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2010-08-19

Obama Signs $600M Bill to Increase Militarization of US-Mexico Border

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President Obama has signed into law a $600 million bill to deploy some 1,500 new Border Patrol agents and law enforcement officials along the border, as well as two aerial surveillance drones. The bill was quickly passed by Congress in a rare display of bipartisanship. We speak to Arnoldo García of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the related issue of militarization of the US-Mexico border. On Friday, President Obama signed into law a $600 million bill to deploy some 1,500 new Border Patrol agents and law enforcement officials along the border, as well as two aerial surveillance drones. The bill was quickly passed by Congress in a rare display of bipartisanship.

For more on this issue, we’re going to turn to Arnoldo García, the program director of the Immigrant Justice & Rights Program at National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. He’s joining us from the University of California, Berkeley.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Arnoldo. What about this issue and the — your assessment of what Congress passed?

ARNOLDO GARCÍA: Well, the US has been militarizing immigration control in border communities for the last fifteen years, and it has consisted of deliberately funneling migrants to cross through the most dangerous and desolate parts of the desert region and basically pushing people to enter through Arizona. They risk their lives that way. On the US side, there is an average of the remains of two migrants are found on the US side. And human rights groups that are tracking the deaths and trying to prevent people from dying in the desert estimate that for each migrant remain found, there’s at least ten other people missing. So, not only are migrants the casualties of this militarization of the border, but are also the rights of the communities that are suffering this onslaught on their daily lives. And I think Arizona is the epicenter right now, but the epicenter has changed over time, from California to Arizona, from, you know, different parts of the South Texas, and it’s also been extended into the interior, in terms of how the increase that Obama just signed last Friday also increases interior policing and also increases the other types of policing on the border, including sending additional soldiers to patrol in Arizona, particularly.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Arnoldo García, have you been surprised by the fact that in the first year of the Obama administration a record number of people were deported, about 75 percent of them, as we reported, 73 percent, to Mexico, that the mass deportations are continuing under a Democratic administration, as they were increasing under the Bush administration?

ARNOLDO GARCÍA: Unfortunately, we weren’t surprised, because the government has been increasing or building the infrastructure of a plan called Operation Endgame, which consists of creating the facilities and the policing to — their ideal is, for every immigrant that’s detained, one would be deported. And this includes the increasing of jail beds exclusively for undocumented immigrants who are deportable and also the doubling of the Border Patrol on the US-Mexico border and the tripling of Immigration and Customs Enforcement police in the interior, and, on top of that, like what’s happened in Arizona, federal programs that allow police to collaborate with immigration law enforcement. So when you have this type of operation, right, this type of strategy and policies to criminalize immigrants and to deport them, then you are going to have increases that we’ve been seeing. And it’s not so much Obama as it’s presently as part of a compact that exists among Republicans and Democrats and also a plan, an operative plan that they’ve been implementing at least since 2003.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Arnoldo García, program director of the Immigrant Justice & Rights Program at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Laura Carlsen on the phone with us from Mexico City; as Victor Clark Alfaro is also joining us from Tijuana. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Victor Clark, in terms of the impact on the northern cities of Mexico, of these continued mass deportations and the militarization of the border, what’s been the result on the other side?

VICTOR CLARK ALFARO: Well, in the case of deportations, at least in Tijuana, where we have the majority of the deportations along the border, there are three different kinds of migrants who are being sent to our borders. There are 400 Mexicans being deported per day in Tijuana. And of those, 30 percent are Mexicans that belong to gangs or come from prisons. Other 30 percent are Mexicans who were living on the US side for long periods of time — twenty years, thirty years. And the other 30 percent are Mexicans who just crossed yesterday or a week ago or days ago.

But in the case of the first group, the ones who come from prisons and from — and they belong to gangs, they don’t have — when they are deported to our border, nobody is going to hire them. They don’t have any opportunity to work, because the way they look, the way they speak. And what we have observed is that they are becoming the labor reserve for the organized crime, because they have all the abilities. They speak English. They know the business of drugs. They know how to use arms. They have contact on the US side. They are reorganizing themselves on the Mexican side in gangs that we haven’t seen in the past. They have a way to communicate themselves that we haven’t heard in the past. And the lack of opportunities for this sector, and specifically of migrants being deported to our cities, they are becoming the labor reserve, and the organized crime are hiring them as hit men, are hiring them to sell drugs on the streets.

And in the case migrants who are crossing to the US side, we estimated that around 90 percent of them close together with human smugglers. And probably we will see in the near future an increased prices in the rates of human smuggler. Probably human smugglers are going to try to find new states to cross to the US side, new parts, new areas to cross to the US side. If Arizona, until recently, was — or is the most important area to cross to the US side, probably with this process of militarization and increased technology and all these things, probably coyotes are going to try to find new states, probably New Mexico or return to California in large numbers. So we are going to see a change in the extreme of migrants. And also, because the migrants hear what is going on on the border and news of the unemployment and lack of opportunities in what used to be the American Dream, probably we will see a diminishing number of migrants trying to cross to the US side.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Laura Carlsen in Mexico City to ask about an issue that might well be related to this. It’s the decision in the last few days of Colombia’s Constitutional Court that suspended a deal giving US military access to at least seven Colombian bases. On Tuesday, the court ruled the deal is unconstitutional and ordered the Colombian government to submit it to lawmakers for approval. In addition to opening the bases to the US military, Colombia also agreed to allow up to 800 US troops and 600 military contractors and granting them diplomatic immunity, the deal coming under wide criticism in Latin America from countries like Brazil and Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as several human rights groups. Explain what’s happened here.

LAURA CARLSEN: Yeah, I think that this is definitely — [no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead? Laura? Laura, we just heard you, and now we can’t.

LAURA CARLSEN: Yeah, I was having a few technical difficulties.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that this Colombia base agreement issue is related to the others, because it’s another example of the use of militarization by the United States to address any situation of conflict, instead of looking for peaceful ways. Basically, what they decided in the court was that this agreement could not be just slipped under the door, as had been attempted by the Colombian government under President — former President Uribe and the State Department, but that it had to be ratified by Congress, because it was a major departure and it was a major international treaty within Colombia. This means that the Colombian Congress is likely to ratify it. The ruling party controls that Congress. But it opens up the space in which the civil society groups that are opposing this and the rest of Latin America will once again have an opportunity to discuss it and to analyze.

It’s also interesting because that means there’s some discussion that if it’s called a treaty in Colombia, it will have to go through the Congress in the United States. And it’s not clear if that’s actually the case or not, but that would be an excellent opportunity for us in the United States to take a look at this agreement, which has caused so much controversy in Latin America and has really alienated a lot of our allies.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Laura, in a related matter, in terms of Mexico, the prospects of US troops actually being involved in Mexico in the war on drugs? It was, I think, an interview where Janet Napolitano — with NPR — suggested that that was actually being considered, but didn’t seem to want to talk about it much. Could you tell us what you think about that?

LAURA CARLSEN: It’s shocking that she said that, and I think it has to be taken very seriously. It’s an issue that would enrage Mexicans, for historic reasons and because of the political culture here. Up to now, the United States has been very careful to say there will be everything but troops within Mexico. And so, the idea that the military is at least considering the idea of sending troops into Mexico is very important and could cause a major controversy here.

On the other hand, it’s important to say that the degree of US penetration in the Mexican national security apparatus and within Mexico itself is not only measured by US soldiers being on Mexican territory. In a recent congressional hearing, they said there was almost a 300 percent increase in US presence within Mexico in the form of drug enforcement agencies, alcohol and tobacco, FBI, all sorts of other kinds of agencies that are working within Mexico now. There are many people here who consider that a threat to sovereignty, as well as, again, being part of a drug war model that simply is not working.

AMY GOODMAN: Arnoldo, on that issue of US troops in Mexico, the significance, Arnoldo García?

ARNOLDO GARCÍA: Well, we already have the 1,200 troops that are being sent into Arizona with a dual mission of doing drug interdiction and detaining undocumented migrants. And that’s a — this has been created deliberately by the US. It’s a really explosive situation. And from our perspective, right, they have to be delinked in order to defuse the crisis happening in Arizona, and also the rights crisis that we’re having within the immigrant communities across the United States, where the police, ICE and other police agencies are using the issues of drug trafficking and human smuggling, and so forth, in order to crack down on our communities. And they have to be delinked, right, because otherwise we are going to — we’re headed towards a really bad situation and a deepening of the crisis that’s happening on the border as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Arnoldo García, we want to thank you for being with us, with the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, speaking to us from University of California, Berkeley; Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program of the Center for International Policy; and Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana and a lecturer at the Latin American Studies Deparment at San Diego State. Thanks so much.

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