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Security, Refugees and Profit at the US Border

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As record numbers of child migrants from Central America arrive at the US-Mexico border, journalist Todd Miller says the crisis should be a treated as a refugee issue, not a security issue.


ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronzcuk in Baltimore.

Obama and Congress are sparring over a proposed a $3.7 billion supplemental emergency funding for the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border, as a record number of child migrants from Central America are crossing into the United States. This comes as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is urging the U.S. to treat the children as refugees, who are mostly coming from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Joining us now to discuss this issue is Todd Miller. He is a journalist based in Tucson, Arizona, who covers border issues. He is the author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security.

Thanks for joining us, Todd.


WORONCZUK: So, members of Congress, and in particular Republican governor of Texas Rick Perry, have said that the humanitarian crisis at the border was caused by a policy failure to secure the border. And while many officials are willing to describe the crisis as a humanitarian crisis, they nonetheless are treating it as a security issue. So let’s get your take on this. Is the problem at the border that it’s too insecure?

MILLER: No. Yeah, that’s—what you’re describing there could be the ultimate contradiction. What’s going on at the border right now is what—52,000 children, minors, unaccompanied minors have been arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol in this fiscal year, since October 1. We’re talking about children who’ve come to the border and actually turned themselves in. So how could that—I mean, that’s—is that a breach of—is that a security breach when people are coming and actually turning themselves in to the border patrol?

But even deeper, if you look at it even deeper, we’re looking at children. We’re looking at children that are fleeing situations that—so many of them speak of situations of violence, situations that are untenable, and situations that they fear for their lives if they were to stay in their home country and where they live. So there’s real reasons that the children are coming. And so when Obama actually characterized the situation as a, quote-unquote, humanitarian situation, he was very correct. We’re dealing with refugees.

But what you mentioned there is the ultimate contradiction. This idea, as Rick Perry and others have been saying, that the border is insecure flies in the face of many things. I mean, first of all, it’s a 2,000 mile long border. It’s a very—but if you look at the post-9/11 era or if you look at since the early 1990s, there have been unprecedented resources put towards border enforcement, including budgets that are just getting bigger and bigger and bigger, agents that have gone—it went from 4,000 agents, border patrol agents in the beginning of the 1990s to about twenty-two or twenty-three thousand border patrol agents that we see right now. I mean, that’s five times the amount. But we have more barriers and walls than ever before. Over 700 miles of walls cover, you know, the 2,000 mile border. More technologies. There’s drones. I mean, there’s a lot of attention, a lot of resources put to this border. So to say that—I’ve heard claims of officials saying it’s more porous than ever before—quote-unquote porous—and it’s—really that’s not the case. There’s been a lot of resources put to border enforcement. –

That said, you know, a 2,000 mile-long border, there isn’t a wall along the entire 2000 mile-long border and there aren’t, like, gunmen sitting there, you know, at every hundred feet like, say, in the Berlin wall.

WORONCZUK: Yeah. I mean, if you listen to members of Congress, they make it sound as if—like, that there’s almost no resources available at the border. I mean, how does the budget for Customs and Border Protection compare with other federal agencies?

MILLER: Yeah. If you—that’s the—if you look at just in the fiscal year 2012 for Customs and Border Protection, or if you take border and immigration enforcement, the budgets, and you look at fiscal year 2012, you’ll see that the budget for border and immigration enforcement [incompr.] CBP, Customs and Border Protection, and ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is $18 billion. And that number is more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. And that would be the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals. All those different agencies are a combined $14.4 billion in 2012. And it’s about the same, you know, those sorts of discrepancies are about the same now. So there has been not only, you know, expanding budgets towards border and immigration enforcement in the United States; this is become the number one federal domestic priority if you’re going to take a look at budgets and look at the budgets as far as federal priorities.

WORONCZUK: So let’s continue to follow the money, Todd. I mean, in terms of the proposed supplemental funding by the White House, $3.7 billion, where is this money likely to go? And also in whose interest is it to have the U.S. government, in terms of policy, treat the crisis at the border as a security issue rather than a refugee issue like the UN is calling for?

MILLER: Right. So most of this money is going to actually—again, it’s going to Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. So most of it’s going to Homeland Security. Part of it’s going to Health and Human Services, or a good chunk is going to Health and Human Services, but a good chunk or even more than half of that is going to the Department of Homeland Security, which automatically makes you assume that this is being treated as a security issue. It’s going to ICE to—as I think Obama—this is paraphrasing Obama, but the idea of speeding up the deportation process, so the idea that this—you know, that we have all these children that are coming in that we have to—you know, they’ve broken the law, it’s a security issue, and thus we have to send them back to their countries, even if they’re saying in their countries, you know, they’re—they feel unsafe, where—if they’re to be sent back.

Who does this benefit? Who does—well, I mean, that’s a very good question. I spent a lot of—I’ve done a lot of research on private industry and different private sectors that are increasingly benefiting from a, quote-unquote, border security market, which by market projections is in an unprecedented, quote-unquote, growth period. So there are—so if you’re just looking at it from that angle alone, you see a kind of jump, especially with different companies that were military manufacturers who are repurposing some of their technologies that they’ve sold to the U.S. military for wars abroad for a border surveillance sort of purpose or mission, and you see a lot of those sorts of companies now jumping into this quote-unquote booming border security market. And these are the—this is one sector that would benefit from this $3.7 billion, from all these budgets that we’re talking about, from this kind of, you know, prioritization of the Obama administration or on the, quote-unquote, securing the border and, you know, the ability to get contracts for more, like—we’re talking about high-powered cameras, we’re talking about motion sensors, we’re talking about radar systems, we’re talking about unmanned aerial vehicles and drones, we’re talking about all kinds of different, you know, technological devices that you can put—facial recognition technology that goes into these big databases. I mean, there’s all kinds of different stuff that the different companies are working on that would benefit from more money being put into, say, border and immigration enforcement.

WORONCZUK: Okay, Todd Miller, author of Border Patrol Nation, thank you for joining us.

MILLER: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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