Emergency Services During Heightened Border Security

Welcome to the website of the Border Rescue Project! The study, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, explores the everyday practices and experiences of firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics on both sides of the Arizona-Sonora border, where fire and rescue departments continue their efforts at binational cooperation on the local level in the times when their services are being increasingly integrated with the U.S. and Mexican security infrastructures and federal border enforcement strategies. This website documents our ongoing work.  


How do first responders confront the challenges of provisioning fire, rescue, and emergency medical services in contexts of heightened security on the U.S.-Mexico border? Firefighters and paramedics have a pragmatic, hands-on relationship with urban and rural environments, relying on professional knowledge and direct experience to navigate physical dangers. Whether fighting wildfires or treating people who are injured or sick, they do so following protocols that regulate emergency services. But on the border, where the jurisdiction of one state abuts another, first responders must also maneuver the complex political and legal terrain of U.S.-Mexico relations.

Since 9/11 increasingly integrated into federal emergency preparedness and homeland security infrastructures, first responders now form part of the same system that injures the very people they often rescue: migrants who break their legs trying to climb the border fence or who become dehydrated crossing the hazardous terrain of the Sonoran Desert. Medical ethics and healthcare laws require that first responders provide help without regard to the legal status of their patients, but as state actors they are also invested with political and symbolic functions of governmental authority. Taking these contradictions as the starting point, this study examines the relation between fire, rescue and emergency medical services on the local level, and federal and state governments, which set and implement national security, border control and immigration policies.

The project documents the rich history of binational cooperation between Mexican and American first responders, identifies current challenges to the provision of emergency assistance across national jurisdictions, and explores ways to overcome divisions that may result in injury or death created by the juridical and physical border line.