“At any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It’s on the truck. It’s at the station. It’s on the airplane. Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them. We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in.”— Former Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, 2015 (Linshi 2015)
Fig. 1 :Trump (Trump, 2018) tweeted message boasting about border wall construction

Latinx migrants[1] and refugees endure state violences before, at, and after crossing the US-Mexico territorial boundaries.[2] Indeed, the border is one of the central concerns of the state— encapsulated by Trump’s campaign promise to “Build the wall!” Discourses reducing borders to walls are also mobilized by both the left and right of the US political spectrum. Conservatives call for a Southern wall to protect and secure the nation. Migration activists and academics on the left denounce walls as sites of physical state violence and spatial representations of racialized exclusion. This conception that equates walls with borders is persistent, and it obscures power, space, and race, the state’s “death-dealing” ways (Gilmore, 2002). Unwittingly, it also reduces understandings of state violences committed by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to sites and practices of exclusion, which overlooks how violences of the border extend beyond border zones.[3] The border has thickened (Rosas, 2006), and the racialized violence that accompanies its management is marked by practices of inclusion just as much as it is marked by practices of exclusion.[4]

Walls are not the only threat to those who choose to resist the sovereign borders of modern nation-states. In fact the border is not a wall but a logistical infrastructure, or a set of scientific rationales and their corresponding technical practices that create, maintain, and expand networks that circulate commodities, resources, capital, and people. The overwhelming attention paid to the wall conceals the fluidity of the actual hi-tech US-Mexico border and obscures the full extent of its political violence. Reconceptualizing the border a logistical infrastructure not only denaturalizes the border as a “fixed space” (De Lara 2018) that can be crossed, but also denaturalizes assumptions that the border is merely a technology of social exclusion. What is more, highlighting the logistical and infrastructural dimensions of borders uncovers the violent and complex inclusionary practices required for transnational racial capitalism.

Scholars like media theorist Shannon Mattern (2018) have already begun to challenge the conceptual conflation of the wall with the border. Indeed, Mattern provides an informative and productive review of border surveillance technologies, arguing that the border is not a wall but an extensive security apparatus that (mis)recognizes the humanity of immigrants rendering them merely as targets. Mattern asserts that “we must first train ourselves to recognize the border itself, which is not a fence. . . .” and her analysis that border walls, “like so many other border technologies, are tools of propaganda. . . . line[s] that distinguishes us from them.” For Mattern technologies such as identification cards, license plate readers, facial recognition software, drone surveillance, video cameras, motion sensors, lidar and radars systems are forming a new hi-tech border which is becoming a site “where the spread of new technologies . . . change the way we appear to one another”.

Yes, there is an extensive security apparatus employed by US border regimes, but misrecognition and mass deportation are only parts of the “violent state arithmetic” (Cuevas 2013) of migrant management. If the current border is not merely a wall, then what is it? The border is not merely an apparatus of exclusion and deportation rather it is a global logistical infrastructure. Recognizing logistical infrastructures, as opposed to walls, reveals a different, surreptitious US border that has been, and continues to be, built. Like many other areas of contemporary governance, immigration enforcement has rapidly become information and technology driven. Generated by a vast and complex information network that integrates transnational capital and state institutions, in the case of labor management, this infrastructure is employed by border enforcement to manage circulations of a devalued, detainable, and deportable supply of racialized labor. Simply put, the US border resembles a logistical supply chain of labor.

US border enforcement has a long and complex history with surveillance technologies and information gathering systems. Since the 1970s, aircraft, cameras, and infrared technology have been utilized to monitor border mobilities and facilitate immigration management. By the early 1990s, a surge of technical programs centered on information gathering and communication technologies. For example, Integrated Computer-Aided Detection System (ICAD I & ICAD II) linked remote ground sensors, ground patrols, and a complex data analysis system. A couple of decades later, in 2011, another technological step was taken in the development of the hi-tech border when the Department of Homeland Security employed Boeing to head its Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet). This network was intended to improve border security, interiorize immigration management, and integrate with other federal security agencies. SBInet cost the US government approximately one billion dollars and was implemented along 53 miles of Arizona’s border with Mexico. Although then-US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano ended the program two years later, stating that “SBInet cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border security technology solution,” she nevertheless affirmed that the program provided “a new path forward for security technology along the Southwest border.”

Since September 11, 2001, information collection and the production of information networks have become top government priorities (Amoore and Raley 2017). No longer focused solely on isolated data gatherings technologies located or used at the border, and the on the sole  development of data bases maintained by DHS, US border enforcement has turned to the development of technologies that allow computer interoperability. Computer interoperability is the capacity for numerous information systems to work together within and across organizational boundaries. Interoperability is seen as crucial role in governance because it integrates “interrelated keystones to create a cross-domain interoperable environment: technology, governance, business value and culture” (Kujat et al. 2017). In the case of border management, interoperability means that US federal agencies no longer rely on their own databases for surveillance operations; rather it now has the capacity to integrate with existing databases both federal and private (like person bank accounts, medical records and social media networks) enhancing DHS and ICE’s network effect.

Silicon Valley, in particular, has played a pivotal role in developing this technological approach to border management. For example, in 2009, the federal government allocated 30 millions to create a project that demonstrated the productiveness of computer and domain interoperability (Lake and Nuñuz-Neto 2009). In 2014, DHS and Immigration and Customs (ICE) awarded Palantir Technologies a $41 million contract to build and maintain a highly integrated and comprehensive data infrastructure: Investigative Case Management System (ICM) (“Investigative Case Management System” 2014). In 2017, ICM was finally put into operation. The result of this data imperative includes the formation of new and extensive spaces of information creation, data storage and management, and artificial intelligence (AI), such as DHS’s fusion centers and ICM computer operating systems.[5]

Fig. 2: Screen Shot of Department of Homeland Security’s Case Management Process Interface, 2017

ICM allows ICE to use computer infrastructures across computers domains to increase efforts in making existing information about immigrants more legible and compatible with existing government and non-government computer platforms and databases. For example, the infrastructure provides its users the ability to interface with intelligence platforms maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and an array of other federal and private law enforcement entities. ICM also provides agents access to information on a individual’s schooling, family relations, employment information, phone records, immigration history, foreign exchange program status, personal connections, biometric traits, criminal records, and home and work addresses. According to DHS’s own impact assessment report, “ICM contains extensive information related to individuals including targets of investigations, associates of targets, victims, informants, and other third parties. This includes biographical and descriptive identifying data, as well as information about individuals’ locations and activities.” (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2016). Thus this constellation of state and private information grants DHS and ICE agents access not just to an individual’s information but to the individual’s entire data network.

ICE’s access to this extensive data network suggests that mass deportations and large-scale raids should not merely be understood as a crude process of targeting and deportation. Shifting critical focus to the data-to-information process and the logistics of a deportation operation highlights an often-overlooked aspect of contemporary mass deportations: the operational decision-making process that determines the who, when, where, and why. Unsurprisingly, the specifics of these intermediary steps of management—the “trade secrets” of ICM operations—are heavily guarded. So, piecing together the metadata, data, and algorithms that generate the information needed to target and deport is akin to unpacking a “blackbox[6].” However, what we could learn from understanding the production of information in ICE’s digital infrastructure is its social- political ramifications of its practice. This means not to only decipher how ICM collates information but also to trace, following Deborah Cowen (2014), “the social life of this powerful technoscience” (24). This latter approach foregrounds the role border technologies play within regimes of border management in racial capitalism.

Jonathan Inda (2008), shows how border management and the creation of the racialized migrant “illegal subject” are “domain[s] of practical mechanisms, devices, calculations, procedures, apparatus, and documents through which authorities seek to shape and [instrumentalize]d human conduct” (6). He notes that these border technologies are not used just to keep racialized migrants out of the US but they also are employed to render migrants as “unethical subjects” whose imagined inability to materially support themselves poses as a threat to nation. Information technologies used in border management not only render immigrants as  “problem populations” but justify racist practices of institutional “problem solving.” By bringing “together bodies, material structures, and technical devices in order to shape the conduct of illegal immigrants,” Inda shows, how this “ethno-politics of immigration” (63) is mediated by layers of technics of public safety that are used as “anti-citizen technologies.” Under a regime of ethno-politics of immigration, ICE’s use of ICM as an anti-citizen technology that identifies, documents, and targets migrants while producing administrative cases against them. This quite a different from understanding of ICE which is often seen as locating and deporting illegal and undocumented migrants. By centering ICE’s use of ICM within larger social political contexts it becomes more clear that ICE produces illegality and the undocumented subject as a knowable category of governance. In short, ICE doesn’t find undocumented migrants using ICM; it manages existing documentation to produce them.

Lawyers and data activists have noted that the sharing of data between federal agencies is often not governed by concrete legal regulations (National Research Council 2007). DHS legislation after September 11, such as the Secure Communities program, authorizes and encourages ICE’S vague practices of information gathering and sharing. The scope, limits, and constraints upon such authorizations remain extremely obscure. Although it is difficult to gauge DHS’s and ICE’s intent behind these legislations, legal ambiguity has proved crucial to ICM operations. Wrapped in racialized discourses of national security,[7] the legal indeterminacy of these policies has aided ICE’s ability to circumvent civil and privacy laws while extending its capacity to move operations outside of border-zone jurisdictions. This has serious implications. For one, the state-surveillance apparatus is becoming increasingly commonplace across the built environment. Second, countless streams of data and metadata surrounding a migrant’s everyday life are integrated into this system. These two implications grant ICE the ability to interiorize borders zones into migrants’ homes, workplaces, and sites of education and healthcare even if they are physically located outside of ICE’s jurisdiction. US’s Border management use of network interoperability transforms the border. In particular through an extralegal expansion border zones. Borders zones suspend civil rights for citizens and non-citizens alike within its geographic jurisdiction. ICE’s interoperability, then, folds non-border space into these zones of exception dispersed throughout the US.

In more recent times, labor management hardly seems to be a concern that would fall under DHS’s jurisdiction, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the use of DHS and ICE’s smart border in the management of Latinx migrant labor. Borderland logistics partially represents the death death-dealing migrant management practices of trans-national capitalism. For instance, on August 8, 2018in O’Neill, Nebraska, agents with ICE and the Nebraska State Patrol conducted large-scale raids at numerous industrial farms and small local businesses. They detained 133 people, most of whom were undocumented migrant workers from Mexico who had already been coerced into poor labor conditions. These raids took place primarily at two large-scale agricultural growing and processing plants that regularly employed seasonal undocumented migrant labor: O’Neill Ventures, a tomato farm; and Elkhorn River Farms, a potato farm.

Fig. 3: O’Neill Ventures House, 2018

The next day, media reported that these raids were a part of a 15-month operation that spanned multiple states, including Nebraska, Minnesota, and Nevada. The raids were not random; rather, they were well planned and executed by local and federal officials. The most strategic parts of these raids was the location and timing: they took place outside ICE’s jurisdiction, approximately 300 miles outside of the nearest US border-zone (US-Canada; and at the tail end of the harvesting and processing season for the tomato and potato crops. These raids had no serious consequences for the harvest. Moreover, they occurred when workers just had finished 70-hour work weeks but had not yet been paid. Thus, this operation did not disrupt production; instead, it actually used state power to increase corporate profits as the farms did not need to pay their detained, and no-longer-required supply of labor.

Another important aspect of the raids was the way ICE officials framed the operation’s objectives. Days following the operation, ICE officials released a statement regarding the incident, claiming that the purpose of the raids was to target companies that unfairly “exploit alien laborers for profit, fraud, wire fraud and money laundering” (“ICE executes federal search warrants in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada” 2018). Although their discourse centered on concerns for human and labor rights, neither company owners nor high-level managers were arrested or charged with labor rights violations or criminal offenses. Instead, mostly Latinx migrant workers and about a dozen low-level supervisors (many of whom were also Latinx migrant workers) were detained. ICE’s framing shifted the responsibility and accountability for labor and human rights violations from the company executives to the extra-exploited migrants themselves, minimizing the role of and eventually absolving those who benefited (the companies) from the migrants’ actual circumstances.

The case of O’Neil Ventures and Elkhorn River Farms demonstrates a violent and racialized deportation regime that is incredibly sensitive to the production needs of industrial agriculture. This attention, of course, follows a legacy of US labor policy and state violence that has used racialization to devalue and manage labor. Historically, there has always been an intimate relationship between US immigration enforcement and the needs of capital. The Chinese Exclusion Act, Bracero Program, and more recent H1-B/H2-B programs have all tied concerns over labor management to federal and local immigration agencies. These agencies have always created, maintained, and expanded the US’ version of racial capitalism. Curtis Marez refers to this history as farm fascism: the “public and state violence” against migrant farm workers, agribusiness’ “aggressive efforts to use media to control public opinion” and the “carceral labor spaces” of the farm. Farm fascist logics normalizes the ethnic-politics of immigration and anti-citizens technologies of labor management used on Latinx migrants and punishes them for entering into the transnational labor market—- even though their labor is sought and even necessary

In ICE’s current manifestation, the agency does not merely detain and deport people en masse, but rather, it utilizes information technologies to strategically coordinate with industries such as agribusiness. Agribusiness too has turned to hi-tech corporations for information management systems. Data-driven smart farms are increasing seen the next green revolution[8]—green revolution 2.0. In particular, precision agriculture is gaining momentum in agribusiness circles. Precision agriculture “employs a variety of embedded and connected technologies that rely on remote sensing, global positioning systems, and communication systems to generate big data, data analytics, and machine learning” (Public-Private Analytic Exchange Program 2018). In a recent security report, DHS warns of the cyber vulnerability of precision agriculture suggesting that such information managements systems adopt “information security standards”  building on  “hard experience learned” from the implementation of interoperability in other sectors. Besides the usual exaggerated discourses of “security” and “threat” and the strange fact the most visualization of precision agricultural depict models without people or farm laborers, DHS interest in network interoperability raises important questions regarding agricultural labor management. Most obvious; how does farm fascism use precision agricultural to manage labor and what are the implications when DHS’ network of interoperability integrates with agribusiness information networks.

Fig. 4: Future Farms small and smart, 2018

Moving our understandings beyond the border as a wall, while nuancing recent conceptualizations of the border as a surveillance and deportation apparatus, critical logistics studies provides us useful tools in understanding hi-tech border and immigrant management practices. For Juan De Lara, logistics is a “space mobilized by state capitalist development” (De Lara 2018, p. 26). It draws on “scientific management of bodies, space, and time” (p.26) to reterritorialize spaces of accumulation (p. 26). Similarly, Deborah Cowen explains that the production and securitization of space for the “circulation of stuff” (2014, p. 2) is crucial in US imperial and capitalistic expansion. Based on the strategies developed for military and business use, logistics is much more than an efficient way to plan the transportation of commodities. Historically it has been used in the ensuring of the securitization of territory and people.

With few exceptions (Peña 1997, Browne 2015, Pulido 2015, Marez 2016; Jefferson 2017, DeLara 2018), technologies and sciences of racial population management have been under analyzed, yet such logics have played an important role in racial capitalism. By obscuring relations of power, space, and race, the state employs racial logic through an investment in science and technology that have established and naturalized asymmetrical spatial relations necessary to group differentiated population management. Logistical borderlands significantly transform relations of production by integrating the labor management within everyday life spaces. Cowen contends, “it is misleading to think about a singular site of production. Commodities today are manufactured across logistics spaces, rather than in a singular place” (p. 2). What is more, supply chains of differential inclusion rely on obscure legal policies, institutional jurisdictions, and complex data-generating technologies that produce migrants’ deportability and render them vulnerable to extra-exploitation and premature death—that is, they are devalued.[9]

I have argued that we should not stop our analysis at border walls but should also turn our gaze to the border technologies that DHS employs in its immigration management practices. In doing so, we see how border enforcement is as much a violent project of social inclusion as it is of exclusion. Border logistics link a global supply of labor to the needs of racial capitalism and manage a particular type of work force— one that is knowable, traceable, rightless, and whose deportabilty is producible when the timing is right (such as at the end of harvest seasons).

As we resist borders, we must be wary of the traps of choosing between inclusion and exclusion or bad and good immigrant dichotomies that situate migrants as an pre-given and subjects in isolation.  Decolonial feminist philosopher María Lugones (2014) warns that when analysis and intervention begin from a single side of these “logical oppositions” the very people at risk “disappear.” For this reason, I follow Latina geographer, Laura Pulido’s insistence in relationality. By using this relational approach to analyse the border and it technologies of management, I neither center the discrete and hostile acts (Pulido 2000) acts of exclusion committed against Latinx migrants nor on the inclusionary universalism of imperial categories of social inclusion (citizenship). By focusing on the relation between the two— on state practices of differential inclusion we can challenge the illusory power of national sovereignty and the violence justified in its maintaining its illusions. This unsettling of national boundaries[10] help us move beyond—borders as walls of exclusion—- to borders as borderland logistics of differential inclusion— it also helps to break the asymmetrical social relations embedded within boundary making, accumulation, and the production of subjectivities of the nation state.

Confronting the border entails, perhaps, a move similar to Naomi Paik’s reconception of sanctuary. Paik points out that the organization of sanctuary around notions of liberal inclusion that isolate particular groups of people recreates the very exclusionary practices that sanctuary aims to resist. She argues instead for a radical space that mobilizes the state’s existing networks of violence in order to attend to all who endure its attacks—after all, this violence is “tying our fates together and highlighting the urgent need for a multitudinous front of struggle” (Paik 2017, p. 17-18). In this sense, the information and network technologies that make DHS and ICE surveillance and management system possible must not be only understood as unstoppable and inevitable forces encroaching into everyday life of migrants, but also as spaces where “dominate real world building and projects of social transformation from below” (Marez 2016) can occur. Understanding border land logistics uncovers sites of state violence beyond walls, but also highlights the points, nodes, and networks, and helps us reimagine where sites of struggle and refusal are possible. For those people who are “constantly crossing into different worlds,” (Anzaldúa and Hernández, 1996 p.9) violence or hope doesn’t stop at a wall. Neither should resistance.


[1] I use the term migrants to refer to those resisting (intentionally or not) the violent sovereignty of nation-states through their unsanctioned movement across territory boundaries.
[2] Recent events such as state violences against the Central American migrant caravan, lost children in DHS detention centers, and the waves deportation across the country come to mind.
[3] Border zone: US jurisdiction of border enforcement 100 miles from US territorial boundaries
[4] This is not to say that border violence only affects Latinx populations; however, it is beyond the scope of this essay to address other forms of racialized state violence.
[5] Department of Homeland Security’s Fusion Centers are “urban area focal points” located across the US that facilitate information between federal; state, local, tribal, territorial ( SLTT); and private sector “partners”.
[6] ICM operates as “blackbox” because while the system relies on inputs and outputs, the process that transforms inputs to outputs is unknown to a majority of those who experience ICM.
[7] When the media and political authorities associate racialized migrants and refugees with illegality, Latinx migrant mobility is portrayed as a violation committed against US sovereignty. This violation is registered not just as a crime but also as a threat to national security, thereby publicly validating, at least unofficially, border enforcement’s role in securing vast networks of surveillance and tracking technologies.
[8] The green revolution was agricultural movement that adopted modern scientific methods and technologies to produce high yield commodity crops
[9]Although I cannot go into detail in this paper, it is important to note that migrants struggle against and are not completely dominated by the power of border logistics. Struggles and resistance occur in terrains of migration documentation and state legibility. Because border logistics requires a vast network of documentation, a plethora of documentation is needed for DHS to document someone as “undocumented.” Migrants through various strategies of documental refusals resist labor supply chains and the commodification of everyday life.
[10] I also a take cue from Fernando Coronil’s seminal article; Beyond Occidentalism: Toward Nonimperial Geohistorical Categories, in my attempt to unsettle the border as an imperial geo-historical category.


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