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Booming Border Budgets Fund Human Rights Abuses and a Destructive Border Wall

Congress can lessen the cruelty and destruction along the border by cutting the 2020 budget for the border.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office agent walks past a Border Patrol vehicle at the International Bridge Paso del Norte-Santa Fe in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on July 1, 2019.

The southern border region is a place of hope and opportunity, where more than 15 million people live in peace and harmony with our southern neighbors, and work hard to provide for our families, just like countless communities across the country.

But our states have been subjected to decades of deadly border policies that have torn apart the very fabric of our communities. As leaders of environmental and human rights groups based in the southern border states, we are calling on Congress to reject the profit-driven, dangerous push for endless border militarization. During the 2020 budget negotiations in Congress, our elected officials must reject any funding that further militarizes the southern border.

For years, we have experienced the permanent scarring of our environment, the decimation of our wildlife, and the destruction of centuries worth of history and culture. Under the Trump administration, the border-militarization complex that has made this possible has gotten exponentially worse.

The reality of what’s behind the hyper-militarization of our neighborhoods has less to do with actual security policy than it does with making a few executives richer.

The numbers speak for themselves. Since 1993, the annual budget of Border Patrol alone has increased more than tenfold, from around $400 million to $4.7 billion as of 2019. The combined budget of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has doubled since 2003 (the year CBP was formed), from $9.2 billion to $18.1 billion in 2015. Under Trump’s administration, spending of the combined agencies went up to an incomprehensible $24 billion annually.

These ballooning border budgets mean hundreds of miles of deadly border walls, invasive surveillance, thousands of active-duty troops and, since 1994, a 425 percent increase in border and immigration agents.

Despite flooding and other harm to our communities, we’ve seen the border wall built and rebuilt several times, along with more miles of new border fencing — some sections up to a ridiculous 30-feet height. Wildlife migration patterns have been disrupted and endangered species face extinction. As if that wasn’t enough, there are interior checkpoints and Border Patrol roving patrols up to 100 miles north of the actual border. Nationally, Trump’s deportation force now includes more than 200 migrant jails.

Under the guise of “protecting our borders” are the billions of taxpayer dollars that corporations are reaping from destructive border policies. The results have been deadly and catastrophic.

In 2019, 15 people — several of them children — died in federal detention custody as a result of Trump’s drive to put as many people as possible in detention and by cruel migrant punishment practices like family separation. CBP estimates 7,216 people died crossing the border in the past 10 years, while other research suggests the number of victims totals well over 13,000. The past year of border wall construction alone has decimated over 600 acres of public lands and destroyed irreplaceable archaeological sites in biodiversity reserves like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

It’s not a coincidence that these deadly outcomes are linked with the United States becoming the single largest market for corporations profiting off of militarizing the border.

Visiongain, one of the many corporations benefiting from what is essentially a blank check from the government, recently gloated that the global border-militarization market was in an “unprecedented boom period.” That is, corporations like Visiongain are making a killing locking up families and destroying our natural parks, public lands and monuments.

Three greedy construction companies — SLS Ltd., Southwest Valley Constructors Co. and Barnard Construction, have each swindled hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by grabbing several recent border wall construction contracts.

The government enables these destructive corporations by waiving bedrock environmental and safety laws — like the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and almost 50 other laws that were passed by Congress to protect us from government overreach. Thanks to these waivers, these profiteers get rich while destroying the environment, ignoring the rule of law and building Trump’s personal monument to himself.

To be clear: The majority of Americans do not support a border wall, and even fewer condone the Trump administration’s cruel practices toward migrants, like family separation. The border-militarization complex is making executives richer, and communities are suffering in the face of this government-corporation deal making.

In changing the backward and cruel direction of this border-militarization agenda, we must follow the money — and then work to halt the constant funnel of dollars going to these corporations. By denying any more funding to this budget, we can begin to disassemble the border-militarization industrial complex.

This month, during the 2020 budget negotiations, Congress can lessen the cruelty and destruction Trump has inflicted on the borderlands by rejecting any more funds to further militarize the southern border.