Hundreds of National Guard troops are expected to begin their deployment to the US-Mexico border on August 1 as part of the Obama administration’s attempt to halt the flow of weapons, cash and people to El Norte.
In a joint announcement with the National Guard Bureau, the Obama administration said it will send 1,200 troops to border regions, as per an agreement made in May. The soldiers are expected to go to Arizona, Texas, California and New Mexico.
The announcement of a firm date for the troop surge comes on the tail of the federal governments suit against Arizona over its anti-immigrant law SB 1070, which would allow police to question anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant, and as drug-related violence in Mexico continues unabated.
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The decision to further militarize the border is a cornerstone of American policy both at home and in the region, said David Bacon, a journalist who has reported extensively on the plight of migrants in Mexico, the United States and the Philippines, along with the macro political events pushing their movement.
At home, the seemingly contradictory nature of the administration further militarizing the border while simultaneously going to court to stop a law which targets undocumented immigrants who cross the border was “simply Obama trying to cover his right flank politically.”
“Will it stop people from crossing the border?” Bacon asked, of the administration’s plan. “No, how could it – it doesn’t deal with why people cross the border in the first place. This is the worst kind of political theater.”
Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and former Arizona governor, said the troops heading to the border will be equipped with enhanced security technology like thermal-imaging binoculars and observation aircraft to focus on the area around Tucson.
Arizona will also be where the largest number of troops, 524, are deployed. Meanwhile, of the rest of the volunteer force, 224 will be sent to Texas, 224 to California and 72 to New Mexico.
In addition, 300 agents and officers from the United States Customs and Border Protection will also head to the border, according to Alan Bersin, Customs and Border Protection commissioner.
The Border Patrol, which grew from 9,000 agents in 2001 to 20,000 in 2009, costs an estimated $4 billion annually. The cost of this deployment will be shared between the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department.
These forces will be stationed along more than 670 miles of border fence, walls, spikes and bollards being constructed since 2006, at an estimated cost of $4 billion.
While the focus of border enforcement is also to stop the smuggling of drugs and other illegal substances into the United States, the conversation politically has centered on stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants. “Sealing” the border has long been a precondition for any immigration legislation considered and with immigration reform now on the table, Obama has taken up the mantle of a stronger border.
In his speech on the subject earlier this month, Obama called the state of US borders “porous” and “broken,” said that controlling them was an “obligation” and a “responsibility” and noted that the nation has “more boots on the ground near the Southwest border than at any time in our history.”
According to Bacon, if the administration wanted “to start picking apart border enforcement, you have to look at why people are crossing the border in the first place. Poverty in Mexico, trade agreements, structural adjustment policies we imposed through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the North American Free Trade Agreement and encouraging the Mexican government to break trade unions” while at the same time “it is virtually impossible to get a visa to the United States.”
Despite the little enforcement policies do to remedy the root causes of migration, said Bacon, they have become an essential part of any immigration bill because they are not used “not to reduce the pressure on people to migrate, but to pressure them into migrating based on corporate friendly programs.”
These programs, Bacon continued, are what could be called “corporate labor supply bills. Basically, they are built around the idea that employers need immigrant labor, they should get it and they should get it at any price that they want to pay.”
In addition, he said, many undocumented immigrants who would otherwise travel back and forth between Mexico and the United States think twice before doing so because the journey north again is dangerous and expensive.
A report released in 2002 by Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey, with Jorge Durand and Nolan J. Malone, also argued that the border buildup discouraged seasonal laborers from going back home when they were not working, thus, increasing the number of people who reside without status in the United States.
Despite most political conversation to the contrary, recent reports have shown that, in the past year, undocumented immigration has declined by nearly one million, supporting the arguments of those who say that immigration depends on the economy, not on American policies or border walls.
The exact role of the National Guard troops is unclear. In a statement, Napolitano said the troops “will provide direct support to federal law enforcement officers and agents working in high-risk areas to disrupt criminal organizations seeking to move people and goods illegally across the southwest border.”
Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said the soldiers are “there to support the efforts of law enforcement, not to have a direct law enforcement role.”
Regardless of whether the National Guard troops’ work is largely administrative or assists in picking up migrants, Bacon says the one thing that they won’t be doing is protecting the most vulnerable group on the border.
As the border becomes filled with people with guns, most of whom are troops, it becomes ” a very dangerous place for migrants, increasing their risks of getting shot or seriously injured in the process” of crossing, Bacon said. The Border Patrol are “not there to keep woman from being raped or people from having their life savings stolen” as they run from hunger and poverty in Mexico.
The concentration of troops near city points such as Tucson “forces migrants into rural areas, so people have to walk further and further.” Rather than deterring people, Bacon said, “today, the average border crossing takes several days” of walking through the desert.