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The reservation divided by the border

The Tohono O'odoham reservation is split in two by the border. Watch "United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell" on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Posted: May 26, 2018 3:18 PM
Updated: May 26, 2018 3:21 PM

It's time for season three of "United Shades of America." Get ready for something a little different.

In the premiere episode of the first season of "United Shades of America," I famously had a conversation with members of the Ku Klux Klan. In the first episode of the second season, I interviewed formerly famous white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Well, I hate to disappoint you with some bad news, but the premiere episode of season three is this Sunday at 10:15 p.m. ET on CNN, and it's free of white supremacists.

Well that's probably not entirely true. I didn't have everybody I talked to sign affidavits. But as we all know, white supremacy exists throughout this country, whether its representatives show up or not.

What's true is that I'm not sitting down to talk to a specific white supremacist. There's no Ku Klux Klan. There are no "alt-whites." There's not one moment where I think I'm in danger of dying or even creeped out by smiling people who want me dead. There's no money shot of a white person telling me how little respect they have for me or my people and me glaring back in disapproval. Sorry not sorry. I'm just over it. It's time for a change.

So while this episode isn't a "scary premiere" like we have done in the last two seasons, it is maybe one of the most important episodes we have ever done. And within it are the three questions that hover over every episode of season three: Who are we? Who do we want to be? Can't we do better? My answers are: We are the United States of America. We want to be a shining example to the globe of how tremendous wealth, tremendous opportunity, and tremendous freedom can benefit all those who want to participate in this grand experiment — regardless of whether they were born here. And yes, we can do much better.

And there is no better place to see how that all plays out than in this episode, because I'm taking you to the US/Mexico border.

Specifically, I'm taking you to Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico -- one city divided into two by an imaginary line that we think is real because we are taught in schools it is called a border. And on that border is a wall, or a fence, or a barrier, or whatever you want to call it (depending on what you are trying to prove in your conversation). And the people I meet in this episode -- people who live on each side of the border -- seem like they are always the last ones considered in that conversation.

Among all the many discussions I had in this episode (and we packed a lot of them in), there was one that pointed out the ludicrous nature of the whole border debate our President and the GOP have forced us to take part in. I sat down with Edward D. Manuel and Verlon M. Jose, respectively the chairman and the vice chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation. The Tohono O'odham are the indigenous people of the Nogales area. Their land extends into both countries, the United States and Mexico. But (and it's a big "but"), the Tohono O'odham lived in this area way before there was a United States or a Mexico. Their land existed for generations, and then an imaginary line split it in two. The border makes it incredibly challenging for their people to just live on their land. As Manuel succinctly put it to me, "We didn't cross the border. The border crossed us." Damn.

It is this kind of illogical nonsense that totally characterizes the border debate in this country. Everywhere you turn in the border debate, there are things that many of our politicians (and their followers) say they want that are completely antithetical to what makes sense or is productive for both countries.

When you hear President Donald Trump talk about the border, he talks about crime of all types. He makes the US/Mexico border sound like a Mad Max movie. I'm not trying to claim there isn't crime in Mexico (or the United States, for that matter), but from my time spent down there, I can say it is nothing like what Trump has ginned up his base to believe it is: a place where he needs to send the National Guard to stop the barbarians at the gate, wall, barrier, whatever.

But that is what is happening. All the border states -- California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas -- have agreed to send National Guard troops to the border. Having been to both sides of Nogales, I have no idea what the National Guard will do there. On the American side there is very little of anything going on, very few people, very few jobs, and little commerce. On the Mexican side, streets are bustling with people and energy everywhere you turn. The difference is how hard it is to move across the border, even legally. Believe me, people on the Mexican side would love to give us some of their money, but the border security is so "secure" that in addition to keeping criminals out, it is keeping the money out, too. No one I talked to on either side seemed in fear for their lives the way the GOP wants us to believe they are.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not here to tell you everything is going great down there. I learned from a number of people I met for this episode how America's border policies have been making life harder for a lot longer than just the 18 months President Trump has been in office. From the first border patrol under President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 to the first mass deportation under President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 (called "Operation Wetback" -- yes really) to the first barrier on the border under President Bill Clinton in 1994, many US presidents, on both sides of the aisle, have mistaken having more border security as being better for America.

Even President Barack Obama, who looks better every day to many on the left, earned the nickname the "Deporter in Chief" for the record-setting number of people he deported during his time in office. I learned in the episode that more border security just makes lives harder on the people who live there -- no matter which side they live on.

And I talked to a lot of people on both sides of the border and all sides of the issue. I met with people on the streets of both Nogales-es: border patrol agents; an engineer who talked about the ethics of building Trump's wall; a white woman named Betty who lives right up against the border in Bisbee, Arizona; my friend, the artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez; The Kino Border Initiative (where I met recent deportees); the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner; and the Colibri Center for Human Rights. The last two places are where I saw the real human cost of our border policy: the many unidentified dead who don't make it across and whose bodies are never claimed.

I even randomly met a woman who lives in a house that was known as "El Chapo's Tunnel House." Yup, that El Chapo.

And none of the people who live near the border seemed to be living in fear. And no one who was asked seemed to think that a bigger, bolder, Trump-ier wall was going to solve anything. In fact, the fear was that it would make a hard situation (people who cross the border in the United States are seeking jobs or safety) much worse. And as the people at the morgue showed me, it is already horrifically bad.

So again, I didn't interview obvious enemies this season, because at this point I think we know who the enemies are. The system is the enemy. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Well, if you've read the news,there is injustice EVERYWHERE! And we all have to work harder to turn the tide against it. If we aren't doing that actively and continually then we are the enemy we have been looking for. Collectively, we -- everyone in America -- are the enemy. But we don't have to be. Welcome to season three of United Shades of America.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 33558

Reported Deaths: 2110
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9616571
Lake3538185
Cass15897
Allen145168
St. Joseph124834
Elkhart116328
Hendricks116171
Hamilton115693
Johnson1093108
Madison58559
Porter51627
Bartholomew50034
Clark49241
LaPorte42423
Howard39526
Tippecanoe3903
Jackson3791
Delaware37736
Shelby36822
Hancock32728
Floyd31839
Boone30935
Morgan27824
Vanderburgh2652
Montgomery23517
White2318
Decatur22431
Clinton2231
Noble21121
Grant20621
Harrison19221
Dubois1923
Henry16910
Greene16824
Monroe16612
Warrick16628
Dearborn16621
Vigo1648
Lawrence15423
Miami1411
Putnam1367
Jennings1304
Orange12522
Scott1193
Kosciusko1111
Franklin1098
Ripley1086
Carroll922
Marshall901
Daviess8516
Steuben812
Newton7710
Wayne776
Fayette767
Wabash762
LaGrange712
Jasper651
Washington521
Jay500
Fulton481
Clay471
Rush462
Randolph463
Pulaski460
Jefferson431
Whitley393
Starke363
Sullivan341
Owen341
Brown331
DeKalb331
Perry310
Benton300
Knox290
Wells280
Huntington272
Tipton251
Crawford240
Blackford242
Fountain202
Switzerland200
Spencer191
Parke170
Posey160
Gibson142
Adams131
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union80
Pike60
Unassigned0164

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 117455

Reported Deaths: 5270
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook762663570
Lake8063287
DuPage7543362
Kane6188170
Will5442269
Winnebago215654
McHenry151471
St. Clair109179
Kankakee87144
Kendall76919
Rock Island64624
Champaign6177
Madison56558
Boone42817
DeKalb3924
Sangamon34629
Jackson26810
Randolph2674
McLean21713
Peoria2128
Ogle2023
Stephenson1992
Macon19519
Clinton18117
Union1519
LaSalle14713
Whiteside13512
Iroquois1314
Coles12514
Unassigned1250
Out of IL1191
Warren1130
Jefferson10116
Knox970
Grundy952
Monroe9411
McDonough878
Lee791
Cass710
Tazewell714
Henry680
Williamson642
Pulaski510
Marion500
Jasper457
Macoupin452
Adams441
Perry420
Montgomery391
Vermilion391
Morgan351
Christian334
Jo Daviess320
Livingston322
Douglas260
Menard210
Fayette203
Ford201
Jersey201
Woodford192
Mason180
Washington180
Mercer170
Hancock160
Shelby161
Bureau151
Carroll142
Bond121
Franklin120
Piatt120
Schuyler120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Moultrie110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Effingham71
Johnson70
Massac70
Saline70
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
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A wonderful Saturday with sunshine expected!
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