A Real-Life Walt Kowalski

          On March 7, 2004, in Douglas, Arizona, five women and eleven men trying to cross the US border illegally were confronted by 64-year-old Roger Barnett, a real life Walt Kowalski. Barnett had, for ten years, made it his duty to find illegal immigrants and report them to the US Border Patrol. On this particular day he approached the group of 16 Mexicans with a shotgun and a dog. According to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who are currently representing the sixteen immigrants in a 32$ million dollar law suit, Barnett held the immigrants at “gunpoint, yelling obscenities at them and kicking one of the women.” The Washington Times picked up on the story and reported it.

http://washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/09/16-illegals-sue-arizona-rancher/

            There have been numerous cases like this and the arguments made by these border vigilantes are similar to those in favor of border reform. Overwhelmingly, the opinion is that illegal immigrants aren’t Americans, thus, they shouldn’t have the same rights as Americans. Wait a second though; do all Americans have the same rights? Did Oscar Grant have the same rights as Roger Barnett?

            In his article, Reading Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability,  Henry Giroux uses Hurricane Katrina to explain a “new kind of politics, one in which entire populations are now considered disposable.”  The populations that are considered “disposable” are the poor and the marginalized. These people don’t have rights, they don’t belong, and the government has no responsibility to protect them. This idea of a disposable population is enacted by government policy, but it is also heavily supported by media imagery.

As the Washington Times article points out, Barnett appears to be a man who has been wronged by illegal immigrants. They leave his ranch “littered with trash 10 inches deep, including human waste, used toilet paper, soiled diapers, cigarette packs, clothes, backpacks, empty 1-gallon water bottles, chewing-gum wrappers and aluminum foil – which supposedly is used to pack the drugs the immigrant smugglers give their ‘clients’ to keep them running.” Dirty and wasteful drug users are walking all over Mr. Barnett’s land, and destroy his property by killing his calves. In his own words Barnett says, “This is my land. I’m the victim here.”

The story portrays the biopolitics of disposability in a few ways. Firstly, we see that the immigrants are disposable because they are dirty, leaving their “human waste” on his property. Secondly, the immigrants are made disposable because they are criminal. They are seen as drug smugglers and users. Furthermore, they destroy his property, his calves, which is his income. I can’t help but feel that this is emblematic of the way some Americans view immigrants, as people who steal jobs from citizens.

Finally, I can’t believe that all 12,000 immigrants that Barnett had handed over to the police were drug dealing, calve killing, immoral criminals. Illegal immigrants are seen as disposable for many reasons; the myth of their criminality and the idea that they are bad for the economy are just a few. These reasons however, are justified by an overall disengagement and lack of acknowledgement as to why so many people wish to cross the border. Until people are confronted with imagery and news coverage that explains why people try to enter the country illegally, and why the property damage done to American citizens’ homes could be avoided with different immigration policies, there will be plenty more Barnetts, Minutemen, and disposable people.

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