The journal Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism has just published a blog post I wrote here.
The current pandemic is another crisis being turned against immigrants. Five years after the terrorist attacks on Paris in November 2015 migrants are again being treated as terrorists. This time they are being treated as bioterrorists. Bioterrorism refers to the intentional release of toxic biological agents and migrants are being treated as if their bodies were intentional biological weapons when they are not. This is part of the ongoing characterization of migrants as “invading armies” sweeping the media these days.
Migrants are being denied entry to apply for asylum along the southern border of the United states. This violates national and international immigration law, yet it’s happening anyway in the name of a national health emergency. Donald Trump has temporarily suspended immigration law claiming that immigration is bioterrorism even though the Center for Disease Control has publicly said that asylum seekers pose no health risk.
Asylum seekers have been arriving at cities such as Tijuana and Brownsville by the thousands between 2018 and 2021, fleeing political, climate, and drug cartel violence in Central America. The reason for their pooling pattern of motion is that president Trump instituted a border program called “Remain in Mexico,” where migrants have to wait in Mexico while officials process their asylum cases. This process can take years. So far, only a tiny percentage of migrants out of the 47,000 in the program have been granted asylum since 2018.
As I write this, 10,000 migrants are waiting in Tijuana. Most are relieved that Joe Biden was elected President and that the “Remain in Mexico” will end soon. Some migrants can work and pay for housing in Tijuana while they wait. Still, others without resources live in tent cities with limited access to clean drinking water, electricity, toilets, food, and education. Drug cartels are also taking advantage of this pooling of bodies by kidnapping, extorting, raping, and murdering them.
The concentration of bodies in the border zone is polluting the environment and creating a health hazard. When there are heavy rains in Tijuana, they flood the migrant encampments, and the shallow sewage systems overflow everywhere. These camps are literally pools of water and waste that are endangering migrants. There is no drainage of water and no drainage of movement of migrants out of the camps. They have nowhere to go. Some may take their chances in crossing the border. Others may get sucked into the deportation industrial current. However, most stay and wait in squalor, depending upon aid organizations from the US to survive.
Migrants in camps outside Tijuana are not static. They circulate among the town and back and forth to the border regularly to check on their case status and see if border officials call them for an asylum interview. The border’s architecture pools them and circulates them in a small region like a flow of water pools and spirals into an eddy when it hits a barrier.