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
“My book itself is journalism, so it presents a problem, but it offers examples of how this is not necessarily inevitable.“
No More Deaths
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.
Just a few hours following the release of the report, Border Patrol agents arrested No More Deaths volunteer Scott Warren, along with two migrants receiving humanitarian aid, in what appears to be a retaliatory act deliberately targeted at No More Deaths. Scott was charged with 2 counts of felony harboring, and 1 charge of conspiracy to transport, facing up to 20 years in prison if charged and served consecutively.
Border Patrol agents allege that Scott is guilty of giving “food, water, bed and clean clothes” to the two men. Court documents also reveal that our entire organization may be under investigation for similar such “illicit” activities as providing food, water, and clean clothing to people who have walked days, if not weeks, in the remote Arizona desert.
This arrest is one piece of an escalation in harassment from Border Patrol since the new administration took power. In June 2017, Border Patrol agents surrounded No More Deaths’ remote medical aid camp in southern Arizona and eventually arrested 4 migrants receiving care.
In reference to the raid, a report by Border Patrol reads: “Through execution of the search warrant it was revealed that NMD would provide illegal aliens with food and water along with showers and new clean clothes to wear.” The criminalization of sharing essential, life-saving resources with people in the border regions where hundreds of remains are recovered each year, and many more are never found, is an obvious attack on our most basic and essential human rights–the right to life.
No More Deaths was formed in 2004, when the effects of the policy of Prevention Through Deterrence began to be seen in Southern Arizona. Since the implementation of PTD upward of 8,000 human remains have been recovered along the border, according to the most conservative estimates. Many, many more are never found and remain disappeared.
This crisis is not an accident, and it is not inevitable. It is the effect of US Border Patrol policy, which was intentionally designed to funnel people into the most remote and hostile terrain. One of the most remote and most deadly areas in which people cross is in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Arizona. Our volunteers recovered at least 36 human remains there last year. Scott Warren and 8 other No more Deaths volunteers, including myself, also face federal misdemeanor charges related to our humanitarian aid efforts in that area, which include leaving food and water and conducting search and rescue or recovery missions.
It is unacceptable that death and disappearance are treated as accepted and normalized risks for the act of migration–even that it is considered such an integral feature of border enforcement that attempts to mitigate the risk are treated as criminal activities. Our border enforcement apparatus is designed to kill people, and criminalization of people attempting to rescue them is merely an escalation of the same.
As long as people are forced to risk their lives to enter this country, people will continue to provide aid, and as long as a culture of impunity exists for Border Patrol agents who engage in routine acts of cruelty, we will continue to document and expose the human rights abuses we witness daily in the borderlands.
Tohono O’odham Nation: Border Wall “Over My Dead Body”