Immigration reform now seems certain to pass the Senate, in an amended bill that may attract as many as 70 votes from both parties. If the House of Representatives ever escapes the control of its extremist minority, that legislation could improve life for millions of undocumented workers and their families. But the costs of any likely compromise include a “surge” that will rapidly double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol to 40,00 agents, along with much more fencing and surveillance technology.
The Senate bill’s expensive “security enhancements” were included to satisfy or silence Republican complaints about the supposedly porous border, although that appears to be more an excuse to oppose reform than a reality. Illegal border crossings have declined precipitously over the past few years as deportations have increased, and the number of arrests by the average Border Patrol agent has dropped from as many as 100 to only 19 annually.
So why do we need so many more agents peering over at Mexico? Evidently thousands of additional armed and uniformed men – along with the fencing and high-tech surveillance gadgets, all of dubious value – are necessary so that legislators can proclaim their own toughness. But there are potentially deadly consequences to bringing on a huge, rapid influx of inexperienced personnel.
Over the past few years, Border Patrol agents have killed a number of innocent civilians in several incidents that indicate overzealous attitudes and inadequate training. A federal grand jury is examining the terrible case of a Mexican man apparently murdered, as witnesses watched, by agents who beat him and shocked him repeatedly with tasers while his hands were bound. The San Diego, CA, Coroner’s Office classified his death as a homicide. At least eight others, only one with any connection to criminality, were killed in cross-border shootings that have understandably outraged the government and people of Mexico.
Journalist and filmmaker John Carlos Frey first exposed these lethal incidents — and the troubling disorder in the Border Patrol – with a series of prize-winning broadcasts and articles over the past year. (His work can be found at www.theinvestigativefund.org/reporters/johncarlosfrey.) In one such case, examined by Frey in the May issue of The Washington Monthly, Border Patrol agents reacted to rocks thrown across the border with a volley of gunfire into the streets of Nogales, Mexico. Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, an unarmed young man strolling through the neighborhood, was hit twice in the back of the head and six times in the back. He fell and died on the spot.