What Border Security and Police Violence Have in Common
There’s a connection between the militarization at the border and urban policing in American cities like Ferguson, Chicago, and Baltimore.
Between 1989 and 2012, the budget of Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—born in the 1920s as the “Mounted Guards” who monitored the unauthorized entry of Chinese migrants—had ballooned 750 percent, because Congress kept passing legislation heaping resources at the border: more fences; more checkpoints, more surveillance equipment, more weapons, more personnel. After 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was born, fast-tracking the militarization at the southern border. In this era, CBP became much more than an agency vetting entry and exit, it seemed to engage in domestic crime control and drug interdiction.
Meanwhile, within cities across the country, local police departments beefed up with military-grade tanks, weaponry, and surveillance technology, which research shows are then disproportionately deployed against communities of color. Many also help enforce immigration law. Their objectives, in other words, became conflated. The War on Terror and the War on Drugs melded together, creating a Frankenstein-esque nexus of immigration enforcement and policing.In this era, what law enforcement defines as “the border” became a vast and pliable thing. As CityLab has written (and mapped) before, the CBP operates up to 100 nautical miles within the U.S. boundary, enjoying a wide berth of search and seizure powers inside a massive “border zone” that contains around two-thirds of the country’s population and 75 percent of its Hispanic population. Border patrol agents are free to use race as a factor in making stops; they can set up checkpoints on highways, ask for papers in buses, and stop travelers at train stations. As CBP’s own data show, these tactics appear to be more successful at intercepting U.S. citizens and legal residents with small amounts of marijuana than unauthorized immigrants.
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