June 18, 2013
Bringing the Battlefield to the Border
Posted on Jun 7, 2012
By Todd Miller, TomDispatch
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 Coleman says 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.”
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
Surprisingly enough, in that vast, brightly-lit cathedral of science fiction in Phoenix it wasn’t the guns, drones, and robots, or the fixed surveillance towers and militarized mannequins that startled me most. It was the staggering energy and enthusiasm, so thick in the convention’s air that it enveloped you.
That day, I had no doubt, I was in the presence of a burgeoning new industry which has every intention of making not just the border, but this world of ours its own. I could feel that sense of excitement and possibility from the moment Drew Dodds began explaining to me just how his company’s Freedom-On-The-Move system actually works. He grabbed two water bottles close at hand and began painting a vivid picture of one as a “hill” obstructing “the line of sight to the target,” and the other as that “target”—in fact, an exhausted migrant walking “the last mile” after three days in the desert, who might give anything for just such a bottle.
I have met many migrants in Dodd’s “last mile”—hurt, dehydrated, exhausted. One man’s feet had swelled up so much, thanks to the unrelenting heat and the cactus spines he had stepped on, that he could no longer jam them in his shoes. He had, he told me, continued on anyway in excruciating pain, mile after mile, barefoot on the oven-hot desert floor. Considering the thousands of dead bodies recovered from the borderlands since the massive build-up of Border Patrol forces and technology, he was lucky to have made it through alive. And this was the man Dodds was so pumped about Freedom-On-The-Move’s “spot and stalk” technology nabbing; this was his football game. In the end, though, he abandoned football for reality, summing up his experience this way: “We are bringing the battlefield to the border.”
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