Courts and politicians won’t beat the border
In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s national emergency declaration, condemnations and legal challenges have issued from numerous sources. The declaration circumvents the need for congressional authorization to obtain partial, initial funding for the construction of a southern border wall. The State of California led a coalition of 16 states in filing a lawsuit against the Trump Administration in an effort to “protect their residents, natural resources and economic interests.” This came on the heels of a lawsuit filed by Public Citizen, representing Texan landowners living along sections of the proposed wall, and an environmental group alleging property rights violations, as well as another suit jointly issued by Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Protect Democracy and the Niskanen Center will also issue a legal challenge.
Not so fast
Although legal analysts initially advanced claims that Trump’s declaration rested on weak legal ground, just days later mainstream media outlets, from The Guardian to The New York Times, warned that courts might uphold the declaration. Legal experts indicated that courts would be unlikely to second-guess the President on what constitutes a national emergency.
Neither the legal nor the political approach
Many of the states participating in the California-led coalition might experience difficulty proving solid standing, especially those not on the southern border. Moreover, if Trump were to apply funds incrementally, starting with the $1.4 billion approved by Congress, the suits could be dismissed on the basis that they don’t address questions of imminent nature. The approach offered by politicians has already been stopped by a Trump veto.
Democrat or Republican – it’s the same basic problem
The failure of the Congressional strategy and the likely failure of the legal approach notwithstanding, their fundamental flaw is that they presume that the Democratic Party’s proposal on border security is a viable alternative to Trump’s wall. Far from a humane lesser-evil, the “smart wall” or “techno wall” could signal even greater danger to migrants attempting to cross the border.
Beyond funding to construct 55 miles of border fencing, the current border spending package allocates $400 million in no-strings attached funds for “border security technology and procurement.” The application of heightened security technology could allow for increases in aerial surveillance such as drone usage, biometric screening practices like facial recognition and DNA collection or widespread use of automatic license plate readers.
The differences between “Trump’s wall” and the “smart wall” are superficial, not substantial. Neither will succeed in halting unauthorized migration entirely, but both will force migrants onto increasingly dangerous desert routes, endangering human life on new scales. The alternate schemes of militarization and criminalization will continue to ensure a supply of precarious migrant labor to US capital, and both proposals will help satisfy the ruling economic and political classes’ need to identify and vilify a scapegoat through xenophobic methods. That the deportation machine and border regime remain bipartisan projects is hardly shocking—the title of deporter-in-chief still belongs to Barack Obama, not Donald Trump.
Educate, support, disrupt: only we can beat borders
Legal and congressional challenges pose no solutions and offer no alternatives to the human crisis the border and deportation infrastructures entail. Only grassroots exercises in collective struggle, mutual aid and direct action can confront any border wall, free immigrant prisoners from detention centers and secure freedom of movement for all people.
Popular education and mutual aid
Many grassroots legal defense groups, immigrant rights organizations and workers centers already engage in important educational work—ensuring that undocumented migrants are aware of their legal rights if confronted by ICE or Border Patrol agents. Anti-authoritarian leftists should advance these efforts to disseminate know-your-rights information widely. Energy should also be contributed to popular education endeavors. Community meetings, workshops, etc. could tackle a range of issues, from legal defense and analyses of the causes of migration to discussions regarding strategy and tactics in migrant justice struggles. Anti-authoritarian leftists can offer deeper analytical clarity on questions pertaining to the political economy of migration and racism than their liberal and advocacy-centric counterparts.
Efforts to extend material solidarity are gaining in strength. Supply drives for the recent migrant caravans have blossomed and militants have converged in Tijuana and San Diego to bolster the emerging legal aid, medical and housing infrastructures to support and sustain the caravans. Caravan support fits neatly with other direct support projects migrant justice organizations have long undertaken, from prisoner letter writing, to coordinating ride-shares for undocumented people to attend ICE hearings or relatives of detainees to visit loved ones, to other material assistance projects.
Direct action will get the goods
We too must assume the offensive. ICE and Border Patrol will cease to operate when their functions are sufficiently inhibited through disruption and direct action. The Occupy ICE and Abolish ICE movements that erupted in the summer of 2018 popularized important direct–action tactics, namely that of occupations and blockades, whether on the official property of ICE facilities or in their general vicinity. These have complemented and contributed to the existing tactical repertoires utilized by more militant sections of the migrant solidarity movement. Combined with anti-raid, rapid response mobilizations, deportation blockades at airports, no border encampments and Border Patrol checkpoint disruptions, these direct interruptions of deportation and border infrastructures will prove paramount.
Even if operating outside the proximity of direct infrastructure like ICE Field Offices or detention centers, militants and organizers can still target supporting or indirect infrastructure. Grappling with the strategic dilemma of an absence of ICE property in Olympia, Washington in the summer of 2018, demonstrations at the personal residence of ICE agents were organized. Faced again with this enduring dilemma during the recent #BlockTheWall days of action, Olympia activists shut down three banks issuing debt-financing to ICE detention center contractors, GEO Group and CoreCivic.
Whether “Trump’s wall” or the Democrats’ “smart” wall, heightened border militarization will be facilitated through credit provided by large financial institutions. It will hinge on partnerships and contracts with the private sector, notably in the construction, security and technology industries. If neither direct nor indirect infrastructures can be identified, street protest shouldn’t be discounted. Street mobilizations, when replicated on regional and national scales, wield significant disruptive potential by halting transportation and commercial circulation.
Beyond merely executing direct action, effectiveness is predicated on coordination across wide geographical scales. Militants should explore and heed the strategic insights outlined by Radical Education Department in Anarchism and Revolutionary Strategy: Insurrectionary Councillism and in the introduction to Rebellion and Possibility: Voices in the Anti-ICE Struggle Volume 1. Their strategy proposals call for combative social movements to “combine, intensify and federate” through expanded tactical repertoires and the formation of direct action councils federated on a regional or national basis. Coordinated and widespread direct action will be key in the struggle to abolish ICE and secure a world without deportation and borders.
Bobby Karelton is the penname of an Olympia activist.