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Outsourcing the Border

by Maggie Ervin

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the top ten contractors of the US government are all military-oriented corporations: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and the like. Although the Defense Department has long been the most expensive, ever since Bush’s declaration of the War on Terror, this has been truer than ever. Private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, ever-modern surveillance technology, unmanned drones and their complex infrastructures, none of this is cheap. Blackhawk helicopters alone cost over 16 million dollars each. This is nothing new, of course. Eisenhower famously and portentiously warned of it 54 years ago.

But these days, when we talk about the military industrial complex, it’s not only war we’re discussing. It’s our border as well. And much like generously funding the Defense Department has both bipartisan support and barely enjoys debate, such is the “securing” of our borders. Few legislators bother calling it into question. Even Obama’s executive order around immigration – still stymied by an injunction – uses the rhetoric of security to justify sending more forces to the border. US Customs and Border Protection is already by far the US’s largest enforcement agency with over 60,000 employees.

Just like in the business sector, the government sector has also turned to outsourcing. Perhaps it was predictable, that 21 years into NAFTA and with almost certain passage of the TPP (policies which also enjoy bipartisan support), that the globalized economy would not only touch markets, but also the US’s security apparatus. (Framing the militarization of the border as a security issue is questionable, of course. The fact that the great majority of undocumented immigrants cite lack of economic opportunities and/or violence in their home countries as the reason for migrating discredits that claim.)

The “Central American unaccompanied minor crisis” of last year was the perfect time to amp up this strategy. At the height of it, in fact, a policy called The Southern Border Plan went into effect in Mexico. Thanks to a well-founded historical resentment and distrust of the US giving orders, President Peña Nieto never touted it as a US plan. However, it’s clearly Mexico’s response to pressure from its northern neighbor to close the borders. And it’s working. A study by WOLA which came out in June 2015 showed that Mexico doubled deportations over the last year, and now detains more Central American migrants than the US.

I stopped in on the local migrant shelter here in Oaxaca, COMI (Center for Orientation of Migrants), where migrants headed for the states can take a few days’ break, get medical care, look for temporary work, etc. I asked staff members when impact the Southern Border Plan has had, and if they’d noticed any changes since its implementation. What follows are excerpts from that conversation.

“There are now more checkpoints near the southern border and we’ve heard they’re planning on building five more.”

“We hear reports of human rights violations by immigration officials…one where they made a migrant give them everything, including his shoes. There were lots of brambles there, so then he had to walk barefoot. This was a violation of his physical integrity…We hear lots of stories of this type of inhumane treatment.”

“This last year we’ve had more migrants who come through our shelter more than once…For example, maybe they run into municipal police in the north who try to extort them. If the migrant refuses to give them money, the police take them to immigration, they’re deported, and as soon as they get off the plane they try again.”

“We hear about the same people committing crimes near the border with Guatemala. Even when the migrants file a report, the criminals are allowed to continue…there’s collusion and impunity for these criminals.”

“Often the immigrant officials are accompanied by the police, like when they make the migrants get off the train. It’s as if they’re on a manhunt.”


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