Thursday, July 25, 2019

Jeremy Slack's "Deported to Death"

Jeremy Slack is Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is editor of The Shadow of the Wall: Violence and Migration on the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Slack applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Deported to Death: How Drug Violence Is Changing Migration on the US–Mexico Border, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The people who tried to fight back, who resisted, were quickly killed and disposed of in the vats. Those who joined the Zetas “put on the hoods” and disappeared among the ranks of torturers and enforcers, explained Juanito. Then, they are sent off to one of the battlegrounds, such as the western state of Nayarit, or into Central America.

Juanito’s testimony also troubles the very idea of who, exactly, is a Zeta. Was Juanito a Zeta? He worked for them, but certainly against his will. How many so-called “Zetas” are like Juanito, doing the work because to do otherwise means a bullet in the head and your body being dissolved out of existence? This is not to absolve people who participate in these heinous acts as purely victims of a monolithic edifice of unjust drug and immigration policies. We must not lose sight of the fact that there are people with real power and wealth who have actively provoked the misery and death of thousands of people because of their greed and lust for power. However, the brunt of the violence that has reshaped Mexico, and particularly, Mexico’s northern border, in recent years is born by low-level operatives, mostly poor, young males. In the past, people frequently engaged in the illegal economy sporadically, as a supplement to meager wages in Mexico. However, this took a turn during recent years as the level of violence associated with the once rather innocuous activities of drug or human smuggling skyrocketed. These changes have an enormous impact on the lives and activities of people who were once only peripherally involved.

As Shaylih Muehlmann has noted, the slippery slope of involvement creates mental borders between people’s self-defined roles within illegal enterprises that are far harder to distinguish in the material world than in common discourse. Juanito is adamant that he is not and never was a Zeta, and likely, the Zetas would agree, but at what point does participation for survival become participation? Presenting the facade that he was passive and nonthreatening allowed Juanito to avoid recruitment as a full-fledged member of the Zetas. However, this was a ruse to mask his inner strength, which can easily be seen through the sheer evidence of his survival.
Page 99 provides an important insight into some of the key themes in my book. This discussion comes from an interview with Juanito, a survivor of kidnapping by the feared drug cartel Los Zetas. He details how torture is employed to coerce people into joining drug cartels, giving migrants an option to join the criminals by inflicting the same harm on others who are kidnapped. One of the goals of this book is to explore how our prohibitionist drug and immigration policies place people in precarious situations, namely after being deported, dropped on the streets of unfamiliar and highly dangerous border cities, which, in turn, increase violence along the border. In many ways our punitive immigration policies have served as a boon for drug cartels in search of new labor, and an income from constant ransom and extortion. If security along the border were indeed a priority, ensuring the safety of the nearly half million individuals returned to Mexico each year would be an important goal. By incarcerating and removing people to towns, often thousands of miles away from people’s hometowns in Mexico, it creates a group people who are essentially homeless, vulnerable to extortion or kidnapping since no one knows where they are, and with little support or understanding of the current situation in Mexico.

This page is a good example of the type of complicated realities I faced during the over ten years of fieldwork that went into this book. The fourth chapter explores the issue of kidnapping through the experience of Juanito and others, who show how ransom may be an important part of this phenomena but it is far more complex as individuals are tortured, interrogated and forced to participate in inhumane acts. Through interviews and ethnographic fieldwork with migrants and deportees along the entire U.S. Mexico border, Deported to Death explores what happens to people who suddenly find themselves alone in an unfamiliar city, without contacts, resources or protection in some of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Learn more about Deported to Death at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue