To make a villain of the “other” is not a foreign American concept. Sure, xenophobia has its roots in the pre-colonial destruction of indigenous culture. Fast forward through the American Revolution and the heinous nature of both past and modern day slavery of the African people, to the treatment of the arrival of other immigrants. The Irish were hated by nativists. Italians were hated by the Irish. Chinese were demonized by people of a variety of European descents when first arriving. Everyone new to the United States has been a villain at some point. The State has made today’s villains people from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. A common term used to identify all individuals from the aforementioned areas of the world is LatinX. This does not include people from African nations that are targets of the same bigotry that LatinX individuals face. The commonality among all of the victims of state oppression, fierce divide, and conquer tactics is one thing- at one point one of those people had the barrel of a member of the United States military aimed at their body.
Before discussing anything about the military and its relationship to the southern border or immigration, it is first worth noting some important facts about the southern border. This information is illustrated brilliantly in a mini documentary by Brave New Films entitled “How Corporations Profit from Border Militarization.”The three critical areas of importance in understanding the situation at the southern border are; A) border history, B) border cost, and C) efficacy of border expenditures.
A) The United States southern border was not always a border. It was an open area that allowed families to cross and see one another. This invisible line morphed into a chain link fence and became a physical border that criminalized migration under the Clinton administration in 1993 through Operation Hold the Line with the help of El Paso Sector Chief, Sylvester Reyes.
B) Securing 700 miles of the fence in 2006 cost taxpayers $3,000,000,000-$7,000,000,000 per mile. In a clear throw back to military war profiteering, KBR, the subsidiary of Halliburton that made hundreds of millions off of the illegal Iraqi invasion, receives $32,000,000 annually for something called border maintenance. It is here that we begin to see the beginning of the militarization of the border and the framed illegality and demonization of the “other.” Post 9/11, we see a new framework introduced that saw the border as not only the frontline against the war on drugs and immigration, but also as the frontline against the war on terror.
a. The number of border agents increases from 10,000 to 21,000 and the cost for the agents was $18,000,000,000 in 2012. This cost was more than all Federal law enforcement agencies expenditures combined.
b. As technological advances increased, an integrated fixed tower program was called for costing tax payers $300,000,000-$400,000,000 upon deployment. These towers were built by the same Israeli company, Elbit that uses technology to suppress and control Palestinians in their occupied land. Sound familiar?
c.In 2012, General Atomics, the creator of the Predator B drones, pushed the AVVSI (drone lobby) to pass the FAA Modernization Act which opened more air space to drones in 2015.
d.Operation Streamline is a clear example of the profit motive that needs to be protected by armed personnel. In 2005 Del Rio, Texas instituted Operation Streamline. It is currently in seven border cities. Streamline allows CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) to deliver detainees directly to Federal court where they are tried, sometimes up to 80 people at time. The hearing typically lasts less than two hours. Prison sentences are typically one to six months in private prisons. Owners of private prisons benefit tremendously as thousands of detainees are forced through Federal court. Taxpayers foot the bill for Operation Streamline. The program costs Tucson $100,000,000 - $400,000,000 a year.
C) With all of the taxpayer money blown through since the early 1990’s we have not seen a decrease in drug use and are in the midst of an opioid epidemic. A large percentage of the opioids are coming from private clinics, hospitals and CVS’s, not the southern border. This fact prompted liberal centrist pundit, Van Jones to hilariously exclaim “Do we build a stronger border wall or a wall around CVS!”
a. Apprehensions of Border Patrol agents are less than 1/10 of what they were in the 1990’s.
b.Building an additional 1,250 miles of border wall/fencing and equipping it with tech and personnel would cost the taxpayers approximately $21,600,000,000.
c. The United States Government has given $24,000,000, to the Mexican Southern Border Patrol Program (SBP). This program has militarized the Mexican side of the border, resulting in the increased detention of Central American migrants by 71%.
d. CBP hosts a tech expo every year much like the anti-terrorism expo in Alameda California for Federal and local law enforcement called Urban Shield. The CBP expo suggests that the industry from border control technology is estimated to be $19,000,000,000-$20,000,000,000 annually. The majority of contracts go to the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Energy (DOE).
e. There is little evidence to support that any terrorist plots have been stopped through enhanced border militarization and if there is, the public should know, given the amount of their tax dollars that are used to pay for such an absurd endeavor.
Last week I went to El Paso as part of a delegation of groups committed to confronting inhumane conditions at the border. My party consisted solely of veterans. We worked in collaboration with the Border Network for Human Rights, and the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). During our visit we escorted families across the Rio Grande at an El Paso border crossing, participated in a march through El Paso, listened to community leaders discuss border and detention issues, and held a press conference at a segment of the border wall in New Mexico. The two most remarkable experiences were at the wall in New Mexico and at the Rio Grande.
At the wall in New Mexico, hyperbole met reality as young children, some with tears in their eyes, panhandled through the fence posts while community leaders sobbed and held their hands through the human constructed barrier. Media captured these moments. While we held signs, border patrol agents amassed near us with seven SUV’s, ensuring that our peaceful gathering didn’t result in any high profile terrorist plots or massive drug trafficking escapades. The grit hit the gravel as a mother reconnected with her daughter in her mid 50’s after more than 15 years.
The second, and most striking moment was when we met with two Border Patrol agents earlier that morning. They escorted us through a place rarely traversed by US citizens. We assembled a ladder used to escort family members from the United States side to the Mexican side. Family members cried and embraced and took photos. Some Mexican citizens sat on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande looking on. The time came for the family members to part ways and the silence was sickening. A similar scenario unfolded as did in New Mexico, as I learned that a daughter and mother were reconnecting with a father that they had not seen in 15 years. The sheer stupidity of having to “allow” family members to see each other on land illegally occupied by the United States military began to sink in. The absurdity of a Border Patrol agent patrolling land that was never theirs to begin with ate at me. The familiarity of manned checkpoints caused some veterans to liken the border security checkpoints to outposts and checkpoints often seen on military deployments.
As the media shuffled back on to the Border Patrol shuttles, an opportunity arose to speak with a lone border patrol agent. In our discussion with the agent, we learned that Fort Bliss is a major recruiting arm of the CBP in Texas. The agent admitted a drop off in recruitment since the United States CBP was named best “company” to work for in 2016. She noted however, that the CBP was aggressively pursuing new recruitment strategies and was targeting veterans specifically because of their skillsets. The Border Patrol agent stated that she believes 40-50% of Border Patrol Agents are veterans.
On my journey to El Paso, I learned a great deal in speaking with leaders from the community, leaders in organizations committed to the dismantlement of the wall, various people organizing against the border patrol, people organizing with the CBP, veterans in favor of border security, and veterans against racist border militarization. Common themes emerged among all and they addressed everything raised in the fundamental facts I initially laid out. In my subjective experience, I found two key takeaways that will further exploit those at the border.
First, when discussing the amount of money involved in the CBP tech business, the relationship between war profiteering companies in Iraq also being involved at the border, the tacit endorsement between the CBP and the military work pipeline, the amount of money that has netted unsatisfactory results in combatting drug crime and terrorism plot detection; it is abundantly clear that corporations have used both political parties to gear up for an astronomically profitable war on the southern border.
Many of the community leaders I heard from in El Paso voiced concerns over the overt racism seen at the border through inhumane actions of militiamen, testimonials from people taunted because of their status, the disrespectful tone of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and local law enforcement agents. The clearly racist SB1070 of Arizona, SB20 of South Carolina, and SB4 in Texas are supported by high profile people in the Department of Justice such as our Attorney General, Jess Sessions. Sessions recently came to Texas to express his support for SB4. The law allows local law enforcement officers to ask about immigration status based on color and collaborate with ICE and CBP. The conversation about race and immigration is not new. Recently the Military Times came out with a study that suggests that 25% of troops see white supremacy tendencies in their fellow ranks. If there is veracity to that study, there is a military to border patrol pipeline and we should be scared of veterans over people of color holding positions of power.
We as veterans should not be contributing to the militarization of a border that allows for racism to permeate all aspects of a migrant or immigrants life. Nor should we be allowing for a streamlining of migrants into the prison industrial complex for the sake of profit. The same companies that exploited war in the Middle East are capitalizing off of the new frontline- the border between Mexico and the United States. The land being protected was already stolen from the indigenous people by the Spanish and stolen from the Mexicans through murderous US military action. We should as a community condone CBP and the demonization of migrants for sake of profit. All veterans reading this that are CBP employees are culpable in the damage that our border wall has caused to the environment, families on both sides of the border, our national economy, the economies of multiple states, and the people that tragically die attempting to cross a border that should have never existed to begin with. Veterans, we must stand up and become involved in any actions against the militarization of our borders.