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Washington Newsletter: Militarization of our Southern Border

Question & Answer with Tom Vaughan

March 1, 2019


General Committee members Tom Vaughan & Sandy Feutz engage in Witness at the Southern Border by photographing what goes on there. We spoke with Tom about this work.

When did you and your wife, Sandy Feutz, start photographing the militarization of the southern border?

It was the 2016 Border Convergence/Encuentro in Nogales, AZ, that really got us started. We live 90 miles from the border, so it was our first opportunity to spend a few days living on the border, seeing the wall as a constant invasive presence.

We have been back to Nogales annually. Each year, the Border Patrol presence is heavier and more ominous. There are more vehicles, more agents, more sensing towers, more aerial surveillance, and larger checkpoints.

As Quakers, why is the border issue important?

What is happening on the southern border has become a humanitarian crisis. Our government is destroying communities with family and personal ties on both sides of the border.

I am incensed at the free rein given the Border Patrol, especially along the southern border.

Millions of dollars are being spent on construction on the border without so much as a by-your-leave to dozens of laws and regulations requiring review.

You talked to a Border Patrol agent. How did he view the border crises?

I chatted with a Border Patrol agent, who was patrolling the wall west of Santa Teresa, NM. Both of us worked with the government—he with the Border Police for 25 years and me, 30 years with the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

The agent has one mission: interdiction. His job is to catch people illegally crossing the border. The wall has just one purpose—to make it easier for him to capture them.

You visited a newly completed section of the border wall in Santa Teresa, NM. What was your reaction?

What a waste! This is an example of a platinum Band-Aid applied to a problem that has its roots elsewhere.

We need to raise our focus to our immigration system itself, not just the wall. We need to reform our immigration system sensibly, so we do not have to spend what we currently spend on the border.

What is the best way to encourage a conversation about this divisive issue?

We must ratchet down the rhetoric. The self-righteousness on both sides is a barrier to communication.

I grew up in a farming community where we helped each other with harvesting and road maintenance. We differed but there was a level at which we needed to ignore those differences for the common good.

All sides need to get out of our echo chambers and do more listening. The best way to do this is to focus on issues and specifics. And to respect and #LoveThyNeighbors (No Exception).

What can photographers do to elevate border issues to the public?

Sandy and I brought our folios to the 2018 FCNL Annual Meeting to share with Friends from across the country. We heard many say, “We didn’t realize!” Images bring the border issue home to the public.

Tom Vaughan and his wife, Sandy Feutz, are part of Gila Friends Meeting. They are avid photographers whose work currently focuses on the southern border crises.