Border Militarization and Empire


Border Militarization: An Interview with author Todd Miller

Honduran Migrant March — A Refugee Crisis Caused by US Policy and US Partners

One example of US Border Patrol activities internationally, this time in Saudi Arabia

Footage of US Military setting up military base on border


US Army and Border Patrol officials meet on the US-Mexico border.

Border militarization and immigrant rights, as intertwined as they are, are often treated as issues unto themselves, distinct from each other. Likewise, border militarization is more often than not isolated from, rather than linked with, global Pentagon strategies. But with the deployment of more than 5,000 United States troops on the border, the separation of these issues is revealed as utterly contrived. This was painfully and shamefully underscored November 25, 2018, when US troops fired tear gas across the border into Mexico, at a caravan of desperate Central American refugees. The people in the caravan are fleeing the ravages of neoliberal economic policies imposed by the US government and their own ruling oligarchies. Those policies have created broken societies where violence runs rampant. Rather than embrace these asylum seekers, the actions of troops tore the mask off another reality: that the US militarized Southern border is a new kind of military base that is aimed in two directions at once, inward at our own country, outward toward the whole of Latin America.

From the vantage point of the Alliance for Global Justice national offices here in the Arizona border lands, we know that border militarization is just another name for racism and occupation, and that it turns the borderlands into a kind of war zone. In fact, border militarization and immigration policies have forced many of the displaced and undocumented to cross through the harshest areas of the desert. The result has been over 7,000 people who have lost their lives due to exposure, dehydration, and dysentery – more than the lost lives of all US military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in our travels around the country, we in AfGJ have noticed that the farther one gets away from the border, the more willing even immigrant rights activists are to understate and brush aside border militarization in the name of other supposed gains. We believe that is a mistake.

Sign at protest in Minneapolis, MN, November 30, 2018. Photo by Fibonacci Blue.

This final chapter of the guide takes this concept of intersectionality a step further. This chapter is all about the Big Picture. Border militarization is one of the cornerstone components of the whole infrastructure of Empire. By “Empire”, we must clarify that we are talking specifically about the US/NATO Empire that serves the interests of the super wealthy and transnational corporations. That Empire is a global capitalist empire that prioritizes, protects, and advances privatization of natural resources and profit over every other concern.  It is backed up by the political, economic, and military might of the US and Europe. In fact, we can rightly say that the Pentagon is the “goon squad” of global capitalism.

The components of Empire include US/NATO military domination in the form of invasions, occupations, bases, treaties, and military cooperation; neoliberal trade agreements and policies; prison imperialism, or the spread of the US model of mass incarceration (and this concept includes the US influence on courts and laws to increase criminalization); big agribusiness development versus food sovereignty; privatization of education; the manufacture of consent via control of media; militarization of State Department functions and/or assumption of these functions by the military; militarization of the police and military taking on duties of the police; widespread surveillance of civilian populations and erosion of privacy rights in the name of “homeland security”; and, of course, border militarization. All these connect and overlap with each other.

Another aspect of the modern Empire is the justification for militarization, repression, and “security” operations and goals with amorphous, non-specific enemies and objectives.  These include the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror”, which rarely actually involve any kind of cohesive approach to concerns about either drugs or “terror”. They are frequently cited as justifications for border militarization, almost always with little evidence or outright lies. We think of Donald Trump’s spurious claims of “ten terrorists assaults” thwarted by border agents; or by former Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s allegations of headless bodies discovered in the borderlands, left by drug cartels. Neither Trump nor Brewer could back up their sensationalist lies.

We see the overlaps with other issues and components in many ways regarding border militarization. For instance, we know that every year some 400,000 undocumented workers and young people are jailed in mostly private immigrant detention centers, a practice that is being encouraged in other countries. Thus, we know that border militarization is intimately linked with prison imperialism.

Border militarization is part and parcel of overall US military strategy. We also know that it doesn’t stop at our borders with Mexico or, for that matter, Canada. The US is exporting its border militarization model to other countries, helping train agents, providing material support, building walls and even stationing ICE and CPB agents in countries around the world. There is no other country on Earth, not Russia, not China, nowhere, that has its own border and immigration presence and activities so widespread throughout other countries. When the US Empire militarizes borders, it does so internationally.

As previously mentioned, border militarization is part and parcel of the web of foreign US military bases and

Photo by US CBP.

installations. Here in Tucson, it is not mere coincidence that the offices of the Customs and Border Protection are located on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Other military bases operate their own drones to patrol the border and provide bases for CBP drones. The Pentagon’s US Southern Command, or Southcom, which coordinates military goals and objectives throughout Latin America, is heavily involved in funding, training, and reinforcing border walls and militarized borders in Central and South America and the Caribbean. For instance, together they run a school in Panama that has provided instruction to thousands of Latin American border agents.

When General John Kelly was formerly the top commander of Southcom. In January, 2017, while serving as Homeland Security Secretary, Kelly made statements that reveal in plain language the imperial attitude of the United States, and how border militarization is considered an international pursuit. Kelly stated, “I believe the defense of the southwest border starts 1,500 miles south…with great countries as far south as Peru….”

So, welcome to the final chapter of this guide. We hope the material will be informative and useful to you and inspire you to remember that as we struggle against border militarization and the rights of the undocumented, we struggle against imperialism and for liberation.

Protesters in Minneapolis, Minnesota welcome migrant caravan, denounce US border militarization. Photo by Fibonacci Blue.