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Borderhack: Barbed and Unwired


 

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Perhaps nowhere in the world is the line of economic disparity so clearly drawn as along the Mexico-U.S. border.

To the south, cardboard shantytowns slump miserably in the dust. To the north, skyscraper cities sparkle in the sun, beckoning to the huddled masses on the disadvantaged side. Between them extends a 2,000-mile wall, physical in some parts, virtual in others.

This division between the Third and First worlds is the focus of Borderhack 2.0, held in Tijuana this weekend, a conference whose aim is to intellectually dismantle the border and examine its contents.

The brainchild of Fran Ilich, editor-at-large of the Mexican technology zine Sputnik, the event is part of the no-border movement, launched in Germany in 1998 to protest European immigration policies.

"Borderhack is a festival of hactivists, border activists and people related to cyber culture," Ilich said. "It's a symbolic event to try and find out how the system works."

Attendees camp on the beach along a tall metal fence that trails into the Pacific Ocean. During the day, they can attend panels on topics ranging from immigration to ecology, or participate in workshops on vegan cooking or independent radio. Come nightfall, the scene turns into a giant rave as DJs from both sides of the border spin electronica.

Ilich organized the event for the first time last year, drawing about 300 people. During Borderhack 2000, Ilich said, attendees were hassled by the Mexican police and witnessed a group of immigrants physically hacking the border by jumping the fence near their campsite. (They were caught by immigration officials soon after).

This year, Ilich said there will be some virtual hacking going on as well. Using the high-speed Internet connections donated by a local phone company, hacktivists are planning to coordinate a worldwide denial-of-service attack against U.S. and Mexican immigration agencies.

Using a program called Flood Net, a favorite hactivist tool, conference attendees would be able to quickly launch "virtual sit-ins" on government websites, Ilich said.

Those who can't attend can log onto the official website for live video and audio streams of the event.

This year's theme, Delete the Border, will focus on eliminating the mental blockades between people on both sides of the frontier, said Ilich, who grew up in Tijuana.

"I grew up thinking the border was a very normal thing," he said. "It was something I never questioned. But as I got older, I started noticing that persons from the United States would come to party, but wouldn't bother to get to know the Mexican people. They just saw us as workers, not equals."

For many Mexicans, the border is a barrier to a better life, and many have died trying to reach it. According to U.S. immigration officials, 367 Mexicans died trying to reach the United States during fiscal year 2000 (October 1999 – September 2000). And that's just on the U.S. side.

Francis Pisani, the director of Latinotek, has lived on both sides of the boundary. In the early 1990s, Mexicans stormed the border by bursting over the geopolitical line in groups of 20 to 60 people, he said. There was strength in numbers –- some got caught and booted back south, others got in and found jobs.

Given Mexico's chronic unemployment crisis and dismal economic outlook, an average of 1,000 Mexicans will cross the border into the United States every day during the next 15 years, according to the Mexican National Population Council.

"If there is still such a thing as the American Dream, everyone should be allowed to share it," Pisani said. "You can't stop them from coming."

 
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