Guest post by Katherine York, a photographer based in Berlin, Germany, specializing in architectural and ethnographic landscape photography. Katherine documents minimalist landscapes containing current social and political issues and their remnants that appear to be ignored or forgotten. She's dedicated to her continued research of the United States-Mexican infrastructure, borderlands, and personal projects. Katherine's work can be viewed on her website, Studio York

In 2011/12, I was granted access to document conceivably the most significant and debated stretch of the US-Mexico border, capturing several zones that are now closed indefinitely to non US government employees. In the beginning of the 20th century, a simple line was initially enforced to mark the divide, followed by a wire and then, a fence. Nearing the end of the century, for many residents, the border had expanded into a wall. In 2006, US Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, instructing the Department of Homeland Security to provide for at least two layers of reinforced fencing, the installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors through 1,200 km of the US-Mexico borderlands. Under the force of the 2005 REAL ID Act, Homeland Security was allowed to waive regulations, acts, and laws, as well as pursue construction without publicizing plans or public comment periods, thus making the precise location and construction of the fencing difficult for the public to ascertain. Patchworks of physical barriers and fences have been erected through remote deserts, mountains, urban streetscapes, and sand dunes, eventually plummeting into the Pacific Ocean, thereby redirecting migrants into harsher desert conditions, resulting in an insurmountable rise of migrant deaths. These new spatialities of sovereign power in the US are having significant impacts, dramatically reconfiguring the land, the natural movement of wildlife, nature, and water, as well as the relationships between law, federal government, its citizens, and neighboring country of Mexico. As continued bills are passed, laws created, politicians seize more power. In 2013, when discussing the projected goals of the US-Mexico border, Senator John McCain stated“We'll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

LANDING MAT Re-purposed from raw military material, this corrugated steel was once used as portable touchdown pads for helicopters operating in Vietnam. The panels are about 3.5 m long, 50 cm wide and 6 mm thick, welded to steel pipes buried 2.5 m deep, typically standing 3 m tall. 1.6 km of fencing requires 3,080 panels costing about US$5,000 to erect. Landing Mat is the oldest and most common border fence still in use in every border state except Texas. Incidentally, agents cannot see the possible dangers on the Mexican side and are frequently attacked by rock throwers. The US Border Patrol often cut holes into lower segments of the fence, to help reveal if someone is directly on the other side. Because of its inefficiency, Landing Mat is high on the list for replacement and/or additional fencing.

Landing Mat by Katherine York
The Gulch is a steep canyon formed by two mesas, which includes California's last salt marsh, and is home to over 350 bird species (Sierra Club, 2008). To complete its fencing project, United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) proposed to fill Smuggler’s Gulch by leveling the tops of the two mesas and in-filling the canyon with 2 million meters of earth (CCC, 2003). The California Coastal Commission argued that INS proposal would cause ‘significant adverse effects’ to the areas Multiple Species Conservation Program, the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, endangered species, multiple wetland and upland habitats, and public recreation areas and other public benefits. The Commissions primary concern was that the movement of this massive quantity of earth would cause erosion that would substantially change the ecosystem surrounding the Gulch (CCC, 2003). In September 2005, DHS Secretary Chertoff announced that he was making use of the REAL ID Acts waiver authority to suspend National Environmental Protection Agency and about 40 other related regulations and acts in order to complete the fence. In July of 2008, the construction began, dramatically reshaping the topography. More than any other US border area, Smugglers Gulch demonstrates how border infrastructure is manipulating political, legal, and physical processes in the borderlands.
Smuggler's Gulch by Katherine York
Fortifying the coastal US-Mexico border stands a 5.5 m tall steel fence barrier, which plunges 90 m into the Pacific Ocean. The fence is made of 15 cm steel slats, coated with rustproof material, combined with tight iron mesh, which makes it impossible to pass objects through. A posted sign reads: ‘Peligro Fierros Bajo Del Agua | Danger Objects Under Water,’ to discourage any thoughts of swimming to the other side. In 1971 the US dedicated this ‘Friendship Park,’ allowing friends and family from each border side to meet and share hugs, food, flowers, under US Border Patrol watch, through a once less substantial fence. Despite the new secured infrastructure, people from both nations have continued to gather.
Friendship Park by Katherine York

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

York, K. (2015) Border Infrastructure: Photographing the US-Mexico Border. Available at: (Accessed [date]).