All the President's Toys

This article from the AP reports on Pres. Bush's visit yesterday to inspect the troops at the border before retreating to his Texas ranch for vacation. He looked at some vehicles and hi-tech surveillance equipment and petted some Border Patrol horses. He then made a statement:

"'We have an obligation to secure our border and we have an obligation to treat people with decency and respect,' the president said after his tour. He spoke of using motion and heat sensors, infrared detection equipment and other high-tech devices to catch illegal immigrants."

So, to "treat people with decency and respect", we will force them out of settled areas and into the desert and hunt them with "motion and heat sensors, infrared detection equipment and other high-tech devices"? That doesn't sound very decent to me. Or very sporting. And it will not help reduce migration to this country or the undocumented population already here. It has already done the opposite.

The non-visual sensors have proven particularly problematic because they get triggered by other desert inhabitants -- wildlife and ranchers' cattle. I saw this first-hand while on a patrol with No More Deaths in the Arizona desert in an ominously gloomy and quiet area. The two volunteers and I smelled death in the bottom of a ravine and found several dozen vultures nesting in the trees. We spread out to search for the source of the smell; but, finding nothing, we continued along the trail. A few minutes later, we heard the thudding sound of helicopter blades chopping the air. The sound grew louder. Then we saw a military-green helicopter come over a ridge, pointed directly at us. As it neared, we could see a man with a large weapon leaning out of the door, looking at us. The chopper hovered directly over us for a second and then buzzed away into the grey sky. We must have set off a hidden sensor.

It was a pretty terrifying feeling, isolated in the wilderness like that -- and we knew where we were, had a way out, and were not in the commission of any sort of violation. But we knew the stories about BP helicopters' "dusting" groups of migrants, swooping down on top of them to about 10 feet about the ground and hovering there for several minutes. This causes people to scatter and often lose themselves in the desert. Separated from their guides and companions, this can be a death sentence. According to one of the NMD volunteers, over half of the 68 people the group medically evacuated last year reported being dusted. Decency and respect, indeed.

However, the major argument against increased border enforcement and militarization comes from the simple fact that it does not reduce the undocumented population in the United States of America. In fact, it has the opposite effect. By making entry -- and re-entry -- into this country so difficult and the penalties so severe, we are scaring millions of migrants who would return home into staying here. It has also fed the boom in the smuggling business: With crossing so difficult, people pay more money for the services of coyotes.

Prof. Douglas Massey, PhD, of Princeton University has published extensively on this subject and testified on the findings of his studies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 18, 2005. Writing in his article "Backfire at the Border"(pdf), Dr. Massey has found that since the USA began to crack down on immigration in 1986, "the number of foreign-born workers entering the Unites States each year has not diminished". The much-derided amnesty of 1986 came with several other provisions -- sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers, more funding for the Border Patrol, and Presidential authority to declare an "immigration emergency".

Despite pro-enforcement cries that the government has not followed these policies to the necessary extent, enforcement has actually increased and failed to bring about the intended results. The beefing up of border militarization began in 1993 in El Paso, Texas, with Operation Blockade, followed the next year by Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, which brought flood lights and 14 miles of fencing to the border. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 added layers of fencing in San Diego and tougher penalties for all involved in undocumented entry, as well as "funding for the purchase of new military technology and... for hiring 1,000 Border Patrol agents per year through 2001."

The consequences of these policies -- and, by extension, the developments the President praised yesterday -- have been increased deaths of migrants, a drastically increasing cost to the U.S. taxpayer, no reduction in undocumented migration, and an increase in undocumented people within the USA. (From shooting fish in a barrel, the Border Patrol now has dumped them all into the sea and must expend much more energy and funding to apprehend them. Dr. Massey writes that the cost of apprehending one migrant was "around $100 per arrest" in 1986 and grew to $1,700 by 2002.)

So, forget "decency and respect": Increased militarization of the border, with all its fun gadgets and imposing barricades, has done and will continue to do nothing towards stemming the "flood" or the "invasion" or whatever it is that some of our compatriots fear will destroy us. On the contrary, it has held captive a vast portion of the migrant population that would have returned home, thereby increasing the alleged burdens of that population on U.S. taxpayers and workers.

Sadly, despite the dissemination at least in academic cirles and before the U.S. Senate of research like Dr. Massey's, our politicians keep playing politics, repeating mistakes to win votes, and much of our media continue to skirt some major issues like researched conclusions, as in this article on Bush's stop yesterday in The Washington Post.

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Anonymous aon said...

It's all an enormous paradox, isn't it? Decency and respect = infrared detection equipment. Securing our borders = scaring illegal aliens so much that they must remain in the USA for fear of never being able to return. It's a cycle that will never end until a president -- and it can only be a president, because congress will be even more divided, about 50-50, after this election cycle l-- thinks realistically about this stuff.

Good stuff, JPG.

3:32 AM, August 07, 2006  

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