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Posted on Apr 24, 2014

Photo by Edith Soto (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Todd Miller, TomDispatch

(Page 4)

It’s here at Border Security Expo 2014 that the future seeds get planted; here that you can dream your corporate dreams unimpeded, sure in the knowledge that yet more money will flow into borders and “protection.”

Between the unbridled enthusiasm of the vendors with their techno-optimistic “solutions” and the reality of border life in the Tohono O’odham Nation—or for that matter just about anywhere along the 2,000-mile divide—the chasm couldn’t be wider.

On the reservation back in 2012, Longoria called in the GPS coordinates of the unknown dead woman, as so many agents have done in the past and will undoubtedly do in the years to come. Headquarters in Tucson contacted the Tohono O’odham tribal police. The agents waited in the baking heat by the motionless body. When the tribal police pulled up, they took her picture, as they have done with other corpses so many times before. They rolled her over and took another picture. Her body was, by now, deep purple on one side. The tribal police explained to Longoria that it was because the blood settles there. They brought out a plastic body bag.

“Pseudo-speciation,” Longoria told me. That, he said, is how they deal with it. He talked about an interview he’d heard with a Vietnam vet on National Public Radio, who said that to deal with the dead in war, “you have to take a person and change his genus. Give him a whole different category. You couldn’t stand looking at these bodies, so you detach yourself. You give them a different name that detracts from their humanness.”

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The tribal police worked with stoic faces. They lifted the body of this woman, whose past life, whose story, whose loved ones were now on another planet, onto a cart attached to an all-terrain vehicle and headed off down a bumpy dirt road with the body bouncing up and down.

When you look at a map that shows where such bodies are recovered in southern Arizona—journalist Margaret Regan has termed it a “killing field”—there is a thick red cluster of dots over the Tohono O’odham reservation. This area has the highest concentration of the more than 2,300 remains recovered in Arizona alone—approximately 6,000 have been found along the whole border—since the Border Patrol began ramping up its “prevention by deterrence policy” in the 1990s. And as Kat Rodriguez of the Colibri Center for Human Rights points out, these numbers are at the low end of actual border deaths, due to the numbers of remains found that have been there for weeks, months, or even years.

When they reached a paved road, Longoria helped lift the woman’s body into the back of their police truck. From here the Tohono O’odham tribal police took over. He and his partner continued their shift in a world in which borders are everything and a human death next to nothing at all. 

Todd Miller has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars,” among other places. His first book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Homeland Security (City Lights Books), has just been published. You can follow him on twitter @memomiller and view more of his work at toddwmiller.wordpress.com.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars—The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Todd Miller


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