If you want to know why America’s immigration policy is so badly broken, this article by Tom Berry is a great starting place. “Continuing down the same course of border security buildups, drug wars and immigration crackdowns will do nothing to increase security or safety,” Berry says. “It will only keep border policy on the edge – teetering without direction or strategy.”
This article, originally published in Truthout, is an edited excerpt of the policy report Berry produced for the Center for International Policy. Berry appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2009 and the horrors he discussed with Terry Gross have only worsened in the ensuing three years. AGB
Prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the term “border security” was rarely used. Today, however, it is both a fundamental goal of US domestic security and the defining paradigm for border operations. Despite the federal government’s routine declarations of its commitment to securing the border, neither Congress
nor the executive branch has ever clearly defined the term “border security.”
Border security constitutes the single largest line item in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget. Nonetheless, DHS has failed to develop a border security strategy that complements US domestic and national security objectives. DHS has not even attempted to delineate benchmarks that would measure the security of the border or specify exactly how the massive border security buildup has increased homeland security.
In its strategic plan, DHS does promise: “We will reduce the likelihood that terrorists can enter the United States. We will strengthen our border security and gain effective control of our borders.” And DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano assured us last year that, as a result of new border security spending by the Obama administration, “the Southwest border is more secure than ever before.”
Since 2003, Homeland Security and the Justice Department have opened spigots of funding for an array of border security operations. These include commitments for 18-foot steel fencing, high-tech surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), increased prosecutions of illegal border crossers and new deployments of the Border Patrol and National Guard.
Yet the federal government’s continued expressions of its commitment to border security only serve to highlight the shortcomings of this commitment and to spark opposition to long- overdue immigration reform. “Secure the border” – a political demand echoed by immigration restrictionists, grassroots anti-immigrant activists and a chorus of politicians – now resounds as a battle cry against the federal government and liberal immigration reformers. These border security hawks charge that the federal government is failing to meet its responsibility to secure the border, pointing to continued illegal crossings by immigrants and drug traffickers. Border sheriffs, militant activists and state legislatures have even started taking border security into their own hands.
The post-9/11 imperative of securing “the homeland” set off a widely played game of one-upmanship that has had Washington, border politicians and sheriffs, political activists and vigilantes competing to be regarded as the most serious and hawkish on border security. The emotions and concerns unleashed by the 9/11 attacks exacerbated the long-running practice of using the border security issue to further an array of political agendas – immigration crackdowns, border pork-barrel projects, drug wars, states’ rights and even liberal immigration reform. Yet these new commitments to control the border have been largely expressions of public diplomacy rather than manifestations of new thinking about the border. (more…)