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A huge border regime of surveillance, prosecution, and deportation is already in existence, says journalist Todd Miller

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. While building a greater bigger wall between Mexico and US might be gaining much right wing racist fanfare for Donald Trump’s campaign, the truth is that there has been a bipartisan government effort over the last quarter of the century to put in place an unprecedented array of walls, protection systems, and guards for that southern border of ours says our next guest Todd Miller. In his article penned in Tom Dispatch titled, the Great Mexican Wall of Deception. We’re going to dig into this issue with Todd Miller. Todd is a journalist based in Tucson, Arizona cover border issues, he’s the author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatchers from the Frontlines of Homeland Security. Todd thanks so much for joining us again. TODD MILLER: It’s great to be here. PERIES: So Todd in the last 25 years the number of border patrols have increased from 4,000 to 21,000 you wrote in your article. And add to that the custom agents and the budget of managing all of this. Describe the scale of the investment and who is responsible for that. MILLER: Sure. First of all, it’s historic. It’s unprecedented. There has never been tis many for example border patrol agents. It’s a 5-fold increase since the early 1990’s. The budget without accounting for inflation, have increased 12 fold. In the early 1990’s there was a 1.5 billion annual budget for border and immigration [inaud.] Now it’s about 19.5 billion dollars and this is the US federal government. That number is also significant, the 19.5 billion dollars because it’s more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. And those are big agencies such as the FBI, the drug enforcement agency, the US Marshalls to name a few. All of those agencies add up to 14.5 billion dollars. So this has become–border and immigration enforcement has become quite the priority for the US federal government. PERIES: Now when we hear about the border issue, media often tell the story of drug smugglers. In fact, Trump really rides that story where there’s all this illegal drug smuggling going on and we have to get control of the border. But in your article you wrote and told a very heart wrenching story of a father at a hearing pleading guilty to the charges of crossing the border illegally. Tell us that story. MILLER: Sure. The story is actually, it’s a heart wrenching story and a typical story of what happens every single day on the US-Mexico border in in particular in Arizona. First of all, it’s a father on–I was actually at the Tucson federal courthouse and it was a program called Operation Streamline where people who cross the border unauthorized without the proper documents between the ports of entry who are caught by the US border patrol are then brought in front of a magistrate judge who then sentences them to prison based on the charges of “illegal entry”. So I was at the courthouse and I was able to witness this father who said he–usually the proceeding goes in such, it’s like a fast food restaurant almost. There’s generally between 50 and 70 people who have been caught in the desert on any given day. They’re all shackled. They have handcuffs around their wrists. They’re shackled. They have chains around their waists. Their feet are handcuffed as well so when they approach the judge and often in groups of 5 or 7 or 8 depending on which judge. They shuffle in front of the judge in these chains so you can actually hear the jingling of the chains and their heads are almost submissive. Creating a sort of visual that’s deeply demonstrative of what is actually happening on the border. Usually what happens is that each person will be sentenced 30, 60, 90, 180 days to prison and they don’t get to tell their story. They don’t say why they came across the border. It’s either you cross the border without authorization or not. And you plead guilty. You’re either guilty or not guilty. In this particular case this man stepped forward and he said judge I want to tell you exactly why I crossed the border. I want to tell you exactly why I’m standing before you today. My child who’s 4 months old has a heart condition. My child is a US citizen and for that reason I wanted to be with my child. And for that reason I crossed the border and was caught by the border patrol and now I stand before you. And in response the magistrate judge really is a part of this operation streamline. It’s basically a zero tolerance program based on a broader strategy on the US-Mexico border called Prevention Through Deterrents. The idea is if you cross the border without authorization you will go to prison as on deterrent among many including if you cross the border there have been so many people who have died crossing the border as well. So it’s part of this bigger strategy and it is again automatic. The judge listened to this man’s story but then responded by saying you know you have to come the “legal way”. If you don’t your child will be visiting you in prison. It’s better that your wife and child visit you back where you come in Mexico. So pretty much that’s indicative of the kind of suffering and terrorizing of people that happens on a day to day basis on this US-Mexico border based on this network of laws and surveillance technologies and these punitive policies in places. PERIES: At a huge expense to the US tax payer. Now if we take a look at this issue every 4 years when we have an election, we have a huge discussion about this but in its extreme forms. And even after President Obama has been in office for 8 years now and he’s considered a rational compassionate president, we’ve had the greatest number of deportations in the history of the country. So in your opinion what actually needs to happen by way of border control, which also needs to happen? MILLER: Yes, so one of the incredible stats I’ve seen about the Obama presidency is that he’s deported 2.5 million people and that is more or almost as much as all other presidents in the entire 20th century. So that gives you the scope of how many people have been deported. But it’s not all Obama. It’s kind of massive enforcement, deportation apparatus, incarceration apparatus that has developed over again the last 25 years with all these budgets. It has been very bipartisan and Obama has simply continued that. What is happening now is Its bene quite baffling to me over the past year for example since Donald Trump has declared that he’s going to build this wall. The way that he says it and the way that it’s often reported is as if there is nothing on the US-Mexico border. That there hasn’t been this massive build up. There’s not all this technology. There’s not all these border patrol agents. There’s not a 700-mile wall that already exist. And so you’re led to believe that there’s nothing there and thus there’s just Donald Trump and the empty border lands. So there’s no real conversation about it. There’s no debate. There’s no debate whoa do we need all these billions of dollars. What is not happening in this country is a holistic debate around border and immigration policy like it needs to happen. Do we need to have all these situations like Ignacio [Sarabia] in that courtroom that we were just talking about where people cannot connect with their own families? That is happening with massive numbers. So this sort of debate needs to happen to be able to see what–then maybe with such a conversation then maybe a more organic sort of solution could come about. What to do with the border. Because right now billions are being spent on the borders while other basic services that people might consider really essential to their security such as their housing, such as people drinking contaminated water in cities like Flint, Michigan, job security, food security, all these different securities, the budgets are being cut. Yet at the same time we’re constantly being told that there’s something on the edges of our country, something that is out to get us, going to come to get us. Thus we need to come to build up and militarize our borders in order to stop that. And maybe that’s not the correct approach. PERIES: It’s certainly good for the military-industrial complex and those corporations that actually build all this gear and surveillance apparatuses but not for the ordinary Mexican or the US citizen. So I thank you so much for joining us Todd Miller. And I hope to have this conversation on an ongoing basis because I think we certainly need to remind people about what’s happening on the border because if you don’t live there you actually don’t realize the extent of the suffering that people are experiencing nor the consequences of such a militarized border that we currently have. Thank you so much Todd. MILLER: Thank you for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining me on the Real News Network.


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Todd Miller is a journalist based in Tucson, Arizona covering border issues. He is the author of "Empire of Borders: The Expansion of the U.S. Border Around the World", "Storming the Wall", and "Border Patrol Nation".