The US-Mexico Border: "Over My Dead Body"

Updated: May 28

Artwork on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border wall in Tijuana. Photo Credit: Tina Shull

Climate change not only contributes to conditions globally that drive migration to the United States, but it also exacerbates tensions along the US-Mexico border.  In his book Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, author Todd Miller documents how the US government has used the desert to its advantage in its formation of policies to deter migration.  "Operation Gatekeeper," launched in 1994 under the Clinton administration, ushered in a new era of border militarization and has pushed migration routes into hotter and more treacherous desert regions.  Human rights groups have documented at least 7,000 deaths in the Sonoran desert, by conservative estimates, since the construction of a border wall along the US-Mexico border in the 1990s.

In this interview for Climate Refugee Stories conducted by Steve Pavey of Hope in Focus, Todd Miller discusses his encounters with climate migrants from Central America and Mexico, and how climate change has contributed to the borderlands becoming what he calls a "de facto war zone."  Below, the Tucson-based organization No More Deaths reports on the US Border Patrol's abuses against migrants and advocates, and members of the indigenous Tohono O'odham nation call for solidarity across movements for climate and migrant justice, and indigenous land sovereignty. 

An Interview with Todd Miller

author of Storming the Wall

Who are climate refugees in your understanding?

How would you describe their reality?

On Christian Parenti's concept of "catastrophic convergence":

"There are many crises going on right now, political, economic, and now ecological.  Often those issues are treated as separate issues, but you have to look at those issues as kind of converging together and not as separate issues but compounding each other."   
“One of them was an 18-year-old from Honduras.  He looked up at me and said, "There was no rain."  So there was no harvest, no crops, no food.”
“In Honduras alone there’s about 400,000 people impacted by this unprecedented drought that was happening in 2015. A million people are on the brink of starvation in this whole region due to this drought.”

What are some of the predictions for climate refugees going into the future?

Predictions range between 150M-750M "climate refugees" displaced by 2050.

Regarding Central America specifically, what is the current state of the crisis?

Central America is "ground zero" for climate change.​
"While there have been some resilience programs and there are some mitigation programs, the answer by far is militarization.  From the United States’ perspective, from a Pentagon point of view, from the Department of Homeland Security point of view... these building of military platforms for 50 years in the future are already happening."

Explain the concept of "global apartheid"?

What is the role of nation-states and corporations in this building crisis?

"Border walls are often deployed in countries of the global north... trying to police, blockade, criminalize the mobility and movement of people coming from countries of the global south." 
“Borders are being closed, for people on the move, and increasingly for people in climate upheavals, but they’re opened more and more, not only for merchandise to cross, but entire corporate operations.”
"There’s no Immigration and Customs Enforcement searching out these people who are destroying environments in the middle of the night, rounding them up and putting them in detention centers. There’s none of that, right?”

Is this an issue of the global elite versus the poor?

Are resources being valued more than people?

"There doesn't seem to be an end in sight for these extractive industries... And that seems to be the logic of the globe." 

Is there a movement being built to address these issues of environmental and migrant justice, together?

“I met people from the Philippines to the US-Mexico border to the Paris climate summit where people from all over the world brought their stories of what they’re doing.”
“Of all the stories, the most important ones seem to be the ones that use the word “climate justice” together, in my opinion at least--climate justice in the sense that climate change is one facet of a multi-faceted problem.”
“The first places that I tend to look myself are... Indigenous voices, and those seem to be the most powerful voices that resonate."

So where is the hope?

Does it come from above, from centers of power, or from below?

“The urgency that’s needed is not coming from these negotiations because you have countries like the United States with their own self interest and especially their corporate interests that dominate everything, so the idea that a real agreement that’s good for planet Earth and the people on it, as it stands now, without changes, is a fallacy.”
"If you look at the United States, on both sides of the aisle, one seems to be, the window dressing is maybe a little bit nicer, but... we’re driving on the same highway with the same car and the same gas, right? And that highway’s about to go over a cliff.”
“What’s gonna break that is, from below, whether it be imposing projects from below, that go against that, or creating an incredible amount of pressure that changes the culture of the top."

What can we do?

Do you provide any answers at the end of your book?

"My book itself is journalism, so it presents a problem, but it offers examples of how this is not necessarily inevitable."​

No More Deaths

May, 2018

My name is Caitlin Deighan, and I’m the Abuse Documentation and Advocacy Coordinator for No More Deaths.  For those who aren’t familiar, No More Deaths is a humanitarian aid organization based in Tucson, Arizona, whose mission is to end death and suffering in the US-Mexico borderlands.

On January 17th of this year (2018), No More Deaths’ Abuse Documentation team released video footage of Border Patrol agents, over a 7 year period, stabbing, kicking, and removing water gallons and other humanitarian aid supplies intended for people crossing the border.  The video was released alongside our most recent report, which documents Border Patrol's pattern of obstructing humanitarian aid efforts, as well as the targeted arrest of migrants who attempt to access life-saving resources.