and Militarized Borders: The Case of the US American Policy
forces of globalization bear great weight upon the international
borders. In the trend toward the “global village,”
boundaries of the nation begin to weaken through economic deregulations,
information superhighways, and the movements of refugees both
economic and political. These changes cause new fear about crime
and poverty that capitalize on the “otherness” of
newcomers. Racial violence, in law, discourse, policy, and cultural
attitude increases in this age of uncertainty and flux.
good example is the border immigration policy of the USA with
the border it shares with Mexico. There, the criminalization
(the use of rhetoric, ideology and tactics in making something
illegal) of border crossers has caused a human rights crisis.
The militarization of the border by the USA, which includes
building walls, fences, using ground sensors and night vision
cameras, and following military paradigms in enforcing immigration
laws, pushes immigrants from safer, more urban points of crossing
to remote and dangerous deserts. Thousands of people have perished
and many more will die as the US American public and politicians
demand even more border enforcement, in the wake of 9-11, fueled
by fears of terrorist infiltration. The actual number of deaths
due to stiffer border policies is unknown, since no official
attempt has been made to record them systematically. However,
social scientists and human rights groups estimate that more
than 2000 people have died in the desert on the U.S. side since
a count began in 1994.
“war on the border,” which is the union of drug
enforcement policies and immigration concerns, encourages human
rights abuses by creating scapegoats out of undocumented migrants.
This scapegoating comes from nativist sentiments over the perceived
loss of control of the border. Such scapegoating in turn encourages
many to believe that more force is needed to repel the onslaught
of illegal migration and to accept force as a justifiable strategy
to restore control.
the idea of war, as an armed struggle between two antagonistic
nations, grips the national imagination and stimulates racial
anxiety within the immigration debate without ever having to
use an open racial slur. Exactly what the nation risks by this
invasion is not articulated in the “war” message.
However, this fear of ambiguity about the border becomes a coercive
rhetorical technique that politicians and the media craft, based
on obvious assumptions on how to stop an invasion (i.e. by preparing
for war). The assumption that the borders need to be militarized,
thus allows society to give consent to a racialized border policy.
So to speak fluidly of war and militarization, and stagnantly
of race and racism, within the discourse of the U.S.-Mexico
border is to give consent to this new type racism that is not
also contributed to the border militarization and the criminalization
of immigrants. When the United States formed a free-trade zone
with Canada and Mexico through such agreements as the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986 and the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1996, these agreements
greatly affected the border situation. In effect, the United
States would pursue what is called a “politics of contradiction,”
simultaneously moving toward integration while insisting on
separation. Thus, policies that liberalized trade and the flow
of capital between these nations contributed to an increase
in the movement of capital, goods, commodities, and information
but, while capital could flow freely, labor could not.
the escalation of the militarized border policies really marks
its beginning with the Reagan administration. This administration
was concerned not only with illegal drug flow, but also with
the terrorist element among the Central American refugees seeking
political shelter in the United States from U.S.-sponsored regimes
and this administration would first link immigration and cold-war
concerns as a basis for the border buildup. This included weakening
the firm legal boundary between the military and law enforcement,
by allowing the military to assist civilian law enforcement
agencies with equipment, training, and knowledge in warfare.
The Bush Sr. Administration continued the massive buildup started
by Reagan, and increased the paramilitary nature of the INS
with equipment, forces and training in tandem with an expansion
of law enforcement authority.
the tendency for militarizing the border was not a partisan
issue, for it was under the Clinton administration that the
INS launched an offensive-border strategy called “prevention
through deterrence.” This strategy began with “Operation
Hold the Line” (in El Paso, Texas in 1993) and continued
with “Operation Gatekeeper” (in San Diego, California
in 1994), “Operation Safeguard” (in Nogales, Arizona
in 1994), and “Operation Rio Grande” (in the Brownsville
corridor that extends from the Lower Rio Grande Valley to Laredo,
Texas in 1997. Walls and stadium-style lighting were placed
in these border areas and border patrol staffing was increased
dramatically. The goal was to move the migration path away from
urban areas into remote (mountain and desert terrain), to deter
people from crossing into the United States and make apprehension
easier in the remote areas.
current Bush administration has “beefed up” border
security by adding more equipment, personnel, and infrastructure.
This administration has also shifted the focus of immigration
from a citizenship matter to a terrorist concern when the dissolved
the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and created
the OHS (Office of Homeland Security) to oversee immigration
in the wake of 9-11.
it did successfully push the migration flow away from urban
areas, it did not deter undocumented immigration, except that
now immigrants are more likely to hire human smugglers as guides.
Additionally, immigrants are more likely to stay longer in the
United States—because the return/reentry poses a far greater
physical danger and monetary cost to them now than before the
militarized-border buildup—thus increasing the number
of undocumented immigrants residing the United States.
shifts in policy create a legal gulf for undocumented immigrants
crossing the border. The right of “due process,”
which is considered inherent in the criminal justice system
toward any person—even undocumented immigrants—eventually
gives way to the militarized construction of the enemy “other,”
an entity with dubious access to rights. So while the US Americans
enjoy the fruits of free trade agreements and the other goodies
of globalization, the USA Mexico border becomes an unacknowledged
“ground zero,” where hundreds die yearly due to
crafted border policy. The forces of globalization and the buildup
of national boundaries in reaction to the “global village
effect” have created a human rights crisis along the USA-Mexico
border. Sadly, border crossers are figuratively and literally
treated as the “enemy” with devastating results.
1 © Arizona Daily Star 2004
Sept 14, 2003, AZ Daily Star