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5 reasons to resist our government’s efforts to militarize border communities

News & Commentary  |  By Kathryn Johnson, Feb 15, 2019

During the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Customs and Border Protection conducted an exercise to demonstrate they can close off the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego. 

Photo: AFSC / San Diego

On Feb. 15, President Trump declared a national state of emergency – the day after Congress passed a funding bill that includes both a dramatic increase in immigrant detention and $1.375 billion for wall construction.

The appropriations bill passed by Congress increases funding for deadly immigrant detention and the militarization of our border communities. And the fact that the president is also circumventing congressional oversight to get billions more for his border wall is outrageous and illegal.

We're calling on Congress to do everything in its power to challenge any declaration of national emergency that is intended to fund the president's anti-immigrant agenda. And we will continue to push back against any effort to further militarize border communities and exacerbate deadly detention. 

Here’s what you need to know about border militarization in the U.S.:  

1. Border militarization has killed thousands of migrants.

Since 1994, more than 7,800 migrants—most of whom are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries—have died trying to cross over deadly terrain. The construction of more walls will only worsen the existing human rights catastrophe by pushing migrant routes to treacherous terrain. This catastrophe has been exacerbated by the failure of the U.S. to hold CBP and border agents accountable for thousands of documented cases of violence, including at least 100 killings since 2003—among them U.S. citizens, minors, and Mexican nationals shot in Mexico.

2. Border militarization terrorizes communities while making no one safer.

CBP, which includes Border Patrol, is the largest law enforcement agency in the country. They use military-style enforcement tactics, equipment, and strategies to “control” the border, including drone planes, military helicopters, and the coordination of local law enforcement and federal forces that embolden dangerous vigilante groups.

CBP has the authority to operate within 100 miles of any U.S. border. It maintains permanent checkpoints along major highways in the country and frequently pulls over drivers and pedestrians as parts of its “roving patrols.” Not surprisingly, racial profiling runs rampant as CBP officers are exempt from complying with federal guidelines against using racial profiling as a law enforcement tactic.

Cities and towns along the border are already some of the safest in the country according to the government’s own statistics. Far from protecting them from an imaginary threat, militarizing border communities only terrorizes its residents. 

3. Border militarization divides communities and tramples on rights.

A host of laws have been waived to erect the existing border walls, including environmental and wildlife protections and regulations that protect indigenous lands and religious freedom. Many communities -- and even families -- are divided by border walls and invasive enforcement measures, which have literally split towns across the region. 

For example, The Tohono O’odam Nation runs along 75 miles of the Southwest border. A wall would effectively cut the reservation in half and block movement across the border, curtailing sacred ceremonial pilgrimages. It would separate families and make it difficult for tribe members to care for burial sites located in Mexico. 

4. Border militarization is unpopular.

In several polls last year, a majority of the U.S. population said they opposed building a wall along our Southern Border. And hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions calling on Congress to instead, defund CBP and stop the militarization of our border regions. 

5.Border militarization wastes money that could be spent on human needs.

Since 1993, when the current border enforcement strategy was first rolled out along the U.S.-Mexico border, the annual budget of the U.S. Border Patrol has increased more than tenfold -- from $363 million to more than $4.4 billion in FY 2018. The number of Border Patrol agents has nearly doubled since FY 2003, when the Department of Homeland Security, which includes CBP, was created. 

That $4.4 billion could instead be spent on things that actually keep our communities safe, like quality education, sound infrastructure, or other human needs. And the $5 billion that Trump has requested for the border wall could instead provide health insurance for 1.4 million people or increase federal aid to public schools by 30 percent. 

Trump and his growing deportation force have endangered immigrant communities for too long. The crisis experienced by these communities is real. Trump’s "border crisis" is not. 

About the Author

Kathryn Johnson is the Policy Advocacy Coordinator with AFSC's Office for Public Policy and Advocacy. Before joining AFSC, she was a Field Organizer for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch where she educated and mobilized constituents against the Trans Pacific Partnership. Previously, she served as Assistant Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, supporting human rights defenders, educating the international community, and coordinating a network of activists to demand responsible US policies.

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