“Se trajeron mis zapatos?” she asked in the ambulance, en route to the helipad. Did anyone bring her shoes?
She had broken both legs, and months would go by before she was able to walk again. But she was thinking about her shoes—a weapon of the weak, which migrants use to walk under the light of the moon, to run from bandits who want to rob and hurt them, and from the Border Patrol agents who want to capture them and send them back to start all over again. Without her shoes, she doesn’t stand another chance. Before we left the scene, one of the firefighters collected Araceli’s bloodstained shoes and put them in a red biohazard bag.
As soon as we arrived at the hospital, the flight crew got inside. JLo informed the flight nurse of the patient’s chief complaint, relayed her signs and symptoms, and described the treatment they had done. Together, they moved the patient to the helicopter, and we watched it take off.
Volunteering on both sides of the border, I witnessed how the wall predictably mutilates the bodies of those who try to scale it. The adoption by the Border Patrol of the “prevention through deterrence strategy” in 1994—which involved increasing the length and the height of the border fence in urban areas—significantly expanded the number of wounded migrants. The shifting design of the border fence produces particular forms of injuries: The sharp edges on top of the previous fence, made of corrugated sheet metal left over from the Vietnam War, amputated limbs; the tall, slatted steel wall we have today fractures legs and ankles. In towns along Arizona’s southern fringe, ambulances go to pick up wounded border crossers so frequently that emergency responders refer to the cement ledge abutting the wall as “the ankle alley.” The border wall is a key component of “tactical infrastructure”—a concept that Customs and Border Patrol uses to refer to the assemblage of materials and technologies that regulate movement in the name of national security. It includes gates, roads, bridges, drainage structures and grates, observation zones, boat ramps, and lighting and ancillary-power systems, as well as remote video surveillance, which together “allow CBP to provide persistent impedance, access, and visibility, by making illicit cross-border activities, such as the funneling of illegal immigrants, terrorists, and terrorist weapons into our Nation, more difficult and time-consuming.” Such “tactical infrastructure” simultaneously produces victims and marks them as criminals.
To determine the placement of tactical infrastructure, the Department of Homeland Security devised an algorithm called the “border calculus.” It was part of the Secure Border Initiative, a multiyear, multibillion-dollar program inaugurated in 2005 that combined the expansion of tactical infrastructure along more than 600 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border with the creation of a “virtual fence”—a high-tech barrier consisting of surveillance towers that monitor activity and look for incursions using radar, sensors, and high-resolution cameras. Border calculus bolstered the program’s credibility by making security appear like science, emphasizing both the spatial and temporal dimensions of enforcement. In the words of Gregory L. Giddens, who directed the Secure Border Initiative, the chart lays out “a very simple algorithm that our ability to respond to a border incursion needs to be much less than the time it takes an illegal alien to get to a vanishing point.”