Twenty-nineteen has been a banner year for xenophobia. Before news broke of lice-ridden migrant children forced to sleep on frigid cement, before the racist jokes Border Patrol officers traded on private Facebook groups were made public, President Trump sowed fear over “migrant caravans” headed for the land of the free—caravans that might’ve had “Middle Easterners” among their ranks. Such bald-faced lies conspired with long-sublimated national myths to obscure the actual crisis at our border, and to obscure the identities of those suffering the consequences. In the interviews and photographs that compose William T. Vollmann’s cover story for the July issue of Harper’s Magazine, people on both sides of the border—migrants, volunteers for charitable organizations that seek to help them, Trump fans, merchants, and others—come into focus. Their indivisible testimonies—of coyotes and ankle bracelets, of assaults and soup kitchens—build to a humble but unflinching indictment.
In this week’s episode, Vollmann—a National Book Award–winning novelist and journalist—sits down with web editor Violet Lucca to talk about covering the region at this crucial moment.