The Insurgent Southwest

Death, Criminality, and Militarization on the US-Mexican Border

By Fatima Insolación


The Sonoran desert has become a remote outpost of death, a unique site of resistance and a study in how military strategies are effectively used to create profit while maintaining social control. The militarization of the US/Mexican border has caused a lot of suffering; thousands of people have died trying to cross since the mid-90’s. The exact number is not known, but according to the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, “it is estimated that the remains of more than 6,000 men, women and children have been recovered on the U.S.-México border.” Why these people died where they did does not make a lot of sense until one begins to trace the ow of capital.

Many people think the main purpose of border policy is to stop the flow of migration. It is not. The main purpose of border policy, and specifically counterinsurgency on the border, is to manage mixed-status communities both in the border regions and in the interior. Counterinsurgency (COIN) in the Southwest expresses itself through an increase in internal controls: checkpoints, deputized police, and a vigilant citizenry. These controls are justified through the constructed crisis of the “war on drugs”, racism and a myriad of fears about crime.

The inward expansion of the border has been accomplished through a shift from civil to criminal law when dealing with undocumented populations, and a careful balance of hard and soft controls as enacted by police, military, paramilitaries, nonprofits and civilians. Hard controls include imprisonment, deportation, torture, deprivation, assault, and death. Soft controls range from information gathering, reporting to state authorities, psychological operations, and ideological warfare. COIN is present in internal controls, the blurring of police/military functions, and the focus on managing populations as well as territory. COIN seeks to make surveillance and control seem not only normal, but participatory.

Border militarization, and all its internal controls, only function well because so many people accept the discursive parameters and categories they utilize. We have forgotten that the border is a man-made thing. It actually hasn’t existed for all that long. Human hands, machinery, and greed put it up, and human hands could take it down. In order to resist it, we must examine the recent militarization, identify the economic forces that profit from it, understand the expansion of internal controls and our part in them, and ultimately deconstruct (and destroy) the ideological and categorical assumptions that allow these systems to function.

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