On Dogs and Illegals

The public outcry and debate surrounding the July 17 indictment of football star Michael Vick for dogfighting raises many questions. Among them--given the widespread, simultaneous silence surrounding the growing migrant death toll along the U.S.-Mexico boundary--is how concern for the well-being of dogs compares to that for human beings.

On the day following Vick's indictment, U.S. authorities found a ten-year-old Mexican boy wandering the southern Arizona desert. Border Patrol agents located his mother's corpse in the vicinity. The next day, officials in the area stumbled on another 10-year-old boy--from Guatemala--and soon recovered the body of his mother nearby.

The two were among the latest casualties in the ever-expanding quest for "security" along the U.S.-Mexico divide. Since the mid-1990s when the federal government began a massive increase in boundary enforcement, migrant deaths have become a way of life in the borderlands. Well over 4,000 bodies have been recovered since 1995, with Arizona the proverbial "ground zero." Fiscal year 2007 is on track to be the deadliest year in the state''s history: authorities found 199 migrant bodies between Oct. 1, 2006 and July 31, 2007.

In ruling circles--in comparison to Vick's alleged activities--however, there is little to no outrage, nor even a reaction to the carnage. On the day the Border Patrol found the Guatemalan mother, Senator Robert Byrd denounced dogfighting, shouting "How inhuman, how dastardly!" The next day, Senator John Kerry wrote to the National Football League's commissioner, characterizing dogfighting as "one of society's most barbaric and inhumane activities" and calling for Vick's suspension.

While Byrd and Kerry worked to reduce dog abuse, they and their colleagues agreed to intensify Washington's bipartisan war on unwanted migrants by strengthening the very factors that have increased the death toll.

On July 26, by a vote of 89 to 1, the Senate authorized $3 billion to build 700 miles of additional walls and fences along the Mexican boundary, and to almost double the size of the Border Patrol to 23,000 agents by 2009. Underlying this effort is a vacuous notion of security in the face of a "threat" that U.S. policies have helped to engender.

In the case of Mexico, for instance, Washington's and Wall Street's encouragement of neoliberal restructuring has greatly contributed to illicit migration. According to a 2003 Carnegie Endowment study, to cite one example, a NAFTA-related trade deficit, one favoring the United States, contributed significantly to the loss of about 1.3 million jobs in Mexico's agricultural sector in 1994-2002, thus encouraging many to migrate across the boundary.

As for Guatemala, U.S. support for violently antidemocratic elements underlies the country's pervasive poverty and instability. From the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of the democratically-elected Arbenz government in 1954 to U.S. backing of the country's military as it engaged in genocidal acts in the 1970s and 1980s, Washington has helped make life nonviable for many in Guatemala.

But rather than acknowledging and accepting responsibility for such migration-inducing developments, politicians from both major parties and many in the society at large rail against "illegals," emptily pledge allegiance to the law, and proclaim the need to uphold it--as if law and justice were one and the same.

From a perspective that privileges justice, immigration reform's recent defeat in the Senate provides an opportunity: rather than cause for embracing a "security-first" politics, it offers a chance to rethink our very approach to immigration and the boundaries that separate and bring together the United States and the rest of the world. This requires--among other things--a recognition that migrants are first and foremost human beings, ones deserving of human rights regardless of which side of the boundaries that divide the privileged from the disadvantaged they come from.

The effect of immigration and boundary enforcement is to force unwanted migrants to subsist where there are not enough resources to provide sufficient livelihood or, in order to overcome their deprivation and insecurity, to risk their lives trying to overcome ever-stronger boundary controls in wealthy countries. And if they do succeed in crossing the increasingly militarized divides between the relatively rich and poor, they still have to deal with all the indignities and hazards associated with being "illegal"--from sub-standard wages, to divided families, and the risk of arrest and deportation.

Such a world is not worthy of a dog or a human being.

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