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Under Biden, the Border Wall Is More Powerful Than Ever

EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThis article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

First, it was the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) vehicles speeding along on the road in front of our campsite. Then it was the Border Patrol’s all-terrain vehicles moving swiftly on a ridge above us. I was about 10 miles north of the border with Mexico, near Peña Blanca Lake in southern Arizona, camping with my 6-year-old son and some other families. Like fire trucks racing to a blaze, the Border Patrol mobilization around me was growing so large I could only imagine an emergency situation developing.

I started climbing to get a better look and soon found myself alone on a golden hill dotted with alligator junipers and mesquite. Brilliant vermilion flycatchers fluttered between the branches. The road, though, was Border Patrol all the way. Atop the hill opposite mine stood a surveillance tower. Since it loomed over our campsite, I’d been looking at it all weekend. It felt strangely like part of English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon—in other words, I wasn’t sure whether I was being watched or not. But I suspected I was.

After all, that tower’s cameras could see for seven miles at night and its ground-sweeping radar operated in a 13-mile radius, a capability, one Border Patrol officer told me in 2019, worth “100 agents.” In the term of the trade, the technology was a “force multiplier.” I had first seen that tower freshly built in 2015 after CBP awarded a hefty contract to the Israeli company Elbit Systems. In other words, on top of that hill, I wasn’t just watching some unknown event developing; I was also in the middle of the border-industrial complex.

During Donald Trump’s years in office, the media focused largely on the former president’s fixation with the giant border wall he was trying to have built, a xenophobic symbol so filled with racism that it was far easier to find people offended by it than towers like this one. From where I stood, the closest stretch of border wall was 10 miles to the south in Nogales, a structure made of 20-foot-high steel bollards and covered with coiled razor wire. (That stretch of wall, in fact, had been built long before Trump took office.)

What I was now witnessing, however, could be called Biden’s wall. I’m speaking about a modern, high-tech border barrier of a different sort, an increasingly autonomous surveillance apparatus fueled by “public-private partnerships.” The technology for this “virtual wall” had been in the works for years, but the Biden administration has focused on it as if it were a humane alternative to Trump’s project.

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