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Security Issues on the Texas-Mexico Border? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Belén Fernández   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 10:55

In the Texas border town of McAllen last month, a Border Patrol Agent—we’ll call him S.—recounted to me his experience during a recent excursion to a different stretch of the Texas-Mexico frontier near El Paso, northwest of McAllen.  

According to S., he and other officials were visiting a particular section of the international boundary when an evacuation order was given and attack helicopters were called in. (“We don’t have that equipment in McAllen,” S. remarked.) It was eventually determined that there was in fact no emergency and that a goatherd on the Mexican side of the border was simply in possession of a stick that resembled a weapon.
 
As for other effective government responses to threats emanating from Mexico, S. acknowledged that the U.S.-Mexico border fence—construction of which began in 2006 and which reportedly cost up to $21 million per mile in California—has stanched neither drug trafficking nor illegal immigration. He did, however, optimistically reckon that the intermittent gaps in the fence encouraged traffickers and immigrants to concentrate their movements in these specific areas, where they could then theoretically be more easily apprehended.
 
Last year, the New York Times cited the estimate by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that “it would cost $6.5 billion ‘to deploy, operate and maintain’ the existing border fencing over an expected maximum lifetime of 20 years. The agency reported repairing 4,037 breaches in 2010 alone.”
 
Speaking with residents of McAllen, I encountered no love for the security fence. One woman questioned why millions of tax dollars were sustaining the project when cocaine and marijuana could be catapulted over the top with slingshots or transported via rail-equipped tunnels. The manager of a local irrigation district whose employees repeatedly encountered Central Americans among pumping plant infrastructure along the Rio Grande River ranted about the fence’s failure to curb human traffic, and wanted to know if I had seen the Nat Geo television special that featured “the illegals” scurrying about like rats under a Border Patrol helicopter.
 
When I asked the man, whose last name was incidentally also Hispanic, whether we did not share a common humanity with the migrants, he reiterated that they were illegal. He refused to provide an explanation as to why illegality as conceived of by a nation with a recent history of illegally invading other countries and prompting the deaths of over one million Iraqis should be sacrosanct.
 
Border Patrol Agent S. meanwhile informed me that he and his colleagues received regular praise for their work from the local citizenry but that they were often advised to simply shoot persons who did not stay on their side of the fence.
 
This border cleansing formula becomes a bit trickier, of course, if one considers excerpts from recent news items such as the following:
 
“Because of a decades-old treaty with Mexico prohibiting building in the Rio Grande floodplain, the government built its border fence more than a mile north of the snaky river, trapping tens of thousands of acres of Texas--land in Cameron and Hidalgo counties--on the wrong side of the fence.”
 
As a result, some Texans “live completely on the other side” of the wall, while “[o]thers had their property split in half by the fence, after the government seized portions of their land.”
 
It thus appears that the U.S. has failed to learn from the Israeli example that it is advisable to place walls on your neighbors’ land rather than on your own.
 
The utility of melding Israel’s enemies with other menaces lurking on the southern border has not, however, been lost on sectors of the foreign policy community. The current hype over an alleged Latin America-based alliance against the U.S. between Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and Hamas militants, drug cartels, leftists, and any other potentially unsavory regional outfit or trend has produced such ludicrous assessments as that, given similarities between Mexican and Lebanese terrain, Hezbollah is instructing drug smugglers in the art of tunnel construction.
 
Congresswoman Sue Myrick meanwhile warned the Department of Homeland Security in 2010 of a proliferation of Farsi tattoos among imprisoned gang members in the U.S., “impl[ying] a Persian influence,” and of the possibility that Iranians and Hezbollah members might learn Spanish in Venezuela and then attempt to cross the U.S. border posing as Mexicans.
 
Vanessa Neumann, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, complained last month that 
for all this massive spending on fighting terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to them here, on a number of fronts. First and foremost, the United States is under territorial threat through its Mexican border. Hezbollah operatives have already been smuggled, along with drugs and weapons, in tunnels dug under the border with the US by Mexican drug cartels. Only a week after my October 5th interview by KT McFarland on Fox, where I specifically warned of a possibility of this resulting in a terrorist attack carried out inside the US with the complicity of South American drug traffickers, the global press revealed a plot by the elite Iranian Quds Force to utilize the Mexican gang Los Zetas to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington in a bombing that would have murdered many Americans on their lunch hour.
Never mind other reports by the global press establishing that the “elite Iranian Quds force” actually consisted of an absentminded used-car salesman in Texas.
 
Border Patrol Agent S.’s assertion that there had been no concrete evidence of collaboration on the border between Islamic groups and drug traffickers meanwhile merely underscores how far the national security apparatus still has to go to keep pace with political- and financially-motivated fearmongering—and hints at the kind of threats goatherds may have to look forward to. 
 
Belén Fernández is an editor at PULSE Media and the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso in 2011. Her articles have appeared at Al Jazeera, the London Review of Books blog, Guernica Magazine, and various other publications.
 

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