UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Constructing the US-Mexico border wall (eco)system Wolf, Gabrielle


In 2019-2020, construction workers contracted to build “Trump’s Wall” between the United States (US) and Mexico bulldozed an estimated thousands of Saguaro cactuses, including within the bounds of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (OPCNM), a US National Monument. By way of compensation, US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP, part of Department of Homeland Security DHS) coordinated with National Park Service (NPS) to dig up select Saguaros and to replant them elsewhere in the Monument. Their coordinated attempt brings to attention how non-humans are drawn into border construction and maintenance. As scholars have shown, border militarization is a more-than-human enterprise, one where non-human agencies affect and constitute the material bounds of the nation. This thesis contributes to such scholarship by investigating how the social, material, and ecological geographies of Trump border wall construction are inflected upon by environmental formations (by which I mean more-than-human actors and socio-environmental relationships). With a post-humanist political ecological methodology including interviews, remote ethnography, policy analysis, and GIS / cartography, this project maps out the multiscalar geographies of Trump administration wall construction across the Southwestern borderlands and at the site of OPCNM. Though Trump wall segments mostly replaced existing barriers, their materials effectively fragment Sonoran Desert habitat. In doing so, the wall segments reproduce settler colonial dispossession in the borderlands by inhibiting not only Native peoples (such as the Hia-Ced O’odham) but also their non-human kin from migrating throughout the extent of their ancestral territories. In OPCNM, part of Hia-Ced O’odham ancestral homeland, NPS and DHS’s cooperative attempt to redress some of the immediate ecological consequences of wall construction demonstrates an uneasy interrelationship between the projects of environmental conservation and national securitization. With the Saguaros unlikely to survive transplantation however, that project is contextualized as an extension of border control into the environmental realm. The Saguaro transplant project, as well as the impacts of the diverse coalition of activists who protested wall construction in OPCNM, demonstrate just some of the ways that more-than-human political mutualisms structure the Border Wall (Eco)System.

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