_Although the deep harms from the border wall couldn’t be clearer, communities and advocates working to ensure that Trump’s vanity border wall gets taken down before it causes even more damage are facing many challenges as this article notes, which quotes SBCC steering committee member Ricky Garza of Texas Civil Rights Project and SBCC colleagues Laiken Jordahl of the Center for Biological Diversity, Juan Ruiz of the No Border Wall Laredo Coalition, Tannya Benavides, another Laredo-based activist, and Dan Millis of the Sierra Club; our favorite quote from Jordahl, is, “You can’t un-dynamite a mountain, but you can still save a jaguar.”
_In our last edition of Border_Lines, we shared resources on the racist and misogynist origins of both Border Patrol and border enforcement (conducted under a false notion of “border security”), but this first-hand personal account from SBCC Ambassador and former Senior Border Patrol Agent Jenn Budd really drives it home (BTW, article quotes SBCC steering committee member Andrea Guerrero of Alliance San Diego and former Communications Director of Alliance San Diego Hiram Soto).
_Bravo. A big bravo to Democratic congressional members who introduced the bi-cameral U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, a bold, inclusive, and humane framework to rethink immigration policy and border governance. We applaud this important first step to bring us together as a country and move us forward to enact much needed immigration reform that also offers initial recommendations to strengthen border accountability. Overall, the bill humanizes immigrants as people, striking the word “aliens,” and recognizing individuals without legal status, many of whom have lived here for decades, as prospective immigrants. Words matter, and these changes are fundamental to recognizing our shared humanity. In addition, the bill provides pathways to citizenship for immigrant youth and their families, and expands the visa system to align with our values. Notably, the bill also calls for increased oversight and accountability of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and improved infrastructure at our ports of entry, our nation’s gateways for travel and trade_which ultimately support job creation throughout the United States_and strengthens relationships with our neighbors and the rest of the world. In many ways, the bill aligns with our New Border Vision to uphold human rights, expand public safety, and welcome people at our borders, but there is still room for improvement in the bill to put our values into practice and exercise good governance. To that end, we make these initial five recommendations:
- Create a dedicated special prosecutorial unit at the Department of Justice to address violent crime and serious corruption committed by U.S. border agents in violation of federal criminal law.
- Specify that use-of-force policies, training and continuing education include best practices to limit force and de-escalate to save lives and protect rights.
- Ensure that no surveillance system or other technologies are used until and unless DHS OIG certifies its necessity, compliance with privacy protections, and responsiveness to stakeholder concerns.
- Require the GAO study on the impact of the DHS authority to waive local, state, and federal laws to build walls and other barriers is conducted within 180 days of enactment (a deadline is needed) and is concluded by a rescission of the waiver authority.
- End the life threatening tactics of the consequence delivery system to prevent deaths and prioritize life.
For more about these recommendations, see SBCC’s statement here. Let’s hope that the future is bright for this immigration reform proposal. It’s way past time. ¡Pa’lante!
_Poke in the “Sky”. So one thing we’ve noticed is the Biden Administration is pivoting towards the use of surveillance technologies (aka, “smart border” wall) as an alternative to a physical barrier (i.e., versus Trump’s harmful vanity border wall). But this feels like a proverbial poke in the sky. Border communities don’t feel like we need any more tech “eyes” on us, which represent an enormous threat to our privacy and constitutional protections and many still pose harms to environment_not to mention border tech’s track record as a major boondoggle, raising questions about how to best use our taxpayer dollars. This is why we urge a thorough assessment and proper certification of the need for any surveillance technologies prior to their deployment. And then we came across this riveting report Biden’s Border – The industry, the Democrats and the 2020 elections, which was co-published by Transnational Institute, American Friends Service Committee, and Mijente, and reveals that presidential candidate Biden received $5.36 million from executives and leading employees of the border industry, which was three times more than the donations received by Trump ($1.73 million). Which made us wonder… According to the authors, “the report analyzes 2020 elections campaign contributions data that show that 13 leading border security and immigration detention firms donated more than $40 million to both political parties but favored Democrats (55%) over Republicans (45%).” The report also looks at donations made to members of congressional appropriations and homeland security committees. Border activist and Author Todd Miller notes, “This report reveals the profound and pervasive connections of money and influence between security and arms corporations and politicians. If Democrats truly want to oppose the cruelty and deadliness of this enforcement apparatus, they will have to do much more than reverse Trump’s inhumane policies. They will have to challenge this entrenched and lucrative system, including the infrastructure and technology that facilitates it and the industry that thrives off it.” Amen.
_Breaking Heart News. We recently learned more details of the shooting death of Diosmani Ramos (¡presente!), 23, a Cuban national who was fatally shot six times in the chest by a Border Patrol agent near Hidalgo, Texas, on January 29 (Note: media report is from Univision, a U.S.-based Spanish-speaking media outlet). According to his significant other, Helen Diéguez, once Diosmani set foot on the embankment of the Rio Grande on the U.S. side, a Border Patrol agent ran up to him pointing his weapon. Diosmani picked up a rock and the agent demanded he drop the rock. When Diosmani didn’t do so immediately, the agent shot him in the chest. Diosmani fell to the ground writhing in pain, and after the agent demanded again that he release the rock, he shot him five more times. Dieguez felt she had witnessed a homicide. Tragically, we have seen the brutal consequences of excessive use of force before. Diosmani is one of nearly 120 deaths since 2010 of people who have encountered border enforcement officials. Zero agents have been held accountable in use-of-force deaths. #JusticeNow
_It will take a village. We want to put a quash on the fears we’re hearing from both conservative Republicans and moderate Democrats that there will be a huge, uncontrollable influx of refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border because of the more humane (i.e., non-Trumpian) immigration policies promulgated by the Biden Administration. Please take a chill pill. Border communities can handle it, we’ve done it before and we can do it again. As SBCC co-chair Lilian Serrano of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium notes in this article, “The problem is not the folks who come from other countries, the problem is that, as a country, we are not treating them with dignity and humanity.” It will take a coordinated whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach (en pocas palabras, it will take a village). Thousands of volunteers, supported by border cities and counties, have welcomed refugees before and we stand ready to do so again. We also want to belatedly thank a bipartisan bill introduced by New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich and Texas Senator John Cornyn that aims to set aside reimbursement funds for southern border communities if a local humanitarian response is required in response to this influx. The Southern Border Communities Reimbursement Act would appropriate $30 million in Fiscal Years 2021, 2022 and 2023 through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, of which $25 million would be earmarked for jurisdictions or local recipient organizations in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas; and $5 million for those located elsewhere. This funding would certainly help and we urge Congress to pass the bill.
_Deja Vu all over again. After four years of relentless human rights violations, it has been a breath of fresh air to see an administration that seems more caring about ensuring overall human dignity. But this was at odds with DHS’s new Interim guidelines on Enforcement and Removal that reinforce a misguided notion that all people that cross “unlawfully between and at ports of entry” are an immediate enforcement priority. C’mon! This policy fails to acknowledge that the main reason people cross unlawfully is precisely because of our failed policies on efficiently welcoming people seeking safety at our ports of entry. The Biden Administration should learn from mistakes made in the past and stop criminalizing migration, especially when U.S. policies on drug control, climate change, and trade have forced the hand of those seeking safety. Please read this excellent summary_written by our colleagues at the National Immigration Justice Center_that explains why these enforcement priorities are bad news and suggests actions the Administration should engage in instead, like ending immigration detention. We can do better.
border_lines is published every Friday for your reading pleasure. If you’d like to submit an item for inclusion, please email Vicki B. Gaubeca at [email protected], by Wednesday COB. The Southern Border Communities Coalition is a program of Alliance San Diego.