Throughout his presidential campaign and election, Trump’s racist comments towards Latino immigrants and his repeated promises to build a border wall and to deport undocumented people en masse have sparked nationwide outrage.
His open bigotry isn’t just talk – over his first year as president he has continued the massive roundup and deportation of undocumented residents that characterized the Obama administration. He also announced that he will end the DACA program, thereby jeopardizing the lives of 800,000 immigrant youth.
His budget request for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees ICE and border patrol operations, for fiscal year 2018 was $44.1 billion dollars, almost 7 percent more than the 2017 budget. All these funds will be allocated to building up the militarized police force that
terrorizes immigrants throughout the nation and to build an extremely expensive border wall.
When it comes to immigrants, their detention and deportation have the solid support of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Militarization of the border and racist, exclusionary policies that aggressively attack Latinos are nothing new.
The border and immigration policy
As far back as the 1920s, the United States had a border patrol force that targeted darker skinned Mexicans. In 1954, President Eisenhower initiated the Special Mobile Force Operation, more commonly known as “Operation Wetback,” a racist terror campaign against undocumented migrant workers that violently reinforced the notion of “American” as being white-only and resulted in the deportation of approximately 1.1 million immigrants.
President Nixon followed suit by using his “war on drugs,” as a smokescreen to incarcerate millions of poor, primarily Black citizens and was also used as a justification to send troops and weaponry to the borderlands with the excuse of trying to stop drugs from coming in across the border.
The militarization of the border and aggressive policing of immigrants as we know it today began in 1994. It began with the passage of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) under the Clinton administration. By reducing tariffs and trade restrictions and allowing North American corporations and big business to privatize enormous sectors of the Mexican economy, NAFTA effectively destroyed the means of livelihood for millions of Mexican citizens, forcing them to emigrate to the U.S. in search of work.
Starting that same year and continuing throughout the 1990s, as part of its “war on crime” policies, the Clinton administration implemented several geographically specific “operations” designed to curb the influx of Mexican and Central American immigrants fleeing economic devastation and violence created by CIA-backed coups in their homelands.
Among these programs were “Operation Gatekeeper” in the San Diego/Tijuana area, “Operation Hold the Line” in Texas, and “Operation Safeguard” in Arizona. The areas of the border that were most heavily traveled had fences built through them and became militarized. The only remaining openings funneled migrants into the dangerous areas of the Arizona, Sonoran and other deserts. Those trying to cross the border were forced into a very deadly situation where they might collapse and die of sunstroke or dehydration during the day or freeze to death at night.
This restructuring of the border was specifically intended to kill migrants by leaving them no choice except to enter suicide zones to come in to the United States. Deaths resulting from overheating and exposure soared as a direct result of border fence construction and militarized border patrol presence. In the first year, less than 30 people had died along the border; up to date, more than 6,700 migrants have died trying to cross the border. This number, however, is lower than the actual figure because it only includes the remains that were found and does not account for the deaths caused by the Border Patrol shooting and brutalizing migrants.
In 1996, as a means of attacking immigrants who were already in the United States or had survived the deadly border journey, the Clinton administration signed into law the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). This bill essentially expanded the list of crimes, including nonviolent ones that would qualify an immigrant, legal or not, for immediate expulsion from the country while simultaneously narrowing the opportunities for undocumented immigrants to become legal residents. The bill also included an extra penalty for immigrants without papers – any undocumented resident who had lived illegally in the U.S. for six months was automatically banished for three years; they were banished for 10 years if they had resided for only one year!
The combination of the militarized border operations and IIRIRA established by the Clinton administration created a massive deportation machine unlike anything seen before. The next two presidencies built upon these programs.
After 9/11, during the George W. Bush presidency, the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon began a “war on terror” that was designed to fuel racism towards foreigners, particularly Arabs and Latinos. The Department of Homeland Security was created which now included the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Citizenship and Immigration Services were moved from the Department of Justice to the DHS. Immigration was now treated as a national security issue, and the scrutiny of immigrants as “invaders,” “terrorists” and “criminals” worsened. This move allowed the government to continue the militarization of the border and the trend toward mass deportation.
The Obama administration was no better. Reneging on his promises for progressive immigration reform and diminishing the hard fought-for protections put in place by and for DREAMers, Obama expanded the anti-immigrant mechanisms already in place and set an unprecedented record for deportations —nearly three million, more than any other president before him! In a FOX News interview with Bill O’Reilly in January, Trump praised Obama’s “accomplishment” with deportations, exclaiming that “he got tremendous numbers of people out of the country.”
A culture of hate and the border today
When the state implements racist and discriminatory policies, it creates an atmosphere of hate and violence towards the targeted groups. Both mainstream parties treat immigrant lives as a political football for their own gain. Pop culture is littered with racist portrayals of Latino immigrants. Newspapers and magazines publish grossly misinformed articles, opinions and political cartoons on the regular that deny the humanity of immigrants and perpetuate racist stereotypes. A recent outrage having been caused by a cartoon published in the Albuquerque Journal that portrayed DREAMers as criminals and terrorists, leading to massive community picket at the paper headquarters.
Racist politicians and racist media embolden reactionaries. Instances of blatant racist attacks and violence towards Latinos, immigrant and native-born alike, have been steadily on the rise since the election of Trump. What does not make the evening news is the decades-long militarization of the border and the climate of discrimination and violence that has infected the area as a result.
The Border Patrol is the largest law enforcement agency in the United States and one of the largest in the world. Like the domestic police force, the Border Patrol and ICE are oppressive institutions designed to breed racism and hatred toward the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society. Both ICE and the Border Patrol have shown a tendency to hire those with histories of active racism, including people who have worked as mercenaries and belonged to white supremacist groups.
ICE terrorizes immigrants in their daily lives by arresting them at their jobs, schools, and homes and tearing their families apart. The Border Patrol brutalizes migrants by ensuring that the journey across the border is as deadly as possible.
Border Patrol agents routinely scout the trails commonly travelled by immigrants and purposefully destroy the supplies of water, food and other life-saving essentials left for them. This same force is responsible for retrieving the bodies of migrants who died in the desert due to thirst and exposure. They turned in over 500 bodies during the Obama years.
“Border Wars” is a television series that portrays immigrants crossing the border in grossly dehumanizing manners and humiliates detainees by filming them. The show also illustrates how the Border Patrol hunts down human beings with the same military technology used in actions abroad. What we do not see on television is how the agents will often beat, shock and even shoot detainees on site. From January 2010 to September 2017, at least 50 people died from an encounter with a Border Patrol agent, on both sides of the border. High profile examples include Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, a San Diego resident who was beaten to death at the San Ysidro entry in 2010, and Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16-year-old who was shot while walking on a sidewalk in Nogales, Sonora in 2012 by an agent standing on the other side of the fence (the agent predictably claimed “self-defense” against the teen allegedly throwing rocks at him).
One outgrowth of the “warzone” border has been the rise of fascistic nativist movements that mobilize racists to do the work of the state. Mostly operating along the border in southern Arizona, the Minutemen, National Alliance (a neo-Nazi organization) and other white supremacist vigilantes sweep the desert as the informal assistants to the Border Patrol. Most of their membership is composed of ex-police, military and private security members. They dress in expensive military gear and often carry assault rifles. Despite spokesperson’s claims that the vigilantes only capture and hold migrants until the Border Patrol or local law enforcement take over, they are notorious for racist violence. Several well-documented cases of vigilantes murdering immigrants, including children, demonstrate the clearly fascistic motives of these groups.
Although both presidents Bush and Obama refused to acknowledge or praise the vigilantes for what they do, they notably did not act to stop them in any way. In addition, many racist right-wing and fascist politicians at the state levels have openly honored them and invited their leadership to speak at meetings and seminars about immigration legislation.
Border militarization an inevitable outcome of capitalism
The border has continually been treated as a warzone because it is indeed a warzone – the interests of American capital on one side, and the workers it plunders on the other side.
The border being “militarized” is not an exaggeration. Border patrol agents are equipped with automatic machine guns and are provided with such military technology and equipment as drone planes and military helicopters to help them scan the miles of wilderness around them. They also collaborate with local law enforcement and federal agents to minimize the number of people that escape their grasp.
The Border Patrol is trained to act militaristically. They are taught to see immigrants not as desperate workers and farmers seeking an alternative to the devastation at home but rather as an invading force. Their fanbase of white supremacist volunteers having come from the military and law enforcement themselves shows the inherently violent nature of the Border Patrol.
The racist policies of several presidential administrations gave birth to the epidemic of violence on the border today. These policies were reactionary solutions to the crises created by U.S. imperialism. As the expand-or-die system of capitalism constantly seeks new markets and resources to self-maintain, it carves a path of destruction and chaos wherever it goes. In one of the greatest contradictions inherent to capitalism, industry and capital are free to cross borders, while people are not. The border fence was put up to deter jobless refugees, but by no means was it intended to stop U.S. exports from putting Mexican campesinos and tradesmen out of work, nor has it stopped American corporations from moving operations south to exploit cheaper Mexican labor.
Much like the border walls and militarized forces of Israel that rob Palestinians of their land, livelihood and self-determination, the U.S.-Mexico border is an arbitrary division of land. It was established by the American imperialist robbers after they stole half of the original Mexican territory at gunpoint. U.S. capitalism, particularly the military-industrial complex, has enjoyed massive enrichment from the acquisition of the Southwest while forcing the indigenous inhabitants further to the south or onto reservations. Now that U.S. capital has expanded its interests south of the border, it once again needs a mechanism in place to protect it.
The U.S.-Mexico border is nothing short of apartheid. It is a structure designed to repel human beings while enforcing U.S. economic and political hegemony and white supremacy.
Trump’s proposed border wall would cost an estimated $25 billion of taxpayer money, while working-class people continued to be denied healthcare, education, living wages and housing. The $40 billion+ DHS budget being used to fund racist walls and ground forces should instead be allocated to guaranteeing the working class its basic needs.
Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border serves no one except the ruling capitalist class. NAFTA caused massive job loss and increases in economic inequality on both sides of the border. The U.S. and Mexican working classes have a common enemy – U.S. capitalism.
Immigration is a right but immigration should not be forced. Peoples around the world also have a right to economic and political security in their home countries. Progressives and revolutionaries in the United States must fight for the right of immigrants to build a home here while defending self-determination for Mexico and all other nations under the boot of U.S. capital. Ultimately, only the destruction of capitalism and the construction of an equitable, socialist societal structure can guarantee these rights and end U.S. imperialist plunder.