Human Rights

Bad Fences Make Bad Neighbors

No matter how much Bush pushes for guest worker programs, his administration intends to beef up border patrols, detention and deportation, and build a 700-mile fence on our southern border.
While Congress debates tougher immigration laws, including one proposal that would make many immigrants felons, resistance has erupted across the country in unprecedented demonstrations of citizens and visitors, legal and illegal immigrants. In warehouses, packing plants, construction sites and restaurant kitchens all over the United States, the word is: ICE crackdown, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement begins stiff application of existing immigration laws. The call on Spanish-language radio stations and televisions is: Take to the streets to protect our rights to live and survive. Huge marches are planned for May 1, International Workers Day, in every major U.S. city.

President Bush has publicly promoted a guest worker program and called massive deportation "unrealistic," but when he's not on the podium, he's already expanding an immigration plan that's not so immigrant-friendly.

With Bush's approval, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has ordered new and expanded programs on the frontier in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and internally at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its Office of Detention and Removal (DRO). Their 2007 budget request seeks ten times more funding for detention and removal than it does for employer violations and apprehension.

The respective fates of 12 million undocumented residents in the United States, 7 million workers and their employers hang in the balance of questions before Congress: Where to focus the enforcement effort? How best to document the undocumented? How to secure the borders of their states?

The centerpiece of the request is a new Secure Border Initiative (SBI) and a privatization plan for border protection called SBInet. Chertoff and his Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson claim that SBInet will secure the borders like never before.

Internally, ICE's Office of Detention and Removal will enjoy the biggest increase as DHS tried to achieve a stated goal of reducing the illegal immigrant population by 10 percent each year. Some highlights [PDF] from the DHS 2007 $44 billion request: $4.7 billion in enforcement funds, a nearly half-billion-dollar increase in detention and removal capacity alone. The employer violation and apprehension piece of the plan includes a mere one-tenth of the funding as Detention and Removal at $47 million. The Secure Border Initiative gets a half-billion: $100 million for technology, $50 million for fencing and other physical barriers in Arizona, $30 million for more fencing in San Diego.

What will the new infrastructure, technology, personnel look like on the ground? For one, there will be a fence. An acquisition plan for physical fencing and "smart fencing" to cover 700 miles has been ordered by DHS, confirms Clayton Church at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District. Many more miles of virtual fence in remote and rural environments: ground radar, infrared cameras, unmanned aerial vehicles for detection followed by integrated apprehension operations from 1,500 more border patrol personnel in the southwest region alone. Physical fencing will be completed and reinforced in urban areas like San Diego-Tijuana, Las Cruces-El Paso-Juarez. Vehicle barriers in remote desert zones will force migrants to walk greater distances.

But while the fence will certainly cost a lot of money and force migrants to walk even greater distances, there's no evidence it will be effective. Apolonia Arellano, 35-year-old restaurant worker from Fresnillo, Zacatecas, has crossed the Rio Grande into the United States on three occasions. Asked by AlterNet how her compatriots will respond to more fencing, she said they're accustomed to walking three days and two nights carrying a jug of water and a couple of oranges. "If it takes an extra night or day to get around a new barrier, that's what we'll do."

The expanded Expedited Removal Program can deport anyone captured within 100 miles of the border within 14 days of their entry without a hearing from a federal immigration judge. Numbers of attempts by single immigrants will increase.

As a result of Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego and Operation Hold the Line in El Paso, Arizona has become the main point of entry, as crossings have quadrupled. The Tucson, Ariz., sector will receive more ICE operation teams to conduct sweeps for illegals in Tucson and Phoenix. Subsequently, more undocumented immigrants will attempt to cross through the Yuma sector, where a U.S. Marines air station and the Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range covers a 37-mile stretch of border. There, more ground radar devices will attempt to keep "unauthorized personnel" from wandering into harm's way while training exercises are in progress.

Gregory Giddens, Secure Border Initiative Executive Program Director explains, "The threat on the Mexican border is based on activity. On the Mexican border, we're dealing with the fact that of the 1.2 million people we arrested last year, 99 percent of that activity occurred along our southwest border with Mexico, 50 percent of that in the state of Arizona."

DHS is declaring an end to "catch and release." ICE operations teams will double from 35 in 2005 to 70 operational teams by 2007 and 100 by 2008. The Office of Detention and Removal (DRO) requires comparable increases to meet the emerging need. DRO will have 2,300 more beds for detainees in 2006, and 6,700 more beds in 2007 to bring the total to 30,000 immigrant detainees on any given day in America. If the average length of stay in detention gets down to 20 days as projected, by 2007 over a half-million people could be removed on an annual basis.

Should an immigration emergency be declared by the Homeland Security director, the attorney general or the president, within 36 to 48 hours Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root will provide up to 5,000 beds in four different hypothetical locations: outside Miami; Las Cruces, N.M., El Centro, Calif., and Beech Grove, Ind. That contract will grow by an additional 20,000 beds by 2010. ICE spokeswoman Jamie Zuiebeck told AlterNet, "We have to vet more individuals, more of the 536,000 illegal aliens who have been ordered to leave the country but who haven't complied."

Vetting individuals requires providing food, medical care when needed and finding temporary foster families for children whose parents are in detention. Each immigrant laborer has his or her own line in the sand. Mexican construction worker, musician and father of two Jose Angel Arellano said, "Once they start taking our kids, no, hombre. We're no longer men if we can just let our kids be taken away."

States from Georgia to Colorado are enacting new restrictive legislation to reduce the numbers of undocumented immigrants in their jurisdictions. A Georgia law going into effect in July 2007 cuts off all social services to illegals and requires local law enforcement to report people they believe are in Georgia illegally to ICE. In Colorado, a nationally funded organization called Defend Colorado Now gathers signatures for a November statewide referendum to cut off all aid to the undocumented. A new bill sponsored by Rep. Ted Harvey from Highlands Ranch sailed through the State House and Senate to enlist local police in their stepped-up deportation campaign.

Yet Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told AlterNet, "Across the board, local police are not interested in enforcing federal immigration laws. We're not equipped to, we're not funded to, we're not trained to. We have no room in our jails. Training and expertise required to determine probable cause for an immigration violation requires 140 hours of training. This is a huge burden to local police."

The Colorado bill's sponsor, Rep. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch, also joined seven Colorado legislators to request that President Bush declare an immigration emergency in Colorado. They invoke Article 4, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution requiring federal government to protect each state from invasion. In a letter [PDF] to President Bush, they claim "Every month, more illegal aliens infiltrate our borders than the entire three-division U.S. Marine force that assaulted Iwo Jima during World War II."

The governors of Arizona and New Mexico have called for immigration emergencies to be declared in their states. Neither ICE officials or elected representatives in government can provide details of what an immigration emergency would really look like. A recent April 20 roundup of over 1,100 workers and seven managers portends a bottom-up removal of undocumented workers.

A host of humanitarian, legal and labor organizations across the country are resisting these immigration policy initatives. While they vary in their approaches, a basic understanding has grown. As Geoff Boyce of No More Deaths in Arizona articulates, "Enforcement-only policies are proven failures." When asked about binational policy measures that can be taken in the United States and in Mexico itself, and radical enviromentalist Ed Abbey's now-famous quote about immigration, that Mexico needs to finally have the Mexican Revolution they've been talking about for so long, Boyce retorts, "Well, the United States needs to have its revolution too."
Joe Richey has written for Mother Jones, Aperture, Counterpunch, the Chicago Tribune, Nuevo Diario, Whole Earth Review, Yes, and other publications.
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