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No Winners When It Comes to Border Security

The militarization of the border has become not simply a means to an end, but the end itself.

While many progressives are resigned to border security as a tradeoff for “comprehensive” immigration reform, a new study published earlier this month by the University of Arizona’s Binational Migration Institute revealed the stark reality of such a compromise: during times of increased border security migrant deaths along the border have soared. In the south-central Arizona area alone, deaths peaked at 225 in 2010, and were only slightly lower in 2011 and 2012.

The report goes on to suggest that if we continue to beef-up the already steroid-overdosed border enforcement, there will be more deaths and at higher and higher numbers.

Yet, at the same time, the call for enhanced border security continues to dominate the conversation about immigration reform. Last Thursday, border security, the Republicans’ most pressing concern, domineered the debate as never before as senators announced an official border security compromise. By Monday, Senate lawmakers backed a new amendment by Republican senators John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee that calls for the U.S. government to aim for a state of "persistent surveillance" along the border.

Here’s what that means:

By 2014 there will be 20,000 more border patrol agents on the border, making the already largest police enforcement concentrated in one area even bigger, topping off at nearly 42,000. The use of drones will be dramatically expanded, an additional 700 miles of fencing will be built, and a slew of new military technologies will be updated.

And (surprise!) this will cost nearly $40 billion over the next decade.

It’s hard to imagine, when looking at the already militarized border, how these determined politicians are thinking so big when the U.S. has been implementing its top-notch technology along the border for years. There are already more agents on the border than ever before — so many that there is one border patrol agent for every 500 feet. We have unmanned drones monitoring the border at all times (which costs the government $3,200 an hour, or $43 million a year). Border patrol agents have night-vision goggles, ground sensors, cameras, helicopters, military-style trucks and miles upon miles of fencing.

Perhaps even more war-like, border patrol agents are known to go around destroying life-saving resources like water, food and blankets, while also shooting, and sometimes killing Mexican citizens on the other side of the border for throwing rocks at them. (A recent lawsuit is even claiming that border patrol policy allows agents to “get away with murder” in situations like these.)

Today, the current state of border security costs taxpayers $18 billion a year, more than what taxpayers contribute to the FBI, U.S. Marshals, DEA, and the Secret Service combined.

But, as many Republicans have argued, it’s not a matter of thinking too big when it comes to protecting our state from the invasion of illegals, criminals and 'potential terrorists.' So, as John McCain has put it, “[In order to] actually secure our border we must deploy the latest drone and radar technology developed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” (Even though, according to the most recent State Department's Country Report on Terrorism reads, "No known international terrorist organization had an operational presence in Mexico and no terrorist group targeted U.S. citizens in or from Mexican territory.")

But all of this romanticized, “tough guy” militarization of the border has not in fact deterred migrants from crossing the border. Though apprehensions have indeed lowered, migrants are still crossing despite drones and cameras and soldier-like agents. (In April 2012, the Pew Hispanic Center found that the net migration from Mexico had fallen to zero or perhaps even lower, meaning there are equal numbers of immigrants staying in the U.S. as there are immigrants leaving the U.S.)

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