For those who favor militarization and strict border enforcement along the U.S./Mexico border, the Bush era has now become the good old days. Yet, it is not certain that on the issue of immigration, President Obama represents radical change or change at all.
What is certain is that the previous fear, hate and ignorance-driven approach was ineffective. More importantly, an examination by the Obama administration of the Bush immigration policies will show that such approach was not simply a massive drain on the national budget, but that it does not produce any wealth. The same could be said for the entire Department of Homeland Security. Borne out of fear, this department is a symbol of both the failure of the Bush administration and the epitome of big [brother] government.
Nothing symbolizes more Bush's failure than the walls/fences along the U.S./Mexico border. An official from Customs and Border Protection recently announced that the 669 miles of fencing along the border – as ordered by ex-president Bush – is now almost complete at the cost of nearly $3 billion since 2006. Half of it is built along the Arizona/Mexico border. It is a perverse idea that necessarily begs the question: why 669 miles, as opposed to the full-length of the U.S.-Mexico border? And more importantly, why not a wall along the U.S./Canadian border or impregnable barriers along the U.S. coastlines? Not coincidentally, Bush exempted the fencing from many federal laws, including those involving environmental protections.
With the advent of the Obama administration, already, the walls are tragicomic and appear to be anachronistic and more a monument to fear and hate; it's the past struggling to survive in the future. Its only chance appears to be more fear, more hate and more ignorance.
Several weeks prior to Obama being sworn in, I went to witness for myself "Operation Streamline" – a mockery of a judicial proceeding that generally convicts 70 migrants every day in federal court in about one hour. Generally, the migrants, mostly men, are sentenced to a private prison and then deported. Since his inauguration, I've gone back and the sham trials continue. And the money flowing to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) private prison continues unabated to the tune of $11 million per month.
Just on the basis of the nation's massive economic crisis, this operation should be terminated immediately. We now are faced with situations nationwide where education budgets are being shamelessly slashed while jail and prison budgets continue to explode through the roof. In the meantime, this nation also continues to fight two costly and needless wars on borrowed credit.
For a nation that worries more about the bottom line than its morals, it should actually be more concerned about its moral standing in the world. Fear, hate and ignorance produces psychopathic behavior, such as illegal and irrational wars, walls and moats and much ill-will around the world.
Fear, hate and irrationality lost the election. President Obama knows this better than anyone. This is why he was quick to order the closure of Guantanamo and why he has called for the end to torture.
This is a good beginning. However, to truly create a new nation, the changes have to come not simply in the realm of U.S. policies overseas. Here in the United States, there is an entire detention system set up to house thousands of migrants, including women and children. They are generally incarcerated without rights, without due process and without trials. In Texas, the Hutto detention facility (also operated by CCA) continues to inhumanely imprison migrant children, separating them from their families. According to the recently released "Unseen Prisoners" study, by researchers from the University of Arizona, some 300 migrant women were being held in 2007-2008 in three detention centers (two are operated by CCA), subjected to unwarranted and inhumane conditions.
These facilities are not abroad, just as Operation Streamline does not operate overseas. And just as the president has ordered a review of all the cases at Guantanamo, it is high time that even before pondering the possibility of immigration reform, he should examine not simply the walls, the militarization of the border, the immigration raids, the detention facilities and the sham trials, but also the entire premise of his predecessor's fear-based immigration and border enforcement policies. More than examining them, similar to Guantanamo, they should be suspended and most of of them should be remanded to the trash bin of history.
Truly, the president should examine the fear in this country that has produced the highest rates of incarceration in the "civilized" world.