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Panel discusses barbed wire, border myths


The following story ran in the Feb. 23, 2012, edition of the SMU Daily Campus newspaper.

February 27, 2012

By Charles Scott

With all the hype about the U.S.-Mexican border from TV shows like "Border Wars," South American immigrants are stereotyped as alien, ill intentioned and violent.
Discussions about the border tend to evoke mixed feelings. Some worry that terrorists can cross into the U.S. from Mexico.
Others wonder about government's role and if it has ties to drug trafficking and allowing easy access to assault weapons.
These issues and others were explored on Wednesday in McCord Auditorium by a panel of U.S.-Mexico border scholars during "Barbed-Wire Art, Border Myths and Immigration Violence," the third of SMU's seven-part "Migration Matters" series.
To an audience of mostly students, the panelists discussed violence immigrants face, myths about the border and the importance of aesthetic activism.
Panelist Maria Herrera-Sobek, a professor of Chicana/o studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said a number of artists see the hardships migrants face at the border and are thus compelled to create art that demonstrates how they conceptualize immigration.
"I saw that barbed wire was very commonly used," she said while explaining a painting with bold, brown barbed wire against a red background. "Artists have used barbed wire to underscore their protest of immigration laws."
Josiah Heyman, another panelist and an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, spoke on myths about border immigration and why they're so persistent.
Abigail Watts, an SMU student, heard Heyman speak earlier in the day during her Immigrant Experience class.
She said that his views on border patrol and what fuels illegal immigration made her want to hear more.
In his talk, Heyman was quick to squelch the myths that the border is a wide-open hole that can easily be passed through and that the recent build up of border security — which spawns things like "Border Wars" — was in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"No evidence exists in the U.S. that terrorism against civilians has ever had anything to do with the U.S.-Mexico border," he said. "In spite of that, the way people talk about it creates this image of a gaping hole that anyone can cross through."
He said the U.S. border security policy was the same before 9/11 compared to what it is now and that people shouldn't assume an illegal is a threat just because he or she isn't a U.S. citizen.
According to Heyman, the main threat is to the migrants: crossing the border is a very dangerous process that can often lead to death.
"With respect to violence, the border is very paradoxical," he said.
El Paso and other cities near the border are very safe, while any section on the Mexican side is incredibly dangerous.
"We do need a policy that addresses the issues on both sides," he said.
One of those issues is Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Roberta Villalon, another panelist and a sociology professor at St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, described it as a universal migrant phenomenon affecting men and women based on sexual orientation, social class, nationality, race and religion.
She said that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) are two pieces of legislation acknowledged by nonprofit groups to help survivors of immigrant violence.
However, Villalon found in her studies that these groups have to prioritize certain immigrants over others.
"It is disheartening," she said.
According to Villalon, nonprofit workers truly believe change is possible and thus act upon it. She said progress has been made, but that there's a great deal more to do.