As with the rest of our homeland security state, when it comes to border security, reality checks aren't often in the cards. The money just pours into a world of remarkable secrecy and unaccountability. Last week, however, the Government Accountability Office released a report about a Transportation Security Administration decision to spend $200 million a year on a "behavioral screening program" involving 3,000 "behavior detection officers" at 176 airports. The GAO concluded that, $1 billion later, it worked "probably no better than chance." Put another way, 3,000 specially trained TSA agents could rely on their expensive profiling techniques to pick twitchy passengers out of screening lines as likely terrorists, or they could look at you and flip a coin.
The lesson here: nothing, not even a program without meaningful content that costs an arm and a leg, will stop our national security officials from constantly up-armoring this country and so making it more secure from one of the least pressing dangers Americans face: terrorism. That endless securitization process is transparent in a way that, until the Snowden revelations, nothing much else about our security state was. Any alarming incident, any nut who tries to light his shoes or stashes a bomb in his underwear or enters an airport and blows away a TSA agent, and you promptly get the next set of calls for more: more weaponry, more surveillance, more guards, more draconian regulations, more security technology, more high-tech walls, more billions of dollars going to one "complex" or another, and more of what passes in twenty-first-century America for safety. Much of this -- like that TSA profiling program or our vast set of global eavesdropping operations -- has a kind of coin-flipping quality to it.
Still, it should never be claimed that this mania for what we insist on calling "security" provides no security for anyone. After all, it guarantees the safety of those officially guarding us. They always know that some small set of maniacs or other will make sure the funding never stops, their jobs will remain secure, and the military-industrial-complex, homeland-security complex, and border-security complex will continue to thrive in a country that's been looking a little on the peaked side of late. In this context, TomDispatch regular Todd Miller, who covers our borderlands for this site, offers us the latest news about how to keep border security rolling in dough. The formula is simple enough, if nonetheless startling: stop thinking of our borders as just those strips of land running between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada. Turning borderlands into Border World is the obvious way to create a cash cow. Tom
Border Patrol International
"The American Homeland Is the Planet"
By Todd Miller
It isn't exactly the towering 20-foot wall that runs like a scar through significant parts of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Imagine instead the sort of metal police barricades you see at protests. These are unevenly lined up like so many crooked teeth on the Dominican Republic's side of the river that acts as its border with Haiti. Like dazed versions of U.S. Border Patrol agents, the armed Dominican border guards sit at their assigned posts, staring at the opposite shore. There, on Haitian territory, children splash in the water and women wash clothes on rocks.- Advertisement -
One of those CESFRONT (Specialized Border Security Corps) guards, carrying an assault rifle, is walking six young Haitian men back to the main base in Dajabon, which is painted desert camouflage as if it were in a Middle Eastern war zone.
If the scene looks like a five-and-dime version of what happens on the U.S. southern border, that's because it is. The enforcement model the Dominican Republic uses to police its boundary with Haiti is an import from the United States.
CESFRONT itself is, in fact, an outgrowth of a U.S. effort to promote "strong borders" abroad as part of its Global War on Terror. So U.S. Consul-General Michael Schimmel told a group from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic in the Dominican Republic back in 2008, according to an internal report written by the law students along with the Dominican immigrant solidarity organization Solidaridad Fronteriza. The U.S. military, he added, was training the Dominican border patrol in "professionalism."
Schimmel was explaining an overlooked manifestation of U.S. imperial policy in the post-9/11 era. Militarized borders are becoming ever more common throughout the world, especially in areas of U.S. influence.
CESFRONT's Dajabon commander is Colonel Juan de Jesus Cruz, a stout, Napoleonic figure with a booming voice. Watching the colonel interact with those detained Haitian teenagers was my first brush with how Washington's "strong borders" abroad policy plays out on the ground. The CESFRONT base in Dajabon is located near the Massacre River that divides the two countries. Its name is a grim reminder of a time in 1937 when Dominican forces slaughtered an estimated 20,000 Haitians in what has been called the "twentieth century's least-remembered act of genocide." That act ensured the imposition of a 227-mile boundary between the two countries that share the same island.
As rain falls and the sky growls, Cruz points to the drenched young Haitians and says a single word, "ilegales," his index finger hovering in the air. The word "illegals" doesn't settle well with one of the teenagers, who glares at the colonel and replies defiantly, "We have come because of hunger."- Advertisement -
His claim is corroborated by every report about conditions in Haiti, but the colonel responds, "You have resources there," with the spirit of a man who relishes a debate.
The teenager, who will undoubtedly soon be expelled from the Dominican Republic like so many other Haitians (including, these days, people of Haitian descent born in the country), gives the colonel a withering look. He's clearly boiling inside. "There's hunger in Haiti. There's poverty in Haiti. There is no way the colonel could not see that," he tells Cruz. "You are right on the border."
This tense, uneasy, and commonplace interaction is one of countless numbers of similar moments spanning continents from Latin America and Africa to the Middle East and Asia. On one side, a man in a uniform with a gun and the authority to detain, deport, or sometimes even kill; on the other, people with the most fundamental of unmet needs and without the proper documentation to cross an international boundary. Such people, uprooted, in flight, in pain, in desperate straits, are today ever more commonly dismissed, if they're lucky, as the equivalent of criminals, or if they aren't so lucky, labeled "terrorists" and treated accordingly.
In a seminal article "Where's the U.S. Border?," Michael Flynn, founder of the Global Detention Project, described the expansion of U.S. "border enforcement" to the planet in the context of the Global War on Terror as essentially a new way of defining national sovereignty. "U.S. border control efforts," he argued, "have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in recent years as the United States has attempted to implement practices aimed at stopping migrants long before they reach U.S. shores."