The Fence

23 Apr

‘The Fence’ – a film about the building of a security fence on the American-Mexican border was shown this week at an event sponsored by the CAJ and the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, QUB at the Belfast Film Festival. Here Teresa Degenhardt, ICRN member and Lecturer in Criminology at QUB, reflects on questions of ‘security’ in the film.

The Fence (2009) by Rory Kennedy

The documentary The Fence gives a cursory colourful view of some contemporary relevant issues of criminological significance. The aim of the director is primarily that of suggesting the absurdity of building a 3 billion dollars barrier along the Mexican border at a time of economic recession, as a way to prevent entrance to the country. Thus, the documentary concentrates mostly on the ineffectiveness of the measure, by showing the determination of migrant workers to overcome the wall, and its being illogically justified as a way to protect from terrorism when terrorists have so far utilised other ways to enter the country. However, the documentary also tangentially questions our way of providing security, and ultimately of thinking security related issues. How come- asks one of the interviewees-the US has moved from a position of supporting the fall of the Berlin Wall to one of raising artificial barriers? This sadly pronounced consideration, cleverly -however historically short-sighted- suggests the paradox of a nation, which purports itself to be the champion of freedom under the capitalist banner, producing at the same time violent exclusionary practices to maintain its privileges.  So one would be induced to further ponder on this paradox: can it be that the very foundation of that liberal freedom is actually established on that very same violence and exclusionary practices? From the brief documentary one understands the relationship between practices of crime control and their violent consequences. The developing of private policing mechanisms, which is typical of contemporary times, is related to the ineffectiveness of state policies. Groups of citizens, calling themselves ‘Minutemen’,  who mobilise to patrol the border are justifying their actions with reference to the threat of terrorism, drug smuggling and the problem of illegal immigration. Interestingly, this reveals the intertwining of the current war on terrorism with the more established war on drugs and their fundamental role in the current criminalization of migrants. These are issues of incredible relevance not only in the US but also here at home in the ‘Old’ Continent. The current way of establishing security for some people by excluding others less privileged by raising artificial barriers say much about the foundation of our societies, their violent practices and the inequality on which they are based. Security is here the security of some at the expenses of the security of others. And at a time in which state borders are increasingly becoming porous new barriers are being erected to maintain specific division and inequalities. And yet, as one interviewee in the documentary makes it clear:  ‘human beings will always try to find ways of overcoming walls and fences to search for a better life”.

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