Bringing the Battlefield to the Border

Published on ZNet (Source: TomDispatch.com), by Todd Miller, June 08, 2012.

… The War on Terror on the Border:

Phoenix was an especially appropriate place for Border Security Expo. After all, the Arizona-Mexico border region is Ground Zero for the development of an immigration enforcement apparatus which soon enough may travel from the southern border to a neighborhood near you.  

The sold-out convention hall was abuzz with energy befitting an industry whose time has come. Wandering its aisles, you could sense the excitement, the sound of money being spent, the cacophony of hundreds of voices boosting product, the synergy of a burgeoning marketplace of ideas and dreams. General Dynamics, FLIR thermal imaging, and Raytheon banners hung from the vast ceiling, competing for eyeballs with the latest in mini-surveillance blimps. NEANY Inc.’s unmanned aerial drones and their water-borne equivalents sat on a thick red carpet next to desert-camouflaged trailer headquarters … //

… Al-Qaedizing Immigrants:

Anybody revisiting Nogales, El Paso, San Ysidro, or Brownsville today would quickly realize that they look nothing like they did two decades ago. In 1993, there were only 4,000 Border Patrol agents covering 6,000 miles of Canadian and Mexican boundarylands, and only flimsy chain-link fences along the most urbanized stretches of the southern border separated communities on either side.

Now, 16-foot walls cut through these towns. An array of cameras peer over them into Mexico sending a constant flow of images to dark monitoring rooms in Border Patrol stations along the 2,000 mile southern border, where bored agents watch mostly pedestrian traffic. Stadium-style lighting rises over the walls and shines into Mexico, turning night into day as if we were indeed in salesman Dodds’s football game. For residents whose homes abut the border sleep is a challenge.

Border Patrol forces, still growing, have more than doubled in the years since 9/11. As the new uniformed soldiers of the Department of Homeland Security, close to 20,000 Border Patrol agents now occupy the U.S. Southwest. Predator drones and mini-surveillance blimps regularly patrol the skies. Nevins says that it is a “highly significant development” that we have come to accept this version of “boundaries” and the institutions that enforce them without question.

The Border Patrol became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 and was placed under the wing of Customs and Border Protection, now the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country with 60,000 employees. In the process, its “priority mission” became “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S.” Since then the Border Patrol has not netted a single person affiliated with a terrorist organization nor a single weapon of mass destruction.

It has, however, apprehended millions of Latin American migrants coming north, including a historic number of Mexicans who were essentially victims of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). No terrorists, they were often small farmers who could no longer compete with subsidized U.S. grain giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland for whom NAFTA proved a free pass into Mexico. U.S. officials were well aware that the trade agreement would lead to an increase in migration, and called for the enforcement build-up. In the post-9/11 world, under the rubric of “protecting” the country from terrorism, the DHS, with the help of state governments and local police, has enforced what is really a line of exclusion, guaranteeing eternal inequality between those who have and those who do not.

These lines of division have not only undergone a rapid build-up, but have fast become the accepted norm. According to anthropologist Josiah Heyman, the muscling up of an ever more massive border enforcement, interdiction, and surveillance apparatus “has militarized border society, where more and more people either work for the watchers, or are watched by the state.” Heyman’s words may prove prophetic, and not just along our borders either.

As any migrant, protester, or activist in the United States knows, the “watchers” and the “watched” are proliferating nationwide. Geographer Matthew Colemansays that the “most significant yet largely ignored fallout of the so-called war on terrorism… [is] the extension of interior immigration policing practices away from the southwest border.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is another 20,000-strong agency sheltered under the expansive roof of the Department of Homeland Security. It draws from a pool of 650,000 law enforcement officers across the country through deputization programs with innocuous names like 287(g) and Secure Communities. ICE effectively serves as a conduit bringing the borderlands and all they now imply into communities as distant as Utah, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

More than one million migrants have been deported from the country over the last 3½ years under the Obama administration, numbers that surpass those of the Bush years. This should be a reminder that a significant, if overlooked, part of this country’s post 9/11 security iron fist has been aimed not at al-Qaeda but at the undocumented migrant. Indeed, as writer Roberto Lovato points out, there has been an “al-Qaedization of immigrants and immigration policy.” And as in the Global War on Terror, military-industrial companies like Boeing and Halliburton are cashing in on this version of for-profit war.

Bringing Arizona to You: … (full long text).

Link: Tomgram: Todd Miller, Fortress USA, on TomDispatch.com, by Todd Miller, June 7, 2012.

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