In July 2015 I received an award from the National Science Foundation’s Cultural Anthropology and Law and Social Sciences programs to fund my new research project in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, entitled “Emergency Services During Heightened Border Security” (#1533968). The project asks: How do first responders confront the challenges of provisioning fire, rescue, and emergency medical services in contexts of heightened security? The case of emergency medical responders is intriguing and oftentimes problematic. As public service providers, they are street-level bureaucrats who work on the frontlines of the post-9/11 security state, facing political, legal and ethical collisions between the security of the communities where they live and work and their social-humanitarian responsibilities to saving lives. Professional 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 and tightly integrated into the federal emergency preparedness and homeland security infrastructures. The study examines the relation between local governments and taxpayers that fund fire, rescue and emergency medical services, and federal and state governments, which set and implement national security, border control and immigration policies. The project will be instructive to EMS-related policy and regulatory efforts as they relate to both broader concerns about national security and public health.
During twelve-month-long ethnographic research in rural and urban communities on both sides of the border I will actively collaborate with research assistants and community partners from the local fire and rescue departments, including Tangye Beckham (Arivaca Fire District, Arizona), Victor Garay and Eduardo Canizales (H. Cuerpo De Bomberos Voluntarios “Gustavo Lamberto Manrriquez” in Nogales, Sonora).