Borders Drawn in Blood
by Juan Dolor

The Euro-American-imposed border separating the United States from the rest of the Americas further serves to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots of the Earth. Gold and land-thirsty conquistadors of times past now manifest themselves as the racist and greedy corporate elite who use the force of their Border Patrol and military to protect their interests. Historically, US policies have defined Latin America as its backyard for dumping wastes and for expropriating cultures, labor and environmental resources. Modern "free trade" policies equate to policies of death; deaths caused by the increased militarization of the US/Mexico border. "Free trade" means that the border becomes more open to the flow of merchandise, resources and money, and it becomes more closed to the people and wildlife that are displaced because of these policies. The Border Patrol's current policies of forcing immigrants into remote and dangerous desert regions are directly responsible for the hundreds of immigrant deaths that occur every year. The death toll is expected to rise as US economic policies and international trade agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, WTO and possibly the upcoming FTAA, increasingly destroy the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people in Mexico, Central America and South America. The "war on drugs" is a convenient excuse to further militarize the border and wage low intensity war on immigrants, Mexican/Chicano border communities and the environment.

Established in 1989, Joint Task Force-6 (JTF-6) is a military operation engaged in low intensity warfare, comprised heavily of Army and Marine personnel, whose official mission is to aid local law enforcement agencies in fighting the "war on drugs." Unofficially, JTF-6 is also one of the government's main weapons in the "war on immigrants" from Mexico and Central America. The work of JTF-6 includes military exercises (usually reserved for other parts of the globe) such as development of ground troops, training of local law enforcement agencies and SWAT teams in military tactics, building of walls, construction of roads, surveillance and intelligence training. While JTF-6's jurisdiction now includes the entire continental US and Puerto Rico, the bulk of its operations occur along the border region in the Southwestern states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Federal military units and militarized law enforcement agencies have no respect for the environment, people and communities in which they patrol. The so-called protection of the border has often resulted in massive environmental destruction from manual and mechanical defoliation with habitat destruction resulting from widespread use of chemical and biological agents. Because of this, sensitive riparian habitat along the Rio Grande in Texas is threatened, as well as endangered species habitats in many other border areas.

The escalating militarization of the 2,000-mile long US/Mexico border, headed by JTF-6 and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), threatens the ecological integrity and viability of this diverse and beautiful region. Road building, low-level helicopter flights, troop training and deployment, fence and wall construction and high intensity light surveillance fragment wildlife habitat, obstruct migration routes, prevent proper feeding and breeding patterns and directly kill many animals. These effects are worsened by the fact that nearly all of the land along the bolder is dry and fragile desert, especially susceptible to human impacts. The enormous number of species in need of government protection reflects this fragility. The Arizona border region alone harbors 107 threatened, endangered or other special management species.

Among the more charismatic borderland species that are threatened are the magnificent large cats: jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi, mountain lion and bobcat. True denizens of both Mexico and the US, these species symbolize the uniqueness, cultural diversity and interconnectedness of the border region. Unfortunately, the very existence of these species north of the border is threatened by JTF-6 and INS activities, especially considering the hundreds of missions involving fence construction and vegetation clearing. The extremely imperiled Sonoran pronghorn antelope, of which only 150 remain in Arizona, is also highly threatened by JTF-6 and INS missions and is in danger of becoming extinct in the next 50 years. At the heart of this threat are low-level helicopter flights at less than 200 feet, which have been scientifically shown to separate antelope fawns from their mothers.

JTF-6 and the INS affect an incredible array of habitats. From the rare vernal pools of Southern California, to gallery stands of cottonwoods along the Rio Grande in southern Texas, the Southwestern bolder environment is being sacrificed to the altar of the war against drugs and the war against immigrants. For example, recent fence and road building missions conducted by JTF-6 and the INS near Nogales, Arizona, severely impacted several riparian areas--ecologically critical streamside habitats that comprise less than one percent of the total land area in the Southwest. Threatened and endangered species adversely affected by this degradation include the lesser long-nosed bat and the Sonoran chub. While not as well known as species such as the jaguar and the pronghorn, these species are just as valuable and integral to our borderland ecosystem.

The effects of increased militarization on the border are subtle. This is due to the fact that JTF-6 and INS missions are often small in scale, usually involving a few miles of road construction, temporary troop deployments or fence constructed in isolated, rural environments. However, since their inception 11 years ago, literally thousands of these missions have been carried out, usually with little or no environmental analysis. The number of missions continues to proliferate. While Department of Defense officials may argue that individual projects do not jeopardize border ecosystems, the cumulative effects of these missions are staggering. Among the wide variety of abuses heaped on our desert environments are rock mining, livestock grazing, off road vehicle abuse and groundwater pumping. The militarization of the borderland may present the greatest threat facing the desert today.

The militarization of the border has always been justified by the "war on drugs," and from the beginning it has bled over into immigration enforcement. Since the early '80s, interdiction techniques ostensibly deployed to detect drug smuggling have been used to track and detain immigrants as well. This shows little respect for human and civil rights, as the vast majority of immigrants crossing the border are not drug traffickers. In fact, the vast majority of drug traffic passes through "legal" ports of entry, so the ongoing militarization and destruction of the border environment represents a complete misallocation of funds at the very least--unless, of course, the real target is immigrants, forced out into the desert by the Border Patrol. The overlap of these missions has profound social, as well as environmental, impacts in remote areas subject to new immigrant flows.

Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) creates a climate of fear, wherein people who are subjected to it are too afraid of the oppressive government apparatus to resist it. Moreover, such a climate of fear deteriorates the quality of life for people living in and moving through the border region. This climate of fear has led the Tohono O'odham Indian Nation to expel JTF-6, due to ongoing harassment, physical and psychological abuse. Such abuse is inherently a part of LIC strategy, part and parcel of the war mentality. Everyone who crosses or helps someone else cross is seen as the enemy and treated accordingly. Through the use of this strategy, border residents are made to fear those who cross (due to the war propaganda of dehumanizing and misleading rhetoric), as well as to fear the ever-increasing military occupying forces. LIC has consistently resulted in an increase in violence against women, including physical and sexual assaults and verbal abuse, as its foot soldiers engage in a campaign of terror with little accountability. An anything-goes, warlike atmosphere is imposed along the border.

Along with low intensity war along the border, it is the government's policy to develop and share intelligence among various agencies, even if it overlaps into immigration enforcement. The complete lack of accountability and the sensitivity of low profile, rotating military units also contributes to border abuses. LIC has consistently employed the tactic of creating armed paramilitary groups that work in collaboration with government security forces to further the propagation of fear. These groups operate with impunity as they engage in human rights abuses on behalf of security forces, which are afforded a measure of deniability for the worst transgressions of their policy. We are already seeing this along our border, with racist vigilante groups routinely violating people's rights.

These same racist vigilante groups scapegoat immigrants, blaming them for the many problems within our borders, including environmental degradation. When in fact, it is they and the militarized border enforcement units, who are responsible for these problems. The border guards exist to enforce the separation not only of nations, but also of skin colors. They exist to clean up the fallout of fascist neoliberal policies of Earth exploitation. The same policies give corporations the "rubber stamp" to continue the plunder and genocide of Latin America. Their corporate agenda comes full circle when they create a large population of displaced people heading north, with which they can flood prisons and fuel the growing trend of immigrant prison privatization. The vicious corporate cycle becomes complete, leaving in its wake, a devastated environment and a broken people.

For more info, visit Southwest Alliance to Resist Militarization.

© Earth First! JournalMay-June 2001