When a visitor to the United States enters the airport they plan to leave from they expect to show their passport and declare their baggage. However, it used to be that most passengers expected these interactions to be conducted by customs officials only in their own country. This is often no longer the case. Instead, many airports across the planet have now become outposts of the United States Border Patrol. It is officials from this agency who will ask for one’s passport, conduct a search and often ask for a passenger’s laptop and cellphone. Then they will ask for the passwords to those devices and any social media platforms the potential traveler might use. Fingerprints will be scanned and, if the airport has the proper equipment, so will the traveler’s retina; both scans will be entered into a database for future retrieval. If the officials conducting this exercise find a reason, they can deny the traveler their journey to the United States. Potentially, they could also detain that traveler. Yet, they are not physically inside the borders of the United States.
The above scenario is but one of several that author Todd Miller describes in his latest book Empire of Borders: The Expansion of US Borders Around the World. The other scenarios are often more violent and involve a process considerably more dehumanizing then being denied a plane flight. They include the incarceration of children and their families (together and apart), the construction of physical walls that divide towns and villages in half, and in some zones, shoot to kill anything that moves orders. The latter instances are part and parcel of the world today. Most of us tacitly accept their continuation. Many even desire an intensification of these efforts, believing the militarization of their nation’s borders somehow makes them safer. It is those voices that lead to massacres like the one that occurred in El Paso on August 3, 2019.
The border Miller describes is more than a line on a map, more than a wall separating communities, and more than a checkpoint staffed by uniformed individuals motioning one to pull over and park. Indeed, the border he describes is a series of electronic sensors, cameras, armed men and women, satellite transmissions, drones and buildings large and small populated by techies who monitor all of the above from their computer screens. It is a billion-dollar business populated primarily by US and Israeli companies determined to put the whole world under observation. The modern border is a border designed to insure the exploitation of other nation’s resources and markets by the dominant capitalist nations, especially the US and some members of the European Union. It is also a border designed to keep those whose land and resources are being stolen from getting back to that land. The latter is especially true in the case of Israel and its occupation of Palestine. In short, the modern border is meant to keep the haves from the have-nots. National armies and border police are, more than ever before, stooges and hit men for the global one percent—most of whom happen to be headquartered in the United States. It is their intention to continue gathering wealth and they will do whatever it takes to fulfill that intention. If a population or segment of a population gets in the way of their plans, laws are passed to declare that group of people illegal.
In an excellent combination of reporting and analysis, Miller describes a system of borders that are mutable, invasive, and multidimensional. The once national borders of the world’s most powerful nations no longer begin and end where national boundaries appear on a map, but now often go deep into neighboring countries territory. Surveillance and incarceration are the order of the day; those under the gun include activists and others opposing this world order and ordinary humans who just happen to be in the way of the powerful’s pursuit of profit. If apartheid is defined as a policy of separation and separation is a point, line, or means of division, then what Miller describes in The Empire of Borders is a system of global apartheid. It is a system that becomes more pervasive and insidious with each tax dollar spent on it. It is also a system that needs to be resisted and dismantled. That is an uphill task, to say the least.