Immigration Reform? Or More Border Militarization?

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Immigration Reform? Or More Border Militarization?

Critics are cautioning that proposals offered this week could bring profits to "border enforcement industry" while continuing punitive measures of the past

A proposal this week touted as bringing immigration reform could spell big profits for the "border enforcement industry," critics are saying this week.

The proposal outlined Monday by a bipartisan group of senators and embraced by President Obama on Tuesday emphasizes that a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is "contingent upon securing our borders," perhaps meaning increased surveillance and drones.

But how border security will be assessed, and by whom, is unclear, and could mean thwarting any real hope of comprehensive reform while continued punitive measures bring a financial boon to security businesses.

Seth Freed Wessler, investigative reporter at, writes:

Securing the border has become a trope in Washington that must be uttered by members of both parties whenever they so much as whisper about legalization. Few imagined the Senate proposal would flout this unspoken rule. But the language in the Senate framework demands border security as a precondition before anyone gets in the citizenship queue, and that raises red flags for reform advocates.

Rep. Raul Grijalva is a progressive immigration reform proponent from Arizona. He says the guidelines released yesterday are an exciting sign of progress, an opening to move forward. But he told that the idea that the border has to be secured before immigrants can apply for citizenship threatens to undermine the promise of the legislation.

"Any transgression at all will be used to make the border look less secure," said Rep. Grijalva. "It's an impossible standard. At what point is it secure?"

According to the guidelines, a "commission comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border," will be tasked with evaluating when the border is sufficiently closed. But when questioned yesterday, none of the senators explained how the system would work and what kind of power the commission would have. [...]

The list of preconditions in a bill might include additional drones to patrol the border as well as added surveillance technologies and more border patrol guards.

Speaking on Democracy Now! on Thursday, Fernando Garcia, founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights, says the proposals sound like plans for more militarization and more criminalization:

I mean, if we remember now, today, that we have 400 miles of fencing and walls already in place, have doubled the Border Patrol agents on the ground to up to 22,000. We had deployed the National Guard, military units at the border. And as you say, we have [inaudible] billions of dollars. So I think it seems that never it's going to be enough for some people. I mean, it seems that border enforcement will always be a political tool, you know, to advance--either to oppose citizenship or access to citizenship, or not to--essentially, destroy the process on comprehensive immigration reform. So, we believe that that is going to be unworkable. I mean, who knows who's going to certify this process? Governor Perry, that actually had been saying that there were bombs exploding in El Paso? Or Governor Brewer, that actually--she presented the chaos and beheadings in Tucson or at the border would never happen? So I think it is really concerning that they are linking more punitive policies, more criminalization for immigrants, more deportation and militarization, to access citizenship...

We already have deployed some drones. And I think it is--it just only shows, I mean, the level of militarization. But now, with this new proposal, they want to deploy a serious--increase the number of drones and have all of these unmanned flying vehicles along the U.S.-Mexico border. And again, I mean, each of those drones are going to be extremely expensive. Obviously, they would not be engaging with communities directly, but it's a show of how we're moving towards the--a full militarization of the border.

New York Daily News columnist and Democracy Now! host Juan Gonzalez says that the provision of border security is "nonsensical." Like Garcia, he sees it as a path towards further militarization of the border, which he notes will bring big bucks for those in the security industry:

Such a nonsensical requirement becomes the excuse for continuing to feed a huge new industry in America -- the border enforcement industry.

Last year, the federal government spent more money by far on border enforcement ($18 billion) then it spent on the $14 billion combined budgets of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to a Migration Policy Institute study.

Meanwhile, the number of people caught trying to enter the country illegally is lower than it's been in more than a decade.

Militarizing the border is a new version of the war on drugs.

It's a way to sabotage immigration reform while claiming you're for it.

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