Operation Gatekeeper: A continuation of U.S. imperialism and colonialism

The history of San Diego County is riddled with colonialism. Missionaries first invaded Kumeyaay [Native American people of the extreme southwestern United States and northwest Mexico] territory in 1769. The 1846 U.S. invasion of Mexico, which laid the foundations for today’s border, is one of the birthmarks of U.S. imperialism. The first “Little Landers” colony was founded on occupied Kumeyaay territory in 1909. It soon collapsed due to a major flood. The colonizers named the renewed settlement San Ysidro — today the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere (according to the U.S. government). Initiated on Oct. 1, 1994, Operation Gatekeeper is but a continuation of U.S. colonial and imperial policies.

A tool for Empire

The United States Border Patrol (then a part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service) implemented Operation Gatekeeper under Bill Clinton’s Democratic administration. This response to an anticipated rise in migration to the U.S. spelled misery for the already super-exploited people of Central and South America — as well as for refugees from countries such as Haiti, Iraq and Syria — at the hands of U.S. imperialism. Congress allocated additional funds for Operation Gatekeeper — up to $800 million by 1997. With that, Border Patrol personnel nearly doubled, the fencing doubled, and the number of seismic sensors nearly tripled. 

These efforts to further militarize the U.S-Mexico border led to an increase in migrant deaths. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 7,216 people died crossing the U.S.–Mexico border between 1998 and 2017. Over 5,500 other people are thought to be missing.

The first phase of Operation Gatekeeper focused on the 5-5/8 miles connecting the Pacific Ocean to the San Ysidro port of entry. As a result, migration patterns shifted eastward, forcing migrants to cross more dangerous terrain. With that followed a rise in the use of professional smugglers, known as coyotes.

Phase two introduced the first immigration court inside the San Ysidro port of entry. This served to expedite hearings and deportation of immigrants caught by Border Patrol agents.

The complementary policies of NAFTA and Operation Gatekeeper

The North American Free Trade Agreement was ratified in 1993 and its policies were actualized in 1994. Its aims included eliminating tariff barriers to the agricultural, manufacturing and service industries. The neoliberal policy also served to remove investment restrictions and protect “intellectual property” rights for large and powerful, mostly U.S. multinational corporations.

Chapter 11 of NAFTA allows corporations to sue Mexico, Canada or the U.S. for compensation when any of the governments violate the treaty.  In one such case, Metalclad, a corporation based in the U.S., was awarded $15.6 million in the year 2000 from the Mexican government after a municipality in Mexico refused to provide them with a construction permit. The sought-after permit was for a hazardous waste landfill that Metalclad wanted to build in the Mexican city of Guadalcázar, San Luis Potosí. In refusing to host a hazardous waste landfill for a U.S. corporation, the Mexican government had in this case violated NAFTA. They were found to have breached the terms regarding expropriation and equitable treatment.

Proponents publicized NAFTA to the U.S. working class as a boon to the economy, promising it would create jobs. Results, however, have been the opposite. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “[NAFTA] caused the loss of some 700,000 jobs as production moved to Mexico.” As capital flooded from the U.S. into Mexico workers on both sides of the border had to accept lower wages and worse benefits to obtain a job at all. 

Union representation of Mexico’s working class dropped from 22.4 to 13 percent by 2012 (Roman & Velasco). Because NAFTA was so detrimental to the working-class, poor and indigenous masses of Mexico, it is no surprise that it was met with mass revolt, including the Zapatista uprising of Jan. 1, 1994, in the state of Chiapas.

NAFTA was a detriment to the livelihoods of working and oppressed people on both sides of the border and effectively destabilized Mexico’s economy. Operation Gatekeeper increased the risk of immigrating to the U.S. as a potentially fatal endeavor. Now migration meant a higher risk of being put in concentration camps, being separated from one’s family, deportation, or all three. Traumatic effects of even months-long family separations can impact infants and children for a lifetime.

Additionally, many who are deported soon become the victims of the very violence they were escaping from in their home countries. This was the case for Camila Díaz Córdova, a Salvadorian transwoman murdered after being deported.

Due to widespread discontent with NAFTA, Donald Trump promised to get rid of the trade agreement altogether. In doing so, his administration replaced it with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The USMCA is hardly different from NAFTA and has only been ratified by Mexico.

Continuing the Monroe Doctrine

The imperialists reached deeper into the pockets of Latin American countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. By 2006, they had fully implemented the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which aims to include more countries than NAFTA does. It began with the U.S., Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Since 2004, it has included the Dominican Republic as well and is known as CAFTA-DR. The effects on the working and oppressed masses of these countries are similar to those of Mexico after NAFTA.

The U.S. has been interfering in Latin American and Caribbean politics and economics since the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. For example, in 1912, Manuel Bonilla was reinstalled as president in part of a U.S.-orchestrated coup in Honduras. He gave 1 million acres of the country’s best farming land to U.S. banana companies that today exist as Dole Foods and Chiquita Bananas.

With the introduction of CAFTA, U.S. food companies were able to out-compete local food production. All three of these countries went from net food exporters to net food importers. Workers who had toiled all day harvesting food were forced to buy imported food from U.S. corporations in order to feed themselves and their families.

U.S. corporate interests brought horrible living conditions to millions. Many people were left with no choice but to uproot themselves, leave their homes and everything they knew behind, and embark on a treacherous journey to the U.S.

Since 1994 migrants have faced the consequences of Operation Gatekeeper, which paved the way for the heinous policies of ICE. It also paved the way for increased sanctions against and interference in Cuban, Nicaraguan, and especially Venezuelan affairs under the Trump administration.

The need for international solidarity

The Party for Socialism and Liberation stands with all oppressed nations and people impacted by U.S. imperialist policies at home and abroad. We call for closures of all concentration camps in the United States, closures of the 800 plus U.S. and NATO military bases around the globe, and the abolition of ICE.

Movements like Jews Against ICE; the Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps; the Chicago teachers strike; and the recent mass uprisings in Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Ecuador, Lebanon, and Iraq all demonstrate that the people of the U.S. and around the globe are rising up against racist and reactionary measures like Operation Gatekeeper. The working and oppressed masses of the world are fed up with neoliberalism.

In order to defeat the vastest empire in the history of the globe, working and oppressed people must unite across nationalities. Only a socialist revolution can bring an end to the violent consequences of neoliberal economic policies such as the incarceration of newborns and the violence of poverty. The horrors presented to us by the Trump administration are consequences of a desperate capitalist empire clinging onto its only remaining vestiges of dominance. As Evo Morales said, “Capitalism and neoliberalism inflict harm on humanity and nature … it has proven to be a failed model which doesn’t benefit the people.” 

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