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Bringing the Battlefield to the Border

Posted on Jun 7, 2012
U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill (CC BY 2.0)

The barrier at the U.S.-Mexican border near Nogales, Ariz.

By Todd Miller, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

But the continued fortification of the border (and the profits that accompany it) caught only one aspect of the convention’s reality. After all, the Arizona portion of the U.S.-Mexican border has not only become Ground Zero for every experiment in immigration enforcement and drug interdiction, but also the incubator, testing site, showcase, and staging ground for ever newer versions of border-enforcement technology that, sooner or later, are sure to be applied globally.

As that buzzing convention floor made clear, the anything-goes approach to immigration enforcement found in Arizona—home to SB1070, the infamous anti-immigrant law now before the Supreme Court—has generated interest from boundary-militarizers elsewhere in the country and the world. An urge for zero-tolerance-style Arizona borders is spreading fast, as evidenced by the convention’s clientele. In addition to U.S. Border Patrol types, attendees came from law enforcement outfits and agencies nationwide, and from 18 countries around the world, including Israel and Russia.

In theory, the Expo had nothing to do with SB1070, but the organizers’ choice of controversial Arizona governor Jan Brewer as keynote speaker could be seen as an endorsement of the laissez-faire climate in the state.  It is, in other words, the perfect place to develop and even test future technology on real people.

Brewer first assured convention-goers that the “immigration issue isn’t about hate or skin color… it’s about securing the border and keeping Americans safe.”  That out of the way, she promptly launched into one of her usual tirades, blasting the federal government for not securing the border. “America’s failure to understand this problem at a national level and to deal with it,” she insisted, “has haunted borders like mine for decades.”

In fact, as Brewer well knows, the very opposite is the case. Arizona’s rise to immigration importance has gone hand in hand with the creation of a border version of the very homeland security state she criticizes.  In reality, federal resources and Department of Homeland Security dollars have been pouring into Arizona as part of a tripartite war on “illegals,” drugs, and terrorism.  Her continual complaints about a “porous border,” enhanced by exaggerated tales of “decapitated bodies,” only ups the pressure for ever more building blocks to Fortress USA.  Brewer’s are sweet words to the companies who hope to profit, including DRS Technologies, StrongWatch, and Boeing.

The governor is hardly alone.  Politicians from both parties are loath to acknowledge (as is the much of the mainstream media) how drastically the enforcement landscape along the U.S.-Mexican borderlands has been altered in recent years.  As geographer and border scholar Joseph Nevins sums the matter up: “The very existence of lines of control over the movement of people is a very recent development in human history.”

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.


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