Border Repression and Human Rights



Photo by Sophie Kazis

When it comes to discussing human rights on the border, it is simplest to say that US border policy is itself essentially one giant human rights abuse.  We can look at virtually every abuse that occurs and recognize that at its root lies immigration policies (or the lack of them) and economic destruction backed by border militarization.  It is the funneling effect of border militarization that leads to thousands dying in the desert and that turns the borderlands into occupied zones that exist under a kind of marshall law.

With this lesson, Gabe Shivone helps us put the issue in context with his opening article, Death as ‘Deterrence’:  the Desert as a Weapon.  That is followed by a short video, Deserted:  The Human Rights Crisis on Our Soil, which briefly but powerfully portrays the inhumane effects of border policy.  This is followed by two articles, including one by AfGJ’s Chuck Kaufman, and one by Joseph Nevins, regarding the shooting of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez.  These articles are followed by a short video by Pan Left’s Brenda Limón, recorded at a memorial for Carlos Lamadrid, yet another teen killed by Border Patrol agents.

Finally, at the end of the featured articles we have included Undoing Borders:  A Queer Manifesto, which comes from San Francisco Pride At Work’s Migrant Justice Working Group.  One of the most valuable aspects of the Manifesto is that it shows how broader definitions of “border” relate to specific concerns regarding the US-Mexico border.  Its historical analysis shows clearly and convincingly how the repression of human rights on the border is a manifestation of repressive history and contemporary habits, attitudes and policies.

We especially want to call your attention to the Further Study and Additional Resources section.  The No More Death’s report, A Culture of Cruelty should be front and center of any study of human rights abuses on the border and was included in the “Further Study” section by virtue of its length. The report documents 30,000 incidents where human rights abuses occurred between Fall of 2008 and Spring of 2011.  The report is based on interviews of nearly 13,000 persons in the Mexican border towns of Agua Prieta, Naco and Nogales, Sonora.  Also included are relevant reports by Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.  We strongly encourage those who want to best grasp the issue of border repression to read and study these reports.

There are some issues that we could have looked at more closely but did not.  These include  Operation Streamline, a true travesty of “justice”, and issues related to jails for the undocumented.  These subjects will be covered in upcoming lessons.

The photographs and visual material included speak for themselves and bear a powerful and direct testimony to the situation of Border Repression and Human Rights.

As always, we urge students to be sure and look at our CALL TO ACTION section.  We have several opportunities listed, with a special highlight of the VALENTINES DAY CALL-IN (202-456-1111) to tell President Obama: Stop breaking our hearts! Stop dividing families: No more deportations & genuine immigration reform now! 


Death as ‘Deterrence’: the Desert as a Weapon

by Gabe Shivone

….Forgoing any subtlety, “enforcement,” in this instance, is a euphemism for “mortal danger” as a premeditated method of death by example to deter human beings from crossing unauthorized into the US.  Read more…



VIDEO:  Deserted-The Human Rights Crisis on Our Soil

(by Dana Variano and Ishita Srivastava for Breakthrough)


Two articles about the killing of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez by US Border Control Agents Firing into Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) from Nogales, Arizona:

 It’s Time to Question Border Patrol Use of Deadly Force by By Chuck Kaufman, National Co-Coordinator, Alliance for Global Justice

It is time to say “no more” to US law enforcement initiated border killings. This must stop with the death of Jose Antonio. No more can we allow these deaths to be swept under the rug without serious investigation and without holding the killers accountable for their actions. It is a serious international incident for a country’s uniformed officers to fire into another country. It is even more serious when that violation of international law results in the death of citizens of that country. Turkey and Syria are on the verge of war right now due to just that kind of incident. While no one expects that Mexico will retaliate militarily, it is that serious of an incident. We have to demand that our public officials conduct a full, independent and transparent investigation of Rodriguez’ killing and a top-to-bottom review of Border Patrol policies regarding use of deadly force.  Read more…


The agent (or agents) who fired upon José Antonio Elena Rodríguez would have had to have been standing right along the wall to shoot between the steel bars. As such, the Border Patrol would not have been threatened by rocks flying over it. Had they been, the agents could have simply retreated as the suspected drug smugglers were long gone, having already scaled the barrier and back in Mexican territory.

That the agents did not evade the alleged threats and, instead, responded with deadly force is indicative of what has become an institutional way of life for the U.S. Border Patrol….  Read more…



VIDEO:  US Border Patrol Shoots and Kills a Teen (Aguaprieta, Sonora/Douglas Arizona)

(Video by Brenda Limon for Pan Left video collective:


Undoing Borders:  A Queer Manifesto

by SF Pride at Work’s Migrant Justice Working Group (Like the Border Militarization Study Guide, Undoing Borders is an ongoing draft, adaptable and updateable–and the producers of this document encourage readers to contact them with suggestions and comments)

We…know that the history of the border describes ongoing structural and institutional oppressions that maintain the violence of that line deep into the interior of our country and to the south as well. So, as a skeleton of a skeleton, a scratch at the surface of history, here are some reminders of what came before, with, and through the border:

  • The United States was built on broken treaties with, robbery from, and genocide of indigenous people across the continent.
  • It was built through slave labor and the labor of under- (and often un-) paid immigrants.
  • It grew through the violent acquisition of even more lands, from the Southwestern U.S. to Hawaii to Puerto Rico as well as the Philippines, Guantanamo Bay, the Panama Canal, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • “Free trade” agreements that seek to break down some economic barriers to international trade have always been directly linked to militarization of the border region. For example, NAFTA’s passage was followed by Operation Gatekeeper, which began the current tactic of sealing off popular border-crossing points by building more walls and fences and increasing border personnel, surveillance and other military technology.’
  • The more militarized the border becomes, the more people die trying to cross it. Since 1994, over 5,000 people have died at the border. U.S. policy makers call this “deterrence by death.”
  • This militarization is tied to free trade agreements because it works to trap vulnerable workforces on both sides of the border while granting freedom of movement to capital.

Through this history, we can see that the border is part of a larger cycle of violence. It is rooted in the ongoing colonization, imperialism, and global economic structures that continue to dominate our world. Any conversation about im/migration is not just about people moving across borders or from one country to another. It is inherently rooted in deep-seated racism, classism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, ableism and any other institutional or societal forms of dominance.  Read more…



Partipate in the Valentines National Call-In-Day, Thursday, February 14                                                                 

Call:  202.456.1111 Stop the Deportations! We want Legalization for All!

Stop breaking our hearts! Valentines Day Call-in Day 
Stop dividing families: No more deportations & genuine immigration reform now!

Phone number: 202-456-1111


#StopTheDeportations #LegalizationForAll, no 2nd class ‘guest worker’, no border militarization! @BarackObama @WhiteHouse

Called by the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee
Here is the Script:

“In 2012 over 409,000 immigrants were deported–a record high! I am calling you to demand you STOP THE DEPORTATIONS.

“The ‘Senate bipartisan framework’ isn’t good enough — I want you to push for genuine, progressive immigration reform that consists of:

1. Legalization for *all* — the Senate framework and Obama’s proposal are way too restrictive and punitive. Immigrant workers shouldn’t be treated like criminals or terrorists! 

2. No second-class guest worker programs — full legalization with full equality for immigrant workers, not a gift to corporations of endless temporary low-wage workers with limited rights

3. No more militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border — the border is already too militarized leading to too many deaths. Increasing ‘border security’ means thousands more deaths in the Arizona desert. Since NAFTA, corporations can cross the border freely, why not workers?

4. No increased workplace repression — everyone should have the right to work with dignity and labor rights. Programs like E-Verify should be abolished, not expanded. A national biometric ID card is unpopular and unnecessary.”
Context / Background:

President Obama and the ‘Gang of 8’ Senators have announced their framework for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that they want to pass in this congressional session. On issue after issue, we’ve seen the White House and Congressional Democrats too quick to abandon progressive proposals and give in to conservative bullying. So ideasContext / Background: that start out progressive (like health care reform for example) go through a legislative process that tears out any progressive content and stuffs it full of pro-corporate and repressive ideas. The final product comes out on the other end as at best mediocre or at worst as regressive, counterproductive laws. We already see that pattern with this ‘bipartisan framework’ for immigration reform. It leads off with more repression at the border and in the workplace, and talks vaguely of a punitive, restrictive ‘legalization’ that treats immigrants as criminals and terrorists. This is not a good framework. President Obama, stop the deportations! We want genuine, progressive immigration reform. 

So we are asking EVERYONE NATIONALLY to contact President Barack Obama and The White House on Thursday, February 14 starting @9am Eastern Time. Tell them you want them to stop the deportations, take leadership to stand up for genuine, progressive immigration reform, and you want them to say no to pro-corporate and repressive proposals that are part of the “bipartisan” framework for immigration reform. 

President Obama has the power to stop deportations, stand up for progressive values and push back against conservative, repressive proposals. Let them know that compromise with anti-immigrant ideas is not acceptable. No human being is illegal and all people have dignity and equal rights. We expect them to fight for and push through a genuine, progressive immigrant reform that provides legalization for all, that doesn’t create vast pro-corporate second class guest worker programs, and that doesn’t further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border or expand repressive workplace measures like E-Verify. We expect no less from them. 

Support the call-in day on facebook.
After you’ve contacted them, email us at and let us know how it went and if you got a response. Thank you!
Legalization for All
| | Legalization for



  • Organize a group to study the Border Militarization Study Guide.  For more info send an email to or call 202-544-9355, ext. 3



  • What are some of the different kinds of human rights abuses ocurring as a part of border militarization?  Who is commiting these abuses and where?


  •  “By every measure, the strategy is a failure. All it’s accomplished is killing people….If you had airplanes crashing in this country with the same numbers [of deaths], you’d have everybody after the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. But since these people [dying] are Mexicans, no one seems to care.” -Ron Sanders, former Tucson Border Patrol section chief.  Why are the deaths of migrants in the desert happening? Why are they not widely acknowledged as a human rights crisis? What will it take to stop these deaths?


  • It is very likely we will see immigration reform legislation that simultaneously allows some immigrants to naturalize and increases enforcement—through border militarization, policing and incarceration. How do we respond to this kind of legislation?


  • Undoing Borders talks about a broader concept of borders, and talks about larger currents of history that have lead to border militarization.  How is US border policy a reflection of other schisms in our society?  How is it a culmination of the history of Manifest Destiny and conquest? Does border militarization have anything to do with the concept of Empire?


  • Following is a  photo that shows the view of the border wall from the spot at which José Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed by a hail of US Border Patrol bullets. Border Patrol agents claimed their lives were in danger because of rocks that José Antonio was throwing. Could a 16 year old boy endanger the lives of agents on the other side of the wall by throwing rocks from that angle? Was this a justified killing or an international incident of cold-blooded murder at the hands of the ground troops of border militarization?

Photo by Brenda Limón


A Culture of Cruelty:  Abuse and Impunity in Short-term U.S. Border Patrol Custody

ACLU Statement on Human Rights Violations on the United States-Mexico Border, October 25, 2012

In Hostile Terrain:  Human Rights Violations in Immigration in the US Southwest-Amnesty International




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