The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


April 21, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team


‘The Walls Have Ears’ — and Eyes

The old expression “the walls have ears” made perfect sense years ago when eavesdropping involved putting an ear to a keyhole. Back then, you could still whisper behind the walls of your room and keep your secrets.


Not anymore. Today’s walls have eyes as well as ears. In fact, forget using a wall as any kind of shield from the gaze of unknown and unwanted watchers. Those who would surveil us have infrared devices for detecting body heat, motion sensors, and facial recognition technology. They can tap into our mobile phones and computers. They can place cameras in drones or balloons overhead. A wall offers no safety or security.


A wall may also be the least effective method to detect and deter migrants crossing the border, the core reality that made Trump’s “build the wall” mantra nothing more than a political gimmick. President Biden, meanwhile, is talking about a “smart” or “virtual” wall to control the U.S.-México border, a dangerous turn in his administration’s migrant policy. Today’s surveillance technology, after all, can indeed be “effective.” Just look how this high-tech has helped the military target and kill “persons of interest” in the Middle East.


We are already giving away our private information freely and for free. Websites inform us — in the fine print — they can use what they learn about us however they want. Our online corporate giants are chasing after profits and reaping windfalls, selling the vast amounts of data they extract from us to police and government agencies. Our tax dollars are, in effect, stripping us of privacy, leaving us naked and exposed.


If we continue to shrug off the high-tech surveillance focused on migrants, that surveillance will overtake all our lives. We’ll come to resemble Jim Carey’s character in The Truman Show, living lives secretly televised without our knowledge or consent. We need to turn our own eyes and ears on Big Brother, before he focuses, ever so tightly, on all of us.


Earlier this month, Jacinta Gonzalez of the economic and social justice group Mijente moderated an engaging online discussion that elicited questions from a wide range of activists about how we can push back against the expanding use of surveillance technologies — against migrants first and foremost, but also against us all as well. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar offered commentary throughout this bilingual Digital Dragnet program, and we’ve excerpted below the insights she and other contributors shared.


Representative Ilhan Omar: ICE — the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — used to rely on collusion with various police departments and jails to identify, detain, and deport migrants. But more and more, it is using surveillance technology and data gathering to control those coming across the border, as well as those already here. There is support for this “smart wall” from both Republicans and Democrats.


Congress must reject “solutions” that expand the carceral and surveillance states. We must advocate for immigration policy that emphasizes human responses. And we must protect civil liberties as the bedrock of democracy.


Norma Herrea, Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice: The borderlands have become a hyper-militarized zone. On a recent nature walk, we were stopped and questioned by five different law enforcement agencies within twenty minutes! And greater surveillance by drones and other equipment has forced migrants to take more dangerous routes, causing more deaths. Biden has signed new contracts with surveillance companies.


What can be done to reverse this trend?


Rep. Omar: In the negotiations around the proposed “US Citizenship Act,” some of us are pushing for investment in border communities so people aren’t living in a police state. We also can influence foreign policy not just in Central America, but globally, to address the root causes of migration.


Naomi Klein, The Intercept: The Biden administration has a contract with Clearview AI, a facial recognition corporation that already contracts with 3,400 law enforcement agencies across the country. A new biometric database, HART, is being created by military contractor Northrup-Grumman with a price tag of $4 billion.


Can the federal government be stopped from creating massive databases like this?


Rep. Omar: Our country was not founded on the idea that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of.” It was founded on the principle that the authorities must have good reason to search or seize our property or our information. The biometrics industry is not regulated. That’s why it’s exploded. Mining and selling data has become the new oil! We need to enforce antitrust law and set limits on what these companies can collect. And, yes, the legislative branch can stop the creation of massive new databases and can conduct oversight over surveillance contracts. Congress must become the check on executive power.


Cat Brooks, Anti-Police Terror Project: In the Black Lives Matter movement, increased surveillance has resulted in retaliation against activists. And “data-driven policing” also means more surveillance on communities of color. The data allegedly show people in these communities more “prone to crime.” Third parties like utility companies and the credit reporting agency Equifax, meanwhile, are selling all sorts of information to the police. The media/legal conglomerate Thomson Reuters is apparently selling to police the same data they sell to law schools about the myriad cases they have in their data banks.


How can this increased surveillance be stopped?


Rep. Omar: Buying data has allowed the police to get information without a search warrant, violating “search and seizure” protections. Other countries have rules about who owns our personal data. Some don’t allow third parties to sell your information without paying you for it, or without your informed consent.


Tara Houska, Giniw Collective: At Standing Rock we didn’t just suffer physical attacks. Custom and Border Patrol agents surveilled anti-pipeline protesters.


What safeguards would help indigenous people struggling to protect their land?


Rep. Omar: Flight records of Custom and Border Patrol drones confirm that this agency was surveilling Native American protests and the homes of activists. It’s so ironic since these are the people farthest from being immigrants! This activity falls totally outside of CBP’s mandated activities, and we must monitor the agency closely.


Dominique Diaadigo-Cash, community organizer: We also face low-tech “soft" surveillance embedded in social services and nonprofit organizations. “Violence prevention” programs have targeted Muslim communities, even though white supremacists have conducted the most violent extremist acts.


Rep. Omar: Many of these programs take place in schools. Religious leaders and teachers have been enlisted to identify young people allegedly at-risk for extremism. These “soft” programs show no evidence of success. They should be done away with!


Get involved in stopping the digital dragnet. Find out how at!


Aviva Chomsky can trace her scholarly work back to 1976, the year she worked for the United Farm Workers union. That sparked her interest in migrant workers and immigration, in social movements and labor organizing, in how global economic forces affect individuals and how people collectively organize for social change. Chomsky currently coordinates Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts. Her most recent book: Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.This passage recently appeared on Portside.


Linking Immigration and Foreign Policy

The clearest statement of the president’s Central America goals appears in his U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, sent to Congress on January 20. That proposal offers a sweeping set of changes aimed at eliminating President Trump’s racist exclusions, restoring rights to asylum, and opening a path to legal status and citizenship for the immigrant population….It follows in the footsteps of previous bipartisan comprehensive compromises like the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and a failed 2013 immigration bill, both of which included a path to citizenship for many undocumented people, while dedicating significant resources to border “security.


Read closely, a significant portion of Bidens immigration proposal focuses on the premise that addressing the root causes of Central America's problems will reduce the flow of immigrants to the U.S. border. In its own words, the Biden plan promises to promote "the rule of law, security, and economic development in Central America" in order to "address the key factors" contributing to emigration. Buried in its fuzzy language, however, are long-standing bipartisan Washington goals that should sound familiar to those who have been paying attention in these years.


Their essence: that millions of dollars in aid money should be poured into upgrading local military and police forces in order to protect an economic model based on private investment and the export of profits. Above all, the privileges of foreign investors must not be threatened. As it happens, this is the very model that Washington has imposed on the countries of Central America over the past century, one thats left its lands corrupt, violent, and impoverished, and so continued to uproot Central Americans and send them fleeing toward the United States.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Kurt Hackbarth, The Mexican Right Is at War With AMLO, Jacobin. The Mexican right knows it’s losing the upcoming midterm elections, exactly why it’s desperately trying to use the courts and the National Electoral Institute to wage war on Morena.


John Ackerman, ¿Desaparecer al INE? La Jornada. No se debe “desaparecer” al Instituto Nacional Electoral, pero si renovarlo y quizás reemplazarlo con otro órgano con una estructura mucho más eficiente y efectiva.


Biden Going Back and Forth on Refugees, Telesur. The US president seems to be worrying about looking either too soft or too tough on immigration.


Nestor Jiménez y Fabiola Martínez, Se busca proteger a menores migrantes al reforzar la frontera: AMLO, La Jornada Sin Fronteras. El mandatario recomendó destinar recursos a un programa de empleo similar a Sembrando Vida, enfocado a la siembra de árboles maderables y frutales.


Brigade returns to Cuba after fighting against Covid-19 in Mexico, Prensa Latina. The original Henry Reeve brigade medical contingent in México included about 500 health care professionals. Almost 200 remain.


Guillermo Castillo Ramírez, Las fronteras como dispositivos de exclusión hacia los migrantes, América Latina en movimiento. La agenda antiinmigrante fue promovida y acentuada justamente en el contexto de la pandemia y con el pretexto de la emergencia sanitaria.


Emilio Godoy, México Looks to the Heavens for a Solution to Its Water Crisis, Inter Press Service. Rainwater can help México’s 126 million face the water crisis experts project will start in 2030.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


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