By Greg Ruggiero
After going camping in Quebec with my family last weekend, I rolled up to the U.S. checkpoint in what appeared to be a remote and rural area. Having recently worked on such books as Border Patrol Nation, Spying on Democracy, Dying to Live, and Mexico Unconquered for the City Lights Open Media Series–all of which to some degree discuss U.S. borders and surveillance–I decided to snap a few pictures of the cameras and sensors that were clearly taking pictures and capturing information about me. As we got close to the surveillance sensors, I did not realize that we were approaching a section of the border that Todd Miller writes about in Border Patrol Nation, the most recent release in the Open Media Series.
As Miller describes in his chapter titled “The Not-So-Soft Underbelly of the North,” Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec have the distinction of not only being neighboring border towns and home to the U.S. checkpoint I was attempting to cross, but also places where the two countries share public spaces, infrastructure, and institutions.
Todd Miller writes:
Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec, where the international border bisects the local library with a thick black line on its floor, yet has 20,000 books in French and English that citizens of both towns—and countries—share. They also share the same water service and sewage system, which, unlike the library, are both out of sight and inaccessible to the public. The library’s front door is in the United States, but the majority of the backside, and its books, are in Canada. Canadians can use the entire library, but they have to return to their country after checking out a book, or risk arrest. The same goes for the opera house, located in the same historic building, where a brochure encourages all visitors to return to their country of origin following performances. There are no walls yet, but Homeland Security has started blockading some streets with gates, flowerpots, and large signs that say with red letters: YOU MAY NOT ENTER THE UNITED STATES ON THIS STREET. Now friends and neighbors in both towns express the same astonishment at these sharp, policed lines of division that people in many small U.S.-Mexican border towns once did in the mid-1990s.
I didn’t realize I was entering part of the political geography that Todd Miller writes about. And, unbeknownst to me, I had apparently stashed somewhere in my car U.S.-issued military hardware with enough radioactive power to be detected long before I reached the control position where U.S. border authorities were waiting for me.