The Cause and Effects of the Militarization of the U.S.- Mexican Border

“;Corranle, allí viene la migra!”, translated into English, this means “Run, there comes immigration!” This is what illegal immigrants shout every day when they are about to cross the Rio Grande in search for better lives. Unfortunately, not many get through alive because of the militarization that has developed on the U.S. border with Mexico. Operation Rio Grande continues a process put in motion over a century ago by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. It tries to erase the reality of a social geographical order that defies neat national divisions and impose a narrow notion of citizenship on people on both sides of the international boundary.

In the process, the U.S., like all countries to varying degrees, elevates national citizenship to a position of primacy and lessens the inherent humanity of those on the wrong side of the social and territorial boundaries. Operation Rio Grande, launched in August 1997, in Brownsville, Texas, was a special multi-year operation designed to gain and maintain control of specific border areas through a combination of new technology and additional staffing. At the start of the operation, 69 Border Patrol agents were detailed to Brownsville to intensify existing enforcement effort. In September of that same year, the Border Patrol deployed special response teams to those ports-of-entry where increased numbers of fraudulent entry was expected. In the Fiscal Year of 1998, 260 new Border Patrol agents were added to the McAllen Sector and 205 to the Laredo Sector. An important feature of Operation Rio Grande has been the integration of a broad range of INS enforcement operations.

Studies show that the crime rate in Brownsville alone dropped by more than 20% in 1998. (U.S. INS) The origins of the U.S. Mexico boundary are to be found in the imperial competition between Spain, France, and Britain for possessions in North America. Lack ofagreement between the three imperial powers over the location of the boundaries separating their territories in North America led to disagreement between Mexico and an expansionist U.S. After Mexico gained its independence in 1821, many U.S. leaders argued for taking part or all of Mexico’s territory. Numerous prominent U.S. politicians, driven by the ideology of Manifest Destiny, considered taking Mexico “a divine right.” (Acuna, 1988) As tensions mounted between the U.S. and Mexico over Texas, the U.S. deliberately provoked Mexico by sending troops into territory claimed by Mexico in early 1846. Battles between U.S. and Mexican troops ensued, quickly resulting in full-scale war. The war raged on for two years, largely in favor of the U.S., and ended with the U.S. taking over Mexico City.

On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed, and Mexico was forced to cede half of its territory to the U.S. Under the treaty’s terms, the U.S. annexed a territory equivalent in size to that of Western Europe, and absorbed 100,000 Mexican citizens and 200,000 Native Americans living in the territory. (Herzog, 1990) The decades following the imposition of the new U.S.-Mexico boundary saw widespread violence as U.S. authorities and non-State actors established their dominance. The Mexican Revolution and the accompanying sociopolitical turmoil between 1910, and 1920, caused great concern for U.S. authorities. Tension along the boundary with Mexico quickly subsided thereafter. (Griswold, 1990) Pacification did not mean control by the U.S. Migration between the U.S. and Mexico long preceded the imposition of the modern day boundary. Mexican migration to the U.S. was not really significant in scale or in geographical extent until the 20th Century.

In 1942, the Bracero (Bra-zeh-roh) Program was implemented. It was a contract labor program in response to labor shortages brought about by the U.S. entry into World War II. (The Bracero Program, 1996) Furthermore, the INS practice of legalizing unauthorized migrants and turning them into braceros, or ‘drying out the wetbacks,’ increased unauthorized immigration from Mexico as the news spread that the easiest manner to obtain a bracero contract was to enter the U.S. illegally. When the U.S. Congress officially ended the program in 1964, the previously legal migratory flow simply went underground. As the 1970’s approached, calls to enhance enforcement along the U.S. and Mexico boundary increased significantly. (The Bracero Program, 1996) From U.S. perspective, the modern U.S. – Mexico border has always represented a line of control; one that contains the national body politic and that regulates the flow of goods and people from without. Needless to say, there has long been a huge gap between this territorial-state-centric ideal and the reality of a transnational world. That said, the U.S. has long made efforts, albeit inconsistent ones, to achieve this ideal as part of its efforts to realize national sovereignty.

In 1921, the U.S. government passed the first quantitative immigration restrictions in U.S. history. As a result, the U.S. congress established the Border Patrol in 1924. (Martinez, 1995) The U.S. Border Patrol is the organization that polices the entry of illegal immigrants into our country. The official mission of the United States Border Patrol is to protect the boundaries of the United States by preventing illegal entry, and by detecting, interdicting, and apprehending illegal aliens, smugglers, and contraband. Today, the United States Border Patrol consists of 21 sectors. A Chief Patrol Agent heads each Border Patrol Sector. There are 145 stations located throughout the continental United States, and in Puerto Rico.

The Border Patrol controls the border by land, sea, and air. It has jurisdiction across all United States borders and at least 25 miles off the border. The agents are responsible to check factories and homes for illegal workers. (U.S. INS) “Border control” particularly from Mexico, emerged as important topics in U.S. politics. This was due to the mid-1970’s economic recession, rising numbers of Border Patrol apprehensions, and aggressive INS media campaigns highlighting the scale of the illegal alien problem. The trend continued through the 1980’s reaching its apex in the early 1990’s. U.S. public opinion now consistently shows that there is strong opposition to illegal immigration. (Cornelius, 1994) Over the last several years, the U.S. has seen increasing calls and efforts to fight unauthorized immigration and boundary related crime, specifically drug trafficking. There has been an unprecedented growth in federal resources dedicated to boundary policing. Unauthorized immigration and an out of control border region fueled the political sentiment for immigration enforcement, which climaxed with the year.

passage of the Immigration and Control Act of 1986. (UTA, 1992) Former President Ronald Reagan starkly framed unauthorized immigration as a national security issue, warning, “The simple truth is that we’ve lost control of our borders and no nation can do that and survive.” (Cornelius, 1994) The U.S. – Mexico border region is the fastest growing border zone in the Americas, perhaps in the world. With a population of 11 million people and an economic output of $150 billion, the region now has an economy larger than that of Poland. Approximately 230 million people and 82 million cars enter the U.S. from Mexico each In 1994, the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement intensified this trend. About 2.8 million trucks crossed the border that year. The “NAFTAization” and growing militarization of the U.S. – Mexico boundary, are taking place simultaneously. (Divine, 1999)(UTA, 1992)

In an abstract from a book to be published by Harcourt Brace & Company is a very interesting account of the typical journey of most of the illegal immigrants that cross through the border of Matamoros/Brownsville. Most of the immigrants cross the river with assistance from a patero. His job is to recruit people who want to go to the U.S. in search of better fortune. The immigrants don’t have to pay anything in advance. Instead, they pay when they arrive in Houston. They cross the river naked, then take a car to Sarita, Texas. In Sarita, they get off the car before the immigration checkpoint and walk for 4 or 5 hours until they have well passed the checkpoint. From there the pateros pick them up and take them to Houston to deliver to their families or friends. A trip normally costs around $800. (Harper’s, 1998)

The militarization of the border is keeping many illegal aliens from entering the U.S., but many of them get killed in the process. CNN News reports that authorities recovered the bodies of two people who drowned in the Rio Grande just yards from U.S. border agents in a dramatic scene captured on Mexican television. Rescue crews found the bodies of 26-year-old Walter Maria Sandoval, of San Lucas, Michoacan, and another victim who has not been identified yet.

A Mexican TV (Televisa) crew was filming in Matamoros on Thursday, June 8, when three men plunged into the Rio Grande and tried to swim back to Mexico after a Border Patrol squad apparently blocked their entry into the United States. Two of the men quickly began flailing and sinking, as the river’s current swept them away. The third man made it ashore on the Mexican side and ran off, Televisa reported. U.S. border patrol agents and Mexican authorities both saw the men drown, but none knew how to swim, the Mexico City newspaper Reforma reported. Scores of Mexicans have drowned in recent years in the Rio Grande, a point of entry for thousands of illegal immigrants to the United States. (CNN News, 2000) Perhaps the illegal immigrants face fines and penalties for crossing that way, but in their mind working for food is most important.

Hard labor, usually in agriculture, is all they can get. Jobs that not many citizens want to perform because of the physical demands, and prefer to live off of welfare and working people’s taxes, but then complain about the problem with the Border Patrol. If they are bringing most foods to their tables, why complain? It’s obvious that some sort of control, which now exists, is necessary. Many people do enter the country legally, and in many cases, are given political asylum because of the situations in their countries. Mexico is not one of those countries, but is yet another boulder for fleeing refugees to cross before getting to the home of the free.

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