In his important book, Border Wars (MIT Press, 2011) Tom Barry writes:
I found that the border security push has injected new life into the war on drugs by reconfiguring those failed policies as vital components of national security. Immigration control, too, has been swallowed by the security paradigm. Instead of reforming the economic incentives that make illegal immigration inevitable, the United States has been stuffing non-threatening people into for-profit prisons. Counter-terrorism, the ostensible purpose of these undertakings, is an excuse for sheriffs to absorb federal subsidies. And the lack of a coherent border policy provides a vacuum in which reactionary populism and nationalism have flourished at the local, state and federal levels.
Barry directs the Transborder Project at the the Center for International Policy and has authored and coauthored more than twenty books. Barry’s statement above makes this 167 page easy to read book one everyone interested in what is happening in the country needs to read, and not just one for students of border issues.
Barry details how at a huge expense with no deterrent whatsoever, the Border Patrol agents turn over to the US Marshals for criminal prosecution illegal border crossers, turning them into felons for an immigration matter and swelling for-profit prison numbers and their bottom line. He explains how impoverished rural counties are duped into building prisons at great expense to be run by for-profit corporations. This is done in the name of economic development; however, few if any benefits accrue to communities stuck with the prisons, though they get stuck with the bills when maltreated prisoners riot and sue, or when a prisoner dies.
The “Zero Tolerance” fostered by the militarization of the border allows for the imprisonment of someone innocently driving through the state a little fast on the Interstate and when the stopping officer smells dope, searches the vehicle and finds as little as one joint.
The posturing and bluster of state and local officials allows them to claim they must get tough on border security because the Feds aren’t doing their job. This begs the fact that the US Mexican border is being overrun with Border Patrol, Customs Agents, DEA, and other federal agents. One small sector in Douglas, Arizona now has more than 900 agents. This is more agents than in the entire Border Patrol thirty years ago. The Border Patrol is now the largest police force in the country, and what has happened in Douglas is true all along the border.
State and local border enforcement has proliferated as rapidly as the Federal forces, though they refuse to acknowledge that the Feds are paying for their rapid and huge expansion. Barry explains this thoroughly. He writes:
Virtually all state-directed homeland security programs to protect against terrorism and secure the border are funded by DHS, DOJ or another federal agency.
After 9/11 Border Security Paranoia has swept along the frontier with Mexico. Even with a great influx of billions, fear and alarm about the insecurity of the border have deepened. It is time to move in a different direction. In Barry’s words:
Continuing the drug wars and immigration crackdowns will do nothing to increased security or safety. It will only keep border policy on the edge—teetering without direction, burdened by our failed immigration and drug policies.
Unless we address border policy in conjunction with drug policy, the drugs we consume will continue to reach us via trans-border organized crime and bloodletting in Mexico. Unless we address immigration reform, we face a future of immigrant bashing, divided communities, stalled economies and more immigrant prisons rising at the margins of our towns.
Barry concludes his book by offering eight suggestions for improving border enforcement:
1. Decouple Border and Immigration Control from Homeland Security. Terrorists are not being apprehended at the border. No data support the claims by the Feds, State and local officials that they are. Barry emphasizes that the United States needs a border-security strategy that focuses on actual security threats, not on illegal drugs and immigrants. He writes: In formulating such a strategy, the Department of Homeland Security should not cont confuse public safety with national security.
2. Balance Security and Exchange. The US has focused more on hindering cross-border traffic with Mexico than on facilitating the legal crossing of people and goods. Mexico is the Fourth Largest trading partner of the United States. The emphasis needs to shift towards making legal border crossing easier and not on making it difficult for people to enter and exit the United States.
3. Don’t Rush to High Tech Solutions. Since 990 an array of technologically advanced “solutions” have been tried. They have been very costly, and none of them have proved effective.
4. Stop New Border Spending. Barry clearly details how politics and not security threats have spurred appropriations. He writes: Cutting border funding and imposing a moratorium on new border funding won’t compromise security in the name of fiscal austerity because we’ve never actually achieved greater security thanks to our spending.
5. End Drug Prohibition and Drug Wars: After more than 40 years, it is time to bring the war on drugs to a close. Little doubt exists that drug prohibition and drug wars propagate criminality and violence while doing nothing to slow consumption and trafficking.
6. Stop Deputizing Law Enforcement. Collaborative programs, launched over the past ten years, have contributed to serious erosions of federal authority over border control and immigration enforcement, precipitating a surge of state and local initiatives that endanger civil rights, contribute to human-rights abuses, increased budget deficits and have little relationship to public-safety concerns.
7. End Enforcement-First Immigration Policy. Barry shows enforcement-first immigration policy has been ineffective and inhumane. Predicating immigration reform on a crackdown against the nations large immigrant population in the name of the rule of law is “shameful.”
8. Concentrate on Employment. Barry suggest that a new framework for immigration must include a transparent process for issuing visas for new immigrants based on the verified demand for the immigrants skilled and unskilled labor; thereby, preventing the exploitation of immigrants by American businesses.
Unfortunately, only one of Barry’s suggestions gets at the underlying issue of the “Border Problem,” the rest are only band aids for treating symptoms. Ending drug prohibition and the alleged “Drug Wars” will go a long ways to solving many border issues, though it still doesn’t address the underlying cancer: the huge discrepancy in wealth and opportunity in Mexico and Latin America. The immigration and drug problems exploded after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. It allowed huge American transnational corporations to go in and exploit Mexico, permitted the selling of communal campesino (ejido) lands and the displacing of an agrarian population. NAFTA hurt the US, but it devastated Mexico. Wal-mart is now the largest employer in Mexico, and they don’t treat their workers any better than they do in the US. US foreign policy needs to change from one of supporting anyone who favors the US to one of fostering rue democracy and the uplifting of all foreign and impoverished peoples and nations. With the quote used at the start of this review, and in Barry’s introduction, one would think Barry would address these issues. It is a disappointment that he does not. Nevertheless, this rapidly read book, needs to be highly recommended.