The Corker-Hoeven Amendment moved one step closer to being added to Senate Bill 744 yesterday with a 67-27 vote on a motion to invoke cloture. The Corker-Hoeven Amendment deals a great blow to border communities and privacy advocates. The Amendment essentially creates a separate country located on our southern border governed by Border Patrol Agents and unprecedented amounts of technological devices. The amendment is so dramatic that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told CNN that the U.S. would have the "most militarized border" since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
While some may argue Sen. McCain's statement is simply political rhetoric meant to appease Republicans in the House of Representatives, the passage of this bill would in fact have devastating consequences for those who live along our nation's southern border. The amendment introduced by two Republican Senators from Tennessee and North Dakota adds 20,000 more border patrol agents than previously sought and an additional 700 miles of fencing. While the media is quick to point out these numbers, what is less reported about the "border surge" amendment is the $4.5 billion of technology that will also be added to the southern border.
This technology includes VADER (military) radar systems, integrated fixed towers, drones, fixed cameras, mobile surveillance system, and ground sensors. In Arizona alone this will mean 50 integrated fixed towers, 73 fixed camera systems (which include Remote Video Surveillance Systems), 28 mobile surveillance systems, and 685 seismic, imaging, or infared ground sensors.
Immigration reform is no doubt needed, but the increased militarization is too high of a price to pay. Those living in the borderlands have for years been suffering from the increased harassment that comes with living in a militarized zone. More border patrol agents and more technology will also increase the number of people of color who are incarcerated, not only those who are crossing the border, but also for Latina/o and indigenous people who live in the borderlands. Government intrusion in the daily lives of border residents will become even more normalized and the private firms who develop and sell this technology will soon find willing buyers from local and state governments in the interior.
While militarization of the border will lead to more deaths of those crossing (despite a plan to put rescue beacons in remote areas) and increase harassement and abuse towards local residents from the new border patrol agents, the militarization also sets our country on the path of domestic surveillance in the name of security. Large fences, unmanned aerial vehicles, and agents standing shoulder-to-shoulder will be the new strategy for dealing with domestic issues.
To add further insult, this increased militarization will be paid for by fees generated from immigrants who are applying for status with the federal government. Those registering for provisional status will be funding the militarization that is certain to lead to future migrants dying in the desert.
This is not to say that living with documents in a militarized zone is worse than living in the interior without documents. The argument is that we should not be forced to sacrifice those who live on the border, future immigrants who wish to seek a better life, and those of us in this country who still value our privacy, for a provisional status.
The Corker-Hoeven package was described by one Senator as border security on steroids. Since the Corker-Hoeven Amendment exceeded the required 60 votes, the Amendment will now only need a simple majority to pass the Senate. Advocates for immigration reform have been too passive in the current process. Instead of actively pushing for direct action and demanding change, advocates instead are busy justifying how concessions are needed in the political process to pass a piece of legislation. While the Supreme Court issued today a blow to the Voting Rights Act, it is important to remember that advocates in the 1960's were busy organizing marches from Selma to Montgomery and intentionally pushing their agenda forward despite the violence they were facing. Instead of justifying the militarization of the border, advocates of change should instead be organizing direct action campaigns that create tension within our society to force a real change that benefits those living in the country and our society as a whole.