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Boots on the Border chatroom Q&A

Boots on the Border chatroom Q&A

Pedro Rios

Pedro Rios, San Diego Area Program Director

Photo: Illustrated by Emily Cohane-Mann
Lia Lindsey, Policy Impact Coordinator

Lia Lindsey, Policy Impact Coordinator

Photo: Illustrated by Emily Cohane-Mann

During the Boots on the Boder Google Hangout many participants sent such interesting, excellent questions that we ran out of time to answer them all.

So we’ve gathered responses from our experts, and here they are. Please feel free to share widely with your family, neighbors and friends.

Thank you for your continued support as we work for fair, humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

Q: What possibilities might there be to train local people (especially allies of immigrants and Dreamers) in basic legal rights, that could lead to production/sharing of informational brochures and even to engage with ICE folks to broaden their own understanding of civil and human rights rooted in law?

A: Pedro Rios: I see this as two separate, but related questions.  The first has to do with informing the general public (allies and DREAMers, in this case) about “rights” information.  Some AFSC offices conduct Know-Your-Rights seminars to immigrants and allies as a way to 1) inform immigrants and allies of their rights, and 2) encourage community-based support and participation.  In the San Diego experience, the seminars are workshops that review different scenarios where immigrants have had to exercise First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.  These workshops are usually a good way of getting a commitment from community members about their participation in local organization, grass-roots efforts.  Our workshops to allies have been similar, with the idea that allies play a supportive role, especially in documentation of law enforcement operations.  Informational brochures are already available at the AFSC website, and these are useful to supplement the information provided at the workshop.

Engaging with ICE officials is an entirely different process that might include a different set of goals.  Defining what those goals are first would be important to understand how to proceed.  In San Diego, we developed a relationship with local ICE officials after having difficult conversations.  The relationship permitted better communication about operations and individuals who were detained.  At a national level, there are advocates who regularly meet with ICE officials with the purpose of changing policy to lessen the impact to civil and human rights.  There have been some positive changes resulting from these meetings.

Q: New Mexico immigrant workers are needed for work. But the legal channels are complicated beyond all hope of ever getting through the process. Is there anything AFSC can do to stream line entrance work visas for better access to workers for smaller farmers and ranchers as needed? As the requirements stand now employers don't even attempt to get through the burdensome advance timelines required in requests for help from Mexico.

A: Lia Lindsey:  The Senate immigration bill (S. 744), several of the comprehensive immigration policy reform bills introduced in the House, and one stand-alone House bill address guest worker issues. These bills all outline new processes for recruiting and bringing workers into the U.S. for temporary employment with the goal of streamlining the system, adjusting the number of guest worker visas available to account for labor needs in the U.S., and some forward-looking bills include increased protections for guest workers who are vulnerable to employer abuses. The experience of the AFSC when accompanying temporary workers in the struggle for equal rights has demonstrated that guest worker programs are characterized by exploitation and abuse. All people have the right to work with dignity, regardless of their immigration status. Thus the AFSC calls for policies that allow immigrant workers to secure safe employment in the U.S., including with small farmers and ranchers.

Q: Please address the political "reality" that says any immigration reform compromise hinges on so-called "border security."

A: Pedro Rios: Unfortunately this has been the broken record with policymakers; that immigration reform is not possible unless and until the border is secure.  AFSC has worked on this for many years, and it is our challenge to demonstrate to policymakers that we need a new narrative for how we construct public policy that impacts border communities.  Fortunately there have been some in Congress who are taking a step forward and not buying into the rhetoric of harmful enforcement measures as a common denominator, but these are few voices.  Even so-called champions of immigration reform are quick to sell out border communities, without fully understanding the slippery slope dynamic that ultimately takes place for communities in the interior.

Q: How are we in the USA different from Apartheid South Africa when our border patrol stops people and requests papers often because of suspicions based on the color of one's skin?

A: Pedro Rios: Good point. Seemingly suspicion-less checkpoints are common along the border, and often times those who get stopped and questioned even in random roving patrols are Latinos.  It is never quite clear what criteria Border Patrol agents use to determine who to stop and question.  A few years ago, however, transportation checks (where Border Patrol agents questioned people riding public transportation systems) targeted Latino neighborhoods, bus routes, and transportation nodes.  These took place during the early morning and in the early evening, when people were traveling to work and school.  Most who were detained were members of the working class.  However, we also have cases where “white” drivers are harassed and accosted at checkpoints.  There are multiple videos on-line that demonstrate abusive practices by Border Patrol against drivers who question the purpose of the checkpoints within the interior of the country.

Q: Mayor Bloomberg continues to fight Court orders to end racist Stop & Frisk policies. It seems the border patrol's expansion to 100 miles from borders has created a Federal Stop and Frisk Policy. How likely are border patrols to stop and question white people that may very well be undocumented?

A: Pedro Rios: While the Border Patrol targets mostly Latinos and other people of color, it certainly is the case that “white” people also have had their share of problems crossing through interior checkpoints, but probably not so much in random stops.

Q: How do we end the culture of cruelty in Border Patrol/Immigration and Customs Enforcement without accountability and prosecutions? How do we get justice?

A; Pedro Rios: It simply is not possible.  We absolutely need accountability and oversight mechanisms in place to ensure that the culture of cruelty ends.  We are working towards that, but CBP is just a huge agency, a juggernaut, so that it is an uphill struggle, especially because it is an agency that is known to operate with impunity.  Some minor victories have been to have a pilot program in place where the Border Patrol agents will be using cameras on their patrols.  This will be tested soon, and we hope it will be a small step in making CBP more accountable.

Q: How much money has been spent on militarization of the border in the last couple of years?

A: Pedro Rios: According to the Migration Policy Institute, “in the ensuing 26 years [since IRCA], the nation has spent an estimated $186.8 billion ($219.1 billion if adjusted to 2012 dollars) on immigration enforcement by INS and its successor agencies, CBP and ICE, and the US-VISIT program.

Q. Wouldn't reform actually mean open borders throughout the Western hemisphere?

A: Lia Lindsey:  Despite what some media outlets are reporting, none of the immigration bills introduced thus far would establish open borders. Every bill contains strict limitations on who is able to immigrate to the US in the future (though they differ in the nuances and parameters of who can enter the US and who is able to apply for US citizenship). 

Q: I'm hearing that border patrols are destroying water barrels left for people. Are they taking over and doing the vigilantes’ old habits?

A: Pedro Rios: There are videos available on-line where Border Patrol agents have been seen destroying water barrels in the Arizona desert.  Not all Border Patrol agents engage in this troubling behavior, though there has been collusion between vigilante groups and individual Border Patrol agents.  Some Border Patrol agents actually paid money from their own pocket to set up emergency beacons to mitigate migrant deaths. 

Q: To what extent is Plan Mexico (Merida Initiative) a part of the militarization of the border?

 A: Pedro Rios: My analysis is that there is an indirect link between Plan Mexico and initiatives that intend to militarize the border.  Where Plan Mexico intends to bridge the various security apparatuses between the U.S. and Mexico’s southern border, there is an element of social control that cannot be disregarded but that is integral to the success of militarizing communities.  As some academics have argued (i.e.: Timothy Dunn) that border enforcement initiatives resemble low-intensity conflict practices, which also include social control as an important element.  Certainly we have seen how violence in our communities has become so commonplace that it no longer is questioned at a massive level.  The integration of armed agents in border communities has become part of the accepted landscape and violence that is normalized.  The larger question here is for what purpose?  How does Plan Mexico, and how do border militarization projects, protect neoliberal tendencies at the expense of the working poor?  What similarities might there be between border communities and those who must deal with increased militarization in southern Mexico?  Food for thought.

Q: Can someone speak to how the border militarization actually increases and supports violence from drug cartels and more organized crime in the region?

A: Pedro Rios: Interesting studies have been done that conclude that increased border militarization has made unregulated border crossings a much more expensive, lucrative, and dangerous experience for would-be migrants.  What used to be more of a mom-and-pop operation, a friend of a friend, or a compadre outfit that would bring people from Mexico into the U.S. now has become the forefront for criminal syndicates that profit from human smuggling.  Every major migration route leading into and through Mexico is controlled by criminal networks, many of which operate under the control of drug cartels, and often with the blessing of some government and police officials.

Q:   How can we link the public discourse over immigration 'reform' legislation and its funding with private prison internment of immigrants picked up for deportation?

A: Lia Lindsey: The connections between privatization of prisons and detention centers with immigration policy reform are slowly starting to capture attention of key actors. It’s important to include this information when speaking with others in our communities and with our elected officials who are often unaware of these intersections and the impacts of privatization on immigrants in detention. The more we highlight this often overlooked issue and integrate it with the other elements of reforms that we lift up, the greater our chances are that it will become a fundamental discussion topic within the reform movement (similar to family unity and establishing a path to citizenship). We at the AFSC would like to know from you and others like you who are interested in bridging this divide. How do you think we can raise this issue up within comprehensive immigration reform conversations?

Q: This is all important and necessary information, but what is your assessment of the strength of social movements to turn back this abuse at the border?

A: Pedro Rios: Too many people live with fear.  It also doesn’t help that it seems that the Border Patrol operate with impunity.  But there is a growing acknowledgment that people have had enough.  The Senate bill that would double the number of BP agents on the field is too expensive and would lead to an exacerbation of civil and human rights abuses.  It is possible for a growing social movement to turn back the militarization, but border communities need the support of other sectors in society.  This is where the difficult conversations need to take place, about what we mean when we advocate for immigration reform.  Many organizations would advocate for reforming immigration laws at any cost, and we have to contend with the implications of that advocacy when it has led to violence and death at the border.  If we can have more people understand that border militarization impacts all, then perhaps we can nurture our social strength for a healthier movement that will challenge abuses at the border.

Q: I have read that some of the proposed new border "security" expenditures will funnel money to the same militaristic companies that have been getting rich from contracts in the "War on Terror." Now that we're leaving Afghanistan, they need another place for their big contracts. Is this an accurate portrayal of the economics of border militarization?

A: Pedro Rios: Yes, many of the same companies that profit from war abroad are looking at profiting from border militarization.  U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy had a great comment about this: the border surge components of the Senate bill read like a “Christmas wish list for Halliburton” and the rest of the border security industry too.

Q: How will these changes on the border affect the access of persons in need of international protection (victims of trafficking, asylum-seekers, as opposed to other migrants) to the U.S. and to authorities?

A: Lia Lindsey: One point of impact is the ability of Border Patrol agents to identify and provide appropriate assistance to such individuals. This speaks to the need for comprehensive training for agents that routinely interact with individuals along the border who have been trafficked and/or are fleeing their point of origin due to grave abuse. If agents aren’t aware of the warning signs of someone with this history, or don’t know that special procedures need to be followed for these vulnerable populations because this wasn’t featured in their job training, survivors of these abuses will continue to live under the weight of these injustices despite the availability of much needed assistance. In addition to training for existing agents, given that many of the immigration bills call for substantial increases in Border Patrol agents stationed along the southern border, adequate training is imperative for these new officers who may not have any knowledge of working with survivors of extreme violence and the services available to them. 

Q: Can you say more on accountability of BP and ICE (and private contractors): how get prosecutions for abuse and murder?

A: Pedro Rios: Our advocacy along the border has been precisely to hold agents accountable for unprofessional behavior, or instances where there has been abuse of authority.  We have had some success in getting members of Congress more interested in this, and have had some of them respond with letters to the U.S. Department of Justice.  The Office of the Inspector General has issued a report with recommendations about holding Border Patrol accountable for its actions, and CBP is now in discussions with advocates about improving its internal policies.  Time will only tell how effective the changes will be on practices on the ground.

Q: Is the southern border wall as militarized as the separation wall in Israel-Palestine?

A: Pedro Rios: Every border is different, and yet there are similarities between the U.S./Mexico border and the walls that surround Palestine.  For one, some of the same companies have been involved in border wall construction.  Elbit systems are one example, having built camera towers in the Arizona desert as part of the border wall infrastructure and surveillance mechanisms.  Israeli diplomats have traveled to the U.S. to review the border wall construction along parts of the U.S./Mexico border.  A lot of what I refer to as militarization is that it is a process of adopting militaristic tendencies, strategy, equipment, hardware, etc., that are used to control the borderlands.  The integration with the Department of Defense (DoD) is also a big problem, because then there is a direct connection with border enforcement and military strategy developed for war.  The Senate bill proposes much more direct communication and integration with the DoD.

Q: I question describing the U.S./Mexico border as "most" militarized because I don't think we want to get hung up on hyperbole. Surely we can say "one of the most" without losing anything and probably gain a tad more credibility for the main concerns we want to emphasize.

A: Lia Lindsey: Yes, being attentive to language is of critical importance when speaking of sensitive policy issues. Interestingly, the phrase “most” militarized border originated with a Member of Congress, Senator John McCain, who praised S. 744’s “border surge” provisions that would make ours the “most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin wall”. Source:

Q: Can you describe what this presence of border patrol looks like on a daily basis? How far from the border do you see agents?

A: Pedro Rios: Border Patrol agents are seen regularly within 100 miles of the border, but also where Border Patrol has checkpoints.  For instance, one can’t leave San Diego County (CA) through a major highway without crossing through a checkpoint.  Often times Border Patrol agents conduct operations along the many piers along San Diego’s coastline, and they might engage in specialized operations in search of individuals in urban settings.