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Bringing the Battlefield to the Border

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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 4)

That caught it all, offering a vision of what the military-industrial complex looks like once it’s transported, jobs and all, to the U.S.-Mexican border and turned into a consumer’s mall for the post-9/11 American era. You could sense it in the young woman from RoboteX, who looked like she had walked directly out of her college graduation and onto the floor of Border Security Expo 2012.  She loaned me her remote control for a few minutes and let me play with the micro-robot she was hawking.  It looked like a tiny tank and was already being used by the Oakland police and its SWAT team.

It was the breathless excitement of the University of Arizona graduate student describing to me the “deception detection” technology the university was developing, along with a “communication web” that would allow drones to communicate with each other without human intervention. Perhaps training students for this rising industry was part of the University of Arizona’s thought process in accepting a multi-million-dollar grant from DHS to create a Center of Excellence on Border Security which will work in tandem with its Tech Park on Science and Technology. That center, in turn, was to develop the newest border enforcement technologies, as part of a consortium of several other universities.

In the next three years, the homeland security market in the United States is expected to reach $113 billion, according to a report by Homeland Security Market Research, and a significant chunk of that money will be dedicated to boundary building. Pretty soon the idea of border security as part of a Fortress USA will be so entrenched in the system that no one will be able to shake it loose—and then, of course, like all such systems, it will proliferate.

It has been fashionable to treat the state of Arizona as an American fringe phenomenon, simply a bunch of lunatics hell-bent on passing bluntly racist anti-immigration laws. However, as Border Security Expo indicates, something far more sinister is at work.  There’s nothing fringe about the companies in the convention hall eager to build up the homeland security state, and funded by the federal government.

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In Arizona, industry leaders are calling for the formation of the first “global cluster” of private companies on border security in the United States. Already 50 businesses, large and small, have been identified as possible participants. Bruce Wright, vice president of the University of Arizona Tech Park on Science and Technology, says that many of them have set up shop in the park, and that the university has the facilities to incubate both start-up companies and subsidiaries for more established military or aerospace corporations as they enter what he calls “the border tech realm.”

“Here we are living on the border—turning lemons into lemonade. If we are to deal with the problem—what is the economic benefit from dealing with it?” Wright asks, referring to immigration enforcement, trade, drug interdiction, and the war on terror. “Well, we can build an industry around this problem that creates employment, wages, and wealth for this region… And this technology can be sold all over the world. So it becomes an industry cluster that is very beneficial to us in Southern Arizona.”

Wright’s vision is likely to prove far more powerful than SB1070 will ever be. As Arizona defines the line of scrimmage for U.S. border security strategy, it is also preparing the way to export its products of social control not only abroad, but also to your hometown, or to wherever a boundary needs to be built between the rich and poor.

Todd Miller has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars,” among other places.

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Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch, join us on Facebook, and check out the latest TD book, “Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.”

Copyright 2012 Todd Miller


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