The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


March 24, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team


At the US-México Border, Much More Than a Wall

Donald Trump’s constant “Build the Wall!” mantra always had more than a wall in mind. The slogan amounted to a short-hand for “we can’t let those immigrant Mexican rapists and murderers and terrorists come at us over our borders.” Chanting the slogan at Trump rallies fired up and consolidated his base of home-grown terrorists, both those in the public at large and those who had joined the Border Patrol or become agents for ICE.


Trump’s mantra actually had a deeper impact than all that. Its constant repetition left the US public thinking only about the physical wall. But building a wall involves more than construction workers putting up fences. Trump’s wall stereotypes migrants as criminal undesirables. Criminalization requires policing, and policing requires not just specialized agents, but a vast array of armaments, surveillance tech, and detention centers.


These enforcement mechanisms don’t just impact those trying to cross a line in the sand. Our “border” stretches 100 miles wide all around the United States, and border-enforcement tentacles reach deep into the communities, homes, and workplaces of two-thirds of the US population. Don’t just think Tucson or El Paso. You probably live in a “border” town too. More to the point, unless you’re a migrant, you may not realize you’re living in a police state as well.


Who benefits from the criminalization of migrants as an excuse for militarizing the border? Todd Miller, in our Voices interview this week, looks beyond the wall and unmasks those who profit from wreaking fear, misery, and death on migrant families. “Border Security” has become a form of human trafficking, a big business.


And big politics. Trump’s harping on the wall made him the target of our anger and disgust. But that fury aimed at Trump obscured the years of campaign contributions from border security companies that have both Republicans and Democrats complicit in inhumane border policies and glaringly gross outlays of our tax dollars on private security contracts.


To win migrant and immigrant rights, we’ll have to sever the ties between the profiteers and the politicians. We’ll have to win rights not just for those already here, but for those who need to enter. We need more than a hammer to take down more than a wall.


Todd Miller grew up on the northern US border, fascinated by the changes, over time, in what people have to go through to get to the other side. He’s now been researching the connections between border policy and border security companies for many years. For his 2019 Transnational Institute report, More Than A Wall: Corporate Profiteering and the Militarization of US borders (in Spanish here), and his policy briefing published last month, Biden’s Border: The industry, the Democrats and the 2020 elections (Spanish), Miller collaborated with the groups No More Deaths in Tucson, Mijente, and the ACLU. Watch for his new book, Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders, in April.


Who makes up the US border-industrial complex?


US border policy since the 1970s has been more and more about treating those who want to enter as criminals. It’s not a rational nor a humane response to people who have to flee political, economic, and personal disaster and it’s not an accident.


One strong driver of the border’s militarization has been the confluence of massive campaign contributions, lobbying, and access to government officials on the part of arms, high tech, and security and detention corporations, particularly in the post 9/11 era. These border security corporations and their government allies form a powerful border-industrial complex.


How much has the budget for border control grown?


These annual budgets rose from $350 million in 1980 and $1.2 billion in 1990 to $10.2 billion in 2005 and $23.7 billion in 2018. In other words, budgets have increased by more than 6,000 percent since 1980. Between 2008 and 2020, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the infamous ICE issued 105,997 contracts worth $55.1 billion to private corporations, familiar companies ranging from Boeing and Lockheed Martin to Raytheon and Deloitte.


The militarization of the border became most dramatic after 9/11 with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. That opened the faucets to “secure” the border even though the 9/11 attack had nothing to do with the Mexican border.


To find out what these companies have to offer, you’ve gone to many “Border Security Expos.” What has that been like?


It’s like stepping into some kind of futuristic sci-fi movie. You see endless displays of drones — including drone boats — and robots, infrared cameras, and motion sensors. One guy demonstrated an aerostat for me a surveillance and communications balloon. He had it zero in on my notebook from high above, and the words showed up clearly on a screen right in front of him.


All the vendors talk unabashedly about the profit-making possibilities. At the 2017 Expo, I heard a guy say, “We’re going to hit the jackpot now!” He was presumably anticipating contracts from the Trump administration. Another vendor, from a company that normally sold to the military, told me “we are bringing the battlefield to the border.”


Biden has made promises and is indeed improving the situation for immigrants. Will that change border policy?


The overall border strategy known as prevention through deterrence has not changed, whether Democrats or Republicans sit in the White House. For the 2020 election, border security companies spent more than $40 million on campaign contributions to key politicians. Biden actually took in three times more money in campaign contributions $5,365,000 from security companies than Trump.


Presumably, these companies were making the calculation they already had Trump in their pocket, so they needed to grease the wheel with Biden. It’s an election in which your vote wins no matter what.


The Biden administration seems intent on reversing some of the most egregious Trump policies, but the situation on the border remains the same as ever. Many people have been turned back so that they must, as usual, risk their lives crossing the Rio Grande or the Sonoran desert. And while Biden has stopped the construction of the wall, he has expressed support for the ever-profitable surveillance technologies.


What do you think needs to happen at the border?


The climate crisis has and will cause major upheavals around the world and will displace an extraordinary number of people. A global militarized border system currently keeps intact this unsustainable world of business-as-usual environmental catastrophe and endemic inequality. Containing and separating people exacerbate these global problems and prevent solutions that require cross-border cooperation and solidarity.


With COVID and climate change as two gigantic issues people are facing everywhere, perhaps this moment can give us the space to imagine a world without borders.


Art can be a response to our circumstances. If you live on the Mexican border, facing a wall, the ups and downs of hope and despair will be constantly disrupting and torturing your life. For migrants, your children or elders might be ripped away when they need comfort most. From the US side, you can only see your loved ones across the way, so near and yet so far.

Struggle and resistance reflect the joy and support that communities bound together in history need to survive. This art of and on the border wall shows people at their best. These works show us at our most creative, engaged, loving, aware, fierce selves.


La Lucha Continua: The Art of the Border


Paseo de la Humanidad by Alberto Morackis, Alfred Quiroz, and Guadalupe Serrano (Jonathan McIntosh photo)


Left: Teeter-Totter Wall by Ronald Rael and Virigina San Fratello. Right: Kikito by JR.


Border Coffins by Alberto Caro


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


Kurt Hackbarth, AMLO Is Fighting to Make Mexico’s Energy a Public Resource, Jacobin. The emerging struggle to bring back México’s long-debilitated public energy sector.


Jennie Rose Nelson, Reopening Mass Influx Facilities Goes Against Biden Administration Promises, NACLA. Community organizers across the country are calling on the Biden administration to shut down influx facilities for children and instead prioritize investment in community and family-based care, home studies, and post-release services.


Biden & Mayorkas: Stop Deportations Now! Mijente. Over 70 immigrant rights organizations are backing a six-step agenda for border justice.


John Ackerman, Paternalismo electoral, La Jornada. El Bloque Opositor Amplio ha intentado utilizar artimañas y triquiñuelas jurídicas con el fin de reducir la cantidad de diputados que apoyan a la Cuarta Transformación.


Jeff Hauser, Congress Must Examine Biden Admin Possibly Trading Vaccines For Anti-Migration Enforcement, Revolving Door Project. The Biden Administration should not be in the business of trading Mexican lives for those of Central and South Americans who see migration to the US as their best life-saving option.


Amy Stillman, México Judge Suspends Controversial Power Law Indefinitely, Bloomberg. A Mexican judge has suspended the AML0 electricity law that favors a state utility over private power companies.


AMLO, to Canadian mining companies: give a good salary, pay taxes. Like there. Or lose concession, Market Research Telecast. López Obrador is pressing Canada on two Canadian mining companies operating in México. One refuses to pay taxes, and the other is rejecting a pro-union worker vote.


Nora McGreevy, Fire at 16th-Century Mexican Church Prompts Debate Over How to Protect Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian. Critics argue that a lack of preservation funding is adding to the crisis.


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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