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Border Work

June 26, 2013

Militarizing the US-Mexico Border

The U.S. Senate Immigration Bill calls for $40 billion in spending to build 700 miles of fencing, double the number of border agents to 40,000, and expand surveillance technologies such as drones and thermal imaging cameras on the U.S.-Mexico border. Many critics believe this will simply fund the security industry, while driving people to death in the desert, rather than simply enforcing existing employment laws and the overstay of visitor visas.

Mexico - United States Border Fence

Mexico - United States Border Fence

Read more about the history of such security schemes in Tamara Vukov & Mimi Sheller’s new article “Border work: surveillant assemblages, virtual fences, and tactical counter-media”, Social Semiotics, Vol. 23, Issue 2, 2013, Special Issue: Charting, Tracking, and Mapping.

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The new technologies of bio-informatic border security and remote surveillance that have emerged as key infrastructures of reconfigured mobility regimes depend on various kinds of labor to produce the effect of bordering. The current retrofitting and technological remediation of borders suggests their transformation away from static demarcators of hard territorial boundaries toward much more sophisticated, flexible, and mobile devices of tracking, filtration, and exclusion. Borders require the labor of software developers, designers, engineers, infrastructure builders, border guards, systems experts, and many others who produce the “smart border”; but they also depend on the labor of “data-ready” travelers who produce themselves at the border, as well as the underground labor of those who traffic in informal and illegalized economies across such borders. Bordering increasingly relies on technological forms of mediation that are embedded within hi-tech, military and private corporate logics, but are also resisted by electronic and physical “hacks” or bypassing of informational and infrastructural architectures. In this paper we consider three socio-technological assemblages of the border, and the labor which makes and unmakes them: (1) the interlocking “cyber-mobilities” of contemporary airports including visual technologies for baggage, cargo, and passenger inspection, as well as information technologies for passenger dataveillance, air traffic control, and human resource systems; (2) the development of the Schengen Information System database of the EU, and its implications for wider migrant rights and internal mobility within the EU, as well as radical border media that have attempted to intervene in that border space; and (3) elements of the US–Mexico “smart border” regime known as the Secure Border Initiative Network (2006–2011), and those who have tried to tactically evade, disrupt, or undermine the working of this border.