Nearly all the recent immigration proposals from within the U.S. political establishment have called for an increase in the use of soldiers to guard the U.S. Mexico border. People concerned with immigration reform should understand clearly the reasons that a further militarization of the U.S. border is unacceptable.
First of all, the militarization of the border will kill migrants. There is no doubt about this. This policy is a natural extension of a policy the U.S. has followed for some years now of essentially pushing would-be migrants to attempt crossings in the more deserted, drier and dangerous parts of the border. It is an extension of the border fence and the ‘Canal of the Americas’, which have had the effect of causing more and more migrants to attempt crossings through the driest parts of the Arizona desert. The deaths are becoming more and more concentrated in the area of Pima County Arizona, where migrants are crossing some fifty miles of barren desert before they reach the first road. The cost of this can be counted in the bodies of migrants who do not succeed in making the crossing.
In the early and mid 1990s, the number of migrants dying each year trying to cross into the United States was typically between 200 and 300. In 2009, the bodies of 417 migrants were found. Even this number probably underestimates the true total, since the bodies of many migrants are probably never found.
The militarization of the border is a criminal policy. Those who are pushing this policy are clearly aware that it will kill migrants, since the effect of this sort of policy was clearly pointed out to Congress in a General Accounting Office report in 2005. The policy of militarization of the border nevertheless has almost universal support in Congress. This shows the cynicism of our political leaders, who are evidently unconcerned with how many people their policies, especially when the victims are Mexicans.
But this disregard for human life has a long history in the Southwest. Mexican miners and ranchers were robbed of their land and lynched in California during the Gold Rush. Chicanos, Mexicanos and Central Americans have suffered from police brutality and police murders throughout the modern history of this region. They continue to be criminalized, as seen in Arizona’s SB1070 that mandates that police stop and question people based only on a ‘reasonable suspicion’ they are undocumented. And the prisons are full of Chicanos, Mexicanos and Central Americans who are imprisoned for years in circumstances where others would be set free.
The same dehumanization of Chicanos, Mexicans and Central Americans is evident in the violence with which political movements in this community are often suppressed. It is only three years ago - May 1, 2007 - that a peaceful immigrant rights rally in Los Angeles was suppressed by police firing rubber bullets and swinging batons, leaving dozens of people injured, including nine journalists. Nor has the community forgotten the police riot and the murder of Ruben Salazar, and killing of Angel Diaz, and Lynn Ward at the hands of police during the mass Chicano Moratorium march and anti-war rally of August 29, 1970.
In light of all this, the Congressional disregard for Mexican life, while appalling, is not surprising. We must keep in mind as well that the use of soldiers to keep Mexicans out of the Southwestern United States is a historical injustice. It is a well-known fact that the United States seized the territory which is now California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas from Mexico by war and the treaties which followed wars. This chapter in American history is shameful and many Americans now recognize that. But that is mere historical fact: To use the military to prevent desperate Mexicans from entering the territory which was stolen from Mexico is to continue these historical crimes into the present day.
It is a well-known fact that the use of soldiers to perform police duties is a recipe for trouble. Soldiers are trained and equipped for war, in which it is a matter of kill or be killed. They are not prepared for the much grayer area of law enforcement. It is dangerous to civilians and unfair to soldiers to thrust soldiers into a role for which they are not prepared. The Border Patrol has already killed two Mexicans this year, how many more will die with soldiers there?
Furthermore, the militarization of the border is a serious danger to United States civil liberties. The right wing is trying to whip up fear of immigrants by saying that immigrants are bringing crime and drugs to the United States. But the reality is that immigrants are less likely to be involved in criminal activity than native-born Americans. This policy of militarization calls for an enormous increase in the use of surveillance equipment, including remote cameras and even military drones, and hugely increased patrols by soldiers and border patrol officers alike through a large swath of the United States. These are steps that are unprecedented in American history. In the history of this country no government has ever found it necessary to do this. It sets a dangerous precedent can be followed by similar increases in surveillance in American cities. This will come down the hardest on Latinos, African Americans and other oppressed nationalities who bear the brunt of the governments violation of civil liberties.
Also, we must keep in mind the fundamental injustices of U.S. border policy. Migrants from Mexico and Central America are coming to the United States because of the economic devastation in their own countries. The reality is that the economic problems in those countries are a direct result of United States policy. U.S. policy has devastated our neighbors to the south through free trade agreements, U.S. funded civil wars, the drug industry which supplies the United States and neoliberal economic policies which our government has forced the governments of those countries to implement. It is grossly unfair that we should destroy the economies of those countries and then turn our soldiers against the refugees we have created by preventing them from seeking a better life here.
President Obama's recent remarks have given many people in the immigrant community renewed hope that there may be some form of reform this year. It is plain to see that at most what can be expected from this administration is half measures. But the situation of immigrants in the United States is so poor that even half measures must be welcomed. At the same time, those of us involved in the struggle for immigrant rights must not lose sight of the dangers of border militarization.
We must to fight against any border militarization component of immigration reform proposals and continue to struggle against this murderous and unjust policy.