Author Todd Miller discusses how defense contractors look to cash in on President Obama’s expected $2 billion proposal in additional funding for border security.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
The topic of immigration is hitting a fever pitch this summer. More than 100 protesters blocked buses transporting immigrant deportees to a San Diego suburb. But these protesters were also met with pro-immigrant protesters calling for the end of deportations. President Obama has deported more immigrants than any president in U.S. history, and this week he asked for increased authority from Congress to deal with the immigrant surge, and is expected to request $2 billion in additional funding.
Now joining us to put this all into context is our guest Todd Miller. He’s a journalist based in Tucson, Arizona, covering border issues. He’s also the author of the book Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security.
Thanks for joining us, Todd.
TODD MILLER, AUTHOR, BORDER PATROL NATION: Thanks for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Todd, put this into historical context for us, because from my understanding, we didn’t even have a border patrol before the 1920s. Is that right?
MILLER: That is correct. From 1776 till 1924 there was no border patrol. And when it was formed in 1924, it was an agency. It was under the Department of Labor, and it was an agency that was, you know, maybe about 1,000. The growth was slow up through the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s. In the early 1990s, it was still an agency that was almost an afterthought to the U.S. federal government, and there was only 4,000 border patrol agents in the early 1990s.
What changed in the mid-1990s all of a sudden: this idea that that’s when you really started hearing about the term, actually, the term border security—of course, the term existed before then, but the idea in the media, the idea that we needed to have our borders secure, and thus many more agents are hired and concentrated in different urban areas along the border. That’s when you started seeing the walls, you know, the kind of 18-foot walls that people are probably familiar with that they’ve seen in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, especially in urban regions. You see all kinds of technologies concentrated in these areas. So, all of a sudden, by September 11, 2001, you have about 8,000 border border patrol agents.
In the post-9/11 era, the kind of expansion that we’ve seen with border patrol is unprecedented. And that’s—it was a part of the—it went from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice, but, of course, after 9/11 it went to the Department of Homeland Security. And with this, these changes, departmental changes, you see this massive expansion. It went from—the border patrol itself went from 8,000 to 15,000 to 20,000 to 23,000. It’s five times—it grew five times the amount it was in the early 1990s. And now it’s under customs and border protection. Customs and Border Protection is 60,000 agents. It’s a parent agency of Border Patrol. Its 60,000 is a significant number, because that’s double the size of the Army of Ecuador, for example. Customs and border protection is—it’s, of course, a customs agency you see at the different ports of entry, but it also has its own air force.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. So you mention this massive expansion. Who’s actually benefiting from this? What’s behind this?
MILLER: This, the expansion, so, with this expansion, of course, comes increasingly large budgets. For example, if you look at the fiscal 2012 budget of border enforcement and immigration enforcement, it was $18 billion. And that was more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, and that includes the DEA, FBI, U.S. Marshals, all these big agencies. So this has become a priority mission for the U.S. federal government.
And with all these—and the budgets have only been increasing. So there’s been more and more private interests that have been looking at what one magazine, a trade magazine, called a treasure trove. And what they’re referring to is the border security market.
As a part of the research of my book, Border Patrol Nation, I went to many trade shows across the country, particularly here in Arizona, where I’m based, and one of the things is that—one of the significant things that we’re seeing are companies—you know, you go to a trade show and you see representations of companies that everyone probably recognizes, like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing. And these companies are, as wars wind down abroad, as wars wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more companies are looking towards a border security market. That, as one projection just stated, is in an unprecedented boom period. It’s growing at a five 5 rate. And one projection has a homeland security global market at $544 billion by 2018. It’s growing, and companies are taking notice, and more and more are jumping into this market. And they’re getting contracts from the Department of Homeland Security. They’re getting departments from law enforcement that have grants from Homeland Security that are working on border and immigration enforcement missions. And they’re also working with countries around the world who are also increasing their border enforcement apparatii.
DESVARIEUX: Right. Right. Todd, if we’re throwing all this money down there at the border, is it actually effective? Do you see it actually securing the border?
MILLER: That is—you know, if you ask that question, you’re probably going to get a number of different answers. One of the—one important thing to state is the priority mission of the border patrol in the post-9/11 era, when it became a part of the Department of Homeland Security, is one of terrorism, of stopping terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from crossing our borders, our 2,000 mile-long sounding border and our 4,000 mile-long northern border. And since 9/11, since these changes, they have not captured—not one—at least that’s been publicly stated—not one person that’s been affiliated with a terrorist organization. So in that sense, no. I mean, as the justification for all this buildup, there’s, you know, the priority mission of terrorism. But at the same time, not one so-called terrorist has been caught crossing the border.
DESVARIEUX: Right. Alright. Let’s say you agree with the idea that every country has the right to secure their borders. So with that premise in mind, how do you think that they should go about securing the border, then?
MILLER: Yeah. That’s a complicated question. I mean, I believe that in the United States right now we’re kind of on automatic. The idea of border security, even the terminology border security might come across as a little bit of state speak, so to speak. What we’re seeing on the border is much more complicated. The idea that border security is a necessary thing is definitely questionable. And so my point is that it’s on automatic.
For years and years and years now, the budgets have only been increasing. There’s only been—we have to put more on the border, we we have to put more resources, we have to bring in more agents, we have to have more technologies. Now there’s drones flying over the border with surveillance technologies. You know, where does it end? Well, there’s going to be cameras that can see seven miles, you know, away. You know, there’s night vision cameras. There’s sophisticated technology. When does it end? Because the sort of thing that we’re seeing right now, there’s not a debate about it. And my argument would be that with so much money being spent on homeland security and border security, that at the very least we need to have a much more holistic debate, a nation-wide debate, that doesn’t automatically knee-jerk think that we just have to put more and more resources on the border.
DESVARIEUX: So, Todd, what would be the alternative, then? If you were advising the president, like, just point to a specific policy. What sort of questions, even, should we be asking?
MILLER: So one question: why is this—for example, if all these billions of dollars that I was just mentioning, you know, as far as a border and immigration enforcement budget, if they’re so important, you know, and at the same time we’re told by the U.S. government that we have to cut other, you know, basic services, you know, services such as food stamps, such as housing, such as, you know, really, you know, basic stuff—education, health. And when you have people, especially when you’re looking at the economic recession that hit the country and that there are still effects of that, and when people are losing their homes—. You know, if you think about it, a house, a roof over somebody’s head, has to be in the cornerstone of somebody’s security. And yet that’s being cut. And at the same time, you know, these budgets for border security and this idea that, you know, there’s somebody evil with bad intentions lurking on the other side of the international boundary that’s out to get us while at the same time there are people actually falling through the cracks, there are people that do need security, those are the questions that I would raise. I would say, woah, you know, if we’re really looking at that the idea of security holistically, then maybe we should, you know, re-think of how we’re spending our money in these budgets that we have.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Todd Miller, thank you so much for joining us.
MILLER: Thanks for having me.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.