Old White Guys Focus on Militarizing Border, While Real Americans Descend on DC Looking for Reform
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McCain's focus on this issue is significant, as he is one of eight senators who have been working behind closed doors to craft an immigration reform bill that is expected to be introduced any day. The group made it known in January that creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already residing in the US would be contingent upon securing the border. But without defined standards for what a secure border looks like, it could be a long road just to get to the citizenship path.
CBP's priority is keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the US. The Department of Homeland Security doesn't mention terrorism in its description of border security as “protecting the nation's borders from the illegal entry of people, weapons, drugs, and contraband.” In terms of results, both point to increased staff, surveillance, screening, and intelligence, which of course are not actually results, but the supposed means to achieving the broadly defined "border security."
A framework for immigration reform the “Gang of Eight” released in January, didn't define border security, but did state that its purpose is to “substantially lower the number of illegal border crossings while continuing to facilitate commerce.” It is perhaps the most direct acknowledgement that ultimately this is all about the neoliberal project of enabling the free movement of capital and goods while exerting further control over those who produce them.
To that end, McCain had some ideas. “Don't you believe,” he asked a Border Protection official, “that VADER, plus drones, could be absolutely vital tools in obtaining effective control of our border?”
VADER, or Vehicle Dismount and Exploitation Radar, is a radar technology that is mounted on planes or drones to produce high-detail imagery from high altitudes. It was developed on a fast-track for the military to find improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and is capable of distinguishing footprints in the sand. The official agreed that VADER and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are an important part of the solution. He went on to say that the current appropriations bill allows funding for two VADER systems, but the goal is to obtain six more. They cost about $8 million a piece.
McCain's enthusiasm for the surveillance technology comes from personal experience. He explained, “I have seen both UAVs and VADER radar in action, including the battle of Sadr City and other places where it has been extremely effective.”
No one batted an eye at the cognitive leap connecting Iraq and Mexico. The hearing continued and when McCain wrapped up he seemed tacitly resolved to procure at least $32 million to further militarize the southern border.
This likening of the US-Mexico border to a war-zone, and by implication, immigrants attempting to cross illegally to enemy combatants, is something Dreamers and other activists take issue with in a big way.
United We Dream is the largest coalition of immigrant-youth lead organizations in the country, and was instrumental in getting the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation passed last summer. DACA, which gives people under the age of 31 who immigrated to the US as children temporary reprieve from deportation, was made possible by years of activism focused on bringing attention to the stories of undocumented youth who are stuck with no avenues to higher education. Their stories gained empathy from politicians who often characterize them as deserving of some formal legal status because they didn't choose to come here; their parents brought them.
Now United We Dream has launched 11 Million Dreams, a campaign to share their parents' stories – people who, they say, are the original Dreamers.