Border Enforcement and Short-Term Detention

Border Enforcement

Since 1994, the U.S. government has spent an estimated $35 billion to “secure” the U.S.-Mexico border. From 1993 to 2008, the number of Border Patrol agents has exploded from approximately 4,000 to 18,049 and the amount of spending on border enforcement has increased tenfold from $1 to $10.2 billion per year.

CBP’s $10.2 billion budget for 2008 reflects a 31.4% increase over 2007. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is now the largest arms-bearing branch of the U.S. government, excluding the military.

By the end of President Bush’s second term, CBP plans to have completed 600 miles of border fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. CBP has also recently implemented a program to deploy drone aircrafts along the U.S.-Canada border.

Militarization of the U.S. border continues to accelerate. Instead of providing effective measures to ensure safety, recent enforcement trends utilized by CBP only serve to further the relationship between immigration enforcement and human rights abuses.

Current Tactics are Ineffective

Despite exponential increases in enforcement spending and the number of border agents in recent years, there is no evidence that increased CBP funding has limited the number of unauthorized migrants entering the U.S.

In fact, the number of migrants crossing the border has more than doubled since 1993, from 400,000 a year to almost 1 million. Apprehensions have not increased, either. There were 1,031,668 border apprehensions in 1993, 931,557 in 2003, and 1,020,438 in 2008.

Building fences along the border merely channels migration to other places, usually more remote and dangerous terrain, and results in increased deaths and cases of human smuggling. For example, after triple-fencing was constructed in San Diego, arrests of undocumented immigrants there dropped 300% between 1994 – 2002, but arrests in the Tuscon, Arizona sector increased 342% during this same period. The government claimed victory for reducing unlawful immigration in San Diego when in reality, it has just moved elsewhere.

Between 1994 and 2006, more than 4,000 people have died trying to cross the U.S. border. This is 15 times more lives than the Berlin Wall claimed in its 28 years of existence.

Big Business Along the Border

Border security has historically been considered the sole responsibility of the federal government. But as part of the government’s “Secure Border Initiative,” it awarded The Boeing Company a $2.5 billion contract in 2006 to build a new security system along the U.S.-Mexico border. Boeing’s contract bid included plans to build 1,800 towers along the northern and southern borders equipped with radar, cameras, and infrared sensors to detect border crossings at night. The privatization of border security operations only serves to provide incentives for the continued build-up of securitization.

Article: “Boeing Wins Deal for Border Security”, Washington Post, Sept. 19, 2006.

Recent Boeing News Release

Violence and Death are the Consequences of Enforcement

Border militarization hurts the 11.8 million people living along the border. Border communities are subjected to systematic harassment, racial profiling, and human and civil rights violations by CBP agents and armed civilian vigilante groups who have taken up enforcement roles and operate with impunity.

Reports of violent tactics used by CBP agents include “dusting,” or the dropping of rocks and dirt on migrants from helicopters as they traverse the desert, forced exercise, and physical and sexual abuse of migrants awaiting deportation.

In November 1995, a 12-year old girl camped with a friend in a vacant lot behind her home in Pirtleville, Arizona. She’d been asleep, curled up in a ball in their tent, when she awoke suddenly to a sharp pain in her knee. She had been shot. A bullet went though her knee and missed her head by five inches on its exit from her body. According to the Border Patrol agent’s account, he shot at the girls because he thought that they were “illegal immigrants” or dogs. The young girl was rushed to the hospital where she had the first of many surgeries to restore her knee. The agent was suspended with pay and later transferred to another Border Patrol station. This is just one of hundreds of documented cases of the consequences of Border Patrol violence against migrants.
[Source: “Justice on the Line,” Border Action Network:]

On January 12, 2007, Border Patrol agent Nicholas Corbett shot and killed Mexican migrant Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera just hours after he had crossed the border. Dominguez’s three companions claim he was surrendering when he was shot, and Corbett maintains that his action was in self defense because Dominguez had the intention of smashing Corbett’s head with a rock.

The killing was condemned by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who asked for an exhaustive investigation, but the case has been dismissed without prejudice, meaning that charges may be raised again. Corbett is currently assigned to office work, and it is unclear if he will return to the field. Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar stands by Corbett and offered him support throughout his case.

The decision to drop the case has been criticized by human rights advocates. Isabel Garcia, founder of Derechos Humanos, stated, "This climate of impunity for Border Patrol agents and the attitude of total misinformation and lies about immigrants prevent, I think, any real justice."
[Source: “Unanswered questions remain for U.S. border agent,” International Herald Tribune, December 13, 2008.]

Short-Term Detention

Individuals held in short-term custody (under 72 hours) by CBP for immediate deportation are often subjected to harsh conditions and abuse, with no safeguards assuring them food, water, or basic medical care during their detention.

No More Deaths, an advocacy group in Arizona focused on asserting the right to provide direct humanitarian aid to migrants in border regions, issued a 2008 report on CBP abuses during short-term custody and deportations along the U.S.-Mexico border. Their findings highlight human rights abuses in sites which operate with little oversight as many migrants pass through the U.S. immigration system so quickly that their stories of abuse often fall through the cracks.

Click here to read the report issued in September of 2008 that includes testimonials of abuse and recommendations for reform.

What Does a Real Border Security Strategy Look Like?

In November of 2008, the Border Network for Human Rights, the Border Action Network, and the U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force published a “U.S.-Mexico Border Policy Report” with recommendations for effective policy along the U.S.-Mexico border, highlighting the fluid and interdependent nature of border communities.

Below is a summary of the Task Force’s recommendations:

Communities are more secure when border enforcement policies focus on
the criminal element and engage immigrants in fighting the real dangers
facing us. Community security is an integral part of national and border security,
but we need to stop treating the immigrant as the greatest threat, focusing instead
on dangerous criminals, traffickers, and exploiters in border and immigrant

Communities are safer when we implement policies that ensure
accountability and provide local oversight of enforcement activities.
Border enforcement policies, projects, and agencies need to be accountable to the
communities in which they operate. To ensure that this occurs, the U.S. Congress
needs to create an independent oversight and review commission. Additional
operational and policy recommendations include improved human rights training of
officers, strengthened complaint procedures, and measures to end racial profiling in
the borderlands.

Communities flourish when Ports of Entry are treated as vital gateways to
America. Ports of Entry are America’s gateway. They are vital to the economy and
well-being of the nation and border region, and they deserve major investments in
staffing and infrastructure to expedite crossings and reduce the economic impact of
long border delays. Dramatic overhaul of complaint and oversight procedures is
needed to ensure that the rights of border crossers are protected.

Communities are stronger and lives are saved when we replace border
blockade operations with more sensible enforcement. Comprehensive
immigration reform will eliminate the need for mass border enforcement
“operations” that are responsible for hundreds of deaths annually. Implementation
of border enforcement actions, technologies, and infrastructure need to take into
account impacted communities and the environment.

Communities are literally divided by the devastating impact of the border
wall, the construction of which should be halted. The construction of the
border wall should immediately stop due to its overwhelming social, environmental,
and legal impacts. Just from a cost-effectiveness standpoint, the current border wall
and fencing projects have not proven successful in stopping immigration flows,
while construction costs have nearly doubled from $4.5 million per mile to $7.5
million per mile.

Communities are safer when local law enforcement is not pressed into
immigration-enforcement roles. Federal immigration laws involve complicated
administrative and criminal issues, and local law-enforcement agencies should not
be forced to assume the role of federal immigration enforcement. Federal and state
laws and resources should not be used to pressure local agencies to undertake
these activities.

Communities are safer when the military is not used to enforce civilian
law. The military does not belong in civilian law enforcement, even indirectly.
Demonstrated risks to civilians of military operations in support of civilian law
enforcement should be eliminated. Loopholes in the Posse Comitatus Act governing
the National Guard should be closed.

Communities are destabilized by harsh detention and removal practices.
It is essential to dramatically overhaul detention practices and the
manner in which we conduct removals. We propose a series of specific
reforms to improve the human rights conditions of the U.S. detention and
deportation system, which currently has little oversight and accountability.

All communities benefit by engaging the root causes of migratory
pressures. Comprehensive economic development is the long-term
solution. Just and comprehensive development in the U.S. borderlands, the U.S.
interior, and the Mexican interior, is the long-term solution to migratory pressures.

Click here for the full report.


Southern U.S. Border

Border Action Network

Border Network for Human Rights

Coalicion de Derechos Humanos

No More Deaths

Humane Borders


Border Ambassadors

American Friends Service Committee

Northern U.S. Border

Vive, Inc.

Freedom House

Detainment Task Force of Syracuse

Vermont Refugee Assistance