The recent deployment of members of the National Guard along New Mexico’s Mexican border delicately straddles the
Posse Comitatus Act
, and smudges the already blurry lines between police, military and private contractors.
Posse Comitatus is the 1878 law that prevents the military from acting as law enforcement. It is intended to prevent us folks here in the “land of the free” from living in a police state or under conditions of martial law. Because of Posse Comitatus, the guardsmen are assigned “support” roles, although they are working more directly—albeit in unspecified ways—with Border Patrol than they did when deployed on the border in 2005 by President George W Bush.
What has been disclosed is that the National Guard will use military strategies and technology to detect border activity, and then alert “law enforcement.” But at what point does the distinction become a technicality between who exactly pulls the trigger or slaps on the cuffs? If we can agree that military personnel who remotely pilot drones from facilities in the US are, in fact, killing people when they push the buttons that drop bombs and fire missiles, we can agree that National Guard members who identify criminal activity on the border and direct action to intercept it are, indeed, policing.
Anyone who has spent time along the border knows how much it already feels like a police state and how intimidating border patrol officers can be. And anyone who has spent time along the border has probably seen the strong presence of Wackenhut, a private security contractor that recently rebadged itself as G4S under the direction of the British company that has owned it since 2004. Whatever the moniker, the private firm is actively engaged in deportation services on behalf of the US government along the
Certainly violence along the border is out of control and needs a resolution. But the Mexican side of the border is, at this point, so dangerous and corrupt that many of the immigrants crossing the border illegally can rightly be identified, first and foremost, as refugees. The radical militarization of the border, however—law enforcement, National Guard and private contractors operating, for all intents and purposes, in unison—leaves no room for such distinctions.
Proponents of militarizing the border maintain the intrusion of Mexican drug cartels into the United States constitutes something beyond criminal activity, and even beyond a national security issue. For them, it’s an invasion by hostile forces (yes, some people believe that Mexico is, once more, invading the US) and the National Guard should be authorized for direct action. But if, under that logic, we choose to defend our border militarily, do we not have an obligation to protect and possibly even harbor the innocent refugee victims of this “invasion”?
The bottom line is that border issues—like the problems of illegal drugs, the economy and terrorism—will never be resolved until the underlying issues are addressed. US responsibility for border problems (and illegal drugs, the economy and even terrorism, for that matter) begins with the policies, regulations and legal decisions that have allowed phenomenal income disparity and the routing of the middle class.
As long as we allow massive corporations—controlled not by their shareholders, as we’re told, but by a privileged few—to funnel wealth toward a fraction of the population (even as the cost of cleaning up after them drains money from social services and public infrastructure), we’ll be unable to cure our ills.
Huge paychecks for upper management, rampant outsourcing of blue- and white-collar jobs, regulatory practices that discriminate against small businesses and decades of stagnant income levels have decimated our once strong middle class.
Those who sink toward poverty or are raised in it are more likely to feed the illicit drug trade either as users or sellers. They also are more likely to be ghettoized by half-hearted and overly militaristic drug enforcement policies. At the same time, their abilities to engage in civic discourse are waylaid by misinformation campaigns funded by the judicially sanctioned influx of corporate money into political campaigns, righteous apathy, and crippled public education and health sectors.
When the concentration of wealth and the sprawl of poverty are so profoundly tolerated in the national consciousness, it’s impossible to strike the kind of fair exchange of legitimate goods and services that can mend economic and social woes on both sides of the border. It’s also impossible to rein in the environmental and social devastation wrought around the globe by powerful US corporations—devastation that is the true source of the resentment that breeds extremism and terrorists.
But we’re too busy living in fear of mosques and Mexicans to bother with taxing the rich, let alone using our resources to police them and guard ourselves from real threats.
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