May 7, 2014
America’s Trade Policy, 5/7/14
Perhaps no place in the U.S. is as impacted by international trade as Laredo, Texas. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Laredo, home to Texas A & M International, and was amazed at the city’s economic vibrancy. The unemployment rate in Laredo is only 5.8 percent, well below the national average, and some 30 percent of the 96,000 people engaged in non-farm employment work in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, the sector with the largest employment in Laredo.
In 2013 there were over 3.5 million truck and over 530,000 rail crossings across the border with Mexico, transporting parts for the auto and electronics industries, foodstuffs, as well as finished goods. As a result of all this traffic, there are more than 500 freight forwarders, 200 trucking companies and 100 customs brokers in the city. The heavy truck and rail traffic also creates enormous indirect employment in other sectors like hotels and restaurants. Laredo’s trade sector, of course, is fueled by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which went into effect in 1994.
May 7, 2014
Al Jazeera, 5/7/14
A couple of years ago, a chatty Border Patrol Agent in Texas told me about a recent experience he had near El Paso, a West Texas city near the U.S.-Mexico border. While he was visiting a particular stretch of the border fence that was normally outside his area of operation, he said, a potential threat to homeland security was detected by colleagues on surveillance duty. Attack helicopters were summoned.
The cause for alarm turned out to be a goatherd on the Mexican side of the fence wielding a stick that had been mistaken for a weapon. The helicopters were sent back. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Created in 1924 to secure the borders of the United States, the Border Patrol is now part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. It currently boasts more than 21,000 agents, up from 8,500 in 2001. (If certain members of Congress have their way, that number will continue to multiply.)
Its “priority mission,” according to the department’s website, is “preventing terrorists and terrorists [sic] weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, from entering the United States.” But its “primary mission” is “to detect and prevent the illegal entry of aliens” into the country. In fiscal year 2012, 364,000 such aliens were reported to have been arrested (though not a single international terrorist). How have these missions come to be viewed as overlapping? Do migrants — economic refugees displaced from their livelihoods by U.S.-sponsored free trade agreements — require the same serious level of attention as terrorists?
As the border security industry has ratcheted up its efforts — with massive expenditures on weaponry, frontier fortifications, personnel and surveillance equipment — a much bigger chunk of the country has come under its supervision. The notion of the border, in other words, has expanded in accordance with the industry’s needs.
May 6, 2014
The Washington Post, 5/4/14
A Marine veteran jailed in Mexico on weapons charges for allegedly bringing guns across the border said he never intended to leave the country but missed an exit when heading to meet friends in a border town. Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, 25, said he was headed to dinner in San Ysidro on March 31 when he mistakenly wound up at a border crossing point in Tijuana, U-T San Diego reported Sunday.
“I was going to call them after I drove off the exit, but I never got off the exit, I blew right past it,” he told the newspaper in an interview from jail. “I wasn’t paying attention, thinking I had way farther to go. I ended up in Mexico with no way to turn around.”
He said Mexican authorities found three guns inside the truck he had recently driven from Florida to make a new start in San Diego. He was jailed, and is now being held in Tijuana’s La Mesa Penitentiary without bail. Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter last week wrote a letter asking Secretary of State John Kerry to secure Tahmooressi’s release. State Department officials said they were aware of an arrest of a U.S. citizen in Mexico, but they do not comment on arrests of private individuals without the person’s permission.
May 5, 2014
LA Times, 5/4/14
Every year thousands of migrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally into Arizona. Some make it to their destination. Others get picked up by authorities. Hundreds more perish in the Sonoran desert. Some bodies are never identified and families of the missing can languish for years without word of their loved ones. A new Tucson-based organization is hoping to change that.
On Saturday, the Colibri Center for Human Rights officially launched, hoping to address what its organizers call a “very serious human rights crisis on the border.” The center, which is supported by the Ford Foundation and others, is an expansion of an earlier effort known as the Missing Migrant Project. That project had already collected, organized and centralized information for what is regarded as the most comprehensive database in the nation on missing and unidentified migrants. Since 2006, the group has made 100 matches in collaboration with the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office.
Colibri, headed by executive director Robin Reineke, still helps people find their loved ones and track information on the dead and missing, but now also aims to educate people on the high number of deaths and disappearances along the southern border through research and storytelling.
April 21, 2014
Reports on NPR Newsmagazines March 19-28
In an effort to discover how two nations influence each other, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep and a team of NPR journalists traveled the 1,900-mile length of the U.S.-Mexico border to report on the people, goods and culture that cross the heavily-fortified boundary. NPR News presents the dispatches and related coverage as the multipart series “Borderland,” exploring major issues such as immigration, the drug trade, business and cultural change through the personal stories of people who live where the countries meet. “Borderland” begins airing today on Morning Edition,continuing daily until March 28 across the show as well as All Things Considered and Weekend Edition Saturday and Sunday, and are also available online at npr.org/borderland.
“Borderland” humanizes border issues, which are hotly-debated but not always well-illuminated. Inskeep and fellow journalists talk with migrants, refugees and law enforcement officials, and meet with writers, musicians and workers in Mexican factories known as maquiladoras. NPR’s John Burnett, Kelly McEvers, Carrie Kahn and Ted Robbins, as well as Monica Ortiz-Uribe and Jude Joffe-Block of public radio’s Fronteras Desk also offer complementary reports in the series.
March 5, 2014
World Bulletin, 3/2/14
One of the two lead contractors for Israel’s apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank, Elbit Systems, has won a $145 million contract from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide similar systems on the Mexico-US border. According to Electronic Intifada report, this is the second time Elbit, which tests its technology on Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, has won a major US border surveillance contract.
The new DHS contract calls for “Integrated Fixed Tower systems” that will “assist [Border Patrol] agents in detecting, tracking, identifying and classifying items of interest” along the border. This contract largely reprises Elbit’s role in the Boeing contract. Initial installations will be in Arizona.
March 5, 2014
The Wall Street Journal, 3/4/14
On a January night in the Arizona desert, a U.S. Border Patrol agent pursued and killed an illegal immigrant named Gabriel Sanchez. The border agency said Mr. Sanchez tried to grab the agent’s gun, prompting him to shoot. The lawyer representing the victim’s family said the circumstances of the shooting remain uncertain. “The only thing we have to speak for the deceased is physical evidence,” said Phoenix attorney Daniel Ortega.
Mr. Sanchez, who has two U.S.-born children, is among at least 22 civilians killed by agents in the field or while in custody since 2010 on the Southwest border, according to immigrant advocacy groups. The majority of those killed have been Latin American immigrants who were unarmed, and a few were U.S. citizens, the groups say. Some victims were throwing rocks at Border Patrol agents, which can prompt a lethal-force response under current policy.
February 25, 2014
The NY Times, 2/22/14
The robots are just the latest tactic in a vexing battle by the federal authorities to try to stem the flow of drugs through the tunnels, considered prime pieces of real estate by the smuggling groups that build and control them. Border Patrol agents have tried dumping concrete inside the tunnels to render them unusable, and installing cameras and motion detectors to alert them of suspicious movement underground. But still the tunnel diggers persist.
Three robots, out of four in use by the agency along the entire southern border, are newly assigned to the Border Patrol station here. The robots, valued for their speed and maneuverability, can serve as the first eyes on places considered too risky for humans to explore.
February 18, 2014
Fox News, 2/18/14
An Arizona House panel on Monday gave initial approval to a plan to spend $30 million to install 350 miles of “virtual fence” along the state’s southern border with Mexico. The plan approved by the House Government and Environment Committee would place high-technology radar and video sensors on 300 towers along 350 miles of the border to monitor human and drug-smuggling activity. The sensors would send signals to a publically accessible site and could also be monitored by law enforcement agencies.
The proposal from Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, would use radar sensors about the size of a cereal box that could monitor 250 acres each. Mounting the sensors on towers paired with solar power units and a camera would allow Arizona to implement a “trust but verify” policy as to the federal effort to secure the border, Worsley said.
February 12, 2014
Hundreds of skeletal remains have been found scattered around ranches along the U.S.-Mexico border, during a police search for missing people. The remains had been left in the open and burned, making identification difficult for the Mexican authorities. The discovery, announced by Coahuila state prosecutor spokesman Jesus Carranza on Monday, came as 12 bodies were unearthed in southern Mexico, and two months after 67 bodies were found in the west.
Such discoveries remain common despite government claims that the number of killings has gone down in the past year. Police in Coahuila haven’t said whether an organized crime group is suspected in the discovery of skeletal remains, but the area is known to be dominated by the violent Zetas drug cartel. Officers have arrested 10 men, including four police officers suspected of aiding a criminal group, the state attorney general’s office said in a press release.