Three Present Dangers to Border Areas Today

by Dr. Gonzalo Santos

Professor of Sociology - California State University Bakersfield  

Most serious border region analysts have long been aware of the *factual findings* in your article - long before the recent passage of the infamous Arizona law SB1070. The statistics on violent deaths, kidnappings and other violent crimes sadly and overwhelming fall on the shoulders of crossing immigrants, while the rest of the population in those areas - even including the settled Latino communities with undocumented immigrants - have pretty much been enjoying average crime statistics that are much lower than in the US at large. Nevertheless, the portrayal of the crossing undocumented immigrants as the cause for an alleged wave of violent crime along the US border continues unabated. The anecdotal episodes of violent crime - mostly drug & arms traffic related - are always immediately used to hype nativist fear and paint the entire, immigrant flow - overwhelmingly decent, hard-working, humble laborers and their relatives - as criminal and dangerous. Fearmongering has always been integral to xenophobia and today is no exception.

But the essentially peaceful immigrant flows does not imply there is nothing else to worry about along the border. There are actually three very real and present dangers in the border areas today, dangers which unfortunately today Congress, the Obama administration, and the anti-immigrant forces at large are all in denial - or feign ignorance of their urgency for their respective political reasons. These are:

(1) As Ms. Lydia-Craft's article pointed out, (a) the increased violence associated with trafficking of illegal drugs which the US continues to have a huge appetite for (how's that for "illegal is illegal"!?) and urgently require serious attention and higher international cooperation - not polarization; and (b), the equally devastating impact the huge and related weapons trafficking from the US into Mexico is having all over Mexico (over 22,000 deaths since 2006 and mounting) and increasingly in the US border region, made possible by the lax gun laws on the US side and extreme corruption on the Mexican side, both of which enable the drug mafias to easily purchase and smuggle assault weapons of every kind.

In Mexico there is a huge clamor against corruption and impunity, and against the spiraling "drug wars." It can get a whole lot worse, which could unleash a much larger wave of refugees than at present. Where is the clamor in the US to dramatically reduce both the massive drug consumption and the banning of the sale of assault weapons in the US ? You sure won't find it in the ranks of the strident nativist movement today, nor among the tea party types, nor in either party, for that matter. Perhaps those so concerned about the peaceful, though unauthorized immigrants entering the US, and who frequently profess being alarmed at border crime and violence can offer some helpful suggestions on how to address these real causes for alarm? Shall we get ever more punitive and jail all drug users (we've already got the world's largest absolute and per capita prison population, but we can't seem to break the drug habit)? When are we going to discuss why so many Americans want to drug themselves into stupor and escapism? Shall we infringe the sacrosanct 2nd amendment right to prevent unscrupulous US gun dealers from selling assault weapons to unscrupulous US citizen intermediaries of the Mexican drug cartels?

(2) The actual danger posed by the flows of undocumented immigrants crossing the border areas today is mostly to the desperate immigrants themselves, funneled as they have been since 1995 into the most dangerous, inhospitable areas of the US-Mexico border, especially the AZ-Sonora desert, and also forced into extremely vulnerable situations that make them easy prey for extortion and being held hostage for ransom by coyotes - not to mention a wide variety of other, well-documented human right abuses they may have to endure if detained by "the migra." This daily human tragedy, which has resulted in over 5000 *recorded* deaths since it began in '95 (10,000 estimated total), and caused untold suffering among those that survived the crossing, is by design; it's the official US federal border enforcement policy and it has a name: "prevention by deterrence." But it has not deterred or slowed down the flow of undocumented immigrants - economic refugees, really - desperately seeking to cross over; it has only raised the toll of otherwise preventable deaths and human misery. This policy's assumptions of what will deter these sort of displaced migrant populations, after 15 years of harsh enforcement, have been proven to be woefully flawed. The shameful absence of political will in Washington to seriously reform or rectify this catastrophic situation, and adopt a better policy based on more realistic, humane, and sound assumptions, makes our current government and immigration regime immoral and callous. Clamoring for more walls and more "prevention deterrence" is not the answer either, but stubborn fanaticism in the face of policy failure. The answer lies, as I have insisted, in an immigration "regime change" in the US that adequately takes into account the central reality for the 21st century: the increasingly integrated North American region - and that yes, will require the abandonment of all US unilateralist, restrictionist, and punitive approaches; as well as it will require substantial structural economic, political, and even cultural changes in the sending countries of the region, too. Though the responsibilities and vision must be shared, the challenges are distinct for each of the sending or receiving countries of North America .

(3) The other very real and present danger to the US side of the border areas is the adoption, out of frustration and demagoguery, of ever harsher enforcement-only, state-by-state local laws, such as Arizona 's SB1070, that do not address the two previous dangers but will spill over into targeting the entire Latino community and the civil liberties of US citizens. Here, the danger is to local law enforcement itself in these border states , as ordinary Latinos and other people of color are targeted for ethnic profiling in pursuit of undocumented immigrants, which will lead them, and already is leading them in Arizona , to no longer cooperate with reporting or preventing serious crime. Below is an article on precisely this third danger, which for all their talk of "law enforcement," the habitual rightwing polemicists in the media and in this list are strangely silent about or have led them, in their customary arrogance, to scolding the Latino communities, in vain I must say, for not "getting it right," not "reading the law," etc., etc. ,etc.; all the while the local police forces are put in the untenable position of having to enforce an inherently contradictory, unenforceable law and worse, one that leads them to losing the ability to fulfill their core mission. This third danger constitutes a fast deteriorating situation which the courts will hopefully soon intervene to put a stop to it. But even when that happens, we'll still have the other two unattended dangers gaining ground every day that passes in which we do nothing to address them.

  Dr. Gonzalo Santos, professor California State University Bakersfield



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