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A “Smart” Border Wall Is Just as Racist as a Physical Barrier

Democrats’ “smart wall” would draw upon the same tech tools that have been long criticized by civil rights activists.

Border Wall seen from Nogales, Arizona during an action organized by Organized by School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch) in November 2017.

The government shutdown is over at last, thanks to Democrats who brokered a deal to keep Trump happy and get America back to work. That deal didn’t include even one penny for a physical wall along the border, as demanded by numerous constituents — but it did contain what’s being billed as funding for a “smart wall.”

Democrats figure that since they can’t reason with the president, they’ll match his $5.7 billion figure with a funding bill that enhances “border security,” but doesn’t contribute to building an actual wall.

If you’re wondering what the heck a “smart wall” is, you’re not alone. Most people don’t really understand what the term means — and that’s by design from both sides of the wall.

While a “smart wall” isn’t a physical barrier, it’s every bit as racist, unproductive and horrific as a physical wall. The concept draws on the apparatus of the security state to normalize the militarization of the border with 21st century technology.

We don’t know what this “enhanced border” or “smart wall” might look like exactly, but plans will roll out in coming weeks as Democrats attempt to appease the president’s border obsession with a compromise they think will be more palatable to Americans.

They say they care about border security too, so they’re pitching a large spending package on more personnel at the border, infrastructure investment at ports and checkpoints, and a whole lot of technology — specifically, drones and sensors.

To the Democrats’ credit, they also want to see more immigration judges to address the unconscionable backlog in immigration courts. And they’re calling for more humanitarian assistance for immigrants.

But back to the tech. Democrats are drawing upon the same tech tools that have been criticized by civil rights activists for years, but especially in this moment. And even members of Congress are correctly identifying algorithms like those that would be used at the border as racist.

We’ve already seen how this equipment is used for surveillance and intimidation, even when migrants are going about perfectly legal business. Keep in mind that asking for asylum is not illegal — and that in order to do so, people have to get to the border.

The border is not a military entity, but the “smart border” proposals would have a heavily militarizing effect — with equipment used to harass and intimidate people and the dispatch of ever-higher numbers of Border Patrol officers. This will be harmful for communities along both sides of the border, as well as those crossing it — legally and otherwise.

And it should be noted that being in the country without documentation is a civil — not criminal — violation, so sinking resources that are being used to criminalize Black and brown communities into border security sends an unmistakeable message.

The “smart wall” would rely on flashy technology that is still fundamentally designed to intimidate and deter, not address the underlying problems with the immigration system in the US, advocates argue. Instead, Democrats should be fighting to address the immigration court backlog; ending the use of immigration detention for people of all ages; changing immigration law to make it more welcoming; honoring its responsibility to accept refugees as a member of the global community; and addressing the foreign policy that has contributed to violence and suffering all over the world, driving people to the US for shelter.

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