Controlling the U.S./Mexico border has become increasingly like waging a war, according to revelations reported in AFSC’s Google Hangout on Air, Boots on the Border, on Oct. 30, 2013. [Watch the one-hour discussion in its entirety.]
From the physical abuse of people in border areas to military contractors pushing for more investment in war-zone technology on the border, listeners heard about the militarization of different aspects of the immigration system.
"The Department of Homeland Security [which includes the Border Patrol] has become a mini-Pentagon," observed panelist Mary Zerkel, co-coordinator of AFSC’s Wage Peace campaign.
The human rights disaster along the U.S./Mexico border
The human rights abuses along the border are egregious, but often overlooked or justified as part of controlling undocumented immigration.
Pedro Rios, who directs AFSC's program in San Diego, explained how border enforcement policies have, in recent decades, led to an unprecedented increase in armed border agents and use of drone planes and military helicopters—as if the border were a war zone.
Migrants, he explained, have experienced physical abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents in this war culture, where violence is seen as an appropriate tool for enforcing immigration laws.
Pedro: Documented abuses of migrants along U.S. Mexico border
Pedro told the story of Anastasio Rojas, one of the immigrants who lost his life as a result of this culture of violence. As part of AFSC’s work in California, Pedro has supported and accompanied family members of Anastasio and others lost to border violence.
Pedro: There’s still no justice for Anastasio Rojas
Aura Kanegis, director of public policy and advocacy, pointed out that these abuses do nothing to address the root causes of immigration.
"We've invested in the wrong set of tools for addressing people's fears about what immigration means in their communities," she said.
To control the U.S.-Mexico border, last fiscal year the U.S. spent approximately $18 billion.
Proposed legislation that is part of the current comprehensive immigration reform being discussed in Congress stands to increase spending on border security even more.
The bill passed by the Senate in June, S.744 or the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” is packed with references to specific companies' products, and calls for pumping $46 million more into militarizing the U.S./Mexico border.
Lia Lindsey, policy impact coordinator, explained how, during the time S.744 was being discussed in the Senate, these corporations put massive amounts of money into lobbying on issues that affect their industry.
Lia and Aura: Following the money behind border security legislation
Watch more: Mary Zerkel on drones in immigration enforcement
Immigration reform is desperately needed in the U.S., but the needs of affected communities have been drowned out by the demands of private companies and pundits, explained Aura.
Aura: How border security became the focus of immigration reform
An economy that’s not dependent on militarism
Mary pointed out that the track record of corporate influence on foreign policy and prisons makes a strong argument against involving profit-driven defense contractors in border enforcement.
Mary: Corporate influence on immigration policy
An informed public can stand up against corporate influence, said Aura—voters do have the power to get involved and slow the rush to throw more money into the wrong tools for addressing the wrong problems.
Border security funding enabled by fear
“There’s not an army waiting outside our southern border waiting to invade and steal jobs—it’s a myth,” she said. “And you have a number of groups that benefit from perpetuating that myth.”
Pedro: Call on the Obama administration to put a hold on deportations
Pedro: Accountability for the Border Patrol
Lia and Aura: Immigration reform must be humane
- Five things your congregation can do to support immigrant justice
- Revitalize Not Militarize, a campaign that expresses the need to invest in border communities and improve the quality of life for border residents while improving trade for the nation.