U.S. Militarization of the Border Provides False Security
You can't miss the barrage of headlines detailing the drug cartel war in Mexico. "Mexico Under Siege: The Drug War on Our Doorstep" is the summary The Los Angeles Times places atop the hundreds of stories written by its reporters. A small sample: "Twenty Slain over Weekend in Cuidad Juarez"; "Fourth Mexico Mayor Killed in Under Six Weeks"; "Mexican Marines Find 72 Bodies At Ranch"; and "U.S. May Boost Funding For Mexico's Drug War."
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What is not so apparent is the violence and tragic death in another war, one being waged north of the border. In just 40 years, the United States has reverted from a War on Poverty to a war against the poor. This war has many front lines (economic, political, and global), but here on our southwestern border the militarization -- and the casualties -- are dramatic.
In the name of national security, the U.S. has erected more than 640 miles of steel and concrete walls. The number of Border Patrol agents has doubled and then doubled again. Military and Border Patrol helicopters roam the skies of the borderlands, recently joined by seven Predator B drone aircraft, similar to the ones used in the war in Afghanistan. National Guard troops were sent to the border again during the midterm election year. Private prisons are springing up throughout region to jail immigrants. Polls show that 68 percent of American voters support even more walls and militarization in the name of national security.
The casualties in this war are piling up. More than 5,600 deaths of desperately poor migrant workers have been documented since the walls began to be built. The bodies of 253 migrant men, women, and even children were found in the Sonoran Desert last year, the second highest number on record. In the last fiscal year, the U.S. deported a record 392,862 undocumented workers from communities across the country. While the government calls this the "Secure Communities" program, the majority of those deported were not convicted of any crime. Many who were convicted were guilty of traffic violations or other petty crimes.
Consider the story of one of this war's casualties: Luis was pulled over by the Phoenix police for a routine traffic stop. He had a taillight out on his car. Since he had no driver's license, the officer called ICE agents. Luis, who had washed dishes in an upscale Phoenix restaurant for 10 years, was jailed and then deported to Mexico in August. On Sept. 15, his body was found in the desert about 30 miles north of the border. Luis died trying to return to his wife and three children.
The prophet Isaiah spoke to Israel about that nation's fear-filled quest for national security: "Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord" (Isaiah 31:1).
The U.S. should listen to the wisdom of Isaiah. National security is not to be found in horses and chariots -- nor in walls and Predator drones. Genuine and enduring security will only come from consulting the Holy One whose reign is founded on tearing down walls of division and hostility, establishing just relations among neighboring peoples, and bringing good news to the poor for a change. That means genuine immigration policy reform and border enforcement that respects human rights.
John Fife, a retired Presbyterian pastor in Tucson, Arizona, was co-founder of the sanctuary movement and a founding volunteer with Samaritans and No More Deaths, which provide humanitarian aid to migrants in the desert. This article first appeared in the February 2011 issue of Sojourners magazine.