Are we living in a Border Patrol Nation?

A U.S. Border Patrol agent conducts  a pat-down on a female migrant  in a detention center. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent conducts
a pat-down on a female migrant in a detention center. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

By Kimberly Cardenas
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)

President Barack Obama’s November 2014  immigration executive order has caused significant controversy.

The Department of Homeland Security’s agencies, which include  Border Patrol, have acted in ways that surpass “normal” law enforcement jurisdiction. Thus, a framework for discussion exists around the constitutionality of the border, along with questions of profit making — that is, thinking about industries that profit off of the militarization of the borders.

On November 3 Todd Miller, author of the book Border Patrol Nation (City Lights Press, 2014), gave a talk at Cornell University regarding the increased presence of the Border Patrol and the significance of the militarization of U.S. borders.

Miller presented astonishing facts about the exponential growth of the Border Patrol. For example, until 1924, there was no such a thing as a Border Patrol. The number of agents increased from 4,000 in 1994 to 23,000 in 2014.

After September 11, 2001, Border Patrol has significantly become more pervasive in American society, to the point where much of the interior of the country embodies the characteristics of the dynamic U.S.-Mexico border. In his first chapter, “The Super Patrol,” he discusses the presence of the Border Patrol at unexpected sites such as the Super Bowl. Miller noted that the U.S.-Canada border has experienced more rapid growth in  Border Patrol presence — 300 percent since 2001 — than the southern border.

He also discussed the importance of the private sector and international commerce in the border surveillance industry. In his second chapter, he focuses on an annual exposition, the Annual Border Security Expo, where sophisticated technologies are sold. This new “exploding” market, so to speak, carries with it implications regarding the potential social consequences of this industry.

Investing in these technologies could be devastating for the treatment of marginalized groups. Moreover, the transactions involved in the border security industry carry global significance, because of the exportation of U.S. security technologies worldwide. A marketing research firm predicts that by 2018, global markets for homeland security will reach $544 billion.

An important point introduced by Miller was the Border Patrol’s 100-mile zone of jurisdiction. In this zone, 100 air miles from any national land or sea border, Border Patrol possesses jurisdiction, meaning agents can enter private property and carry out searches without a warrant.

Around two-thirds of the U.S. population lives in this “zone,” which is crucial to understanding the magnitude of the Border Patrol’s potential for unconstitutional action.

Many question whether there is  substantial justification for a type of violation to our 4th amendment, which is “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

The American Civil Liberties Union calls this the “Constitution-Free Zone,” alluding to the fact that the Constitution has virtually no leverage in this area.

The expanding presence of Border Patrol raises questions that involve themes of racial profiling and human rights. The factors that determine what makes people a threat are inherently embedded in discriminatory practices.

For example, the controversial Arizona law SB 1070 requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested when there exists enough suspicion that such person is undocumented.

Todd Miller’s book begs several questions: Who are the people being disenfranchised from such policies and who are the ones benefiting?

Surely, the industries that invest in border technology benefit.  Still, one wonders whether there is a veritable necessity for such a massive presence of Border Patrol, and if the people can be assured that their rights will not be violated in the process.

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