- Threshold: Emergency Responders on the US-Mexico Border by Ieva Jusionyte
In 2015, anthropologist Ieva Jusionyte spent a year embedded as a paramedic and firefighter with the Nogales Fire Department (NFD) in Nogales, Arizona, to focus on how these first responders felt the impact of border enforcement and undocumented border crossing. The result of her embedded ethnography is the book, Threshold: Emergency Responders on the US-Mexico Border. At the core of the work is what I came to understand as the corporeal materiality of boundary maintenance. By recognizing patterns of injury sustained by undocumented border crossers, Jusionyte describes how emergency responders comprehend, with excruciating medical precision, that border security deliberately inflicts punishment on migrant bodies, even when injuries appear to be due to ambient environmental factors.
The book is organized as follows: Part I, [End Page 365] Ankle Alley describes the routinized emergency cases of undocumented border crossers in urban Nogales, from her experience embedded with the NFD. Jusionyte devotes Part II, Downwind, Downhill, Downstream, to NFD's involvement in joint exercises and training operations with US and Mexican authorities that expanded and localized definition of security. This local definition related more to emergencies like environmental disasters and those related to the cross-border industry involving massive transportation of chemicals and toxic materials that pose high cross-border risks in case of industrial accidents. Part III, Wildland, approaches emergency response beyond the NFD, from the perspective of the Mexican Grupos Beta (officials devoted to providing aid to border crossers on the Mexican side of the line) and some non-governmental humanitarian organizations on the border.
While reading Threshold, I lost count of how many times Jusionyte described an injury so vividly that I had a visceral reaction. These incidents included shattered bones, dismemberments, and the bodily trauma that occurs when someone falls from atop the border wall—all recurring on a routine basis. These accounts are painful yet Jusionyte transcends voyeurism, by depicting events through the eyes of local emergency responders who rush to provide emergency medical aid to injured migrants along the US-Mexico border. I learned some shorthand medical vocabulary: "rhabdo" (short for rhabdomyolysis), a state of extreme dehydration when muscles break down and release toxins that overwhelm the function of the kidneys, leading to death if untreated. Border-based emer gency responders called to remote locations come to expect their patients to be undocumented border crossers and thus reasonably anticipated that these patients would be in the throes of rhabdo. Yet, in many cases, Jusionyte hints at the long-term implications of migrant injuries not remotely remedied by the patchwork care possible in emergency medical contexts, as even migrants with severe injuries are swiftly deported by agents of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
With such vivid accounts, the reader viscerally comprehends Jusionyte's thesis: in the shadow of the massively funded operations to secure the border, local officials with more limited budgets pick up the pieces that are the fallout of federal policy—literally, in the case of dismembered limbs. In this sense, the very notion of security and what security looks like come into question. But Jusionyte does not allow the reader to be complacent in simply understanding federal security as local or migrant insecurity, as she also describes how local emergency rescue operations benefit in myriad ways from their geographic connection to the site deemed a priority federal security concern. In the aftermath of 9/11, border security became legally connected to the threat of terrorism (something that has never occurred on this border) enabling local emergency responders to make a compelling case for federal assistance and equipment.
Often these benefits include the formalization of cross-border relationships, relationships that also benefit local Mexican emergency responders and Mexican civilians. Here, ironically, Jusionyte describes [End Page 366] how the most functional, beneficial side of the border security equation occurs at the point it transcends the international divide and...