When are We Going to Control the Border Patrol?

In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of reports on Border Patrol abuses both at the border itself and in immigration detention facilities and related institutions. Immigrants of all ages, genders, ability statuses, and classes have cited abuse by Border Patrol agents, but, notably, most of this abuse involves the US-Mexico border, and Latino immigrants. In response to complaints filed by victims of abuse, ‘No Action Taken‘ is the most common ‘resolution,’ even in cases where there is clear evidence of abuse and an obvious precedent for disciplining Border Patrol agents.

This is not about a rogue factor within the Border Patrol that gives the institution a bad name. This is about systemic, cultural, militarised violence on the US border, committed by the agents sworn to protect and monitor it — the people who are supposedly trained to treat people with compassion, fairness, and respect. The abuses of the Border Patrol indicate that something sinister is at work behind every level of the agency, from training to posting on site to working in immigration detention facilities, and the United States needs to face up to the fact that this rotten core is not going to magically vanish.

I write frequently about the abuses of the US Border Patrol, and their highly racialised nature. It is not a coincidence that this is an issue along the US-Mexico border and not the Canadian border, and it is not a coincidence that racist immigration rhetoric is mounting in the US. It is not a coincidence that when I return to the US from overseas, I watch white people from other countries being swiftly moved through immigration lines, while people of colour are held up at every stage, often humiliated in the process. It is not a coincidence that the United States, founded by colonisers and immigrants, is a nation where people of colour continue to be regarded as other, outsiders, foreigners — even when we white people ourselves are foreigners on someone else’s soil.

In the face of systemic abuses by the Border Patrol, performed in our name as citizens who allegedly need protecting — from terrorism, from undocumented immigrants who will ‘steal our jobs,’ from dangerous goods — many people seem willing to turn the other cheek, choosing to look the other way rather than confront these abuses. Despite a flood of reports from a variety of human rights organisations charging the Border Patrol with abuse, people, including progressives, have been slow to act on the issue, acting as though it’s not, and shouldn’t be, a priority for the United States.

This is a grave mistake. It’s a mistake because this is a fundamental human rights issue and all people deserve to be treated with respect — curious children shouldn’t be shot for approaching the wall we’ve erected at the border (a wall that shouldn’t exist in the first place), women shouldn’t have to fear rape in detention (people shouldn’t be detained in the first place), men shouldn’t have to fear beating upon arrest (Border Patrol agents should be reshaping their initial interactions with people of interest). The United States prides itself as a human rights leader, and yet allows systemic abuses of this nature to occur right on its own border. This is a great injustice and something the United States must rectify as an intrinsic wrong, but also as an obvious and ridiculous hypocrisy. How can anyone take us seriously as a human rights leader when we can’t even keep the Border Patrol under control?

It’s also a huge mistake for international relations, as other nations take note of the way we treat people who are not citizens. In my international travels, I’ve been warmly welcomed and treated with respect, courtesy, and honour everywhere I go — in part because I have a US passport, and that’s backed with a culture of fear, and in part because I am white. The fact that my country cannot extend the same warm greeting to everyone who seeks to cross its borders, regardless of colour, religion, background, gender, or other factors, is offensive to me. And it’s offensive to our allies as well as nations that might consider entering into negotiations and partnerships with the US.

Why should a nation work with the United States when its own citizens are being detained, beaten, raped, shot, and abused at our borders? What possible incentive could they have for establishing ties of friendship and connection with this country? Right now, the United States seems to rule the international community primarily through intimidation and fear, for nations have learned the cost of not being a friend of ours the hard way, but this has to break someday. It is already breaking, as seen in resistance to US foreign policy and high-handed activities around the world, sometimes with tragic results — in Benghazi, for example, State Department officers died because the United States is incapable of cleaning up its act.

The United States must do the right thing and make major reforms in the Border Patrol. It’s long-past time. Citizens need to be aggressive about contacting their Congresspeople and Senators, writing letters to the Border Patrol and Homeland Security, and pushing for transparency, respect, and compassion on the border. Those who do not are choosing to be complicit in the abuse of foreign nationals along the border, and elsewhere, because the poison of the Border Patrol’s methods is seeping across the country.

We owe it to our fellow humans, to our nation, and to those who cannot speak — the immigrants detained and not given voices, those here on Green Cards who are only in the US on sufferance and can’t get actively involved in political activity, those who are here without documentation who are trying to build lives for ourselves.

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Image: South Texas, Border Patrol Agents, McAllen Horse Patrol Unit, US Customs & Border Patrol, Flickr.