Media narratives about the border tend to be reductive. It’s just a border wall, for example. Or it’s only people like Donald Trump or the Republicans who want to build it up. In most cases, narratives rarely capture the reality of what the border has become: a massive and expanding monolith that is much bigger, much more expansive, and much more brutal than portrayed. Given the human rights consequences of the border and the daily hardship it creates for people, it’s imperative to understand what it has become, where it’s headed and what it’s made of.
There are many times when you could pinpoint the hyper-militarization of the U.S. border began, but as you’ll see in the following articles, we often start in the year 1994 when the U.S. government announced its “prevention through deterrence” strategy. This strategy called for the fortification of the border with more agents, walls, and technologies in border urban zones such as El Paso, San Diego and Nogales. The idea was that if such cities became impassable then other areas where people would be forced to cross, such as the Arizona desert, would be formidable, even deadly. Since this 1994 strategy was implemented, border and immigration enforcement budgets have gone up dramatically and historically, from $1.5 billion to $26 billion. On the ground this has meant more than 700 miles of border walls, billions and billions of dollars of surveillance technology — including drones, invasive biometrics and detention centers. And it has meant the enrichment of many companies.
The border has long become a massive militarized zone that expands far away from the border itself into hundred mile zones that run along the U.S. international boundaries and coasts. This includes the Caribbean where the “third border” runs out of Puerto Rico and beyond. Alongside “prevention through deterrence,” since 9/11, a principal U.S. border strategy has been its extension through the Western Hemisphere and across the world.
- The United States is polluting the world and locking refugees out examines the compounded crisis of climate change, increased border migration and expanding border enforcement spearheaded by the United States leaving victims with nowhere to go.
- Over 7,000 bodies have been found at the U.S.-Mexican border since the ’90s spotlights the militarization of the U.S. border and “war” against immigrants long preceding the presidency of Donald Trump resulting in thousands of migrant deaths in the southwestern United States.
- The U.S. is wrapping its border wall around the world explains the phenomenon of border imperialism promoted by the United States, a global strategy to contain the harmful byproducts of unfettered capitalism and military occupations driving displacement around the world.
- Under Biden, the border wall is more powerful than ever deconstructs the increasingly profitable border wall apparatus and skyrocketing border enforcement budgets under the Biden Administration.
We hope these articles shatter some of the prevalent narratives about the border and offer a new way of thinking about them. Borders are more than just a wall, but an instrument of empire. They have been and are designed to brutalize people and separate families, no matter what political party is in power in the United States. There is a force of money behind them, and many companies making bank. But most importantly, they are an enforcement apparatus designed to uphold a status quo of a world where business as usual, the proverbial rich getting richer and poor getting poorer in an age of increasing climate chaos.
Violations of international human rights law
Identified articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights violated by the United States Federal Government:
- Article 1: that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights
- Article 2: that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as national origin
- Article 3: that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security
- Article 4: that no one should be held in slavery or servitude
- Article 5: that no one should be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Article 6: that everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law
- Article 7: that all are equal before the law and entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law
- Article 9: that no one should be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile
- Article 10: that everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing in the determination of their civil rights and obligations
- Article 11: that everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
- Article 12: that no one should be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor attacks upon their honor or reputation, and that everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks
- Article 13: that everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state, and that everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their own country
- Article 14: that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution
- Article 15: that everyone has the right to a nationality, and that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality nor denied the right to change their nationality
- Article 22: that everyone has the right to social security and the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable to their dignity and the full realization of their human development, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each state
- Article 25: that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, social services and security in case of loss of livelihood caused by circumstances out of their control
- Article 28: that everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized
- Article 30: that nothing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights may be interpreted as implying for the State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of the human rights it stipulates
Identified core international human rights treaties violated by the United States Federal Government:
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination requires that states revise governmental and other public policies and rescind laws and regulations that perpetuate racial discrimination and pass legislation for prohibiting such discrimination, including discrimination in protection before the law and all forms of civil rights as well as discrimination in access to education, employment, occupation and housing regardless of national origin.
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights elaborates further on the civil and political rights and freedoms listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The treaty requires states to the promotion of equal access to civil and political rights without distinction of any kind, such as disability.
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes a universal framework for international cooperation in the protection and preservation of the most basic economic, social and cultural rights inherent to all human beings regardless of national origin, including the right to work in just and favorable conditions, to social protection, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education and to the enjoyment and benefits of cultural freedom. The United States has not ratified this treaty.
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights elaborates further on the civil and political rights and freedoms listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The treaty requires states to recognize universal equality before the law in the protection of equal access to civil and political rights without distinction of any kind, such as national origin. The treaty also distinguishes children’s rights to protection of equal access to civil and political rights, including the right to acquire a nationality, under the supervision of family, society and the state as required by their status as minors.
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment prohibits all torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The treaty requires states to take legislative, administrative and judicial measures to prevent such acts from taking place during activities that disproportionately target racial minorities and other marginalized identities, such as arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as in the training of police (civil or military) and other officials involved in arrest, detention or interrogation. Given their status as non-citizens and likelihood of experiencing repression in equal access to civil and political rights before the law, refugees and asylum-seekers are particularly vulnerable to experiencing such treatment or punishment.
- Convention on the Rights of Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history not ratified by the United States, establishes a universal framework for the protection and advancement of the rights of children to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity. It affirms the responsibility of the state to protect all children by ensuring that its institutions, services and facilities responsible for their care conform with acceptable standards of safety, health and protection before the law without distinction of any kind, such as national origin.
- Convention of the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance establishes a universal framework for affirming and protecting the victims and families of victims of enforced disappearance, which is defined as any kind of arrest, detention abduction or form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or groups acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state. The United States has not signed nor ratified this treaty.
By Todd Miller (independent journalist)
“Borderlands historian Guadalupe Castillo explains it this way: ‘the nation-state has become the policeman for the corporate world,’ creating borders to “clear the landscape for those […] for whom borders don’t exist,” that is, the ‘one percent.’ The power of that one percent can go wherever it pleases, extracting natural wealth and fossil fuels, while destroying livelihoods and the living earth. Borders aren’t for them but for those who find themselves unable to make ends meet and so are vulnerable to every threat.” (Read more)
By Todd Miller (independent journalist)
“A ‘war’ against immigrants had been declared long before Trump signed the memo to deploy 2,000-4,000 National Guard troops to the border. Indeed, there has been a continuous military presence there since 1989 and the Pentagon has played a crucial role in the historic expansion of the U.S. border security apparatus ever since.” (Read more)
By Todd Miller (independent journalist)
“In other words, the emerging U.S. global border system can be conceptualized in two ways: there are our territorial borders, of course, but increasingly there’s also a global empire of borders meant to promote Washington’s geopolitical, economic and military interests, no matter who is in office.” (Read more)
By Todd Miller (independent journalist)
“In reality, for the Border Patrol, the ‘border wall system,’ as it’s called, is equal parts barrier, technology and personnel. While the Biden Administration has ditched the racist justifications that went with it, officials continue to zealously promote the building of a border wall system that’s increasingly profitable and ever more like something out of a science fiction movie.” (Read more)
This chapter is part of a series in AFGJ’s Human Rights in the United States: 2023 Report
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