Dying To Live
A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid
Joseph Nevins and Mizue Aizeki spent several years working on the book, researching and documenting life in southern
By Joseph Nevins | photos by Mizue Aizeki List Price $16.95 ISBN-10 0872864863 ISBN-13 9780872864863 Publication Date June 2008 City Lights | http://www.citylights.com
By Joseph Nevins | photos by Mizue Aizeki
List Price $16.95
Publication Date June 2008
City Lights | http://www.citylights.com
Regarding ethno-racial distinctions, I sometimes use the term "nonwhite." While it is far from ideal to utilize a term to describe people by what they are not, it sometimes serves as an effective shorthand given the diverse ethno-racial composition of particular areas at specific times. More important, in discussing places like
If, during the time period mentioned above, racial categories were clear—at least rhetorically—those of citizenship were less so. People of Mexican descent born in the territory annexed by the
Despite having made these choices, I hardly feel comfortable with them. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's observation that "words are deeds" highlights why it is so difficult to figure out the proper terms to categorize groups of people. As Wittgenstein suggests, words embody our ways of life. To the extent that they are meaningful, they flow from, and help produce our worldviews and everyday practices. But given the complex and ever-changing categories of identity and the larger social relations of which they are part, our words are significantly limited in terms of what they can illuminate. At the same time, to the extent that one wants to challenge language that contributes to a devaluing and marginalization of human beings simply on account of their ancestry, geographic origin, or on what side of an international divide they were born, the effort to identify appropriate terms is part of a larger struggle—one to create a different, more just world.
— Joseph Nevins
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CHAPTER one: The Bodies
It was a little after 9:00 a.m. on August 13, 1998, when Ralph Smith, the deputy coroner for
Using an airplane and some agents on the ground, the Border Patrol located the group of seven individuals—six men and one young woman—huddled together under a clump of salt cedar trees about twenty-five miles north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary. They were no longer in distress, however. They were dead. The bodies had been there for at least a few weeks, and possibly for six to seven. Some of the deceased were only wearing their underwear, and there were no water containers located near the corpses. But there was no indication that any of them had suffered foul play. Photos showed bodies that were, in parts, pitch black—signs of putrefaction or mummification, ones that looked like they had been charred.
One of the dead was Julio César Gallegos, father of a 2-year-old boy, Julio Jr., whose photo the authorities found in his clutched hand. Gallegos lived in
Border Patrol officials guessed that the seven had originally been part of a group of twenty-two migrants who had crossed into California without authorization from Mexico, and had arrived in the area by automobile and were waiting for someone else to pick them up; they also determined that the group's members were all headed to Los Angeles and New York. Among the dead were Julio César Gallegos's 18-year-old niece, Irma Estrada Gutierrez, and Fernando Salguero Lachino, a 48-year-old father of six children—none of them older than twelve.
According to Smith's report, Gallegos's body, like the rest, was mummified, and so severely decomposed that his eyes were destroyed. He was clad in a pair of blue jeans, and had a broken watch on his left wrist. He also was carrying a black wallet, the contents of which included a
It would reach 108 degrees at the height of the day in
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In both relative and absolute terms, the number of migrant deaths brought about by environmental factors, especially extreme heat, has also increased since the mid-1990s. Along the U.S.-Mexico boundary, heat exposure today appears to be by far the most common cause of death. At the same time, greater numbers of fatalities are taking place in fairly remote areas as migrants cross in increasingly isolated zones to avoid detection by the ever-larger enforcement web throughout the border region. Because of that, and because agencies such as the Border Patrol have used extremely narrow criteria over the years for counting fatalities of unauthorized crossers, the true death toll is certainly higher than the numbers based on actually recovered bodies and official counts.
The grisly deaths of Julio César Gallegos and his compatriots in 1998 reflected the shifting geography of migrant fatalities and the increasing importance of environmental factors as the immediate causes of such tragedies. The discovery of their bodies raised the number of migrant corpses found in
Hyperthermia passes through six stages, the first two being heat stress and heat fatigue. Heat syncope, the next one, results in a fever, and, simultaneously, colder skin. The afflicted's face begins to pale and she or he becomes somewhat dizzy. Heat cramps follow and lead to tightening and aching muscles, ones so painful that it can lead one to double over in pain. Heat exhaustion results in greatly heightened fever, bad headaches, nausea, and vomiting; the victim's skin is cold, shivering might occur, and fainting or cardiac arrest might result. Heat stroke, the final stage, causes one's body to become so hot that migrants often strip off their clothes to free themselves of extreme discomfort; it leads to the body's organs and muscles essentially collapsing, resulting in death in many cases. As one passes through these stages, a person becomes increasingly disoriented, undermining one's ability to take remedial action.
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The deaths of Julio César Gallegos and those he was traveling with generated a good deal of coverage in the news media in southern
The day after the discovery of the bodies, Williams announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to "the arrest and indictment of any alien smuggler responsible for the deaths." "Alien smugglers," he stated, "present one of the greatest dangers facing illegal border crossers and must be brought to justice." The announcement marked the first time the INS had offered any such reward. Among other things, the reward reflected the federal government's frustration with the continuing fatalities and its need to appear to be doing something to remedy the growing death toll.
The INS's framing of the problem resonated with the larger public—at least as reflected by editorials in the mainstream media within
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How and why Julio César Gallegos's body ended up on the scorched desert terrain of southern
In seeking to explain the death—and life—of Julio César Gallegos, it is this type of geography that this book privileges. There are myriad ways in which to tell his story and those of the thousands of other migrants who have perished in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands since the mid-1990s. However, this book does so through a focus on places—the locations in which people live their lives, to which they attach meanings, which help define who they are, and thus shape to a large degree where they can and cannot go, reside, and work.
Just as places, like any social construct, are dynamic, so, too, are the boundaries that define them. And while bounded, no place exists in isolation. It is connected and shaped by other places, and by the individuals, collectivities, and institutions associated with them. As such, a place's boundaries, just as its contents, are ever-changing. In this regard, one must appreciate how these places have come about, the power relations and associated inequalities that they embody, the vibrant connections and divisions that bring places together and, often simultaneously, drive them apart. In the case of Julio César Gallegos, it was the intersection of a particular set of such connections and divisions that brought him during the summer of 1998 to southern California's Imperial Valley, one of the places that make up the geographical web that shaped his life and death.
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EXCERPTS FROM CHAPTER FIVE: BEYOND THE BOUNDARY
Praise for Dying To Live: "In Dying to Live, Joseph Nevins and Mizue Aizeki have produced an important and visually moving book that adds to our knowledge of the border and its place in history. Nevins' painstaking research documents the development of the —David Bacon, author of Communities Without Borders: Images and Voices from the World of Migration "Joseph Nevins blows the red-neck cover off the right wing engineered scapegoating of "illegal" immigrants by meticulously and grippingly compiling the history of why so many try to come to the US, and, tragically, why so many die. His important work forces us to go beyond the simple debate of legal versus illegal and instead focus on the current government policy that is literally killing thousands. Nevins strikes at our very moral core when he asks: are we a nation that will continue to allow thousands of innocent people to die and do nothing to reverse this grave injustice?" —Deepa Fernandes, author of Targeted, Homeland Security and the Business of Immigration "...a fierce and courageous denunciation of the foul politics of immigration and the two-thousand mile tragedy of the Mexican border, snaking its way between two worlds, two nations, separated at birth but forever joined at the hip. Starting from one man's blackened corpse, the tale wends its way across the desert of racial amnesia to reveal the sources of —Richard Walker, professor of geography, UC Berkeley, and author of The Conquest of Bread and The Country in the City. "Dying to Live is a compelling, perceptive and invaluable book for our times. Our new apartheid, as explored here, is as bleak and hostile as the landscapes in which people lose their lives trying merely to survive. Those lives delineated here are unforgettable." —Susan Straight, author of A Million Nightingales and Highwire Moon "Invisible in life, like most exploited immigrants, Julio Cesar Gallegos now judges us from the hour of his terrible death. He reminds us - thanks to the passionate investigations of Nevins and Aizeki - that the eyeless corpses in the —Mike Davis is the author, most recently, of Planet of Slums and In Praise of Barbarians
Praise for Dying To Live:
"In Dying to Live, Joseph Nevins and Mizue Aizeki have produced an important and visually moving book that adds to our knowledge of the border and its place in history. Nevins' painstaking research documents the development of the
—David Bacon, author of Communities Without Borders: Images and Voices from the World of Migration
"Joseph Nevins blows the red-neck cover off the right wing engineered scapegoating of "illegal" immigrants by meticulously and grippingly compiling the history of why so many try to come to the US, and, tragically, why so many die. His important work forces us to go beyond the simple debate of legal versus illegal and instead focus on the current government policy that is literally killing thousands. Nevins strikes at our very moral core when he asks: are we a nation that will continue to allow thousands of innocent people to die and do nothing to reverse this grave injustice?"
—Deepa Fernandes, author of Targeted, Homeland Security and the Business of Immigration
"...a fierce and courageous denunciation of the foul politics of immigration and the two-thousand mile tragedy of the Mexican border, snaking its way between two worlds, two nations, separated at birth but forever joined at the hip. Starting from one man's blackened corpse, the tale wends its way across the desert of racial amnesia to reveal the sources of
—Richard Walker, professor of geography, UC Berkeley, and author of The Conquest of Bread and The Country in the City.
"Dying to Live is a compelling, perceptive and invaluable book for our times. Our new apartheid, as explored here, is as bleak and hostile as the landscapes in which people lose their lives trying merely to survive. Those lives delineated here are unforgettable."
—Susan Straight, author of A Million Nightingales and Highwire Moon
"Invisible in life, like most exploited immigrants, Julio Cesar Gallegos now judges us from the hour of his terrible death. He reminds us - thanks to the passionate investigations of Nevins and Aizeki - that the eyeless corpses in the
—Mike Davis is the author, most recently, of Planet of Slums and In Praise of Barbarians
Hyperbolic analyses are hardly new. In the run-up to Operation Wetback in 1954, for instance, Democratic senator Hubert Humphrey characterized
Such rhetoric has a long history, one that goes back to the very first piece of immigration control legislation in the
These analyses flow from and reinforce the assumption that the
Never before has it been so difficult to cross the boundary or has the migrant policing apparatus been as big as it is. And never have as many "illegals" who have crossed from
As for fighting terrorism, which is what the Border Patrol now says is one of its primary functions, as of 2007 there was no documented basis for any suggested link of terrorism with Mexico or with movement across the U.S.-Mexico boundary. Nonetheless, fears of terrorists emanating from Mexican territory fuels much vacuous discussion in Congress and provides fodder for many press accounts that typically highlight Border Patrol apprehensions of non-Mexican migrants as supposed proof of the threat. As in the case of the broader "war on terror" and similar to the emptiness of claims that link growing immigration to higher crime rates, political actors have grossly exaggerated the threat of terrorism as the lack of any attacks since 2001—despite a still permeable boundary—demonstrates. In response to those who would say that this "proves" that the security measures along the boundary are working, political scientist John Mueller writes in a 2006 article,
Americans are told—often by the same people who had once predicted imminent attacks—that the absence of international terrorist strikes in the
The overstated nature of the boundary-related threat is demonstrated by the Department of Homeland Security's own statistics. While it bills itself as an agency whose main goal is to fight terrorism, the Department filed claims of terrorism against only 12 (0.0015%) of the 814,073 people that it charged in immigration courts between 2004 and 2006. As has always been the case, the target of boundary and immigration enforcement is human beings born outside of U.S. territory. What changes over time are the labels attached to them—"Communist," "illegal," "criminal," and "terrorist" being among the most socially marginalizing—and the related ideological smokescreens used to legitimate their exclusion, one of the most powerful being "the law."
Invocations of the law as a justification for particular activities—especially in the United States, where the dominant view is one that it is a country with a deep devotion to the rule of law—has the effect of shutting down debate. That, combined with the state's power to mold the collective mind-set of its citizenry to distinguish between "right" and "wrong" (through "the law") and to perceive the country's boundaries as almost sacred, helps explain to a significant degree why "illegal" migration resonates so profoundly with the public at large. For the vast majority of Americans, the wrongness of unsanctioned migration and the need to prevent it are simply beyond question. The law and its defense becomes an end in and of itself.
Yet, history (as well as the present) teaches us that what is the law and what is just are often not synonymous. As Marlon Brando, in his role as a human rights lawyer in apartheid-era
Yet few of us—even those who perceive national exclusion as unacceptable—are willing to publicly say so. In part, given the ideological and material weight of the boundary and enforcement apparatus, it is for reasons of fear—fear of social ostracism—as well as of a sense of powerlessness.
I speak from experience: I recall being on a train in the mid-1990s traveling from San Diego, where I had been conducting research on Operation Gatekeeper, to Los Angeles. At the station in
Typically the individuals on the frontline who carry out such exclusion justify what they do by referencing the law, or by explaining that they are simply doing their job. But sometimes these agents of the state actually articulate a perception of migrants that is as shocking and inhumane as their actions aimed at expelling them from
That so many fail to see the perverse nature of such rhetoric and, more importantly, of the underlying ideology of national exclusion, and continue to embrace the security-unauthorized migrant-boundary nexus speaks not only to the power of the international divide to shape our ways of seeing the world, but also the depth of societal fear of "foreigners"—especially those from low-income and nonwhite parts of the world. That migrants are constructed as geographically—in addition to sociopolitically—outside helps explain why fears about terrorists and criminals from abroad translate into a focus on territorial boundaries to a much greater extent than fears about purveyors of violence from within the United States.
Consider, for example, the case of Timothy McVeigh, who, on April 19, 1995, bombed the
Antagonistic relationships between the so-called first and third worlds go back to the making of the modern world economy and nation-states. The conquest of what is today the U.S. Southwest, the dispossession and decimation of the indigenous population, and the settlement of the area by the conquering power was part of this process. And like all single events, it was unique. But it was also a manifestation of a much larger process of violence, slaughter, dispossession, and theft, one that began with the rise of European imperialism in the sixteenth century. At that time, levels of socioeconomic development across the world were generally equal. In fact in terms of political-economic development, Europe was in many key ways behind
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Maintaining an unjust world order requires work, one that enshrines the type of double standards that form the foundation of a world order in which processes of racism and its internationally institutionalized cousin, nation-statism, are inextricably intertwined. In August 2004, some articles in the New York Times showed just how all this functions—and the simultaneously deadly and enlivening effects these processes have.
In a lead article entitled, "In Pursuit of Fabulousness" in the newspaper's "Escapes" section, the Times introduced its readership to the place where Mikhail Baryshnikov, the ballet star, has his vacation home. It is located close to the sprawling Southern Greek Revival beachside abode of his good friend and local native son, Oscar de la Renta, in the same town where the fashion designer and singer Julio Iglesias are partners in a luxury resort and club. Prices there range from $310,000 for a three-bedroom villa away from the sea to several millions dollar for property on the beach—such as Iglesias's home, a six-acre Balinese compound.
The place is "the new St. Bart's," a reference to Saint-Barthélemy, the tiny Caribbean island in the
"There's so much building going on," gushes Amelia Vicini, a fashion editor at Town & Country magazine, who was born and raised in the tropical paradise. "Every time I go home, I am amazed. The winter season is crazy, full of people—celebrities, A-listers, everyone."
This hot location is the
Only one day earlier, the Times had run an Associated Press article on the inside of the newspaper's main section about a different type of water-related escape involving the
The engine of the small wooden boat died two days after the July 29 departure from the coastal
Two lactating women reportedly dripped their breast milk into a bottle for passengers to drink. Another told of eating his tube of Colgate to survive. The boat drifted at sea for almost two weeks. People began dying on the fifth day, their bodies thrown overboard into shark-infested waters by those still living. Many jumped overboard in desperation and drowned. Forty-seven ended up perishing on the voyage. Another eight died of dehydration after Dominican authorities rescued a total of thirty-nine people.
In a follow-up article on August 16, the Times described the homes of the majority of the inhabitants of one of the villages of many of the migrants as being made of "lashed-together pieces of tin." Attempts to flee from such poverty to a better life in the
Such unauthorized crossings have a long and deep history given the intense migratory ties between the
In the late 1990s, the economy of the
Little of this profoundly affects the lives of rich Dominicans or the affluent foreigners eagerly buying up the country's prime beachfront property. As an envious real estate agent from St. Bart's explains, "You can be a king in the Dominican for very little money." Or, as Margarita Waxman effuses, "There's a quaintness about it. It has all the beauty of St. Bart's, only more bohemian."
If, as Stuart Hall and Ruth Wilson Gilmore contend, racism is the fatal coupling of power and difference—fatal in the sense that it shapes one's life (and death) circumstances—the reporting on the Dominican Republic in the New York Times exposes (albeit unintentionally) the true face of what many have called global apartheid. It is one in which the relatively rich and largely white of the world are generally free to travel and live wherever they would like and to access the resources they "need." Meanwhile the relatively poor and largely nonwhite are typically forced to subsist in places where there are not enough resources to provide sufficient livelihood or, in order to overcome their deprivation and insecurity, to risk their lives trying to overcome ever-stronger boundary controls put into place by rich countries that reject them.
Apartheid might seem like an inappropriate metaphor to employ given the fact that there is no legally enshrined racial segregation between the so-called first and third worlds, and that there are many third-world-origin peoples who have citizenship, and live and work in countries throughout the West. Although discrimination in terms of who is allowed to enter and reside in a particular country regularly occurs, national governments determine who can enter a country first and foremost on the basis of the would-be immigrant's national citizenship and socio-economic situation, a form of discrimination seen as fully legitimate in international affairs. Nonetheless, if we move beyond the question of what are the specific motivations that underlie the system of immigration regulation and the particular mechanisms that are associated with it, and instead focus on effects and outcomes, there is little question that immigration enforcement in countries such as the United States or those of the European Union functions in an apartheid-like manner. No, it does not achieve "perfect" separation, but neither did
While black and white bodies were, in theory, assigned to certain localities, fixed in space, in point of fact they were caught up in continuous circulatory migrations and asymmetrical intimacies. Black bodies were needed to nurse white children, to clean white houses, and to labor in white industry, to work on white mines. White bodies policed, regulated, and administered black space. Bodies moved through and interacted with each other's space on a daily basis.
In other words, interaction and mixing occurred but because it was necessitated to a significant degree by white South African society. Resistance by blacks and others to the legally enshrined segregation also undermined the proclaimed goal of purity. But the fact that there was a gap between the rhetoric and the reality does not alter the fact that apartheid, by allowing unequal access to and influence over the country's socio-political-economic resources and processes on the basis of who allegedly belonged and who did not, reflected and reproduced profoundly different life and death experiences for white and nonwhite South Africans as a whole, differential outcomes legitimated on the basis of geographic origin and ancestry.
Strikingly similar is the gap between the "ideal" of separate, sovereign nation-states and the reality of messy and racialized boundary-crossings based on systemic relations of domination and subordination between the West and the rest of the world. They are also similar in that nonwhite spaces outside of the West become the venues to pursue vices prohibited or difficult to pursue in predominantly white ones. Just as Sun City, the casino resort area in the nominally independent "homeland" of Bophuthatswana, served as a hospitable locale for gambling and topless female revues in apartheid-era South Africa, so, too, do many "third world" destinations today serve as the vice-ridden playgrounds for "first world" travelers seeking escapist pleasures at relatively low cost. Mexican border towns played a similar role in the era of Prohibition and continue to do so today (albeit far less than in the past).
In a world of profound inequality, there are few if any nations that share a land boundary with the level of disparity as wide as that between