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Our Constitutional Liberties Are Eroding From Border to Border

The surveillance state may be symbolized by the National Security Agency, but according to journalist Todd Miller those in the United States should also be looking to the nation’s borders

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers wielding the H&K UMP. "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." - Benjamin Franklin. (Photo: James Tourtellotte / DoD)

The emergence of a ubiquitous surveillance state may be symbolized by the National Security Agency (NSA), but according to journalist Todd Miller those in the United States should also be looking to the nation’s borders. It is there that a creeping militarization threatens – in the name of protecting the country – to encroach upon the civil liberties of everybody in the US.

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Miller argues that the only way to halt the ongoing expansion of a police state is resistance: “In the nonviolent tradition of abolitionism and the civil rights movement, people of conscience on all sides of our borders are organizing together against the surveillance regime of walls, drones, mobile checkpoints, deportation, and the criminalization of people based on their residency status.”

The following is an excerpt from the conclusion of Border Patrol Nation:

Resistance to our becoming a Border Patrol Nation goes well beyond the immigration rights movement. It is the ACLU fighting CBP confiscation of electronic devices in courts, and fighting Border Patrol abuse at the state level, particularly in Arizona. It is nonprofit civilian groups, such as the women’s organization Code Pink, organizing in the streets and in front of the AUVSI drone lobby conference, and bursting with creative efforts to alert our society to the consequences of living in a war-driven surveillance state. It is legal assistance organizations going into detention centers day in and day out to help people fight deportation. Resistance is the spontaneous emergence of movements like Occupy that scream out against the collusion of corporate and state power and openly call for a society where community and democracy are the real sources of power, decision-making, and security. It is the rallies in support of Private Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden that stand with the whistle-blowers’ conscience and dedication to a vision for the United States that is based on openness, accountability, and diplomacy, not secrecy, surveillance, and coercion.

Resistance is international. It is at the heart of any of the countless grassroots organizations and movements throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean actively engaging and creating a new world in which people have the right to migrate but the ability and community resources to stay.

The project of Border Patrol Nation is to gate people into a world of clear and enforceable divisions. These are not only divisions between citizens and foreigners, insiders and outsiders, but also between the haves (and all the “interests” they need to protect) and the have-nots. It is a division between the global North and the global South. In this brightly divided world, the more apparent crime is that of the individual straggling street walker, not the profit-obsessed system that abandons entire communities of children, youth, men, and women to grow up and live their lives in collapsing, contaminated, foreclosed ruins. The criminal is the person looking for a job without papers, not the “free trade agreements” that traditional communities call a “death sentence,” forcing small farmers, factory workers, and small business owners to work for slave wages, emigrate, or organize rebellion. Never in the history of the world have there been so many hundreds of millions of people forced to leave their homes because they cannot endure the miserable poverty imposed by “free trade” and globalization.

The Border Patrol Nation convinces the country to comply with the expensive notion that we need to be protected from these dangerous outsiders coming for our safety. The country complies by handing over liberty, privacy, and free speech, so that those in authority can maintain constant surveillance, monitoring people’s movements, emails, texts, phone calls, purchases, social networks, and associations in order to eliminate suspected threats before they fully develop. In short, almost everyone outside the upper echelons of political and monied power needs to be closely monitored.

This is the crux of the situation: according to today’s Homeland Security regime all but the elite and all-powerful few should be monitored as a potential threat. “Americans have long understood that the rich get good lawyers and get off, while the poor suck eggs and do time,” writes Matt Taibbi in the February 2013 issue of Rolling Stone. What we are seeing today, he continues, “is something different. This is the government admitting to being afraid to prosecute the very powerful—something it never did even in the heydays of Al Capone or Pablo Escobar, something it didn’t do even with Richard Nixon. And when you admit that some people are too important to prosecute, it’s just a few short steps to the obvious corollary—that everybody else is unimportant enough to jail. An arrestable class and an unarrestable class. We always suspected it, now it’s admitted. So what do we do?”

The very things we are supposed to fear from a foreign attack—not only the home invasions, physical abuse, detainments, interrogations, and confiscation of personal belongings already part and parcel of Border Patrol tactics, but also the eerie loss of free speech, the loss of what one can and can’t study, and thus the loss of what one can and can’t think—are already happening. Take the more than 7,000 people arrested and sent to jail for protesting at Occupy events. Take the 34,000 people incarcerated at any given moment in our profit-driven immigration detention system. Take the case of former Border Patrol agent Bryan Gonzalez, who dared to speak what he thought about his Mexican heritage and drug legalization.

Perhaps it is the words of Tucson-based attorney and activist of Isabel Garcia that best sum up the situation we see in our collapsing communities, towns, and cities in places like Niagara Falls and Nogales: “We all want security, we want a home, good housing. We want quality health care, we want good education, we want good roads, we want a healthy community. This is not giving us security at all. While we are firing teachers left and right, and closing schools everywhere . . . and we are hiring more and more Border Patrol agents.”

As Garcia’s words make clear, there are many people—families, communities, congregations, organizations, and networks—who are not willing to comply. There are, in fact, large numbers of people who are unconvinced and unwilling to trade in or in any way diminish their liberties, privacy, and civic power. In the nonviolent tradition of abolitionism and the civil rights movement, people of conscience on all sides of our borders are organizing together against the surveillance regime of walls, drones, mobile checkpoints, deportation, and the criminalization of people based on their residency status.

Those pushing against this world are the ones in the vision of Peacemaker. They are creating the foundation of a new future in which it will be possible to reach across to our Canadian, Mexican, and Haitian neighbors. They are proclaiming that the Border Patrol Nation that we are permitting to be installed, imposed, and exported is not inevitable. There is indeed a way to live securely that is much preferable and much more sustainable on all levels of community, from the local to the international. The Iroquois law says, “When a member of a [foreign] nation comes to the territory of the Five Nations and seeks refuge and permanent residence, the Lords of the Nation to which he comes shall extend hospitality and make him a member of the nation.” Perhaps it is in this way, willing to look in to one another’s eyes with care and respect, that we can one day achieve a place that is truly secure.

Copyright 2014 by Todd Miller. Not to be reproduced without permission of the author or City Lights Books.

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