|Border Policy & How to Change It|
For a number of years now I’ve worked in the desert on the Mexican-American border with a group that provides humanitarian aid to migrants who are attempting to enter the United States—a journey that claims hundreds of lives every year. We’ve spent years mapping the trails that cross this desert. We walk the trails, find places to leave food and water along them, look for people in distress, and provide medical care when we run into someone who needs it. If the situation is bad enough, we can get an ambulance or helicopter to bring people to the hospital. We strive to act in accordance with the migrants’ wishes at all times, and we never call the Border Patrol on people who don’t want to turn themselves in.
During this time I’ve been a part of many extraordinary situations and I’ve heard about many more. Some of the things I’ve seen have been truly heartwarming, and some of them have been deeply sad and wrong. I’ve seen people who were too weak to stand, too sick to hold down water, hurt too badly to continue, too scared to sleep, too sad for words, hopelessly lost, desperately hungry, literally dying of thirst, never going to be able to see their children again, vomiting blood, penniless in torn shoes two thousand miles from home, suffering from heat stroke, kidney damage, terrible blisters, wounds, hypothermia, post-traumatic stress, and just about every other tribulation you could possibly think of. I’ve been to places where people were robbed and raped and murdered; my friends have found bodies. In addition to bearing witness to others’ suffering, I myself have fallen off of cliffs, torn my face open on barbed wire, run out of water, had guns pointed at me, been charged by bulls and circled by vultures, jumped over rattlesnakes, pulled pieces of cactus out of many different parts of my body with pliers, had to tear off my pants because they were full of fire ants, gotten gray hairs, and in general poured no small amount of my own sweat, blood, and tears into the thirsty desert.
There is nowhere on earth like the place where we work. It is beautiful beyond telling: harsh, vast, mountainous, remote, rugged, unforgiving, every cliché you can think of and more. I have been humbled countless times by the incredible selflessness and courage of the people that I have met there, and I have been driven nearly out of my head with rage at the utterly heartless economic and political system that drives people to such lengths in order to provide for their families. Doing this work has given me a great deal of opportunity to observe how the border is managed on a day-to-day basis, and hopefully some insight into the functions that it performs within global capitalism—the real objectives that it serves. I offer this essay as ammunition to anyone who still cares enough about anything to intervene when people around them are being treated like pieces of meat.
The first thing that I want to make clear is that the atrocious suffering that happens on the border every day is not an accident. It is not a mistake and it is not the result of a misunderstanding. It is the predictable and intentional result of policies implemented at every level of government on both sides of the border. These policies have rational objectives and directly benefit identifiable sectors of the population of both countries. It may be evil, but it’s not stupid. If this sounds a little shrill, let me tell you how I’ve seen this play out on the ground.
When I started working in the desert I began to notice some very peculiar things about the Border Patrol’s operations there. They would do a lot of enforcement in some areas and very little in others, and this would not necessarily correspond to which areas were busy and which areas were slow. In fact, very often the enforcement would clearly be done in such a way that it would push traffic into rather than out of the busiest areas, where Border Patrol would keep a low profile until the very northern end of the route. At that point there would be a moderate amount of enforcement again, but not really what you would expect given the numbers of people that were moving through.
Then they started building lots of surveillance towers. But once again, the towers were not really built in the places where the traffic was heaviest—they were built on the edges of them. If anything, they seemed to be intent on forcing traffic into the busiest routes rather than out of them. What was happening?
Meanwhile, I was constantly meeting migrants whose groups had been split up by helicopters. The Border Patrol would fly over them a few feet off the ground, everybody would run in different directions, and soon there would be thirty people wandering lost across the desert in groups of two or three. What seemed particularly odd was that the Border Patrol often made no effort to actually apprehend these groups after breaking them up—they just flew away. Why?
And then there’s this. Over the last few years, the organization I work for has developed a pretty comprehensive understanding of the area we cover, which at times has been one of the most heavily traveled sections of the entire border. We’ve formed a fairly clear picture of where traffic starts, where it goes, how it gets there, where it’s busy and where it’s slow at any given time, where the pinch points are, and so on. I honestly believe that if I worked for the Border Patrol I could basically point at a map and tell them how to shut down the whole sector. It’s really not rocket science. Keep in mind that all of our work has been done by untrained civilian volunteers, armed with low-end GPS units, a few old trucks, run-of-the-mill mapping software, cheap cell phones with spotty service, and a very limited budget. Does it seem logical that we could figure this stuff out while the government of the United States of America cannot, despite access to helicopters, unmanned drones, electronic sensors, fleets of well-maintained trucks, night vision systems, state-of-the-art communications and surveillance and mapping technology, tens of thousands of paid employees, and a limitless supply of money to shovel down the hole at every possible opportunity? I don’t think it does. So what’s going on?
If you accept the stated objectives of the border at face value, then none of this makes any sense at all. If you accept that the actual objectives may not be the stated ones, things start to come together fast. The task of the Border Patrol—and the actual objective of the policies it is there to enforce—is not in any sense to STOP ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. It is to manage and control that migration. Trust me on this.
But to what end? To whose benefit? Settle in, because it’s complicated.
June 20, 2011
Designed to Kill
An outstanding "essay" on so called "border security." Please read the whole article.