Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is the US at War with Mexico?

It's a reasonable question.

20,000 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents roam the border looking for economic migrants, smugglers, and traffickers. Those who are picked up - including children - are often held for hours or days without food, water, or blankets. The border fence disrupts livelihoods for border communities and destroys the environment. Individuals endure racial profiling, wrongful arrest, and other abuses. Immigration prosecutions are at an all-time high and federal courts are overwhelmed. But it's getting worse........

Most recently, the Department of Homeland Security has wasted more than $700 million dollars to create new surveillance technology (a "virtual fence"). What do they have to show for it? A faulty pilot project along 23 miles of the border near Tuscon. That's it.

An SBInet tower. Source: Boeing

Earlier today, I attended a hearing on border security. Senator Lieberman (CT) raised questions on increased cross-border violence due to "narco-terrorism" while Senator McCain (AZ) insisted that "we must move immediately to fully secure our border." Their witnesses - the head of CBP, a US attorney for Arizona, the sheriff of Cochise County, and the mayor of Nogales - offered their assessments of the situation and made recommendations on how to expand border security initiatives.

While I would not seek to diminish the severity of the cartels' violence (and over 22,000 Mexican residents have been killed in the past three years), I was deeply concerned to hear some of the suggestions being put forward, without critique, at the hearing.

All of the witnesses supported Senator McCain's proposal to deploy 3,000 National Guard troops on the border. One claimed that the presence of the military "creates a whole new level of deterrence." Other suggestions which were lofted include:
  • Building double and triple fences in urban areas, or across the entire border
  • Deploying technologies from SBInet (the virtual border fence) and elsewhere to track incursions on the border
  • Expanding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Securing funding for additional CBP agents
  • Looking to the Minutemen as a model for how to successfully secure the border
Many of these suggestions mirror the 10-point plan for border security that Senators McCain (AZ) and Kyl (AZ) released today.

What's missing: Any serious consideration of the negative impact that border militarization has on border communities. Recognition of the human rights abuses caused by reactive, unfocused security efforts. Indications that the border will not be "secure" until the broken immigration system is fixed so that people can come to the US in a legal, orderly manner.

It is nearly impossible to seal a 2,000-mile border, and most of us wouldn't want to live in a country that did. But until the U.S. government decides that enough is enough, that taxpayer dollars are better spent on workable solutions than impractical displays of force, then the out-of-control militarization of the border is likely to continue.

When will it be enough?

In the hearing today, the mayor of Nogales said, "It is a full-blown war." What will we sacrifice - our country's values, the lives of our people, the trust in our law enforcement agencies - in order to fulfill a dream of ever-expanding military engagement?

Members of the National Guard survey the border during Operation Jumpstart in 2007. Source: LIFE

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