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‘Borderland Citizenship’ Could Bring Justice to Both Sides of Trump’s Wall

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In American politics, the problem of the border is simple: You’re either for the wall, or you’re against it. For proponents, the wall guarantees security. For opponents, it is costly and ineffective.

What the debate doesn’t have is an alternative. Progressives fail to answer the simple question: if not a wall, then what?

In many ways, the answer is staring us in the face. While toxic, exclusionary rhetoric about bordering fills the airwaves, the situation is very different on the ground. Every day new forms of cross-border accommodation are being forged. Across government agencies (DHS, CBP, Border Patrol) a new way of thinking has taken hold: Instead of walling, to make the border safe, we need a strategy that is collaborative and binational–one that works with our partners in Mexico rather than against them.

This co-bordering approach was first formalized in Border Patrol’s 2012–16 National Strategy, which institutionalized collaboration with Mexico and Canada, and has taken hold ever since, transforming the border into an expanded, binational security zone. As one border official explained to me in an interview, the goal is to create a unified border zone “where we could cross and patrol together.… It would be a dual-sovereign zone, almost like a eurozone.” This new attitude doesn’t downplay the threat at the border; rather, it takes it seriously. Today, states simply cannot, and indeed, do not, secure their borders on their own.

They developments are not in and of themselves laudable—we should be wary of a system designed to maximize states’ abilities to organize against migrants. Still, they present an opportunity to harness these changes in the name of an actually progressive form of bordering.

One way is to complement the binational security zone with democratic institutions. After all, if border dwellers (on both sides of the line) are subject to two authorities, it’s only fair they be given some form of cross-border rights and permissions to match. In some places, cross-border political institutions already exist—as with collaborative town councils and work exchanges in border conurbations like Laredo–Nuevo Laredo and El Paso–Ciudad Juarez. It’s also common for border citizens to have special cross-border travel permissions (via SENTRI, for example). Such protocols do a lot to stitch border communities together, but they remain partial, site-specific and informal. We can do better.

One idea would be to match border-zone security with a kind of cross-border citizenship: a formal legal status conferring special rights and responsibilities onto citizens of the borderlands. The proposal would be to delineate a broad zone comprised of districts in the United States and Mexico along the 1,954 miles of the border in which citizens on both sides would be afforded special rights unique to the border zone (on top of their own national citizenship). Certainly, border security would be decided by the wider polity, but local issues—such as cross-border trade, schooling, environment, and waste management—would be resolved jointly by the communities themselves.

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Thanks !

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