Cactus Culls, Transplants, and Transgressive Plants: More-than-human construction of the US-Mexico border in the Sonoran Desert

Authors: Gabrielle Wolf*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Political Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Arid Regions
Keywords: US-Mexico boundary, post-humanism, border walls, construction, cacti
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 15
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In February 2020, contractors tasked with constructing the Lukeville portion of “Trump’s Border Wall” between Arizona, United States (US) and Sonora, Mexico felled several Saguaro (suh-wah-roh) cacti. Although cutting down Saguaro is outlawed by Arizona legal code, nevertheless an array of overriding executive orders permitted the action. Geographers have noted how this borderland, which broadly includes Organ Pipe National Monument and the Tohono O’odham reservation and ancestral lands, has become a site of intense quasi-military surveillance and control by US Department of Homeland Security agencies. Their role has been the “prevention via deterrence” of clandestine migrants crossing the US-Mexican border, strategically fortifying traditional pathways to funnel border crossers through alternative routes that are significantly more environmentally hostile. This strategy represents an exemplary form of geopolitical fortification, keeping out unwanted bodies by forcing migrants to find other routes that are more perilous, sometimes deadly. While this view of the US-Mexico border put forward by geographers is politically astute, it is nevertheless anthropocentric, suggesting that the border is smoothly thrust upon the environment only by humans. I intend to follow the Saguaro cacti to examine not only how boundary fortification impacts borderland dwellers, but also how an array of more-than-human actors – plants like the Saguaro, (non)human migrants, biophysical processes – re-constitute and contest the border itself. I adopt a material-semiotic and post-humanistic approach to follow the movements of materials (including recycled) and participants that constitute bordering in the Sonoran Desert.

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