UCL Institute of the Americas


Trump's Wall: Nixon's 1969 'Operation Intercept', the Hemispheric Drug War and the Border Wall

14 November 2017, 6:00 pm

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UCL Institute of the Americas


UCL Institute of the Americas, 51 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PN

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Patrick Timmons - In September 1969 the Nixon Administration launched Operation Intercept along the U.S.-Mexico border and at each of its crossing points. Intercept's stated aims were to end trafficking of marijuana and pills from Mexico to the United States. Intercept brought more than 2,000 federal agents to the border, most of whom were involved in searching every single person, vehicle or plane as they crossed northwards. With Intercept, the border bottleneck was born, and the people who waited in the long lines of cars -- and people in cities and towns along the Mexican border -- began to experience a new found separation that created a new border-crossing people.

This paper discusses the chaos Intercept sowed, and argues that it created the modern conception of the U.S.-Mexico border. Intercept made good on an election campaign promise Nixon made at a rally in Southern California. Indeed, Nixon was the first modern president to use the U.S.-Mexico border in his elections strategy.  Intercept began the separation of Ciudad Juárez from El Paso, a separation that has been strengthened and reinforced in subsequent U.S. border policies. As such, the episode also helps to illuminate the origins of Donald Trump's political style.

Patrick Timmons lives in Mexico City, and is a translator, freelance human rights investigator and lawyer, journalist and historian of modern Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Timmons has an M.Phil. in Latin American Studies from Cambridge (1998), a Ph.D. in History from the University of Texas at Austin (2004) and an LL.M. in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex (2013). He is an Americas specialist working in the following subject areas around politics, law, culture and society: freedom of expression, enforced disappearances, right to life and the death penalty, rights of children and right to a family life, migration, and the U.S.-Mexico border.

Timmons's research on the transfrontier metropolis of Ciudad Juarez/El Paso has appeared in NACLA Report and his research on the history of capital punishment appears in the edited volume, The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment by Austin Sarat and Christian Boulanger. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project, helped establish and collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the University of San Diego, and has recently translated works by journalist Marcela Turati and slain Sinaloan journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas. Timmons has published numerous pieces of journalism, mostly focused on prisons, punishment, Mexican migrants in the United States, and attacks on Mexican journalists. Most recently as a freelance journalist he covered the Central Mexican earthquake for CNN International, The Daily Telegraph, the News at Ten for ITN, Good Morning Britain, and Horizontal.mx.