Academic journal article Social Justice

Border Militarization Via Drug and Immigration Enforcement: Human Rights Implications

Academic journal article Social Justice

Border Militarization Via Drug and Immigration Enforcement: Human Rights Implications

Article excerpt

ON MAY 20, 1997, A UNITED STATES MARINE ON A CLANDESTINE RECONNAISsance and drug surveillance mission for the U.S. Border Patrol shot and killed a teenager who was herding goats near the U.S.-Mexico border in Redford, Texas. It is one of the few instances during the second half of the 20th century in which a U.S. soldier killed a citizen during a domestic law enforcement mission. This encounter was fraught with misunderstanding, misperceptions, and gross errors, and it graphically illustrates the dangers to human rights posed by the militarization of domestic law enforcement. Though the latter is a broader phenomenon throughout the U.S., it has been taken to its highest level in some key regards in the border region, under the pretext of the "war on drugs," but also "spilling over" into immigration matters. Although its most obvious expressions, such as the use of ground troops, have taken place largely out of public view, involvement of the military in domestic policing has been taken further along the South west border than elsewhere.

The Southwest border is perhaps the key locus of militarization of law enforcement in the U.S., for it is also the site of the longest-running manifestation of such efforts (over a decade) and the home of the deepest institutional ties between the military and police bodies. The military unit that now coordinates nearly all military support for antidrug efforts in the continental United States is located on the border, and has worked the most extensively with the U.S. Border Patrol, a police unit whose first responsibility is immigration enforcement. This article focuses on Border Patrol/military collaboration and highlights the Redford shooting as the key episode in this phenomenon. The study has three main sections: the development of military assistance in border enforcement before the Redford shooting, the Redford shooting itself and its aftermath, and the role of the military since then. Information for this study is drawn from military documents, military journals, the border region press, congressional documents, interviews, and my own observations made during four years of fieldwork in El Paso, Texas.

By way of background, the U.S. Border Patrol is the main enforcement arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Its chief mission is the apprehension, and prevention of entry, of undocumented immigrants. In the latter 1980s, however, its formal mission gradually expanded to include drug enforcement as a secondary concern (Dunn, 1996: 80). Previously, the Border Patrol operated largely in isolation from other organizations, since it was the sole federal police force (along with several smaller parts of the INS) to focus on immigration enforcement. With the advent of the "war on drugs" in the mid-1980s and the sharing of drug enforcement duties among a plethora of federal, state, and local organizations, the Border Patrol began to work more regularly with a range of other police bodies and the military.

Though the Border Patrol works in varying capacities with many police agencies and organizations, its collaboration with the military raises the most concern, especially for human rights -- illustrated most clearly by the Redford shooting. For over a century before the 1980s, the U.S. military was largely removed from domestic law enforcement duties. The recent shift toward a military role in the border region has gone largely unexamined by scholars and has occurred with little public awareness or debate. Debate did arise for a time after the Redford killing, in the wake of which the military appears to have become more reluctant to use ground troops. Nonetheless, enthusiastic endorsement of the deployment of troops along the border continues to emanate from lawmakers, with three authorizing bills passing in the U.S. House of Representatives in the years 1997 to 2000. Despite its relevance to public policy and human rights concerns, academics know relatively little about Border Patrol/military collaboration, having been largely ignored in contemporary studies of immigration and drug issues. …

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