The Deaths Map

Jeremy Harding writes about the war on America’s southern border

Migration is said to be good for host cultures. Geographers, demographers and business people believe it is, especially in the US, where one migrant group after another – Jews, Poles, Italians, Irish – has auditioned for a role in the great musical of American identity. The competition has been bitter, especially between newcomers and predecessors, and the typecasting has been crude, yet sooner or later every minority earns its place in the chorus. Nonetheless there’s a growing sense in some parts of the US that enough is enough, the stage is full to capacity and the show can no longer go on as it has. The source of this impatience is illegal immigration from Mexico, which is no longer seen primarily as a supply of service employees, farm labour and building workers, but as a threat to an indebted nation still embroiled in distant wars, with land borders to north and south that it can’t patrol as effectively as it would like and unemployment hovering at around 9 per cent. The US already has more than 11 million unauthorised migrants. About six and a half million are from Mexico and another two million from other parts of Latin America. Every year, many thousands more are crossing from Mexico without permission, to swell their ranks. Roughly 500,000 Hispanics – 8 per cent of the population of the state – are living in Arizona without authorisation. Arizona has become an operational front in yet another desert conflict.

The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating even as Obama draws down the numbers abroad. Despite war-weariness at home, war has remained the model for curbing illegal immigration; territorial integrity and the preservation of national identity are the goals. Unlike the invasion of Iraq, this is a respectable struggle – all nation states assert the right to secure borders. Yet watertight security is becoming harder to achieve as the global era brings new pressures to bear on the frontier, adding to the older challenge posed by people wishing to move freely. At fortified boundaries, frailty lurks beneath the show of strength.

The tough stance on the US southern border is fuelling bitter animosities. It endorses the north-south divide between two continents and two big economies, and gives offence in Mexico, where the northerly movement of undocumented people is seen as a vital form of exchange for both countries. Political liberals in the US tend to agree on this, seeing the benefits to Mexicans and the families they support from abroad. So do corporate boards and chambers of commerce, whose members celebrate migrant labour, on or off the books: that’s business at the price of immigration control. Then there are the ultras, neoliberals who favour greater freedom of human movement, in step with the boundless mobility of capital: that’s business at all costs, above and beyond the petty constraints of sovereignty. But conservatives in the South-West don’t like what they’re seeing and in Arizona they have drafted state laws on illegal immigration that vex the federal courts and alienate the business community. Most worrying, they raise local tension between Hispanics and whites. Over the last ten years, beefed-up border control has led to many more deaths among migrants, forcing them to find alternative routes through remote desert in their quest for a livelihood. In this thicket of dangerous contradictions, the illegal alien is both villain and victim. The question is whether punitive legislation and warlike methods of enforcement can strengthen the frontier or whether they turn manageable disorder into a disaster.

The border with Mexico stretches for nearly 2000 miles. Much of that is underwritten by the Rio Grande, but as natural barriers go, the river is less formidable than the wilderness either side of the frontier. The harsh Sonoran Desert in the south-western borderlands runs deep into Arizona, and into the defensive imagination of a white majority who take it as a god-given affirmation of the integrity of their state, and of the United States itself. A magnificent and costly border wall – ‘the fence’, ‘the barrier’ – now runs in sections, like a work by Christo and Jeanne Claude, along parts of the frontier, but the terrain in most of Arizona is so fierce that it was thought until recently to be a stronger disincentive to illegal entry than any man-made obstacle.

Border vigilance in its present form took shape in the 1990s under the first Clinton administration. In 1993 the Border Patrol in Texas reacted to large numbers of illegal crossings near El Paso with high-profile reinforcement. Operation Gatekeeper, designed to stem illegal migrant flows at San Diego, followed in California. Army surplus landing mats, dating from Vietnam, were stood on their ends to build a short stretch of wall along the border, where more than half a million ‘illegal aliens’ had been apprehended the previous year. People could cut holes in the steel panels or climb them – there were useful toe and hand holds – but the wall put an end to cars and pick-ups going across and set up a physical marker between north and south. As it grew, it transformed a line defined by international treaty, a few dusty frontier posts, cattle barriers and rolls of barbed wire, into a monumental declaration of intent. Numbers of illegal entries fell sharply around El Paso in the east and San Diego in the west, leaving a broad migrant channel in the intervening stretch of borderland. Many Latin Americans were ready to try it, especially after Mexico devalued the peso in 1994. At that stage crossing the wilderness wasn’t the only option for a clandestine migrant, but matters were moving fast and in 2006, the US Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, requiring 700 miles of built deterrence: not a wall as such, but a series of extended barriers along stretches of the border. The landing mats looked footling by comparison.

By 2010 Arizona had at least 125 miles of high fencing and about 180 miles of vehicle barriers. Determined migrants could still get across, and by now it was clear that the desert was not doing all that it should to keep out the enemy. Border towns were among the first places to be reinforced and security has been upgraded since. There are two crossings, for instance, between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico. The aged fencing at the downtown crossing, weakened by wear and tear, including tunnelling, was replaced this year. The Mariposa crossing, on the outskirts of town, is mainly a transit point for heavy goods, where articulated trucks back up for half a mile or more on the US side, an endless line of upright exhaust pipes beside a verge of sand, scrub and trash. This, too, is undergoing a major overhaul, largely to cope with the volume of traffic, but security is being tightened as well. Mariposa is the preferred point of deportation for illegal migrants: truck drivers, unlike the crowds of tourists at the downtown crossing, are used to the sight of captives being herded into Mexico like livestock.

In the view from the Arizona state capitol, human smuggling and drug smuggling are intimately connected. During a gubernatorial debate in 2010, Jan Brewer, the Republican governor, said of undocumented migrants: ‘The majority of them in my opinion and I think in the opinion of law enforcement … are not coming here to work. They are coming here, and they’re bringing drugs.’ But how does this hold up under scrutiny? It is true that many of the men profiting from human smuggling, with their millionaire ranches on the edges of the cities in northern Mexico, are making bigger amounts from drugs. Take Nogales again. In terms of cartel geography, it belongs to a generous swathe of territory worked by the Sinaloa cartel. There were clashes last year with rival cartels (the remnants of the Beltrán Levya brothers’ cartel and the paramilitary group Los Zetas), but drugs continue to cross the border and some, it is also true, are carried by unauthorised migrants: people who don’t have the money to pay for their passage can repay the debt by acting as mules, delivering packages to safehouses in the US. But the carrying capacity of a foot-slogger is no match for a commercial trailer, or the hydraulic arm of a towtruck, or a hidden compartment in an outsize SUV. The impressive quantities of narcotics confiscated along the US/Mexican border in 2009-10 (three million kilos of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs) and the drainage of weapons from the US into Mexico (6800 seized en route in the same year) tell us less about the vices of the undocumented migrant than they do about sophisticated smuggling operations, North American drug preferences, the effect of prohibition and the promiscuity of gun culture.

Unlike Brewer, Border Patrol staff believe that fewer than 10 per cent of the people they catch coming across have criminal intentions. The figures contradict her too. If drugs are the reason migrants infiltrate the border, why are there so many apprehensions of ‘illegals’ (170,000 in the Tucson Sector from October 2009 to June 2010, for instance) and so few federal prosecutions in the state on drugs charges (1107 in the same period)? How is it that out of the half-million undocumented Hispanics in Arizona, fewer than 3000 are in state penitentiaries on drug offences? Why, in Pima County, a frontline border county which includes Tucson, do crime figures for 2010 published by the sheriff’s office show incidents involving ‘controlled substances’ running at lower rates than fraud, criminal damage or burglary and only slightly higher than drunk driving?

Drugs or no drugs, unauthorised migration puts pressure on the border, and since 9/11 the crackle of vigilance has grown steadily louder as federal, state and county resources pour in to check a threat that is ill-defined in reality but which, like the spectre of WMD in Iraq, achieves high resolution in the eyes of policy-makers. Among the various agencies hovering over ‘border issues’ in Arizona are US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), the DEA, the FBI, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the sheriffs’ officers of several counties, including Maricopa, which has more than 700 on its rolls. More than 500 National Guard troops were sent to Arizona in 2010 and should have left in September: the redeployment is on hold. A move is afoot in Washington to increase Border Patrol staff, now roughly 20,000, by a further 5000 in the next four years and to deploy 6000 National Guard along the length of the frontier. The bill is sponsored by John McCain (Arizona), who, like George W. Bush, was once an immigration liberal but sees where the votes have come to lie in recent years.

Two highly visible protagonists in the immigration drama, Salvador Reza and the Republican state senator, Russell Pearce, embody the tensions in Arizona, almost to the point of caricature. In February 2011, Reza, a Latino commun-ity leader in Phoenix, was detained in the downtown county jail. His offence was not wholly clear. The trouble began the previous day while he’d been in an overflow room at the state capitol listening in as a senate committee debated a bill to crack down on undocumented migrants. The gist of the bill was to make life impossible for anyone in Arizona without papers: impossible to drive a car, or enrol a child in school, or be treated at a hospital for non-emergency care. Any infant born to an undocumented migrant would acquire a docket stating that it was not a US citizen. The presence of one undocumented person in a rent-paying household would mean the landlord had to evict them all. Reza, a large man in his sixties, with silver hair in a ponytail and a walrus moustache, was applauding arguments against the bill from opponents in committee.

Pearce, the president of the State Senate and the driving force behind the legislation, was furious and told security that in future Reza should not be allowed into the capitol buildings. When Reza arrived the following day for a meeting, he was told to leave; there was a scuffle; he and a fellow activist were arrested. Though he’s a US citizen, Reza is a pantomime monster for worried conservatives in Arizona, just as Pearce is for Hispanics and liberal whites. Pearce is a fifth-generation Arizonan, and a stickler for law and order, border law in particular. He comes to the point a fraction too soon and has no time for nuance; the fine interpretation of a law and its violation are much the same in his view and, oddly for a legislator, he won’t agree that if it’s unenforceable, it’s of very little use to anyone. He parries accusations of racism with the assertion that the law is colour-blind, which only adds to his villainy in the eyes of his enemies. He is a broad-shouldered, powerful man, in his sixties like Reza, who speaks in well-formed sentences that aren’t quite soundbites; he has a thick, acrylic complexion, like a work in progress left on the easel overnight.

Pearce announced when we met that he had never been against immigration, only illegal immigration: what’s ‘not to understand’ about the word ‘illegal’? He followed with some terse thoughts on race: ‘I don’t care what colour it is, as long as it’s American.’ Business people who were opposed to his stance, he said, were mostly the ones who acted unfairly, outside the law, driving down their own labour costs and cheating honest competitors. This was a kind of theft – ‘I don’t support stealing, though I see it benefits the thief and his family’ – and it displaced American workers (the figures are always hotly debated but they suggest ‘illegals’ do indeed compete with high-school drop-outs in the job market). ‘It’s embarrassing,’ he added, ‘and anti-American.’ He deplored the loss of tax revenue and social security contributions, though many undocumented aliens file tax returns and even more have social security payments deducted at source, under a false social security number, or someone else’s, which means that they pay in even though they will never be able to claim. The sums come out differently depending on the accounting, but Pearce sticks to his headline findings that illegal immigrants are a net loss to government and besides, as he reminded me, the law, not the money, is the bottom line. ‘Take the handcuffs off of law enforcement,’ he said with the ghost of a gleam in his battle-hardened eye.

Several hours after Reza was arrested at the capitol buildings, his supporters were crowded round another monitor, in the county court in Phoenix, which doubles as a jailhouse, waiting to hear whether he would get out and what charges, if any, would be brought. I was in the building, crammed against a TouchPay banking machine for transfers to prisoners (‘a fast, secure, convenient way to deposit money into inmate accounts … Mastercard or Visa’). An anti-anti-immigration senator cut a furrow through the room and addressed a sterling defence of Reza to the nearest news camera. The feeling among the crowd, largely Latino, was that Pearce had blackballed Reza from the state capitol, that the charge would be trespass and that this would probably violate the First Amendment. In a whisper, but hardly in confidence, a young Latino lawyer told me: ‘They want to de-tain his ass.’ Reza was released later that night, along with his colleague, pending a court appearance. On the steps of the 4th Avenue jail he assumed a statuesque pose, legs apart, plaid shirt filling in the breeze, and denounced ‘a level of repression I have never seen before’. Arizona, he said, ‘has to come back into civilisation’. Huddled in the chilly night air, the crowd applauded. The younger activist detained with him had put up a fight, been manhandled by security at the capitol buildings, and dragged out by the hair. A journalist asked her for a contact number but she’d used her cellphone to film the fracas and it had been confiscated.

In Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666, a TV talk-show host watches enviously as a rival on Tijuana TV interviews a doomed cross-border veteran who holds ‘the record for most expulsions from the United States’: he is a scapegoat for the failures of the Mexican economy, the second largest in Latin America, who keeps returning, unbidden, from the wilderness in which he was supposed to disappear. ‘Do you know how many times he had entered the United States illegally? Three hundred and forty-five!’ After the 50th crossing, we’re told, a heartfelt sympathy set in and the smugglers stopped charging him. On subsequent crossings he became a magical asset: better to have him in the group, because if anyone were to be caught, it was sure to be him. The talk-show host asks if he means to keep on trying. ‘Trying what?’ the man says. This mythic figure, steeped in heroic absurdity, is worth remembering as you stand at the border in the dust storm of deterrence that makes it hard to see to the other side, where national sovereignty means little to people impoverished by fate or political economy. The other figure to bear in mind is this: for every illegal migrant apprehended, Border Patrol estimates that three get across.

In Arizona, the pursuit of aliens is no longer confined to a costly cat and mouse game along the frontier. It is a grim paper-chase that takes place in traffic queues and metered parking zones in Phoenix, the kitchens of fast-food restaurants, mechanics’ workshops and building sites miles from the fence. Oscar, a fluent English speaker in his thirties, was not the symbolic serial offender imagined by Bolaño, but he had a sobering story to tell about the new crackdown, what it was to attempt the border and how it felt to fail. I found him stacking cans of peeled tomatoes by a portable gas stove in a tent shelter just across the frontier in Nogales set up by a migrant-support NGO. He had been holed up in Mexico for months, having lived in the US, been expelled and crossed back over several times, only to be caught and returned. Oscar’s misfortunes began in 2005, when it was discovered that his immigration documents were not in order. He’d opted for voluntary departure – a dismal alternative to detention or unaffordable lawsuits – and then crept back in. Subsequently, in Phoenix, he’d run up a couple of parking fines and paid them off using a fake ID. He’d let the third one slide, and wound up in an ICE detention facility for three months for illegal entry, before being deposited in Nogales. Not long afterwards he came back through the downtown crossing and managed to remain in the US for three years, until he was nailed on a traffic offence, sent to a detention facility in Arizona and deported again.

Oscar was not a man to hang around. Within days he’d joined a party of migrants, led by a coyote, or paid guide, on a venture into the Sonoran Desert. It was a three-day walk from the frontier to their pick-up point. He was flayed below the knees by cacti and when his shoes came to pieces – the shoes he’d been given in prison in Arizona – he walked the last day barefoot over red rock, a coarse oxidised sandstone. In Tucson he discovered that the soles of each foot had become a single blister, from ball to heel, like a gel pack. He was deported again and on his next attempt, shortly afterwards, he and his companions were spotted by Border Patrol. During the chase he lost his food and water. He survived for two days (it was October) and eventually made it to Phoenix. Soon enough he got on the wrong side of a drugs bust – his brother-in-law’s marijuana was found in his car, he claimed – and he was deported yet again. The refuge by the border post where a dozen indigent, would-be migrants hung in the shade with a listless posse of dogs, was now the long and short of it for Oscar. He’d been using crack, he admitted, but had managed to shake the habit: his suppressed rage and the look of convertible longing in his eyes – a longing for his family, or maybe his earlier life, or maybe a proscribed substance – made you wonder if he was telling the truth.

In fact the difficulty for Oscar had arisen very much earlier, when the family lawyer had failed to sort out his paperwork in the 1990s. The deeper problem still was that his family had brought him to Chicago in the mid-1980s, when he was three. He had a wife, an ex by now, and three young daughters with US citizenship living in Arizona, where he had worked as a courier, a line manager at a fast-food chain and a damp-course expert. He knew everyone and their grandmother in Phoenix. In Mexico his circle of acquaintance was probably confined to a handful of drug-users, dealers, human smugglers and deportees: the edgy feeling in the refuge in Nogales had something to do with drug dependency. His cheerful, busy friend Ricardo, who breezed in while Oscar was telling his story, had been pulled in for jaywalking in Phoenix in 2009. He’d shown the police his papers from the Mexican Consulate and a student ID – he was enrolled to study architecture – but he was handed over to ICE and chose voluntary deportation over a spell in federal detention. Ricardo was 24. He’d been nearly two years in limbo when we met. He’d been brought to the US at an earlier age even than Oscar – he was one year old – and had almost no family connections in Mexico. Oscar and Ricardo were Mexican on paper, but cast adrift in an unfamiliar environment they were closer to what Hannah Arendt and her generation would have described as ‘apatrides’.

Phoenix lay under a dull sky. It was early morning, with few signs of life, when we left. We picked up State Route 85 at Buckeye and headed south through a magnificent valley strewn with saguaro and palo verde; after an hour or more we passed the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, a test site for dummy ordnance. I was making for the borderlands again and before long my companions would be putting out water supplies on desert routes where migrants were known to travel and known to have died. Liana Rowe took a hand off the wheel and gestured at the bombing range. There were no water stations there, she said, because the military had refused permission. ‘Really,’ one of the volunteers in the back said with deadpan sarcasm. ‘But we know people come through there,’ Rowe went on. Another hour and we were on the outskirts of Ajo, an old copper settlement, where the pale terraced workings rose in the near distance like the remains of an abstruse civilisation. When the mines opened during World War One they generated a surge of Mexican migrant labour, but extraction ended in the 1980s and now the place is solemn and still, though the area is part of the regular beat for Border Patrol.

In May 2001, among dozens of crossings, a group of 26 migrants entered the Tucson Sector from Mexico. During a vigorous pursuit by Border Patrol, 14 lost their bearings, including three guides, ending up in a stretch of desert known as the Devil’s Highway, where they died. They were not the first casualties since Operation Gatekeeper but this was the highest number of recorded deaths in a single incident and pointed up the human consequences of the security drive at the border, where undocumented migrants had been moving back and forth in relative safety for decades.

The deaths were a scandal on both sides of the frontier. By then a group of activists in Tucson had already formed Humane Borders, an NGO seeking to ‘reduce the number of migrants dying in the desert’ and advocating secure legal status for undocumented immigrants. Rowe, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, is the Phoenix co-ordinator of the organisation, one of many support and solidarity groups that sprang up in Arizona as a result of tightened border policy. Her work, she explained, was a legacy of the Sanctuary movement of the early 1980s, when churches in the US brought refugees from the wars in El Salvador and Guatemala to safety north of the border, using a modern version of the underground railroad. Arizona had played a prominent part in this movement. ‘Sanctuary activists could see what was going to happen as the urban crossings were sealed off,’ Rowe said, referring to San Diego and El Paso, and events confirmed their misgivings.

Humane Borders and others have compiled a painstaking log of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert, with information from the medical examiners’ offices, Border Patrol and the Mexican Consulate. Geographers have taken the data and expressed them as a map of the frontier area, studded with red dots, each representing at least one death inside the US. The dots are so densely grouped in places that you might be looking at lumpfish caviar. A ten-year retrospective ‘deaths map’, covering the period 1999-2009, charts 1755 deaths. ‘They were wrong,’ Rowe said as she ran through the figures, ‘about the desert putting people off.’ The primary purpose of the deaths map is not to alert the world to the fate of desperate or adventurous people, but to give Rowe and her colleagues an idea where to set out water: after careful extrapolations from the map and tough negotiations with landowners, private and public, Humane Borders has established water stations in dozens of locations in the middle of nowhere.

At a depot in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a Unesco ‘biosphere reserve’, Rowe switched the car for a flatbed truck loaded with five-gallon bottles, a large container of water and two wheelbarrows, drove it out to the first water station, parked the truck, filled the bottles and had us wheel them to the station, a distance from the road, where we topped up a barrel. She checked the tap and ran a chlorine test. The volunteers, probation officers in the Phoenix area who were bitterly opposed to the crackdown on undocumented migrants, picked up a bit of litter – someone had been here – and we moved on to the next station to repeat the process. Litter dumped in nature reserves by exhausted migrants counts against them in the eyes of hardline environmentalists, and their bodies are only slightly more acceptable: plenty of migrants have struggled through this nature reserve and many have died in it. Some people say Humane Borders is complicit in illegal migration, Rowe remarked. ‘Because we put out water. That’s a refusal to see what drives them across in the first place.’

We secured the wheelbarrows and bottles on the tailboard, drove to the depot and put away the truck. On the way back in Rowe’s car, she spoke at length about the harsh new conditions facing migrants. She evoked an earlier age, when clandestine migration was mostly ‘a mom, pop and donkey operation’; you could almost glimpse the Flight into Egypt, restaged with plaster figurines in the crypt of a Mexican church – for a long moment I’d forgotten Rowe was a devout Christian. Border vigilance had raised the stakes, she went on, attracting new, high-powered Mexican smugglers who looked for wide profit margins (the going rate for a crossing that starts in Guatemala is around $7000). A cottage industry has been transformed into a lucrative business whose clients are forced to part with far more money than previous generations paid, for a far more dangerous crossing. Homeland Security, Rowe argued, has burnished the dollar signs in the eyes of the drug cartels, driven up the costs for migrants and introduced a death penalty clause into their ordeal by forcing them through remote desert. ‘If you’re going to quote me, please don’t refer to me as Reverend Rowe. Or Reverend anything.’ The skies had cleared, the sun was behind us, and the desert city of Phoenix, where she would preach the next morning, rose ahead like a landlocked Dubai.

On the morning of 11 August 2010, Angélica Martínez was working in a restaurant in Phoenix when police raided it, searching for undocumented migrants. She was removed to a detention facility outside town and appeared in court in the evening. She raised the money for a bond and was released the following day. In September she was sentenced and spent three weeks in Estrella Women’s Jail in Phoenix, under the jurisdiction of the Maricopa County sheriff, going from there into the charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), at a federal detention centre, where she spent another three and a half months. This is normally the prelude to deportation, but Angélica was able to remain by filing a lawsuit whose outcome, when I met her earlier this year, looked uncertain. She has been in the US since 1999: ‘I came in a car with my daughter and another family. My son was born here.’ She has worked for most of that time in the service sector. It’s not clear that the family is a net loss to the state of Arizona, as Russell Pearce’s version has it: what Angélica parts with in sales taxes in a year outstrips what she might have paid in income tax, always assuming she was paid off the books, in cash (but millions of working ‘illegals’ pay tax and social security contributions). Her children will eventually become able-bodied adults, who can launder the clothes, tend the lawns and flip the burgers of their fellow Arizonans at competitive rates. Angélica’s son is a US citizen but his mother has no papers; neither does his sister.

Angélica is typical of the new, urban offender invented by the culture of pursuit and prosecution in cities a good distance from the frontier, where people of different ethnic and national origins, one group with the power to drive legislation, the other with the impertinence to resist, are increasingly at odds. This conflict has been building for a while: Latino activists identify a key moment in 2000, when Arizona passed a law ending bilingual teaching in schools in favour of segregated classes with special English immersion for Spanish-speakers. Opponents of the legislation claimed that immigrant pupils would fumble the curriculum by being streamed away into language learning. Border discipline in the state had already hardened and there was a growing suspicion of Hispanics, who read the law as a deliberate affront. Then, in 2004, the state legislature made it a crime for public service employees to fail to report undocumented migrants and obliged anyone handling social security benefits to verify the legal status of applicants. Raids on workplaces increased and traffic offences soon spiralled into ‘illegal alien’ cases. Looking back over the legislation, a Hispanic activist in Phoenix told me, people felt they should have seen it coming. Whites, he thought, were better at anticipating trouble: when it was clear that Hispanic children might shortly be a majority in kindergarten and primary schools – they’re currently 42 per cent and rising – the threatened majority, already concerned about Hispanics taking too many jobs, had reacted fast. The 2004 legislation, in his eyes, was proof of their alacrity.

In 2008 the Legal Arizona Workers Act increased pressure on companies to hire within the law and check the status of potential employees on E-Verify, a Homeland Security website. More than 90,000 Latinos left the state in the following two years; the number of waged Hispanic employees fell by about 56,000 and the number of ‘self-employed’ rose by 25,000. The Public Policy Institute of California, which crunched the numbers, argued convincingly that these trends were not driven by recession. But it was legislation in 2010 that felt to Hispanics like a declaration of war. SB1070, as the bill was known, proposed a federal responsibility for local law enforcers, who would now be able to check the papers of anyone they had already stopped for a separate offence, typically a traffic infringement. In essence, the law formalised the growing reality of workplace raids and selective vehicle checks. It made the federal offence of unauthorised immigration into a state crime: Arizona was about to become a stop-and-detain jurisdiction. Like the ‘no bilingualism in schools’ ruling, SB1070 brought many legal residents and US citizens of Hispanic origin across the stepped divide that normally separates ‘legals’ and ‘illegals’ in migrant communities everywhere: it seemed to both to have a punitive, ethnic edge. Migrant rights groups call it ‘hate legislation’. The spirit of the law drew fire from Washington and cursory criticism from Obama; the letter of the law met with opposition from the federal courts – and injunctions on several counts. As matters stand, the provision in SB1070 allowing a local police inquiry on a specific offence to evolve into a demand for documents has still not passed into law and in theory there is no mission creep when a migrant is pulled over for running a red light. Local law enforcement sets little store by theory, however, and Arizona has come to be seen as a ‘papers please’ culture, rolling inexorably towards racial profiling and from there to racism pure and simple: a rogue state at the margins of the Union.

Opponents across the country decided on a boycott, also their riposte in the late 1980s when Arizona baulked at the Martin Luther King holiday. After SB1070, a group of California truckers refused to work in the state, the mayor of San Francisco advised his employees to avoid visiting and by 2011, dozens of valuable conference bookings had been stood down. Money and contracts have been veering away ever since and many businessmen who oppose the laws admit that it’s difficult to separate the mounting damage done by the boycott from the lingering effects of the financial crisis in 2008, which dealt a shattering blow to the construction industry, where many Hispanics work. The de facto boycott remained in place, as Latinos continued leaving the state for other parts of the US: many families are still eyeing up the possibility. Others, separated by a deportation, have already opted for upheaval and poverty – reunion in any case – by moving to Mexico (not ‘back’ to Mexico, because often this is their first journey outside the US). If Angélica’s luck runs out, she and her children will have to consider this possibility.

The latest bill, the one Reza had disparaged at the state capitol, is even more incendiary in the eyes of Hispanics, which made it seem odd that this forceful character, often accused of anti-white prejudice by his enemies, hadn’t played up the race angle on the steps of the 4th Avenue jail on the night of his release. Most activists and many Latinos are convinced that Arizona is in the grip of race hysteria: an idea hotly denied by Pearce and Governor Brewer. Alfredo Gutiérrez, a radical of Reza’s generation who held a state senate seat in Arizona for nearly 15 years, is outspoken about what he takes to be the racial component in this bitter struggle. Gutiérrez argues that ‘Arizona is for immigration what Mississippi was for civil rights,’ that ‘the term “illegal immigration” stands for hatred of Mexicans’ and that ‘somewhere in this country the immigration debate may be about immigration, but not in Arizona.’

Reza and Gutiérrez both know about the language controversy in schools: as a boy in Texas, Reza says, he was beaten on the hands with a wooden board for speaking Spanish; in Arizona, Gutiérrez had his mouth taped up when he did the same. Both are highly eloquent, doubtless as a consequence, even if their approaches differ. Reza’s militancy maps the immigration issue onto old indigenous land claims and cosmologies; I’ve seen him with conches, incense and totemic spears, summoning indigenous American ancestors in the grounds of the capitol building, before trudging onto the dreary stone concourse to demonstrate against Pearce’s laws. Gutiérrez, for his part, isn’t sure about the conches and totems – evidence in his eyes that the dubious appeal of faith and origin is on the rise, on one side as on the other. But he’s not surprised that the history of the South-West, whether it’s a religious nativist interpretation or a long-standing quarrel with 19th-century state formation in continental America, remains a mustering point for Latino activists.

Gutiérrez doesn’t dismiss the old arguments out of hand. The fact that the US acquired so much territory administered or claimed by Mexico in the 1840s and 1850s – the whole of modern-day Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, parts of Wyoming and Colorado – looms like unfinished business at the back of his conversation. But he is more intent on the recent history of migration. Gutiérrez was born in the US to Mexican parents. His father was deported in the 1930s under Hoover’s forced repatriation programme and returned during World War Two to mine copper in Arizona. By then the US had turned away from repatriation and begun drafting in Mexican labour, mostly in agriculture, under the Bracero programme. The scheme would have ended in 1947, had it not been for pressure from US farmers to keep it going. There were still plenty of Mexican labourers in the country in the 1950s, including Gutiérrez Sr, and the processing of newcomers had grown relaxed, to say the least. But if the presence of ‘illegals’ was useful, it was also unsettling: Operation Wetback, a well-advertised eviction programme that threw roughly a million Mexicans back over the border in 1954, helped to allay the anxiety. People like Gutiérrez take a dim view of US immigration policy on the southern border. First you need us, then you don’t. Much that has happened since the 1990s recalls the dark days of Operation Wetback.

Matters look even more troubling to anyone with doubts about the settlement of the US/Mexican frontier in the first place. There are around 31 million people of Mexican origin in the US and by no means all of them cling to a sense of old territorial injustice. In Arizona, however, the sense of a creeping reconquista – a Hispanic recovery of land lost in the course of US expansion – is the stuff of ultra-conservative fantasy. It rarely surfaces in migrant discourse, yet earlier this year, on the steps of the state assembly, a Hispanic fundamentalist shouted at a deputy from the Maricopa sheriff’s office that he and his kind – which I took to mean whites – would soon be a minority in the state. And perhaps all the border states? I found myself thinking, as the words took on a bitter, coded resonance: it was systematic settlement by North Americans in the 1820s and 1830s, intended to outnumber Mexicans, that had paved the way to independence for Texas. At this remote edge of the ethnic political imagination, the Union’s acquisition of so much land a century and a half ago, by war and purchase, remains a burning issue, despite the solemn ratifications and the money made over to the Mexican exchequer ($245 million in present-day terms for the last purchase, in 1853). Even level heads like Gutiérrez will invoke the territorial history in their defence of immigrants if you push hard enough. Unlawful movement across a frontier generates friction, and so do historic grievances. The border may have been upholstered and fortified since the 1990s, but these quarrels can reduce it to a cordon of frayed rope.

Arguments about freedom of movement are part of the wider controversy over free trade agreements and the benefits of market liberalisation. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement comes under a barrage of criticism from migration activists, who believe it has hastened the decline of small and medium-sized agriculture in Mexico that began with the Green Revolution of the 1940s and 1950s. Nafta has pushed campesinos off their land into the cities and forced millions to look for a new life in the US. The battleground is maize. Nafta has spewed subsidised US maize into Mexico, and hammered the price of local maize through the floor. Large, mechanised, low-labour agribusiness has survived but medium-sized farms have laid off their workers, often peasants supplementing subsistence farming with a daily wage. Alternative jobs in manufacturing for which these destitute people were meant to raise a glass have not materialised. In terms of numbers, migration into the US is now comparable to the exodus towards the cities inside Mexico itself. By the late 1990s, more than a million people a year were apprehended trying to cross into the US from Mexico without authorisation – a 40 per cent increase on 1994, when Nafta took effect and Mexico devalued the peso.

A feature of this liberal market emigration to the US is the rising number of indigenous Indians, the custodians of subsistence farming in southern Mexico, who appear to be crossing. Figures are hard to come by, but one sign of the flight from ruin is the presence in the US of Mexicans who barely speak Spanish. (At the Mexican Consulate in Tucson there are speakers of indigenous languages on call.) At the same time, native American groups are firmly opposed to the state immigration laws. The Navajo Nation Council spoke against SB1070 in 2010 and when Senator Pearce’s recent, egregious bills were unveiled in committee in February, Albert Hale, a former state senator and president of the Navajo Nation, was quick to observe that his people ‘understand immigration from a different perspective’: ‘We have been subjected to undocumented immigration since day one, since 1492.’ The Tohono O’odham, a native Indian people whose 4500 square miles of desert reservation extend to the frontier, also opposed SB1070 on civil and human rights grounds, suspecting it would add racial profiling to their list of woes. The O’odham have never been reconciled to an international frontier that cuts their traditional lands in two. Now they argue that the recent security fixation has funnelled illegal activity their way from Mexico, ravaged the local ecology and seen Homeland Security building over their archaeological sites. Very many undocumented migrants cross via the reservation. Indeed this is where the red dots on the deaths map are mostly thickly clustered. Business in human and drug smuggling is brisk, some of it involving younger O’odham themselves. At the same time it is much harder now for O’odham living in Mexico to cross over and visit relatives, or for those living north of the border to reach sacred sites to the south. As aboriginal voices grow louder, they inject a powerful ingredient into the immigration debate: a sense of the longue durée, shared by all minorities who know they must wait it out. Slowly but surely the argument in Arizona is taking on the character of a New World dispute about who was here first.

Seen from this perspective, every lawmaker in the state capitol is a parvenu, and the main building itself, which was completed in 1901, has an air of callow officiousness. The point Reza and his fellow militants are making by performing ancestral rites on the lawns is clear enough: the historic annexations of Mexican land, the invention of Arizona, the founding of the state legislature, the creation of an international border and then of the category ‘illegal’ for people crossing it without papers: none of this is authoritative or venerable in their eyes – it is all much too recent and depends, in the last instance, on force rather than tradition.

Perhaps white people can be forgiven for imagining a reconquista by stealth and numbers, aided and abetted by an aboriginal rights renaissance. But if ethnic ideologies are in the air, it’s largely in reaction to zealous border security and anti-immigration sentiment in the South-West, Arizona especially. Notwithstanding denials from Pearce and Brewer this sentiment, too, has a nativist undertone, which echoes loudly in the mannered style of law enforcement and incarceration. The sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, an influential eccentric obsessed by border issues (even though Maricopa does not extend to the border), is famous for forcing inmates in his jails to wear pink underwear, introducing pink handcuffs and making his detention facilities as humiliating as possible – Angélica described the food in one of Arpaio’s jails as ‘dog vomit’. A deportee I met in Mexico recalled several grim days in a county cell with no beds and a floor with raised joists at narrow intervals, making it impossible to lie down. Arpaio has also reintroduced chain gangs and set up an open-air tent city in Phoenix for detainees, apparently at Pearce’s suggestion, to minimise detention costs. All this is bracing and colourful, but Arpaio has run up against the federal courts for violating prisoners’ rights and for ‘unconstitutional’ searches. In a devastating profile for the New Yorker in 2009, William Finnegan showed that whatever the sheriff had spared the taxpayer by serving inedible food to inmates, it was nothing beside the millions demanded by the courts as compensation for violent deaths in his custody.

Pearce was once chief deputy sheriff under Arpaio. They have since fallen out, but they still share a propensity to see border security and immigration in terms of America’s epic national struggles against al-Qaida, for control of the Middle East and the pacification of Afghanistan. Pearce told me ‘the greatest threat to homeland security’ was the border and went on to say that ‘four of the five conspirators’ in the 9/11 hijackings had been stopped by law enforcement in the US and were ‘in violation of immigration laws’. In 2003, when Arpaio’s prisoners, many of whom were undocumented migrants, complained of the soaring summer temperatures in his tent city, he reminded them that it was ‘120 degrees in Iraq, and the soldiers are living in tents and they didn’t commit any crimes, so shut your mouths.’ It’s this readiness to envisage the same war on different fronts that has turned Arizona into a militarised desert principality: the adversary is hard to see, but the terrain itself is strewn with roadblocks, barriers, walls, fences, detachments of armed personnel, armoured vehicles, sniffer dogs and vigilantes.

I nearly forgot to add prisons. In December 2009, while Pearce was putting together support for SB1070, he made a presentation in Washington DC at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is an influence forum, where state politicians and corporate businessmen mull things over to their mutual advantage. The ALEC taskforce event at which Pearce sketched out his vision of SB1070 was attended by delegates from the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs more than 60 federal, state and city jails in the country. CCA liked Pearce’s mission statement and proposed to help him draft his bill: migrant detention looked like the next big expansion for the company. The bill went on to win 36 sponsors in the Arizona statehouse and, according to an investigation by National Public Radio, 30 received donations from companies specialising in ‘outsourced correctional services’, including MTC, ‘a leader in the management and operation of private correctional facilities’, and the Geo Group (Geo UK runs Harmondsworth, the largest immigration detention centre in Europe). CCA was also a donor. Arizona has, inter alia, ten state penitentiaries, five federal prisons, five ICE detention centres for immigration offences and eight county jails in Maricopa County alone.

It is hard to say how many people are under lock and key at any one time, but ICE currently has room for about 4000 offenders and, pending massive expansion, it rents inmate space in local jails. A new county jail conveniently situated in Nogales can hold 370 inmates and takes federal detainees, almost all undocumented migrants, at a charge to the US government of $65 per inmate per night. There are 40,000 prisoners in the state’s own penitentiaries. The law may be the bottom line for Pearce, but he needs help from the private sector. The detention industry, by happy contrast, depends on the law as the unique market for its expertise, and is the perfect partner for Pearce. Here, the analogy with distant wars holds up: similar relationships existed in Iraq between the US government and companies like Halliburton or KBR, which made a tidy profit out of the invasion.

The difficulty for Pearce and his followers, and for Governor Brewer, is to convince opponents in the rest of the country that they are not racists, even though their legislation splits the community in Arizona along racial lines; or white supremacists, even though they have extremist ethnic supporters. The tide has run in their favour. They have come up against the federal courts but, more important, they have sounded a note of defiance to federal government: if it cannot enforce its immigration policy, it should mind its manners when states take matters into their own hands. This approach has served the politicians well, even though their complaints about Washington’s indifference are largely posturing: Arizona is a net beneficiary of federal largesse, propped up by Obama’s 2009 recovery programme to the tune of half the state’s annual budget. The Obama administration has, in addition, put billions of dollars into border security, detention and deportation, some of it going direct to border states, including Arizona, for rental prison space.

Brewer and Pearce have gambled on SB1070 becoming a contagious piece of legislation and this, too, has paid off. By the end of last year at least 16 state legislatures had introduced similar bills. Laws in Georgia have been countered by federal injunction but Arizona has ceded first place for ‘rogue state’ to Alabama, where an even more drastic version of SB1070 was upheld, on key points, by the federal courts last month. The Obama administration has gone to appeal, but the bleak intransigence of Arizona’s lawmakers is already a model for conservatives across the country.

More encouraging still, for Brewer and Pearce, is the unmistakable convergence between Arizona’s rawhide approach and the humming policy machinery in Washington. Take Homeland Security’s Secure Communities programme, road-tested under Bush and implemented by Obama. S-Comm depends on many of the strategies pioneered in Arizona: overlapping state and federal law enforcement, fingerprint-sharing between the two – the ‘integrated biometric database’ – and the escalation of parking violations into evictions. It is essentially a deportation mechanism, which attempts with mixed success to target undocumented migrants involved in serious crime. In the first five months of 2011, around 30,000 people were deported under S-Comm, some 25 per cent charged with serious crimes and 32 per cent with immigration violations only. The Obama administration is in a mess over S-Comm. Illinois, New York and Massachusetts are trying to withdraw, arguing that the programme undermines trust between local police and immigrant communities, but the administration insisted in August that no state can opt out. At the same time Homeland Security announced that 300,000 planned deportations – of unauthorised migrants, already detained, but with no criminal record – would be put on hold, as a result of intense pressure from Hispanic communities. It seems at first hearing as though immigration is forcing Obama to dance to two tunes, as the band in Arizona plays for all it’s worth. But what if they were merely variations on a theme? Obama has presided over roughly a million deportations since the beginning of 2009, a greater number than Bush in any comparable period and perhaps a record for any US president: no one knows for sure how many Mexicans were thrown out during Operation Wetback. One million is yet another figure to keep in mind, when the time comes to look back on the Obama legacy.

Pearce’s astonishing tenure is lately under attack: there are efforts to oust him from office before term, in a recall voting procedure based on a citizens’ petition. He and his followers understand that in the long term the demography will turn against ethnic ultra-conservatism, but the short term has been compelling. Pearce always accused his political opponents of seeking ‘cheap votes’ as well as ‘cheap labour’, even though he remained in the ascendant by playing up the threat of lawless brown people at a time when figures for illegal entry were plummeting. Had he counted in the dead, who’d fallen prey to the desert? Were fresh cohorts of spectral Mexicans gliding through the cactus in terrifying numbers, whispering to the living who trudged beside them? In any case, Pearce’s vision worked with the voters of Arizona, where many Latinos who might have fought back are not on the electoral register, while 58 per cent of the state’s population is white non-Hispanic. Since 2008, Arizona has risen to second place in the list of states with the most poverty – Mississippi is still ahead – but it remains a retirement haven for elderly, prosperous whites who vote with their putters. White nativism may not have time on its side, but it’s had money and power to be going on with.

Not long after Senator Pearce had given me the time of day, I went back into Mexico and met up with Father Pete, a Jesuit priest from Douglas, Az., who was on a visit to a feeding centre for deportees. There were scores of newly deported and a handful of hangers-on, eating at long tables in a breeze-block building with a kitchen to the side. Grace was said before beans and tortillas. A plausible ne’er-do-well, in his forties, told me he’d been raised as a child in California, lived in the US ever since, and been deported a few days earlier. He’d been arrested on suspicion of a minor felony and his papers were out of order. His name was Moisés. He was trying to get back to the US, but the Red Sea wouldn’t part for him. He saw it clearly now, he was a fugitive. Yet the real disaster, he went on, was that he’d been blissfully unaware of the fact for years. He was broke, clean-shaven and well turned out, even though, like many deportees who fetched up for a plate of food that afternoon, he was sleeping rough – in a nearby cemetery. Others had crossed once, twice, several times, and been turfed back over the border. A Guatemalan man and his wife were peeling potatoes for the next day’s wave of deportees. We struck up a conversation and they rehearsed their harrowing journey through Mexico, a long story, and before it was done, Father Pete had tapped me on the shoulder: it was dusk and time to head back to the United States. The husband apologised. It turned out he’d only taken us as far as his first attempt at the border, a year or more ago. On that occasion, they’d been caught, jailed and flown back to Guatemala City by the federal authorities. So where were we now? I asked in haste. They had just failed on their second bid, two days earlier, but at least they weren’t back at square one. They aimed to try again within the month. The man was small and rugged; in Guatemala City he’d worked in construction. His wife was smaller still and about as rugged as it gets. The Sonoran Desert, and arrest and detention in the US, were nothing beside the dangers they’d faced on their first trip through Mexico. Father Pete gave them his high pastoral fives and the couple went back to their work.

The consensus is that about 11 million undocumented migrants are living in the US. Bear Stearns took a punt, a few years before its demise, and put the figure at 20 million: somewhere, in any case, between 3 and 7 per cent of the population. One answer to this is an amnesty package, which would legalise their presence and offer them the possibility of citizenship later on. Reagan signed an amnesty bill in 1986, when four to six million people were living unlawfully in the US, many from Central America, whose asylum claims would have contradicted Washington’s stated objectives in the region. Since then, the figure has risen again and a new act is overdue, yet in recent years four Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills have been introduced and failed, despite powerful backing (John McCain, Bush Jr, Edward Kennedy). During his presidential campaign, Obama spoke in favour of reform – he spoke in favour of many things – but it’s since become clear that he is a border security politician by default, and a reformer on the hustings only.

The pressures of inward migration to wealthy parts of the developed world since the 1970s suggest that amnesty programmes, introduced from time to time, or even triggered when figures rise beyond an agreed level, are a sensible way to manage liberal societies with high numbers of undocumented migrants. No responsible state wants unentitled people hidden in the creases of the wider social fabric. The legislation that has stalled in Congress since 2005 would have made what happened to Oscar and Ricardo, the two young men in Nogales, impossible. It would have raised tax revenues. It might well have reduced the jet black areas of the grey economy, where undocumented migrants find themselves trafficked into lives of semi-slavery. It might also have allowed wages among the poorest paid US citizens – invariably African-American – to hold up better than they have. These would be real achievements and the idea of comprehensive immigration reform has not gone away. There are proposals for a new bill and powerful voices in its favour, including that of Michael Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy – a partnership with Rupert Murdoch, among others.

Almost every high-profile proponent of amnesty, including Bloomberg and Murdoch, endorses a fortress approach to illegal immigration (the phrase is normally ‘secure our borders’). The rugged right don’t believe what they’re hearing: to them it is a hollow quid pro quo from people whose real intention is to create millions of new Americans: Pearce described it as ‘hypocrisy’, though no partner for a new American economy loses sleep over poverty in Latin America. Bloomberg et al want to ‘attract and keep the best, the brightest and the hardest working’: they acknowledge a need for low-wage service personnel and hardy seasonal labour, in the bracero tradition, but the emphasis still falls on skilled, well-educated migrants. That leaves many rural poor, dispersed by their government’s economic programmes and battered by free trade agreements, waiting on the wrong side of the threshold, along with growing numbers of unemployed in cities near the border: in Ciudad Juárez, once a Nafta showcase, now ravaged by guns and drugs, unemployment is running at around 20 per cent.

The advantages of market liberalisation have been slow to migrate away from wealthier countries, while the battered ideal of the free market, like the battered ideal of Communism, has brought ruin on smallholders, as collectivisation did, and offered little in return. It continues to promise Mexicans everything if only they would renew their faith in the doctrine. In Mexico, where the World Bank estimates that more than 40 per cent of the population live in poverty, people have been clinging on since the convulsive market reforms of the 1980s. In the orthodox model, goods, services and capital must enjoy full freedom of movement, while economic justice remains a sovereign affair, subject, just as human beings are, to the law of the frontier. This anomaly, framed by border security, drives millions of Latinos north to redress it themselves, and accounts for the fact that the migrant remittance, at roughly $25 billion a year, is now Mexico’s second highest source of external income. Depriving lower wage-earners of the opportunity to send money back to their families at home compounds their poverty and ensures continued pressure on the border.

Migration out of Mexico may well become the war that Homeland Security has anticipated. The phenomenology of the US/Mexico frontier is martial: a vast, straggling set of defences, edified at extraordinary cost, where America’s sense that it is under siege can be properly enacted. To believe in this story, you have to imagine that the miserable encampment in Nogales where I found Oscar and Ricardo is really the tent of Achilles. But if you do, you must also accept that the Trojans have something they should negotiate. Whites in Arizona don’t: in their parochial version of the tale, tens of thousands of undocumented Mexicans are infiltrating every year into territory that once belonged to Mexico. And if they peer over the edge of the border debate, at an epic in which human movement is not just the pursuit of a better life but a competitive struggle for food, energy and water, their worries seem doubly justified. Many white nativist websites assert, correctly, that population increase in Arizona will be hard to sustain; few admit that the frontier is an artificial line across interlocking ecosystems, under pressure from top-heavy consumer lifestyles to the north and a congestion of poverty in the south. The result is a twilight world of flight, seclusion and incarceration, with Hispanics eager to leave the state for other parts of the US. Those who remain lapse into self-employment lite, staying at home when they can, reluctant even to pick up a set of car keys. The less fortunate are hauled into custody, to service the rituals of authority and humiliation, which Sheriff Arpaio means to perfect by putting his prisoners to work on the building of more prison space for more prisoners, the great majority undocumented migrants.

Most weekdays you can see the same rituals performed in the federal court house in Tucson, as new detainees apprehended near the border, anything from 50 upwards at a single hearing, are sentenced under a programme that whisks them through a shorthand criminal procedure and off to deportation, or a jail term ending in deportation. Enthusiasts claim that Operation Streamline is bringing down the number of unauthorised crossings. Numbers happen to be falling, but Streamline is only one of several factors in play. The price of this courtroom spectacle is exorbitant. Where else in the world does a court resound with the noise of rattling chains, as prisoners, shackled at the feet and handcuffed, sit in rows – women in one area, men in another – and stir from time to time, waiting to be called before the bench in groups of seven, where they make their way like hobbled animals, have their names read to them, are asked if they understand their rights, and then enter a guilty plea? Sentences are handed down at breakneck speed, some as low as 30 days, others as high as 180, all followed by deportation. As one batch nods a cursory thanks to their lawyers and US marshals lead them away, another seven shuffle forward to the bench. Many still have the dust of a failed crossing on their clothes. They might be prisoners taken on the field of battle.

‘It’s not pretty, is it?’ the judge asked when we met a few minutes after one such hearing. He reckoned that in his court, Streamline costs $50,000 a week in attorneys’ fees alone. When he added Streamline and the other fast-track judicial procedures together, the best outcome he could see was about 8000 deportations a month. ‘Ask yourself if that makes a difference,’ he said, pulling the wrapper from a nicotine substitute. Anyone can research the correct answer. There are already 500,000 undocumented Hispanic residents in Arizona alone. In 2010, along the length of the frontier with Mexico, Border Patrol caught more than 400,000 people trying to enter without authorisation. Perhaps its three-for-one estimate is an exaggeration, but we can safely assume that a good many people slipped across a frontier which has never articulated north and south to the satisfaction of either party. Why should it do so now? Unfair, leaky immigration systems, the kind we have learned to live with, express this contradiction even as they struggle to manage it. But what is it that’s expressed by the radical wish to exclude, imprison and deport? And what kind of management is that?