Borderland Dreaming

Boom magazine published an article last year titled “Recuerdos” that is short but poignant. In it, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello discuss how they have been traveling along the US-Mexico border for 14 years “collecting memories and stories of the places and people we have met, and documenting a series of scenarios, real and imagined, along the border wall.”

They write that “our border wall has become a barrier to movement that would create art, books, pictures, sculpture, wealth, freedom.”  So true.

Even better are the snow globes they created representing some of their experiences, and flights of fancy, over this time.  Here are a couple of my favorites. The first is called Cemetery Wall and the second is called Wildlife Wall:



Making bank on the border

CNN Money just published an article called “Wall Street bets on prison growth from border crisis.”  Given the source, I understand that the perspective will be financial and how investors can make money, but this piece floored me (and depressed me) in its tone-deafness and willingness to cheer the rise of private prisons.  Here are some of the standout lines:

There’s a crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, and Wall Street is betting that it will result in a boom for private prisons.

Geo Group (GEO)and Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) are two of America’s largest for-profit prison operators. They have thousands of open beds, and they have deep relationships with the federal agencies charged with doling out contracts to house undocumented immigrants, including children.

“It’s highly likely that the federal government will have to turn to the private sector for help with this crisis. Both companies are extremely well positioned,” said Brian Ruttenbur, an analyst at CRT Capital Group who covers the stocks of Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Investors are clearly seeing dollar signs. Shares of both CCA and Geo Group have spiked since the border crisis landed on front pages this summer. CCA has climbed 8.5% since July 30, and Geo Group is up over 7%. That’s a lot better than the S&P 500’s 1.5% advance over that time span. “Investors see this as an opportunity. This is a potentially untapped market that will have very strong demand,” said Alex Friedmann, an activist investor who owns shares of both CCA and Geo Group.

The article then admits that the growth of private prisons might be controversial, but quickly turns positive again, noting that:

“investors are attracted to prison stocks because they give generate lots of cash flow, have strong dividend yields and high occupancy rates compared to other real estate options.”

The militarization of the border

Todd Miller, a journalist who has reported on the Mexico-US border for 15 years, wrote a stunning piece for the NY Times last year called “War on the Border.”  Here is an excerpt from that piece:

“In 2012, the Migration Policy Institute reported that immigration and border enforcement spending totaled almost $18 billion. That is 24 percent more than the $14.4 billion combined budgets in the last fiscal year of the F.B.I., the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Add the billions anticipated in the Senate bill, and you have what the trade publication Homeland Security Today calls a “treasure trove” for contractors in the border security industry.

Projected as an approximately $19 billion industry in 2013, defense contractors seem, in the words of one representative from a small surveillance technology company hoping to jump into the border security market, to be “bringing the battlefield to the border.”

In 1999, the anthropologist Josiah Heyman wrote that the Southwest was becoming a “militarized border society, where more and more people either work for the watchers, or are watched by the state.”

There is nowhere else in the country with such extensive and concentrated surveillance technology; nor is there any part of the United States in which people are as clearly divided between the police and the policed.”

I learned from that article that Mr. Miller was expanding on this theme with a new book called Border Patrol Nation. I pre-ordered mine about 9 months ago and it just showed up yesterday.  Here is the official description:

“Traveling the country—and beyond—to speak with the people most involved with and impacted by the Border Patrol, Todd Miller combines these first-hand encounters with careful research to expose a vast and booming industry for high-end technology, weapons, surveillance, and prisons. While politicians and corporations reap substantial profits, the experiences of millions of men, women, and children point to staggering humanitarian consequences. Border Patrol Nation shows us in stark relief how the entire country has become a militarized border zone, with consequences that affect us all.”

The book jumped the queue and is now at the top of my “to-read” pile.