Trump’s surprise accomplice on border troops

April 24, 2018

Claire Douglas explains why California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown caved to Donald Trump's call for National Guard troops to be deployed at the border with Mexico.

WHEN DONALD Trump ordered governors to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this month, he faced outrage from supporters of immigrant rights--but he also found a willing accomplice in California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown joined the Republican governors of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas in granting Trump's request to send National Guard troops to aid the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) enforcement of immigration law at the border.

Trump's memo to border-state governors declared National Guard troops were needed to defend a U.S. "imperiled by a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border."

On the face of it, Brown's acquiescence seems bizarre.

Just a month before, Brown condemned Jeff Sessions for targeting California's sanctuary laws after the U.S. Attorney General pledged to dramatically increase Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in the state and carry out more raids.

Brown accused the federal government of "declaring war on California" and "unleashing a reign of terror," and refuted the administration's false claims of surging immigration, noting that immigration was declining in California.

A California National Guard soldier (left) accompanies federal agents patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border
A California National Guard soldier (left) accompanies federal agents patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border (Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Inigo)

That was March. This is April.

In a statement to DHS, Brown described himself as finding common ground and partnership between California and the federal government:

Your funding for new staffing will allow the Guard to do what it does best: support operations targeting transnational criminal gangs, human traffickers and illegal firearm and drug smugglers along the border, the coast and throughout the state. Combating these criminal threats are priorities for all Americans--Republicans and Democrats.


BROWN'S MOVE has effectively legitimized a revanchist administration that can now boast support from every border-state governor for its latest policies of greater enforcement, further militarizing an already deadly southwestern border.

The cost of Trump's national guard surge is unclear as of yet, but Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is already funded by an annual budget of $13.9 billion, which is expected to increase to $16.5 billion in 2018.

Since 9/11, under the pretense of securing U.S. borders from terrorist threats, spending on infrastructure, surveillance technology and troops has soared. Radar technology, such as thermal imaging, and long-distance cameras mounted to Border Patrol cars, aerial vehicles and fixed stations are all used to detect human movement day and night.

CBP's radar system is just about to get a big boost, as the Trump administration has just contracted the Israeli company Elbit Systems to build a virtual fence called Integrated Fixed Towers, a series of sensor-and-camera-equipped towers to catch any motion across the border.

Checkpoints--also known as "chokepoints" by immigrant rights activists--are peppered along the border.

Modeled after U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Border Patrol agents at checkpoints are authorized to collect biometric data, usually fingerprints or iris scans, without a warrant or probable cause. Biometric data is then relayed via satellite to compare their names to terrorist watch lists.

Boston Review's Matthew Longo reported that a guard at an El Paso detention facility told him "that detainees are so scared of these new biometric identification tactics that they often scrape their hands against the walls to rip the patterning off their fingertips."

The CBP'S $1.6 billion budget increase is expected to be allocated to the planning and building of Trump's border wall.

A wall already exists along the U.S. Mexico border. Some 600 miles of fencing erected during the Clinton administration covers the once well-traveled San Diego and El Paso regions best suited for crossing, forcing immigrants to use isolated and treacherous routes through the Sonoran Desert.

Over the last 20 years, at least 7,209 people have died attempting to cross the Southwestern border.

According to a United Nations report, 2017 saw an increase in U.S.-Mexico border deaths from 398 a year earlier to 412--even with an estimated 44 percent drop in attempted crossings. The report cites heavier rainfall that swelled the Rio Grande, making crossings more treacherous than usual. Drowning was the suspected cause of death for at least 91 bodies found.


TRUMP'S 2017 memorandum to DHS drastically expanded the category of people "prioritized for removal," from those who had been convicted of a serious crime to those who have been charged of minor crimes or who have committed an act for which they could be charged with a crime.

Additionally, the memo gives greater authorization to deport unaccompanied minors and prosecute adults, even family members, who aid in their crossing. Accordingly, the administration ordered an additional 5,000 CBP officers in 2017 and 500 for 2018.

The ranks of the CBP already increased from 10,045 to 19,828 between 2002 and 2016, even with ample documentation by human rights groups of rampant abuse by the organization.

Kino Border Initiative reported that 40 percent of Mexican migrants deported from the U.S. said Border Patrol agents violated their human rights, and two-thirds said their families were returned to Mexico separately. A June 2017 report by No More Deaths documented 30,000 instances where human rights abuses occurred between fall 2008 and spring 2011 by CBP.

Border Patrol agents destroyed some 4,000 gallons of water distributed by volunteers along various migration trails through the Sonoran Desert between 2012 and 2015, where lack of access to water can be lethal.

Trump and DHS both implicitly and openly encourages citizen participation border enforcement. Border vigilantes are resurfacing after the Minutemen's political retreat in 2010. The Arivaca, Arizona-based vigilante group Border Recon boasts 200 volunteers.

A CBP-sponsored Explorer program invites Boy Scouts of America, boys and girls as young as 14, to receive firearms training and engage in threat simulations, and grooms them as future CBP recruits.

The program, as Longo argues in the Boston Review, is both functional and ideological as it "indoctrinates the students in the logic of bordering: that the aim is to let the good guys in and keep the bad guys out, and that border control starts with engaged citizens."


BROWN CLAIMS he won't allow National Guard troops on the California border to be a part of building Trump's wall or otherwise carry out Trump's immigration policies. The claim is completely disingenuous.

Federal law prohibits federal troops from carrying out law enforcement. They won't be carrying out the high-profile acts of terror that has put Homeland Security and its various agencies in the news for lately.

But in supporting the operations of CBP--building and repairing access roads, maintaining vehicles and aiding intelligence collection, as they are being requested--they act as a "force multiplier." In other words, they free up CBP to do their worst.

Trump isn't the first to request that states deploy National Guard troops to the border. War criminal-turned-"Never Trump" darling George W. Bush did so under Operation Jump Start from 2006 to 2008. So did Barack Obama under Operation Phalanx in 2010 and 2011.

The two programs ran up a combined tab of $1.3 billion and assisted in more than 200,000 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants. Under Obama, the National Guard was charged with helping process immigrants after detention, and provided surveillance and intelligence to help the Border Patrol track down immigrants.

Common ground between the Democrats and Republicans isn't hard to find. While there are some disagreements on strategy and rhetoric, what unites the parties is their bottom line on immigration policy: controlling the flow of immigrant labor across the U.S.-Mexico border like a spigot, meeting the ever-fluctuating needs of American capital.

Since the rapid industrial expansion of the 19th century, U.S. capital has relied on immigrant labor as a highly flexible and exploitable pool of labor. The result is a completely contradictory ruling ideology and policy on immigration.

This means opening borders to let in the "sturdy, malleable immigrant yearning for freedom" to ramp up competition between workers in times of labor shortage and to break up labor struggles for better compensation on the one hand, and closing the border to the "brown menace" in periods of economic downturn, or when the ruling class is in need for an ideological enemy to wage war abroad or at home.

In the forthcoming new edition of his book No One Is Illegal, author Justin Akers Chacón explains how "Trump's naked xenophobia" is the latest exhumation of the "brown scare"--a deeply rooted strain of racism directed toward people of Mexican and Central American origin that has been resuscitated and reimagined in the era of George Bush's war on terror.


REPUBLICANS HOLD no monopoly over systemic crimes against immigrants.

The Clinton administration invented immigration law as we know it today, as it dramatically increased deportation eligibility, required detention of immigrants before hearings (making it easier to deport), overhauled and dramatically limited a path to citizenship and laid the ground work for the spike in deportations between 1997 and today.

The mid-1990s were a period of overt reactionary anti-immigrant sentiment and policy, most clearly represented by California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson's Proposition 187, which barred undocumented immigrants from public schools.

Rather than champion the rights of immigrants in the face of such vile systematic racism, the Democrats entered into a "tough on immigration" arms race with the Republicans. The Democrats party line was (as it is today, exemplified by Jerry Brown): "Punish the bad immigrants to save the good ones."

In Bill Clinton's 1993 remarks to reporters detailing his requests for increased Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) funding (now DHS), the president stated, "The solution is to welcome legal immigrants and legal legitimate refugees and to turn away those who do not obey the laws. We must say no to illegal immigration so we can continue to say yes to legal immigration."

Clinton's 1994 crime bill included a significant increase in boundary enforcement to extend over the remaining six years of his presidency. Clinton's 1994 program Operation Gatekeeper increased border enforcement along the Tijuana-San Diego border, and by 1997, doubled the budget for INS to $800 million, nearly doubled the number of border agents and the amount of border fencing, and tripled number of underground sensors.

The only thing that has ever forced a Democrat to walk their talk has been the mass movement from below.

The deportation machine that Clinton started was escalated by Bush into an arena of counterterrorism and national security. And the system Bush escalated was perfected by Obama, whose administration deported more immigrants than Bush by 25 percent and more than all the presidents of the 20th century combined.

Nothing but a mass movement will stop Donald Trump's belligerently xenophobic immigration policies. It was the mass immigrant rights movement that stopped the vile Sensenbrenner bill and moved Democrats to promise a path to citizenship in 2006. It was the DREAMers movement forced Obama to sign the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012.

With the retreat of these movements, both parties have played their part in implementing legal measures that increase the precariousness of the lives of immigrants.

Only a sustained mass resistance, not the Democrats' phony opposition, will beat back Trump's border terror.

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