As Todd Miller has been reporting for years at TomDispatch, there's one truth seldom mentioned in the endless coverage of this country's border crisis, already reaching a fever pitch in the early days of the Biden administration: whatever happens on that border, whatever the latest policies may be from (not really) building a "big, fat, beautiful wall" to detaining migrant children in prison-like conditions, an ever-growing border-industrial complex (as Miller has long called it) will continue to haul in profits. In the news these days: a growing surge of undocumented immigrants heading for that border, fierce partisan criticism of Biden's early border moves, and unaccompanied children traveling through dangerous desert regions only to end up confined en masse in prison-like detention facilities without showers or a glimpse of "el cielo" (the sky) for days on end. It may be politically poisonous news for a Biden administration attempting to reverse Donald Trump's version of border mania, including halting the building of his "piecemeal border wall," which a New York Times report recently called "one of the costliest megaprojects in United States history," but never for the border-industrial complex.
Climate change is likely to prove a dream, not a nightmare, for the corporations in that complex. It will ensure that migrants, and the fear of them, will only grow in this country in the face of disaster elsewhere, as in November when two powerful hurricanes devastated parts of Central America. As then, so in the future it will continue to send desperate souls northward from destroyed communities toward that increasingly over-built U.S. border.
For the border-industrial complex, however, it all adds up to yet more lucrative work and profits. So let Miller drive you to that very border to catch a glimpse of Trump's ridiculous, fragmentary wall and, while you're at it, have a genuine border-industrial-complex experience. Then check out his new book, Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders, to be published in April. It's likely to be the perfect way to update your border experience. Tom
The Greater the Disaster, the Greater the Profits
The Border-Industrial Complex in the Post-Trump Era
By Todd Miller
In late February, I drove to see the Trump wall in Sasabe, Arizona. As soon as I parked, a green-striped Border Patrol vehicle stationed a quarter of a mile away began to creep down the dirt road toward us. Just ahead, a dystopian "No Trespassing" sign was flapping in the wind. It was cold as I stepped out of the car with my five-year-old son, William. The wall ahead of us, 30-feet high with steel bollards, was indeed imposing as it quavered slightly in the wind. Through its bars we could see Mexico, a broken panorama of hills filled with mesquites backed by a blue sky.
The Homeland Security vehicle soon pulled up next to us. An agent rolled down his window and asked me, "What are you doing? Joyriding?"
After I laughed in response to a word I hadn't heard in years, the agent informed us that we were in a dangerous construction zone, even if this part of the wall had been built four months earlier. I glanced around. There were no bulldozers, excavators, or construction equipment of any sort. I wondered whether the lack of machinery reflected the campaign promise of the recently inaugurated Joe Biden that "not another foot" of Trump's wall would be built.
Indeed, that was why I was here to see what the border looked like as the post-Trump era began. President Biden had started his term with strong promises to reverse the border policies of his predecessor: families torn apart would be reunited and asylum seekers previously forced to stay in Mexico allowed to enter the United States. Given the Trump years, the proposals of the new administration sounded almost revolutionary.
And yet something else bothered me as we drove away: everything looked the same as it had for years. I've been coming to this stretch of border since 2001. I've witnessed its incremental disfigurement during the most dramatic border fortification period in this country's history. In the early 2000s came an influx of Border Patrol agents, followed in 2007 by the construction of a 15-foot wall (that Senator Joe Biden voted for), followed by high-tech surveillance towers, courtesy of a multi-billion-dollar contract with the Boeing Corporation.
Believe me, the forces that shaped our southern border over the decades have been far more powerful than Donald Trump or any individual politician. During the 2020 election, it was commonly asserted that, by getting rid of Trump, the United States would create a more humane border and immigration system. And there was a certain truth to that, but a distinctly limited one. Underneath the theater of partisan politics, there remains a churning border-industrial complex, a conjunction of entrenched interests and relationships between the U.S. government particularly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and private corporations that has received very little attention.
The small border town of Sasabe and its surrounding region is a microcosm of this.
The cumulative force of that complex will now carry on in Trump's wake. Indeed, during the 2020 election the border industry, created through decades of bipartisan fortification, actually donated more money to the Biden campaign and the Democrats than to Trump and the Republicans.
In the 12 years from 2008 to 2020, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) dolled out 105,000 contracts, or a breathtaking average of 24 contracts a day, worth $55 billion to private contractors. That sum exceeded their $52 billion collective budgets for border and immigration enforcement for the 28 years from 1975 to 2003. While those contracts included ones for companies like Fisher Sand and Gravel that built the 30-foot wall my son and I saw in Sasabe, many of them including the most expensive went to companies creating high-tech border fortification, ranging from sophisticated camera systems to advanced biometric and data-processing technologies.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).