it's only nice to think that we are allowed to debate moats, or Hyenas. The camouflaged “Hyena” jeep, outfitted with all kinds of surveillance equipment, is displayed in front of the Phoenix Convention Center during the 7th annual Border Security Expo in early March.
Inside the convention center.
Why would you need a Hyena when you have General Dynamic’s Strykers, which have already been deployed in the borderlands? Maybe the fear is Pancho Villa will again take over nearby Columbus, New Mexico, like in 1916?
This time the playground is on the other side of the wall in Palomas, Chihuahua, almost hidden from where we stand in Columbus. But we can hear the kids playing.
Border Patrol close to where New Mexico, Texas, and the Mexican state of Chihuahua meet.
This is a picture of an article named “Meet the Border Patrol” from the early 1940s published by the Chicago Daily Tribune on display at the Border Patrol Museum in El Paso, Texas.
An excerpt: “Uncle Sam’s first line of home defense is the U.S. border patrol, elite guard of the department of justice . . . No average male is likely to be border patrol material. One of the toughest government services to get into, it’s tougher to stay in . . . Physical and I.Q. requirements almost demand a Joe Louis body and an Information Please mind.”
Around the same time the Chicago Daily Tribune published the above article, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, with Border Patrol presence, was running Kooskia Internment Camp, located in central Idaho. It held about 250 Japanese foreign nationals from 1943-45. This also was on display at the Border Patrol Museum.
Another photo from the Border Patrol Museum depicting the U.S. Border Patrol hiring binge in the mid-to-late 2000s when they had a car on the NASCAR circuit. This just about doubled the ranks up to 21,000 agents.
These 14-21 year-olds are part of the Customs and Border Protection Explorers program. They meet every Saturday and Wednesday in a program designed by El Paso sector Border Patrol agents. On this day in late March, they were lining up before doing community service at the El Paso Poppy Festival.
A young explorer is looking at an Artic wolf at the Poppy Festival.
So many Border Patrol agents patronize this restaurant in Naco, Arizona, that they have a burrito named after them. It’s between the “Red or Green” and the “Bean." If you were wondering, it's a variant of a carne asada burrito.
As they are doing throughout the country, Border Patrol boarded this Greyhound bus just outside of El Paso in New Mexico and asked everyone their citizenship.
Looking into Ciudad Juarez from across the Rio Bravo. We were in El Paso.
A saint prays to the sky in the courtyard of a church in Ciudad Juarez.
The only "spill-over" we have seen so far by the U.S.-sponsored drug war in Mexico, are people such as Juan Escobedo. Above he is talking to media in El Paso one year after his mother Marisela Escobedo was gunned down on the steps of the governmental palace in Chihuahua City when she was demanding an investigation into the dissappearance of her daughter Rubi. Juan Escobedo has lost both his sister and his mother to the violence of the drug war. And now he fears for his own life.
An Agua Prieta, Sonora tree pushes against the wall.
A message on the wall of the Migrant Resource Center in Naco, Sonora, just dozens of feet away from the wall on the Arizona border.
In memory of Alfonso Martinez Sanchez.
For more from the Border Wars blog, visit nacla.org/blog/border-wars. And now you can follow it on twitter@NACLABorderWars. See also "Undocumented, Not Illegal: Beyond the Rhetoric of Immigration Coverage," by Angelica Rubio in the November/December 2011 NACLA Report; "The Border: Funneling Migrants to Their Doom," by Óscar Martínez, in the September/October 2011 NACLA Report; and the May/June 2007 NACLA Report, Of Migrants & Minutemen.