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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Some thoughts on the "militarization" of the US-Mexican border

"Soldiers are trained to vaporize, not Mirandize"
- Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan

Advance warning: no apologies for the political nature of today's post. Next one will be more musical!

Fiction: 'Amigos del Otro Lado' is a story written for children by Gloria Anzaldúa about the friendship between Chicana girl Prietita and a young boy, Joaquin, who has illegally crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas with his mother. She makes friends with Joaquin after defending him from boys who have bullied him and called him mojado ('wetback'), and later she hides him and his mother from the Border Patrol. Joaquin's mother tells Prietita that they've come to America to improve their lives. It's a charming story of dignity and kindness in arduous conditions and financial hardship.

Fact: The American administration under George W Bush plans to deploy 6,000 National Guard to provide support to overstretched Border Guards at the porous US-Mexican border.

Fiction: 'Don Radio' is another children's story, written by Arthur Dorros about a young boy Diego and his family. they're migrant farm-workers - campesinos - who make their living picking fruit and vegetables in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington. Diego goes to school in Arizona, but basically he and his family travel from town to town in a truck, following the harvests. It's also a charming story, set against a backdrop of hard work, difficulties and also good times.

Facts: Illegal immigrants make up 3.6% of the US population, meaning some 11 million people are in the US without official papers. Over 8.25 million of these illegal immigrants are of Latin American origin.

An estimated 7.3 million of the total 11 million work. They make up 24% of the total workforce in the farming industry. Other sectors have the following proportion of illegal immigrants: cleaning (17% of the workforce), construction (14%), food prep (13%), production (10%), transport (7%), other sectors (2.5%). In all, the illegal workers in the US comprise some 4.9% of the total workforce, mostly working under the label 'unskilled labour'.

Although the typical illegal immigrant is often perceived as young, male and travelling alone, unauthorised migrants range from whole families, including children, to lone women.

(By the way, the source for all these figures: BBC News


In the run up to the Mexican presidential elections in early July, a proposal is made to send untrained National Guard - 6,000 at a time - to help secure the US-Mexican border against the influx of more illegal immigrants into the US. Many of these troops may have just come back from Iraq, where they're fighting insurgents and suicide bombers, and will be sent now to keep the peace between border guards and people who want to improve their lives. At the same time the US government is considering the erection of a $2.2 billion security fence on the border.


"It's always going to be risky to use troops to secure the border, especially if they include recent returnees from Iraq, who might have a different idea of what 'enemy' means. It might not be the best thing to have the border teeming with thousands of new enforcement people who might not understand what their proper role is."
- Andrés Rozental, president of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations


President Bush has proposed a guest-worker programme - which right now proposes to allow those immigrants who have spent more than two years in the US illegally the right to apply for legal residence permits, as a possible method of gaining citizenship. But there has been a history of programmes like this that tie workers to one employer and less rights than non-immigrant employees.


"We were hoping for a state of emergency. We need troops directly, physically on that border. We don't need more beds for detaining people. We need to deter them with a gauntlet, a formidable presence on that border."
- Chris Simcox, director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in Arizona


Fact: Mexican Foreign Minister Ernesto Derbez said that if National Guardsmen do end up detaining migrants or if human rights abuses occur as a result, Mexico will respond by filing lawsuits through its consulates in the U.S.

Previous deployments have been associated with tragic incidents. One (illegally armed) man (Cesareo Vasquez) was shot in the back by a Green Beret near Brownsville, and a teenager, Ezequiel Hernandez Jr, (also armed) was killed by a Marine in West Texas as he tended his family’s goats. Those incidents were followed by Pentagon announcements justifying the shootings, and official reports of the incidents that later proved to be false. The Vasquez incident came not long after the shooting of a Border Patrol agent nearby. The Border Patrol reported 151 assaults on agents along the Mexican border during 1996.


Are unemployed Mexicans really an enemy to the US? Fabiene Bennet, director of the pro-migrant Mexican group Sin Fronteras, says "the reinforcement of border control has only led to more deaths more accidents and also more money and more clients for [migrant] traffickers". These people are after a better life, and surely will in the long run benefit the US as well as themselves, through direct means (by working) and indirect (by paying taxes).

The US was built on immigration, remember? Amongst the facts, only the fictions above show the real truth about illegal immigrants: they're people too.

So, some music from Mexico, old and new:
Mariachi Vargas De Tecalitlan: El Mariachi Loco [2:55 mins | 2.68 MB | Try to Buy]
Some fine old style Mariachi from a 100-year-old band
File under: Mariachi Madness

El Gran Silencio/Libres y Locos El Gran Silencio: Libres y Locos [5:27 mins | 7.5 MB | Buy from Amazon]

El Gran Silencio are a rap/tradional Mexican/rock bunch, absolutely proud to be Mexican, and funky to boot. Remember, somos Mexicanos.
File under: musica buena


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