Thursday, December 22, 2016

Border security

One of the favorite talking points in right-wing politics in recent years has been the need for border security, particularly along the the southern border of the United States. Immigrant bashing and xenophobia by various politicians and commentators always make it sound as though the border with Mexico is totally unsecured, wide open for hordes of, as Donald Trump put it, "not their best people" to come swarming across to steal our jobs while simultaneously being too lazy to work and collecting welfare benefits.

I'm not sure just where the notion that the border is unsecured comes from. There's been a border patrol for decades, there are long stretches of wall now, and it doesn't take long once you're actually close to the border to realize that anyone who thinks it's unprotected just hasn't bothered to do much research. There's a reason undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers die in the desert in fairly high numbers. Every major highway (i.e., a road with pavement on it) has border control checkpoints, some of which feel like they're pretty far north. Out of curiousity, I did a little digging and found that anywhere within 100 miles of the border is considered an area where the Border Patrol can pull over vehicles for inspection. Which means in practice (and in reality) there can be inspection stations anywhere along Interstates 8 and 10, the major east-west routes paralleling the border.
Border control point on I-10 west of Las Cruces, New Mexico

There are also inspection stations on the north-south highways, of course, like US-191, Arizona 80, and similar routes. On the north-south routes, the inspection stations tend to be located only on the north-bound side. On the east-west, they're on both sides. Since deciding to winter in Arizona, we've seen a bunch of them. We just get waved through, of course. Old people driving vehicles with Michigan plates don't fit the profile of someone who's smuggling mojados to work in packing plants in Kansas.

I don't know. To me it just feels weird. Unnatural. Unamerican. I can remember visiting Nogales, Mexico, back when we lived in Tucson in the early '80s. People went back and forth with minimal hassle. We parked in Nogales, Arizona, and walked into Mexico. There were a lot of people going back and forth. Quite a few Mexicans worked and shopped in Arizona, and vice versa. When we were done shopping for souvenirs, coming back into the U.S. took a couple of minutes. It was the equivalent of standing in line to place an order at a fast food place. Now, from what I hear, it can take a couple of hours. Crossing the border in a vehicle always took longer than walking, but it never used to take half a day. Now it can. And for what? To protect us from the possibility of undocumented workers coming in to take jobs no one else wants to do? People picking strawberries in California or cantelopes in Colorado have nothing whatsoever to do with factories shutting down in Michigan or steel mills closing in Pennsylvania, but to hear some people talk you'd think that if we just deported a few more Mexicans and Guatemalans all the jobs would magically flow back to the rust belt.
In any case, I get thoroughly creeped out when I go to places like Coronado National Memorial, a small park that sits right on the border, and see half a dozen Border Patrol vehicles in the parking lot at the scenic overlook. There's a point where when you drive up to the top of a ridgeline, you can see for many many miles in two directions, which is what the vans with the antennas are doing. One is pointed east, the other is pointing west. Lots of wide open space to be surveilled for nefarious activity. I looked at the pod of vehicles and really could not help wondering just how much this type of activity is costing us taxpayers. There were two large cargo vans that are no doubt packed full of electronic gizmos and monitors for high resolution cameras. And there were 3 or 4 additional vehicles (pickups and full-size SUVs) parked by the vans. That suggests there were at least half a dozen guys working there, maybe more. This scene, incidentally, is repeated all over the southwest. If there's a high point that's got decent parking for several vehicles and a clear view towards the border, ICE will have surveillance vans parked there. I can understand the advantages of the site -- photo below is of the view to the west -- but it does seem likea lot of money being invested in a program that seems pretty meaningless given that the number of illegal immigrants coming into this country is now lower than the number of people leaving, particularly from Mexico. 
I keep thinking that this country has become more and more like the old Soviet Union (or perhaps the new Russia). We've got way too much law enforcement targeting the wrong people, less and less personal privacy, and we're treated like mushrooms by the government.


  1. pretty soon we'll be running across the border from here to there.

  2. Actually, here in Texas there are a lot of undocumented Mexicans working in very good paying jobs. Not all of them are crop pickers and such.

  3. Pretty hellish country. As in other parts of the world from which come refugees from wars or economic dead ends, the developed world is merely reaping what it has sown. Enriching itself at the expense of others and leaving no future for people except to flee. Makes me sad.


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