Today the Weekend Reader brings you Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security by Todd Miller. Miller has been researching immigration and border issues for the past 15 years and denounces the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. In Border Patrol Nation, Miller sheds light on the reality of border wars with interviews and on-the-ground research from both sides of the divide.
You can purchase the book here.
In that vast, brightly lit cathedral of science fiction in Phoenix, it isn’t the guns, drones, robots, or fixed surveillance towers and militarized mannequins that startle me most. It is the staggering energy and enthusiasm, so thick in the convention’s air that it envelops you.
This day, I have no doubt that I’m in the presence of a burgeoning new multibillion-dollar industry that has every intention of making not just the border but this entire world of ours its own. I can feel that sense of excitement and possibility from the moment Drew Dodds begins explaining to me just how his company’s Freedom On-the-Move system actually works. He grabs two water bottles close at hand and begins painting a vivid picture of one as a “hill” obstructing “the line of sight to the target,” and the other as that “target”—in fact, an exhausted person migrating “the last mile” after three days in the desert, who might give anything for just such a bottle.
I have met many people in Dodds’s “last mile”—hurt, dehydrated, exhausted in the Arizona “killing field,” a term coined by journalist Margaret Regan in her book The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands. One man’s feet had swelled up so much, thanks to the unrelenting heat and the cactus spines he had stepped on, that he could no longer jam them in his shoes. He had, he told me, continued on anyway in excruciating pain, mile after mile, barefoot on the oven-hot desert floor. Considering that the remains of more than 6,000 people have been recovered from the borderlands since the process of militarization began in the mid-1990s, he was lucky to have made it through alive. And this was the man Dodds was so pumped about nabbing with Freedom On-the-Move’s “spot and stalk” technology; this was his football game.
In the end, though, he abandoned football for reality, summing up his experience this way: “We are bringing the battlefield to the border.” Dodds is echoing the words of Dennis L. Hoffman—an economics professor from Arizona State University who studies future markets for the defense industry—who told the New York Times, “There are only so many missile systems and Apache attack helicopters you can sell. This push toward border security fits very well with the need to create an ongoing stream of revenue.”
However, Dan Millis of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign sees this in an entirely different light. As he told me: “It’s as if the United States is pulling out of Afghanistan and invading Arizona.”
Underscoring Millis’s point is the Border Patrol’s use of the Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VADER) system (manufactured by the company Northrup Grumman) on one of its Predator B drones. The U.S. military has used this “man-hunting” radar system in Afghanistan to locate potential roadside bombers. From October 1, 2012, to January 17, 2013, CBP did its preliminary border-testing phase of the VADER. The surveillance system was incorporated into a drone that made overflights of the Arizona Sonoran desert. As with enemy combatants in Afghanistan, it looked to detect border-crossers in the desert. According to Border Patrol’s “internal reports,” with VADER’s help the agency arrested 1,874 people. The expensive, loud, and buzzing drones over the Sonoran desert in the United States have begun to resemble more and more the ones over the Dashti Margo desert region in Afghanistan, and from the halls of U.S. Congress they are asking for more.