Op-Ed, 698 words

The Border Patrol’s Out-of-Control Growth

The United States has 60,000 border guards, more than double the size of Ecuador's army.


On October 8, Tucson police officers pulled over a driver because the light above his license plate wasn’t working. When he didn’t present a license, a typical scenario unfolded: Under Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 law, cops become de facto immigration enforcement agents.

Simply put, the state’s “papers, please” measure obligates police to rely on “reasonable suspicion” to determine if someone possesses the proper documents to be in the United States.

wfp-dhs-chiricahua sky island

chiricahua sky island/Flickr

But police officers don’t actually make immigration-related arrests. Instead, they call the U.S. Border Patrol. The October 8 incident marked just one of 50,000 such referrals that happen yearly in Tucson. The same Arizona immigration bill that former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) head Janet Napolitano called “misguided,” is enabled by her agency’s collaboration with Arizona’s local police forces.

And it’s empowered by the government’s systematic expulsion of 400,000 people from our country each year.

Efforts to overhaul the nation’s border security and immigration policies are revving up again in Washington. That means a renewed push for enhanced border policing, such as the $46 billion in the reform bill the Senate passed in June.

That kind of spending would bring the Border Patrol’s creeping militarized mission further into the interior of the United States.

The Border Patrol isn’t just any agency. The Tucson police were calling in the largest U.S. federal law enforcement agency — by far — with a post 9/11 priority mission to stop terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from entering the United States. Yet its main tasks remain routine immigration enforcement and drug interdiction, creating an uneasy and often blurred mixture of missions.

Border Patrol is part of Customs and Border Protection, a DHS agency created in 2003. Its 60,000 agents make our border forces more than double the size of Ecuador’s army.

The army metaphor isn’t far-fetched: Customs and Border Protection has its own air and marine forces, a special operations branch, and a separate tactical unit. Its rapid-response teams have 500 agents ready to deploy anywhere within 48 hours. Its Predator B drones and Blackhawk helicopters are patrolling the desert southwest as if they were in an Afghanistan war zone. It has armored personnel carriers and uses forward operating bases like those in U.S. wars to secure positions in remote areas. Roughly 700 miles of walls have scarred the landscape of the Mexican borderlands, backed by increasingly sophisticated surveillance towers, cameras, and more than 12,000 motion sensors.

Since 9/11, the government has funneled $100 billion into these border weapon and surveillance systems. For what? The United States has friendly relationships with Canada and Mexico.

One salesperson who was trying to cash in on this border security gold rush (he was peddling his company’s mobile surveillance camera) told me “we are bringing the battlefield to the border,” now that U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq is winding down abroad.

The Senate’s bill called for adding 19,000 Border Patrol agents to an agency that has already doubled its ranks since 2006. There’s no way that this influx of agents and technology, with its enhanced national security mission, would be limited to the border, where the Homeland Security presence is becoming an occupying army. If this measure were to become law, the federal government would bring the battlefield to our neighborhoods.

Consider what happened in Tucson on that warm October night. Despite the government shutdown, a Border Patrol vehicle arrived on the scene, more than 70 miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Border agents put Arthur Robles and Agustin Reyes into a small cage in the back of the truck. One hundred people showed up and formed a human wall around the Border Patrol vehicle to stop it from taking those two fathers of small children away. Their activism was met with violence as Border Patrol agents crashed through the crowd, making more arrests, and police shot rubber bullets and pepper spray.

Officials try to justify such actions by using words such as “criminal aliens” and “narcoterrorists” that float around the media like ghouls in Halloween. However, as the unprecedented numbers of deportations indicate, this militarized border is advancing into the interior of the country at a rapid rate. If you are — or just appear — foreign, watch out.

Todd Miller is a special adviser on immigration issues to Witness for Peace and author of the forthcoming book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security.
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

  • Thinker

    This is the kind of narrow minded rhetoric that was tossed around by ignorant dirty stinky hippies in the sixties. This article intentionally misrepresents facts that even I can learn about by using almighty Google and asking around. The Border Patrol is not 60,000 Agents strong, as this article indicates, nor does it have “Border Weapons.” Blatant lies. The drones and Blackhawk helicopters are not armed like their military counterparts. The Blackhawks carry Agents, who have a pistol and maybe a rifle.

    And why not take border security seriously? I love the fact that this article is almost a year old and not a single person has commented on it, probably because most people are turning to real research instead of ignorant acceptance of clearly biased writings. Militarized border… please. If those Agents want to wear body armor and carry a rifle to keep from getting shot, making it home safely to their families, and to keep me safe, WHICH THEY ARE CURRENTLY DOING, I will happily help pay the bill. And the “unprecedented” number of deportations only serves to show how effective our Agents are, not how “militarized” our nation has become.

    My guess is that the author of this article is a person who calls the police to come and protect him, volunteering another person’s life to protect his own, instead of learning to do it himself. Such a bold statement! But made with good reason. Anyone that has trained to defend himself, his family, and his property has had to learn how horrible people can be. Such knowledge brings with it a glimmer of understanding of how our Law Enforcement personnel have to conduct themselves while on duty, as their job is to VOLUNTARILY encounter the criminals that us ordinary people hope never to meet. No one has kicked my door down and demanded that I show “papers”, and I have been through countless Border Patrol Checkpoints and been pulled over many times, as many on the border do. Never once have I thought, “Oh my goodness! The Gestapo are here to get me!”

    So, Mr. Todd Miller, I would ask that you stop TRYING to incite hatred through your ridiculous, misrepresented writings. I seriously hope you get fired and shamed for your behavior. Clearly, you have never been in harms way, CERTAINLY not voluntarily, and have no idea what you are talking about, as demonstrated by your own words. Or perhaps you do… which is why you can twist the facts so precisely. In either case, you are right at home sitting behind your computer in perfect air-conditioned safety, slamming out hateful and intentionally misleading information, preying on those who may not have access to the necessary resources that would allow them to learn the truth. You would rather skew other people’s views than correct your own. Why not go and try to protect someone instead of bring hatred against those who do? I think that would be too much for you.