Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition
Interview with Char Miller
Published: April 10, 2013
We do put an enormous amount of time and money into these physical borders, like you said, and it seems like we haven’t thought about the environmental impact too much. Can you explain that a little bit?
One of the fascinating things for me when we moved from Texas to California, was that we were basically following the border. It had become the most contentious landscape between 2005 and 2010 or so, it kind of disappeared in the 2012 election. In the seven years prior to that point it was really the hot button issue. What was really much less reported about, as opposed to the social consequences of immigration, were these uncalculated, unacknowledged environmental deficits that occurred when we started to build that wall. There’s a series of essays in the book that look at the divisiveness in every sense of doing that along the Rio Grande valley, through New Mexico and Arizona and getting into California. An essay that didn’t make it into the book actually focuses in on a section of the wall that punches about half a mile into the Pacific Ocean, as if we are going to stop people by so doing. It’s the fence to nowhere in a sense.
Then you look at actually how this thing was constructed. There’s an essay in there where the data that was coming out from Homeland Security blew my mind, about simply the filling in of canyon after canyon, flattening the landscape and then putting in this wall. Within the Border Patrol they were sort of shaking their heads going ‘no one’s going through that canyon.’ The canyon’s its own wall. The planners decided that it should look a certain way, so the landscape go militarized, making anyone who was in it a criminal, and in a sense, in addition to the wall sending a signal, the flattened landscape sent a signal to every animal of ‘this is not a place to be.’ To turn that into a fortified border was really startling to me. Ten years after, 15 years after the Berlin Wall came down, and we saw it as a triumph of openness and transparency and the collapse of Easter/Western Europe, we then replicate that process in Mexico and, to my mind, have devastating impacts on nature as a consequence. There are a couple of essays about various species that we think are suffering as a consequence of that. If you total up the environmental costs, the social costs, the political expenses of doing that kind of work, very little of which gets calculated into Homeland Security’s budget, it’s way, way more expensive to have done what we’ve done than if we had come up with another way of imagining the border and living within its natural landscape.
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