Thursday, September 05, 2013

Border War

Once the U.S. House of Representatives deals with President Barack Obama's misguided plan for a Syria attack, the top agenda item will likely be immigration reform. Among the key aspects of that ongoing debate remains what to do with border security. Although the U.S. Senate's immigration reform bill that passed earlier this year is an overall positive step, a "border surge" amendment added at the last minute is problematic as it would add to the militarization of the border. That amendment would result in the U.S. spending millions of dollars to build hundreds of more miles of fence and hire thousands of more armed agents to patrol the border. Yet the border region - it is important to think about the region since the border changes impact more than just the technical border line - is already becoming like a war zone.

Innocent people - including legal citizens - are being harassed and killed. A column in the New York Times recently described this problem and its impact on legal residents in the border region. Additionally, Chris Hershberger Esh, who serves as the Mennonite Central Committee's Context Analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean (and is based in Mexico City), recently blogged about this problem. Chris, who I met during my time this summer with the Mennonite Central Committee - Washington Office, wrote about border violence and explained:
When an agency is armed and funded like a division of the U.S. Military rather than local law enforcement, it will behave like an army fighting a foreign aggressor, not citizens looking out for the safety of those around them. The militarization of the U.S./Mexico border puts agents in a war-zone mentality, where security trumps human rights. ... What would it take to make the border secure? That depends on how one defines "secure." To the government, "secure" means preventing unauthorized people from crossing the border. By that definition, providing more money to further militarize the border is a reasonable response, no matter the human cost. But if "secure" means "safe" (as most English speakers would agree), militarization leads to insecurity, both for the migrants crossing the desert and the agents in charge of stopping them.
The difference between defining "secure" as "closed" and defining it as "safe" is quite substantial. Unfortunately, that distinction seems lost on many in Washington, D.C., including some of those who are otherwise for moral immigration reform.

Hopefully the House will reject the Senate's effort to add to the militarization of the border region. When I spoke last month to Representative Bob Goodlatte, a key figure in the House for immigration reform (see post here), the most positive part of the conversation was his belief that we should not follow the Senate's "border surge." But I do not expect him or Congress to solve many of the current border problems any time soon. Until then, perhaps what is needed are more prophetic challenges to the principalities and powers that seek to divide. In that vein, some Catholic leaders are gathering this Saturday at the border for a communion service. Perhaps there is no better way to witness against the brokenness of the world than by uniting as the Body for communion.

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