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Interview With Todd Miller, Author of ‘Storming The Wall: Climate Change, Migration, And Homeland Security’

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Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola interview journalist Todd Miller, author of Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security. It was published by City Lights Books in September and was praised by Bill McKibben, Christian Parenti, and Dahr Jamail, who has appeared on this podcast multiple times.

Miller traveled to the Philippines, Honduras, Guatemala, the Mexico-Guatemala border, the United States-Mexico border, and Paris. There he observed and met individuals witnessing the escalating impacts of climate change on their communities. He also attended multiple expos or conventions, where people from the security-industrial complex spoke about how they are preparing for climate change—in order to control borders and make profits off future calamities.

During the hour-long interview, Miller discusses the “21st Century Border,” as well as the concept of “Prevention Through Deterrence”—how countries deter migration by increasing the potential for death. He highlights what he observed in the Philippines and recalls his experience at Milipol, a massive Homeland Security expo he attended in Paris days after ISIS attacked the city and around the time the Paris climate agreement was deliberated over by much of the world.

To listen to the full interview, click on the above player or go here.

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Below is a partial transcript of the interview.

GOSZTOLA: Before we get into the connections between militarization, the security state apparatuses, and immigration policies, let’s talk about where are we at now with Donald Trump as president and what we’ve seen in the last year. What makes this book so critical for this moment?

MILLER: That’s a good way to start. Donald Trump, of course, central to his campaign and his presidency was this idea of a “border wall.” Before I delve into that, it’s important to mention that before Donald Trump ever took office there is and already has been a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s a part of a 25-year historic buildup, where we have a border enforcement apparatus of the size and magnitude that we haven’t seen before.

And this in terms of walls and fencing barriers, as one example. Already there’s 700 miles of walls and fences on the U.S.-Mexico border. Border Patrol agents have gone from about 4,000 to approximately 21,000. So that’s a five-fold increase. Budgets for border and immigration enforcement over the last 25 years have gone from about $1.5 billion in the early 1990s to $20 billion in 2017, which if you combine Customs and Border Protection with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that’s the number you get. It’s like a thirteen-fold increase, and that number is more than all other law enforcement agencies combined. All those combined come to about $15.5 billion.

Already, before Trump ever took office, the border apparatus, immigration apparatus was already gigantic. He inherited this deportation regime or machine that was deporting about 400,000 people approximately per year under the Obama administration that’s been built up over the years, especially in a post-9/11 era. So, Donald Trump comes with all this talk about building up a border apparatus even more, which he intends to do and is already trying to do on top of something that is already gigantic.

This comes in a century, where the kind of migration that is predicted across the globe is predicted to be very dramatic and staggering. In a way, you’re looking at what the answer to global migration is going to be.

KHALEK: I don’t think people understand the gravity of what you mean by the level of people that will be displaced. I was kind of shocked. The number is something like 21.5 million people are displaced annually climate-related issues.

MILLER: Those are statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, and those 21.5 million people per year since 2008 is what they have. They’re people who have been displaced for climate-related hazards. That’s the terminology they use. In other words, they’ve been displaced due directly to climate change. Those sorts of numbers are expected to increase dramatically. As we proceed in the century, the kinds of projections and forecasts are staggering really. They range from about 150 million people by 2050 to 1 billion people.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center says well between 150 and 350 million by 2050. The United Nations often uses a statistic around 250 million, again, by 2050. That’s a benchmark year that’s often used. The New York Times just wrote an article. They used a statistic that was 700 million people by 2050. They cite a report that projects that one in every 10 people from Mexico will be displaced due to heat waves, due to droughts, due to hurricanes, due to water scarcity issues – issues all connected to climate.

So these sorts of statistics are very much debated. There’s a debate going on, but the researchers who are looking into it are saying we’re going to see the type of migration, the type of displacement that we have never ever seen before in human history, and that’s what we’re expecting.

KHALEK: They’re preparing for it by building walls, and on top of building walls, you explain there is this system for people who do make it into areas, who do make it past wells who are then exposed to incarceration, heavy monitoring, and the level of technology and profit that’s being made just from using high-tech and walls is stunning. Can you talk about that?

MILLER: When you hear about climate adaptation or climate mitigation in the world, sometimes you hear about programs that increase resiliency in places that are vulnerable to climate change, like such as building sea walls. There are budgets that go to that, but the biggest budget when you look at right now and what’s projected in the future is to the military and to the increasing homeland security regimes across the world and borders.

There’s untold billions going into this, and if you look at future assessments, the assessments show a world of borders, a world where different countries, especially richer countries or countries of the Global North will build border walls for various reasons but one of them is definitely connected to increasing upheavals due to climate. And so, you look across the world right now and you look at when the Berlin Wall fell in 1988, there were 15 border walls in the world. Now there are 70 border walls and two-thirds of those were constructed after 9/11 so they’re being constructed at an accelerated pace.

That’s the kind of buildup we’re describing on the U.S.-Mexico border, and as you were saying Rania, the walls and the technology and I would say it’s a semi-privatized border apparatus in which in the United States case and across the world in fact there are contracts given to private companies. Companies that everyone knows, like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Companies that have profited off U.S. military operations or wars all over the world. They’re the same companies adjusting themselves to a new burgeoning, “booming” homeland security market and turning military technologies and using what they call a homeland security application—so they’re being placed on borders.

For example, a lot of borders across the world patrol with drones. On the U.S.-Mexico border, there’s Predator B drones that are being used, the same drones that were used in Afghanistan and Iraq. They’re even equipped with technology that was used in Afghanistan, the VADER [Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar], as in Darth Vader, technology, again, from a private company. I believe Northrop Grumman. What was being used to locate roadside bombs in Afghanistan is now flying over the U.S. borderlands and the desert and also the north.

To follow up, as you say, if people get across the border, which many, many people do, it’s not just you cross the border and all ends there. In the U.S. case, the border actually extends 100 miles inland. The Border Patrol, the actual Homeland Security, can have checkpoints. That’s the sort of thing you’ll probably have to avoid if you’re undocumented. But also, it increasingly means the surveillance apparatus follows you wherever you go in the United States, and there’s an accompanying incarceration apparatus. There’s about 250 immigration detention centers and with a quota, a congressional mandate to have 34,000 people detained at any given time.

These are not people detained under criminal charges. These are people detained administratively, facing deportation and so part of the deportation regime we were talking about that is expelling people at record numbers.

GOSZTOLA: When you talk about the “21st Century Border,” what should be emphasized is this isn’t just the wall or the security fence. It actually extends outward and around and involves surveillance technology. I would like you to talk about that some more. But what is important remarkable about your work is that you traveled to several places to see these things up close. You collected primary source material. You talked to people impacted from these climate catastrophes. You talked to individuals in these communities watching the oceans creep up on them. You also went to these security or military industrial-complex expos around the world to see the gear on display.

MILLER: The four places I went to was the Philippines, Central America—and by that mean, mainly Honduras but also Guatemala and the Mexico-Guatemala border and also the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. I live in Tucson so I live in the U.S. southwest but also I include northern Mexico. I also was in Paris during not only the climate summit of 2015, the famous Paris accord, but also there was a gigantic – probably the biggest homeland security convention that I’ve ever been to – in Paris, that happened three days after the attacks on November 13, 2015 [by ISIS]. I was there when Paris was pretty much in this emergency lockdown.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."