Tianshu’s Blog Post

Narrative plots underpinning mentalities around the US-Mexico borders

This blog post contains reviews of Pablo Vila’s Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders: Social Categories, Metaphors and Narrative Identities On The U.S. – Mexico Frontier (2000), Border Identifications: Narratives Of Religion, Gender, And Class On The U.S. – Mexico Border (2005) as well as Douglas S. Massey’s ‘Understanding America’s Immigration “Crisis”’ (2007).

What interests me in Pablo Vila’s research is that he approaches the immigration problem of the US through empirical studies of plots narrated by people living in the El Paso–Juárez Borderplex – a binational metropolitan area on the border between the US and Mexico. By interviewing various interviewees belonging to different categories of class, gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, time of migration and religion, Vila gleans the ‘cultural shaped cognitive and linguistic processes’ from the storytelling of his interviewee as well as their reactions towards certain themed images. (Vila 2000, p.4)

Vila’s empirical studies (2000) reveals that there are different plots have guided the construction of narrative identities for different people living around the US-Mexico border. On the Mexican side of the border, for instance, the American influence on the Ciudad Juárez (the Mexican side of the Borderplex) is viewed negatively by Mexican nationals from the interior out of the concern that they will be Americanized – which indicates the loss of political autonomy, cultural integrity and economic independence. However, to people living in El Paso (Juárez’s American counterpart), the presence of Mexico around the corner is a constant reminder of the poverty and corruption many people identify with that country. Therefore, to many Mexican Americans, the origin of their identity is not a positive one upon which they could build up a valued social identity, but a liability because of the proximity of Mexico. Thus, Mexican Americans construct their identities by portraying not only Anglo Americans, but also Mexican nationals as the ‘others’.

It is also worth noting that how border politics affect the categories people choose to construct their identities. On the Mexican side of the border, ‘border dweller’ is used extensively as to Mexican nationals (middle class in particular) the proximity to the United States can be used to ‘upgrade’ their Mexican social identity since it is claimed that living near a first world country with easy access to its job opportunities, lifestyle and consumer goods is advantageous. On the other hand, this label is not favoured by people on the American side. Although both Anglo and Mexican Americans separate themselves from Mexican nationals in order to construct a narrative identity as people living in the States. Among Americans an ethnic classification system is extensively used, not a regional one, to anchor their identity and further segment the communities of ‘Americans’, constructing a new set of ‘us’ and ‘others’.

The difference between American and Mexican nationals in choosing their classification systems to some extent reflects the structural conditions of population, unemployment and migration on the US-Mexico border, but it is more important to note that how these classifications have accumulated and fundamentally affect the mindset of generations of people, and eventually leading to the tendency which refuse to seek common ground, shared or compromise between different communities, but looking for differences and social hierarchy. Consequently, different hegemonic discourses emerged. ‘All poverty is Mexican / All wealth is American’ is probably the most prevailing hegemonic discourse. What is implied in this thematic plot is that ‘Mexicans equal poverty’ – thus they are to be blamed for any problem of poverty, to the extent that even Mexican Protestants and poor Anglos whom the plot is incapable to portray are constantly coerced into such narratives in everyday life, such as the distribution of public resources, the use of infrastructures. And Mexican immigrants correspondingly develop their own response, claiming that they are the ones who contribute to the country through hard working and taxpaying, but receive little welfare and low social status.

The ‘All poverty is Mexican’ thematic plot and the corresponding response represents the vicious mechanism that although the border is not homogenized (different identities and cultures hybridized around the border), the hegemonic discourses and fragmented social classification result in fragmented border experience, leading to not a border crossing process but rather the reinforcement of borders. The most extreme claim is probably the one proposed by Carlos Monsiváis (Vila, 2007 p.5-6), stating that there is no such thing as ‘border identity’ but rather a loss of identity, ‘the dubious mixture of two national life-styles, the deification of technology and a craze for the new’ – to the extent that the border becomes ‘the garbage disposal of a country’.

Douglas S. Massey’s research (2007), on the other hand, is his quantitative analysis of the economic, political activities and population movement crossing the US-Mexico border, attempting to qualify America’s assertion of an immigration ‘crisis’. Massey points out that the immigration issue has been overly exaggerated in public discussions. According to him, as of 2006, ‘three-quarters of all Americans rated immigration as a “moderately big or very big national problem”; more than half (54%) said that the United States needed to be “protected against foreign influence”; and nearly half (48%) said that “newcomers from other countries threaten traditional American values and customs”. Although the true percentage of immigrants in the U.S. stands at around 12%, some 53% of Americans polled thought that it was 25% or greater’ (Massey 2007, p.309). On this account, the so called ‘immigration crisis’ is to some extent biased if not imagined and the current situation is to some degree a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The origin of the crisis claim is the US government’s failed attempt to facilitate cross border economic activities and at the same time avoiding labour movement. It dates back to the 1990s when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was initiated between under the administration of George H. W. Bush and ratified during the presidency of his successor Bill Clinton. The signing of NAFTA represents the integration process of North American Markets (the US, Canada and Mexico), and the natural consequence of it are the movements of capitals, commodities, services and labours across borders. The increasing labour force inevitably undermines the average wages and working conditions of the US workers. Therefore border enforcement seemed to be a necessary action to tackle this problem. Nevertheless, Massey points out the flaw of border enforcement – it is inefficient in controlling the inward undocumented immigration, but efficient in apprehending out-immigration (partly because it is unilaterally conducted on the US side of the border). As a result, the net immigration in the US was raised but their average conditions deteriorated due to the negative portrayal of Mexican immigrants during the border enforcement. Massey’s analysis provides another angle to evaluate the ‘immigration problem’ in the US and to comprehend the narrative plot proposed by Vila – the collateral damage of the clash between globally integrated market and domestic protectionist acts.

Works cited:

Massey, Douglas S., “Understanding America’s Immigration “Crisis””, Proceedings Of The American Philosophical Society, 151 (2007), 309-327

Vila, Pablo, Border Identifications: Narratives Of Religion, Gender, And Class On The U.S. – Mexico Border, 1st edn (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005)

Vila, Pablo, Crossing Borders, Reinforcing Borders: Social Categories, Metaphors And Narrative Identities On The U.S. – Mexico Frontier, 1st edn (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000)

Trump: The Media Spectacle and the Paranoid Spokesman

For my research this week, I looked at particular papers on the Paranoid Style in contemporary American politics and research on Trump’s media content, presence, and attention. I reflected on my research thusfar as well as the others’ research in connection to my own, and Trump as a ‘trigger’ for the historical socio-political research they have done. I also went through Trump’s Twitter feed for mentions of Mexican immigration and the border, though it seems that pre-2015 tweets are inaccessible through Twitter itself.

Encoding the Paranoid Style in American Politics: ‘Anti-Establishment’ Discourse and Power in Contemporary Spin’- Michael Serazio, Critical Studies in Media Communication 33:2

  • “anti-establishment”= ‘signifies act of co-optation: It appropriates an outsider image on behalf of insiders and inveighs against power concentrated in the Capitol while eliding any response to power that might be concentrated in capital.’
  • ‘revealing anxieties emerge about authority and governance at a time of institutional failure, democratic malaise, and increasing inequality.’
  • à through this, we can discover how “anti-establishment” appeal tries to position candidates against an ambiguous yet menacing power structure, encoding “rhetoric suggesting their independence from the political status quo…[which] may no accurately reflect a politician’s actual association with the political establishment” (Barr 2009, p. 33)
  • à “guerrilla-style” power- ‘rhetorically seeking to blend in with grassroots authenticity, while actually often working on behalf of elite institutional and economic interests (Seazio, 2013)’
  • channelling economic angst: they offered a means of stoking resentment without explicitly talking about the advantages afforded to the economic upper class—a mediated performance of cultural politics meant to channel that feeling of disenfranchisement.
  • Economic conditions are not the exclusive motivating factor behind anti-establishment appeals
  • Anxiety about increasingly non-white populations can be observed in Europe’s ethno-nationalist parties and signified in the United States by the first biracial president as well as Trump’s persistent immigration fear-mongering
  • — “nostalgia for an imagined time—the 1950s, maybe,”
  • typically evoked without acknowledging the post-war welfare state conditions that afforded shared middle-class prosperity (e.g. progressive taxation, robust union membership, etc.)
  • Right-wing anti-establishment discourse: framing the approach as an attack against “establishment” interests helps to mobilize the non-elite against their own financial interests (Frank, 2005).
  • ” In her reporting on the Tea Party, Zernike (2010a) ‘Critical Studies in Media Communication’ 191 identifies not just government as the brunt of that mistrust but “all of the establishments Americans once trusted unquestionably: doctors, banks, schools, the media” (p. 6).
  • Political communication of this sort attempts to convince citizens to think about power not in terms of taxes, wages, and wealth, but rather experience, lifestyle, and opacity of political process. That is a baleful conceptual substitution, because it suggests populist performance matters more than actual populist policies.


‘Donald Trump and the ‘Oxygen of Publicity’: Branding, Social Media, and Mass Media in the 2016 Presidential Primary Elections’- Sarah Oates and Wendy W Moe, 2016

  • Idea of ‘oxygen of publicity’= by Thatcher, used it to describe how terrorists could use the media to gain legitimacy
  • June 28: Trump suggested on CNN’s State of the Union show that Mexico should be forced to ‘build a wall’ along the US-Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants
  • Became focal point for public discussion on anti-immigrant forces
  • Of all the tweets relating to issues (economy, healthcare, immigration, and Iran), Trump unsurprisingly had the largest volume of tweets relating to immigration. However, these tweets were never a major proportion of his tweets in general (peaking at 13 tweets on immigration out of a total of 59 tweets—or 22%– on July 3rd) and the number of immigration themed tweets faded over time
  • an overview of the tweets that related to the candidates does not show a high level of political engagement at work, particularly for Trump
  • people on Twitter (according to data suggestion) are ‘merely echoing and re-distributing snippets of news or opinion around campaign events’ vs having ‘grass-root networks of discussion that arise from social media’
  • à immigration in particular triggered a large volume of tweets related to Trump
  • Thus, the social media comments served to augment and extend the traditional media coverage of Trump’s views on immigration, views that were at odds with mainstream US media narratives about immigration’
  • engagement tended to follow candidate behaviour, strongly suggesting that social media would generally augment, rather than contest, candidate narratives
  • for example, if his extremist statements were going to spark an interest in response by other candidates, we would expect to see a surge in tweets about immigration that mentioned Clinton (such as her response or different approach to the issue) but we did not find this in the data. We can surmise that Trump enjoyed strong ownership of the immigration discourse as a sub-element of his political brand.


  • Both Trump and immigration dominated in the coverage coded in the three national newspapers from July 1 through Sep 24, 2015
  • coding found that 208 of the 475 articles (43.8%) in our sample were focused on Trump, while only 90 (18.9%) were focused on Clinton
  • Immigration was mentioned in 264 out of 475 stories or almost 56% of the stories analysed.
  • It would seem that a mention of Trump almost always elicited a mention of his views on immigration.
  • – Trump’s stand on immigration bleeds into random stories about him (e.g. golf tournaments being cancelled, network dropping beauty pageant) and his controversy
  • Thus, Trump’s comments on immigration not only dominated the traditional coverage of a Presidential primary in the three newspapers; it is also made its way into other sectors of the news.
  • à anti-immigration became a key element of the Trump brand
  • In their rush to cover Trump’s extreme rhetoric, the traditional media gave visibility and, arguably, credence to these remarks


‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays- Hofstadter (2008)

Elements of the paranoid style:
– A way of seeing the world and expressing oneself. (4)
– Overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, apocalyptic.
– Against whole nation.
– Unselfish, Patriotic, Righteousness and moral indignation
– “The central image is that of a vast and sinister conspiracy, a gigantic and yet subtle machinery of influence set in motion to undermine and destroy a way of life.”( 29)
– “The distinguishing thing about the paranoid style is not that its exponents see conspiracies or plots here and there in history, but that they regard a “vast” or “gigantic” conspiracy as the motive force in historical events. History is a conspiracy…” (29)
– “He constantly lives at a turning point” (30)
– Exponent is “militant” … “He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of a working politician.” Not interested in compromise because it is a fight between good and evil. (31)
– Enemy all powerful (31): “cruel, sensual, luxury-loving” (32).
– History seen as the “consequences of someone’s will” (32).
– Imitation of the enemy (in terms of apparatus of scholarship). (32)
– Recurring trope = figure of renegade who leaves the group to expose it. (34)
– Use of facts to argue point. (35)
– Begins with kernel of truth. (36)
– Hyper-coherent. (36)
– Not wholly rational but rationalistic. (36)
– “the curious leap of imagination that is always made at some critical point in the recital of events.” (37)
– An international phenomenon.

More Notable Quotes and/or Tweets:
MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ July 24 2015:

  • T: “I don’t think the 11 million — which is a number you have been hearing for many many years, I’ve been hearing that number for five years — I don’t think that is an accurate number anymore, I am now hearing it’s 30 million, it could be 34 million, which is a much bigger problem.”
  • Joe Scarborough: “Who are you hearing that from?”
  • T: “I am hearing it from other people, and I have seen it written in various newspapers. The truth is the government has no idea how many illegals are here.”

CNN’s Larry King Live, April 28, 2010

  • KING: So you’re in favor of profiling?
  • TRUMP: I’m in favor of — if people are coming in illegally, I am favoring you have to have laws. Nobody knows what the law is. People are streaming across the border. Sometimes, it’s drug dealers. What’s happening there, the drug dealers are coming in and that’s a big deal. They’re coming in and they’re killing.

@realDonaldTrump, Jan 27: ‘Mexico has taken advantage of the U.S. for long enough. Massive trade deficits & little help on the very weak border must change, NOW!’

@realDonaldTrump, Jan 20: ‘We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth- and we will bring back our dreams!’

@realDonald Trump, 30 Aug 2016: ‘From day one I said that I was going to build a great wall on the SOUTHERN BORDER, and much more. Stop illegal immigration. Watch Wednesday!’

@realDonaldTrump, 27 Aug 2016: ‘Heroin overdoses are taking over our children and others in the MIDWEST. Coming in from our southern border. We need strong border & WALL!’


  • While much of Trump’s discourse fits in with the anti-establishment paranoid style as described by Serazio, it seems he is largely exempted by his most loyal supporters from his display of wealth and luxury. This could likely be due to his previous celebrity status and image of American ‘success’
  • It would be interesting to compare Ada’s Mexican immigration statistics with Trump’s statements and claims
  • I am also going to briefly contrast Trump’s statements on the border and Mexican immigration with some past Presidents including Obama and George W Bush
  • I am also going to look into some fact-checking in terms of drug passage via the border, and terrorists coming in (there has been some reports of terrorist organisation-affiliated people entering or attempting to enter via the southern border but whether this is actually a cause for alarm seems to be dubious)
  • It would maybe also be worth mentioning the wider global situations that would affect support and the rise of this ‘peak’ of populist, anti-immigration sentiments i.e. the refugee crisis and increase of terrorist or terrorist-inspired attacks in the West
  • — BUT, it should definitely be pointed out that, while this general sentiment is most likely a factor, it is not directly related to the main concerns around the US-Mexico border


The U.S. Immigration Policy & Immigration Levels

During my research this week, I focused more on the history of the U.S.’ immigration policy and the immigration levels. I reflected upon all the research I have done so far to come up with a discussion which would be a part of our group answer to our question of ‘What is the role of the US-Mexico border in Donald Trump’s America?’

So far, I’ve come up with this thought process for my part of our presentation;

Recurring themes in the US policy on immigration > Why is this important? To support our argument that Trump’s stance of anti-immigration or proposal of wall is not different from previous administrations > Does Trump need to promote anti-immigration policies? > Not really, because the immigration levels of Mexicans are in decline > Therefore, concerning the amount of money which will be spent on the wall and the loss of diplomatic (and perhaps trade) relationships between the U.S. and Mexico, his idea of building a wall should not be desirable > But is it also achievable? Is Trump going to be able to build the wall? > Referring to my former post, funding and approval from the Congress is needed for Trump’s wall and that’s still a question waiting to be answered.

Playing the Trump Card: The Enduring Legacy of Racism in Immigration Law (Oppenheimer, Prakash, Burns) pg. 35-45.

Recurring themes in the US policy on immigration; the immigration policy goes back and forth in history: inclusion and exclusion depending on the needs and problems of the era, so the shift in policy is never new. It also shows inconsistency > “The US’s inconsistent immigration policy towards Mexico.”

U.S. immigration policies towards European, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants: a pattern of free immigration > then exclusion > then gradual acceptance.

“U.S. immigration policies towards Mexican immigrants: between recruitment and restriction, it changed accordingly to the economic conditions of the day.”

“Mexican presence in the U.S. for more than 150 years – far longer than either Japanese or Chinese Americans – but as a group, they still do not have similar levels of acceptance and integration.”

Mexican American War > The treaty of Guadalupe – Hidalgo in 1848; “The first individuals of Mexican ancestry to reside in the U.S. did not arrive as immigrants, but rather remained in the country after the treaty.” (economic migrants after that, bad treatments towards the working immigrants (13,000 immigrants between 1850-1900)

Five periods after 1900; 1. 1900-1929: “a period of active recruitment” (the US’ demand for labor, the friendly immigration policies towards Mexico, Mexico’s deteriorating economic condition / 728,00 Mexican immigrants) 2. 1929-1941: “a period of deportation” (stock market crash in 1929 – economic downturns and resentment towards immigrants / 41% decrease in the Mexican population in the U.S.)

As history demonstrates, “the United States has an immigration dark side. A mean-spirited, anti-immigrant impulse [that] sporadically grip[s] the nation, particularly during times of social stress. During these times, the U.S. immigration laws have been harsh, discriminatory, and aggressively enforced.”

  1. 1942-1964; “a second period of recruitment under the bracero program” (“agricultural growers complain about shortage of cheap labour and turned to Congress for a solution” > solution: temporary visas> almost 200,000 Mexican laborers > undocumented immigration on the rise as the program reaches to an end. > “nearly five million Mexican laborers entered the US during the bracero program”

1954; Operation Wetback for deporting undocumented immigrants

“Between 1954 and 1965, Mexican immigration rested on the delicate compromise between the public’s demand for border control and growers’ demands for workers.”

  1. 1965-1985; a period of undocumented migration. The deep economic and social anxiety that characterized the mid-1980s led Congress to pass the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. IRCA imposed sanctions against employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers + workplace investigations + expand the Border Patrol + authorized amnesty for long term undocumented residents + granted legal status to roughly 2.3 million Mexican workers.
  2. “a period of deep division over the fate of Mexican immigration into the United States that persists to the present day”

Immigration Act of 1990 (patrolling the border + authorization of funds for one thousand new agents). The Act also “tightened employer sanctions, streamlined criminal and deportation procedures, and increased penalties for numerous immigration violations. Finally, the Act imposed limits on the total number of immigrants admissible each year, including children and spouses of U.S. residents and citizens.

More actions against Illegal Immigration (1993-1997): “Operation Blockade,” “Operation Hold-the-line,” and “Operation Gatekeeper. Under Operation Gatekeeper, the agency installed a fourteen-mile-long, eight-foot-high fence near San Diego, California, which later came to be known as the “tortilla curtain.”

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (1996): authorized funds for additional fencing, military technology, and additional Border Patrol agents.

“The rate of undocumented migration to the U.S. from Mexico was approaching zero for the first time in decades, while the rate of permitted migration was sharply rising…. Regardless, the scapegoating continues through the implementation of punitive legislation and through political rhetoric that has turned hyperbolic in the 2016 presidential election campaign, even in the absence of arriving immigrants. To play the Trump card of racism in the immigration debate, facts are unnecessary; ugly opinions suffice.”

“Make America Great Again!” Lindsay Perez Huber

(225) “Trump’s stance on immigration is, of course, not new. There is a long history of anti-Latina and Latino immigrant politics that have pervaded public discourse of U.S. immigration, and has justified the exclusion, exploitation, and subordination of undocumented Latina and Latino immigrants in the U.S.. Researchers have documented the widely-accepted narratives of Latina and Latino immigrants in U.S. media that frame this group as “invaders” and economic “burdens” that pose a “threat” to U.S. well-being. Furthermore, scholars have found that the anti-Latina and Latino immigrant discourses often racialize all undocumented people as Mexican, regardless of national origin and actual immigration status.”

(226) “While it is true that the majority of the undocumented population are Latina and Latino and, specifically, Mexican, recent data shows that more Mexican immigrants are returning to their home countries than migrating to the U.S. This is a fact that Trump and many other anti-immigrant advocated fail to acknowledge in continued effort to scapegoat the undocumented for the ailments of U.S. society.”

Other Sources


The Wall and The Illegal Immigration

This blog post includes important findings from some of the academic resources I’ve read so far. I will comment on the information in brackets. After researching on the status of the Trump’s plan and progress on the U.S. Mexico border through secondary readings, I’ve started to use academic resources for my research and tried to get a grasp of levels of illegal immigration, reaction of Republican candidates towards this issue and how does Trump’s reaction differs.

Laura Carasik – “Donald Trump Doubles Down on Deportation Plan”- (09/2016)

  1. “Multiple studies have found that immigrants – both those here legally and those without legal status – commit crimes at a lower rate than people born in the US.” (Carasik, refers to this Washington Post article as evidence)
  2. “Meanwhile, immigration from Mexico has been slowing, not growing at a record clip. Between 2009 and 2014, there was a net loss of 140,000 people, as many Mexicans returned home to reunite with families.” > (Does Donald Trump or the U.S. to build a better wall or to hire more officers for the U.S. Mexico border if it is not a growing problem? What are the other reasons behind this wall? Recognition from Republican voters? I will refer to this in Gimpel and Mayer reading)
  3. “Apprehensions of Mexicans at the southern border are decreasing, according to a US Customs and Border Protection Report for 2015.”

James G.Gimpel – “Immigration Opinion and the Rise of Donald Trump” (07/2016)

  1. “Immigration policy choices have become increasingly partisan over time, as many other policies have. is a long-term trend, not an overnight development.”
  2. “By now it is not news that Donald Trump’s fast rise among Republican primary voters rests in part on his stand on immigration control, and particularly his pungent criticism of the illegal immigration.”
  3. “Opinion on immigration levels has unquestionably become more partisan over the years, as Republican voters have favored stricter enforcement and reduction of overall numbers, while Democrats have settled into a more open-door posture.”

Mayer – “Why Trump and How Far Can He Go?” (2015)

  • “As a great deal of survey data shows, a solid majority of Republican identifiers believe that illegal immigration is a serious problem. Though many on the left would claim otherwise, I do not think this sentiment can be dismissed as simple xenophobia.”
  • “There is ample evidence that the US does not have anything like adequate control of its own borders and that the consequent flood of illegal immigrants imposes a number of significant costs on the country, including increased crime rates, increased welfare expenditures, decreased wages for the poorest categories of American workers, increased drug smuggling, and increased risk of terrorism.” (contrary views with Carasik – maybe, my further research should include statistics of illegal immigration)
  • “Yet the Republican leadership has by and large refused to take these concerns seriously. Like a lot of the Republican Party’s problems, this one begins with George W. Bush. Especially in his second term, Bush pushed for a policy that he called “comprehensive immigration reform,” which would have legalized current illegal immigrants and provided them with a path to citizenship while also establishing a new guest worker program that would have allowed millions of additional immigrants into the country. In return, Bush promised to strengthen border security and enforce current laws against illegal immigration more vigorously – a promise that most individuals and groups who were seriously committed to reducing illegal immigration thought the administration would never keep.”
  • “Comprehensive immigration reform, in short, was widely viewed as a Trojan horse, which would have allowed Bush to move national policy in what most Republicans regarded as the wrong direction. Bush and his political advisors always seemed much more interested in cultivating Hispanic voters and pleasing the businesses that wanted cheap immigrant labor than in heeding the wishes of the typical Republican voter. In the end, the Bush plan encountered a great deal of opposition and never made it through the House of Representatives. But many Republicans have refused to take no for an answer.”
  • “In 2013, four Republican senators, including Marco Rubio, co-sponsored the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill that was, critics charged, even worse than the Bush plan. Jeb Bush also endorsed this bill.”
  • It is no accident, then, that the first major controversy surrounding Trump’s candidacy involved the immigration issue.”
  • “An often-quoted passage in his announcement speech, Trump said that Mexico was sending us “people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” A case can clearly be made that Trump’s choice of words was too sweeping. But there is in fact good evidence that the crime rate among illegal immigrants is far higher than the crime rate among native-born Americans and legal immigrants, and that precisely because we do not have adequate control of our borders, we cannot set up a system that would allow us to keep out convicted criminals and those whom we have previously deported.” (Again, more research is needed on statistics due to the contrast between this information and Carasik’s findings).

Few Random Sources

“Not every company is a serious bidder. One outfit called #ArtThatWall was submitted by a woman named Sarah Zapolsky, who said she just wants to introduce the idea that the wall should not be ugly. “If America has to have a wall, shouldn’t it be beautiful?” she said. “Does it have to be an eyesore, or can it be something marvelous? They’re just asking for ideas, so why not just throw out the idea and encourage all my artist friends to do the same.”

  • “America was built with Mexican hands,”
  • “Deported construction workers; “Instead of at least treating us as humans, we are treated as animals. For them, we are animals,”
  • At least 30 shelters for migrants in Tijuana.
  • “Among the criticisms of the wall and deportations are signs that they may actually hurt the US economy. Undocumented Americans contribute $11.64bn to the US economy in taxes annually, according to a February 2016 study from US think-tank the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.”

Imaging Trumpism, pre-Trump

Image result for blueservo texas border watch

In our weekly group meetings so far, we have discussed the various ways Trump’s isolationist, closed-border rhetoric – so shocking in its directness and disregard for the conventions of civil political discourse – is in fact much less incongruous with modern U.S. orthodoxy than the President’s bolshie framing might lead us to believe. We can – in fact we must – acknowledge that Trumpism is a threat and an upheaval while also acknowledging that U.S. liberal convention contains much precedent for his exclusionary, supremacist early policy initiatives, of which the elaborate plans for a border “wall” are both the most obvious example, and an apt metaphor.

As a Film major, I have tasked myself with researching the ways in which the U.S.-Mexico border has been imaged in recent history, with a focus on how the “wall” might have a precedent in the pre-Trump era. This being the twenty-first century, no political discourse can be completely isolated from the way it has been communicated visually (and let us not forget the pivotal role that reality TV, a hyperreal phenomenon if there’s ever been one, played in #45’s rise). The very earliest days of my research thus brought me to a difficult problematic: how can we discuss the ways in which the border has been visualised and aestheticized while retaining a sensitivity to the very serious human toll had by its consequences – which will surely only get worse?

The author Maggie Nelson’s 2009 essay collection, The Art of Cruelty, is composed of thirteen chapters which probe the many ways violence and cruelty have been key in the formation of contemporary U.S. consciousness, her case studies primarily drawing from the visual arts but also from theatre, performance and literature. In the author’s signature hybrid style – it is a work of art criticism, memoir, cultural theory, political critique and many other things – she delineates the ways in which U.S. culture in roughly the late-W. Bush, early-Obama moment could be examined through a focus on its accommodation of senseless and banal violence – in which visual culture must surely play an integral part.

Its third chapter, ‘Great To Watch’, is about ordinary, everyday spectatorship of things that in pre-digital times would have remained unseen. Nelson queries the links which are regularly made between visibility and intervention; throughout the twentieth century, it was popularly claimed that if only populaces could see the ills of the world with their own eyes, those ills would surely be more preventable in future – i.e. that increased visibility must surely lead to an increased progressive engagement. Her conclusions, drawing on spectatorship and the internet, show that hyper-visibility can lead to damaging consequences just as easily; if not moreso.

This chapter brought to my attention the BlueServo project, which set up cameras along the Texas-Mexico border and broadcast the footage on a live stream, with the aim of encouraging U.S. citizens to patrol the border for possible criminal activity from the comfort of their sofas. From a New York Times story at the time:

The Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition (TBSC) has instituted the Texas Virtual Border Watch Program to enlist the public’s assistance in preventing crime along the Texas-Mexico border. This initiative provides real-time streaming video over a web-based network to enable the public to report suspicious activity to the appropriate law enforcement agency via e-mail. Day and night surveillance cameras have been strategically placed throughout the border region to deny drug and human smugglers unobserved access to the United States by placing high-threat areas under public surveillance. The numbers and locations of these cameras will constantly change based on threat. To view the Texas Virtual Border Watch cameras, the public can visit the www.BlueServo.net website.

NPR’s John Burnett reported last month that “more than 43,000 people have logged on” to BlueServo.net to spend some of their free time scanning streaming video of border hot spots and acting as what the Web site calls “Virtual Texas Deputies.”

NPR reported: “Since the program started in November, virtual deputies have yielded four marijuana busts, totaling more than 1,500 pounds, and 30 incidents when illegal crossers were repelled.”

As an example of the insidious ways visual and digital cultures can contribute to hawkish, nationalist politics long before President Trump became any kind of possibility, the BlueServo project and its huge popularity among certain demographics, as well as the many similar projects which emerged in the late Bush era, seemed to me a key prefiguring of the Trump moment. Unsurprisingly, there exists a small body of scholarship on the website and similar initiatives. In continuing my focus on how the border has been politicised and Mexican citizens demonised via the use of digital visual communication, in the weeks leading up to our group presentation I aim to consider further how utilising methods and perspectives from contemporary media and art theory might be a useful way of understanding the role of the U.S.-Mexico border in this uncertain, divisive time.

President Trump’s Plan and Progress on Building a Wall

Following Donald Trump’s victory in polls, the President has started to act on his promise of building/ extending a wall between the US-Mexico border. Drawing on information from the recent news, I tried to sum up how far Trump has gone in the political process of his promise, who is going to pay for it and what will be the consequences of his plan towards Mexico. Following news outlets, especially BBC, that I found essential information about the progress of his plan so far.

The Legal Process

BBC (28.02.2017) : ‘On Mr Trump’s first day as a presidential candidate in June 2015, he made securing the border with Mexico a priority… Now, he has signed a pair of executive orders designed to fulfil that campaign promise… One order declares that the US will create “a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier”.”… The second order pledges to hire 10,000 more immigration officers, and to revoke federal grant money from so-called “sanctuary cities” which refuse to deport undocumented immigrants.’

BBC (28.02.2017): ‘Steps before building can start: Executive Order > House > Senate > Sign into law.’

How much will it cost?

BBC (06.02.2017): ‘The border is about 1,900 miles long… Mr. Trump says his wall will cover 1,000 miles and natural obstacles will take care of the rest.’

Reuters, (09.02.2017): According to the internal report of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ‘the plan lays out what it would take to seal the border in three phases of construction of fences and walls covering just over 1,250 miles by the end of 2020. With 654 miles of the border already fortified, the new construction would extend almost the length of the entire border.’

BBC (06.02.2017): ‘Mr. Trump claims the total cost of the wall will be $10bn to $12bn… The 650 miles of fencing already put up has cost the government more than $7bn.’

BBC (06.02.2017): ‘Adding even more to the expense, the new 1,000 miles would crisscross private land, which would have to be purchased, perhaps by legal force, or financial settlements made with owners.’

Reuters (09.02.2017): DHS’ internal report states that Trump’s wall would cost much as $21.6 billion. It is much higher than what Trump have suggested.

Who is going to pay for it?

Fox News (26.01.2017): President Trump insists that Mexico will cover the costs of building the wall. However, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has repeatedly said that Mexico will not pay for any wall and he cancelled a visit to Washington.

BBC (06.02.2017): President Trump ‘has accepted that US taxpayers will have to cover the initial funding’. Yet, Congress should approve that.

BBC (28.02.2017): DHS ‘has a “small” amount of money available (about $100m) to use immediately’ but the construction of the wall costs way more than that, again, approval of the Congress is needed.

Reuters (09.02.2017): The internal report states that ‘DHS would get funding from Congress by April or May, giving the department sufficient time to secure contractors and begin construction by September. Trump has said Congress should fund the wall upfront, but that Mexico will reimburse U.S. taxpayers.’

BBC (28.02.2017): ‘The department will also need additional funds from Congress to hire more immigration officers.’

What will be the consequences towards Mexico?

 BBC (06.02.2017): Different options to recoup the money from Mexico;

  • Raising tariffs on imports; … A 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay the wall… By doing it that way we can do $10 bn a year and easily pay for the wall’ x Forbes disagrees on the economic efficiency of this option.
  • Remittances: 1) Using laws against money-laundering ‘to halt Mexicans working in the US from wiring money to families back home’, the sector is about $25 bn a year. 2) Taxing remittances from the people who cannot prove legal residence. But Mexicans may ‘avoid using the wire companies and find undocumented third parties to transfer the cash’.
  • Levying a border adjustment tax: ‘lowering corporation tax from 35% to 20% but base it on the place of consumption, not production. Imports would be taxed but not exports… A %20 tax, would raise $12 bn a year’.
  • Increasing travel visa and border crossing fees: But is not enough by itself.


BBC, 6th of February 2017: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-37243269

BBC, 28th of February 2017: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38695593

Fox News Coverage on Enrique Peña Nieto’s statement, 26th of January 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmDKORI6QQs

Reuters, 9th of February 2017: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-immigration-wall-exclusive-idUSKBN15O2ZN

Rachel St John, ‘Line in the Sand’

Rachel St. John, Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexican Border (2011)


  • In the 19th century there were no border restrictions and immigrants were recorded as they crossed the border
  • 1870 – there were very few border towns west of El Paso and the Apaches were the only challenge to US and Mexican control
  • 1846 – war broke out between US and Mexico over their competing visions over territorial boundaries.
    • 1848 – the border we know today emerged from that war, with the Rio Grande chosen as the point of demarcation in the east, and an arbitrary line drawn in the West.
      • This arbitrary line would prove to be a hugely problematizing factor in the future of the border, as it did not follow any existing geographic feature
      • The line was creating through a game of geographical connect the dots, linking important point on the map – El Paso, the Gila River and San Diego Bay
        • The one geographical feature used in the creation on this border, the Gila River, was made obsolete in 1853 when the Gadsden Treaty renegotiated the border.
      • In the years following this demarcation, this desert border was marked with monuments, cleared strips and eventually fences, creating a more physical dividing line
      • one of the members of the Joint United States and Mexican Boundary Commission, “much of this country, that by those residing at a distance is imagined to be a perfect paradise, is a sterile waste, utterly worthless for any purpose than to constitute a barrier or natural line of demarcation between two neighbouring nations.”
      • By the turn of the 20th century, state surveillance on the border began to increase, following the increasing presence of smugglers and ranchers
      • 1910 – huge expansion of state presence on the boundary line, as the border became more significant as a divide between Mexicans and Americans – this was brought about by the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910
        • This war saw both nations initiate heightened crossing restrictions, soldiers patrolling the line, and the construction of fences between border towns
      • The end of the war saw an end to military presence on the border, the fences remained, and by the 1930s they served new state priorities – most notably the control of Mexican immigration.
      • 1850s – Mexico and US were limited to simply surveying the border and attempting to mark its course.
        • By the early 20th century both nations had large numbers of agents and physical structures on the line allowing: the collection of tariffs, inspection of immigrants, arresting of smugglers etc.
      • 1920s and 30s – saw an significant rise in the regulation of transborder movement
        • Huge change when considering that in 1900 there was essentially no restrictions whatsoever
          • By 1930s – Mexican labourers were stopped at the boundary line, subjected to physical inspections, literacy tests
        • US immigration law increasingly defined Mexicans as outsiders who could not freely cross the boundary line, this sense of division reached a peak in the Great Depression, and continues to define the border today
        • 2006 – Secure Fences Act defined “operational control” as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”
          • Critics of the act noted: the expense, disruption of trade, environmental effects, an affront to Mexicans, would be ineffective
          • Mexican Pres. Felipe Calderón, noted that “humanity committed a grave mistake in building the Berlin Wall. I’m sure that the United States is committing a grave mistake in building this fence.”
          • Arizona Congressman J. D. Hayworth: “The graffiti is strewn on the wall at our international border in Nogales. “Borders are scars upon the earth,” it reads. No, Mr. Speaker and my colleagues, borders are not scars upon the earth. They are reasonable and necessary lines of political demarcation between nation states to ensure the sovereignty and security of those nation states in the post-9/11 world. It is absolutely necessary that we move to secure our borders. And as the poet wrote, “good fences make good neighbours.”
        • From the 1930s through the end of the twentieth century U.S. border policy primarily focused on encouraging the flow of transborder trade, while regulating the movement of Mexican immigrants and stemming the stream of illegal drugs across the boundary line
        • 1909 – First fences appeared on the border and proliferated throughout the 20th century
          • These fences were initially built by the Bureau of Animal Industry on the California-Baja California border to restrict the movement of tick infested cattle
          • Fence building increased in 1935, again to restrict the movement of cattle, but in the 1950s maintenance of these fences was handed over to ranchers
          • In the 1940s Border Patrol officials in Calexico erected a chain-link fence, salvaged from a Japanese American internment camp, along 5.8 miles of the boundary line to prevent illegal immigrant entries.
          • Fence building proliferated throughout the 20th century, not least in an attempt to combat the ever growing drug smuggling
        • 1994 – the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), responding to mounting concerns about undocumented immigration amid free-trade negotiations, launched Operation Gatekeeper at the western end of the boundary line
          • By June 1998 the total length of border fences and walls within the San Diego sector increased from nineteen to over forty-five miles
          • The number of Border Patrol agents rose from 980 to 2,264
          • 766 underground sensors were installed
          • The number of infrared scopes in use increased from twelve to fifty-nine
          • A ten-foothigh metal wall replaced the chain-link fence along the boundary line between San Ysidro and Tijuana.
        • The Secure Fences Act was the direct descendent of these government efforts, with the idea that the enforcement of national laws requires a physical barrier to transborder movement having its origins in the early twentieth century
        • Political scientist Peter Andreas evaluated the 1990s border enforcement escelations as “a politically successful failure”
          • Satisfied the public without doing much to curb illegal immigration and drug smuggling
          • This is true of the continued fence buildings since 2006, particularly considering half of undocumented immigrants crossed the border legally but didn’t leave after their travel visa expired – rendering the fencing utterly irrelevant



The Paranoid Style in American Politics- Hofstadter updated

As part of my ongoing research comparing and analysing Trump’s rhetoric on the border (and, by extension, Mexican immigrants and Mexico itself), I have been reading about the paranoid style, as well as looking at transcripts of Trump’s speeches (both during his campaign, as President-elect and now after his inauguration). Starting from Hofstadter’s ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics'(1964), I followed by reading a New York Times article ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics is Back’ (2016) by Thomas Edsall for an updated perspective. Below I have included notes from both, as well as particularly comparable Trump quotes I have found so far.

‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’- Richard Hofstadter (1964), Harper’s Magazine
– The Paranoid Style: ‘an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent’
–> ‘no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.’

McCarthy, June 1951: “How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster?”
Texas Newspaper Article, 1855: “ It is a notorious fact that the Monarchs of Europe and the Pope of Rome are at this very moment plotting our destruction and threatening the extinction of our political, civil, and religious institutions

Hofstadter then provides an overview of paranoia and the paranoid style in the US
– Revival of Bavarian Illuminati fears and anti-Masonry/anti-Masonic movement of late 1820s-30s
— ‘What must be emphasized here, however, is the apocalyptic and absolutistic framework in which this hostility was commonly expressed’
– The Jesuit Threat
– Lyman Beecher, ‘Plea for the West’: “Whatever we do, it must be done quickly. . . . ” A great tide of immigration, hostile to free institutions, was sweeping in upon the country, subsidized and sent by “the potentates of Europe,” multiplying tumult and violence, filling jails, crowding poorhouses, quadrupling taxation, and sending increasing thousands of voters to “lay their inexperienced hand upon the helm of our power.”

He then discusses the contemporary right wing (of 1964= McCarthyism, Hoover etc) and its differences from 19th century paranoia: ‘The spokesmen of those earlier movements felt that they stood for causes and personal types that were still in possession of their country—that they were fending off threats to a still established way of life. But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion’

He finishes by laying out some characteristics of ‘the paranoid spokesman’:
– ‘sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms’
– ‘constantly lives at a turning point’
– ‘a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician’
– Norman Cohn: “the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph”

 ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics is Back’- Thomas B Edsall (2016), New York Times
– ‘Paranoia in the Trump campaign ‘found expression’ in accusing the Republican establishment in the primaries, and Hillary Clinton + wider establishment of rigging the vote against Trump’
– Trump convention acceptance speech: ‘Big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind… [Hillary Clinton] because they know they she will keep our rigged system in place…She is their puppet, and they pull the strings.’
– highlights Hofstadter’s descriptions of a ‘megalomaniac view of oneself’, and the ‘dispossessed right wing’ as particularly relevant to Trump today
Notable Trump Quotes from his Speeches
Interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN (2015):We’re losing our industry, we’re losing our business to Mexico, their leaders are smart as hell. I mean, 300,000 I looked at your show, 300,000 births this year, illegals in our country. That means we picked up 300,000 people that are gonna get social security, you have people on the border and in one day they walk over, have a baby, now all of a sudden we’re supposed to pay the baby- medical social security’

– Transcript from his Presidential Announcement speech on June 16th, sent to Business Insider, July 2015: 
‘When Mexico (meaning the Mexican Government) sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you (pointing to the audience). They’re not sending you (pointing again). They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs.They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people! But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting’
‘What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc’

– Transcript from his Fountain Hills Rally in Arizona, March 19, 2016
‘They just approved a budget which is a disaster, The Omnibus, they call it the Omnibus budget right, it is a total disaster, it funds Obamacare, it funds Syrians coming into the United States *makes snake hand motion, we have no idea who they are. It funds illegal immigrants coming in *same motion, and through your border and through Phoenix and right through, it comes right through Arizona, all of these things are funded with the budget that they approve.’
Our country is not winning anymore. Trade is a disaster.’

– Though Hofstadter’s article is old, certainly some of the characteristics of a paranoid spokesman is evident in Trump’s mannerisms, self-praise, and constant assertions of his own intellectual prowess, business ability and the like
– It seems that, with the invent of social media and mass media, lives news coverage, it has either become harder or impossible to paint a group of people/one person as a wholly evil enemy, but Trump does his best to assert that ‘the bad ones’ are these wholly evil enemies
–> seems now that his ‘enemies’ have to be spread out over Mexicans and illegal immigrants, terrorists and ‘fundamental Islamists’, and the establishment and Clintons
– In relation to the wall/border: he seems to outrightly perpetuate conspiracies of involving the Mexican government, the US government and their allowance/facilitation of illegal immigrants

In our meeting last week we discussed:

  • The research and readings that each of us had done since our last meeting.
  • Some issues that we touched on were:
    • U.S.-Mexico relations – trade etc.
    • How to place the wall in the context of U.S. imperialism vs. Trump’s isolationist policies/ideals
    • Movement away from the political centre
    • The fact that Trump’s proposed wall does not mark much of a break from the policy of previous administrations
      • Each Presidential administration since Regan has fortified the U.S.-Mexican border in some capacity – eg. Bush and Obama both put up lengths of border fences
      • With this in mind Trump’s proposed wall can be seen as a continuation of previous policies over the border, but with more vitriolic rhetoric
    • We also started to develop our bibliography, sharing with each other some of the reading that we had done individually. This included:
    • For next week we decided each of us would continue researching and expanding our bibliography – focusing on our disciplinary area.

Borders A: Meeting 1&2

In our first meeting, we discussed the following:

  • We talked about the possible approaches to the concept of borders, whether we wanted to take a direct approach or a more subtle perspective
  • We decided we were collectively most interested in focusing on contemporary issues, particularly topics such as: refugees and assimilation, the imaginary border between London and the rest of the UK seen in Brexit demographics, the cosmopolitan, globalised community of London vs the culture in the rest of the UK, the open society of London vs the limitations of UK policy
  • We agreed that we would think about these ideas from the preliminary brainstorm and each contribute research and developments via the email thread by early next Friday, in preparation for first individual group meeting with George

In our email correspondence, we discussed the following topics:

  • Trump’s recent immigration ban against the seven majority Muslim nations
  • Social change movements that are ‘borderless’ e.g. anti-racist movements, LGBT rights and it’s influence and reception in London
  • The rise of segregation politics and its place in the cosmopolitan, globalised community
  • London as a city of multiculturalism juxtaposed with contrasting attitudes in other parts of the UK
  • Brexit and the immigration rhetoric
  • Anti-Trump protests and the social movements that have risen in response to his rise to power
  • The short film art piece ‘Best of Luck with the Wall’ by Field of Vision, comprised of satellite images of the entire US-Mexico border which was projected onto the Customs and Border Protection HQ in DC
  • Immigration issues and the rise of populism
  • Novels ‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobson and ‘The Line of Beauty’ by Alan Hollinghurst as representations of social change movements and issues


  • In our second meeting, we discussed the topics contributed via email, and decided to focus on the US-Mexico border and its current contention, particularly in relation to Donald Trump
  • Finalised a research question: What is the role of the US-Mexico border in Donald Trump’s America?
  • à we chose the issue of the border itself in order to have a manageable focus for our project, and the wording ‘Donald Trump’s America’ to include his campaign, the lead up to it, his actions as President-elect and his current presidency
  • We also discussed what the wall may represent, e.g. mentalities, prejudices, and the imagination surrounding it
  • We decided to use ‘Best of Luck with the Wall’ as a starting point, as well as the history of the border, and Trump’s speeches and tweets as other potential sources
  • In preparation for our next meeting, we decided to research into these and develop a bibliography