Imagine that you encounter someone stranded in the desert, distraught and in need of water. Would you help that person? Would the calculus change if you were traveling in the U.S. borderlands, where providing assistance to unauthorized migrants has resulted in criminal consequences for some of those who helped?
Todd Miller is an investigative journalist and author who has covered immigration and the border for two decades. He is the author of “Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders.” He came face to face with the choice of whether to help a person he met as he traveled in the Senora desert in Arizona. Miller told Texas Standard his story began when a man approached from the side of the road. Miller stopped his car.
“He was obviously distraught, and I immediately offered him some water,” Miller said. “And then, after that, I asked, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ And he said, ‘Can you give me a ride?’ That was the moment that was the pause.”
Miller knew that many people have died crossing the desert in the borderlands.
“The hesitation came from the fact that it would be a felony to give him a ride,” Miller said.
The proximity of border agents, and the presence of technology for tracking unauthorized migrants meant Miller would likely have been spotted.
Miller’s experience led him to write about borders. In his book, he asks readers to think about what borders actually are and whether or not they are needed.
He says displacement that has and will continue to occur because of climate change means more people will need to relocate, even across existing national borders. He cites current refugees from hurricanes in Guatemala and Honduras who are making their way north to the United States as an example.
“There’s so many ways to look at the border, but borders create division in a century where we actually need people to be coming together,” he said.
He says that instead of incarcerating those who cross borders without authorization, nations could take many other approaches to addressing people’s needs.
“It takes a book to explain that all,” Miller said.
Miller says opponents of open borders argue that such policies would destabilize the United States. Instead, he argues, the world is already destabilized, and addressing migration without borders is the right way to address that lack of stability.
“If you do that, the need for these heavily enforced borders would recede,” Miller said.