To: President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
To: Members of the U.S. Congress
Border communities who had hoped for a rational and accountable border policy from the Obama Administration are deeply disappointed at the news of the authorization to deploy National Guard troops to the border. We are also deeply disappointed by calls from Congress to deploy as many as 6,000 National Guard troops to the border.
Proposals to deploy the National Guard are ill-conceived and motivated by electoral politics rather than border realities. In the course of history, presidents have rarely called up the National Guard. Deployment of these forces has almost always been limited to emergency situations and for good reason. The creation of a national police force is anathema to our fundamental values and to the protection of individual liberties.
As men and women living in the border region, which includes metropolitan areas as well as small towns, we have tried time and again to share our concerns about the militarization of the region with members of the Administration and members of Congress. But it seems we are not being heard and the policies of this Administration, far from being the change that we were promised, mirror the policies of the prior Administration and may even be worse with respect to border enforcement.
To be clear, there is no emergency at the border that would warrant the deployment of the National Guard. Immigration flows are down and border cities are among the safest in the country. Violent crime is rare and when it does happen, as in the case of the Arizona rancher who was recently killed, the perpetrator is more likely to be a citizen than an immigrant. The only “emergency” is the political emergency of upcoming elections.
As residents of the border region, we refuse to allow our communities and our quality of life to be sacrificed in a political game played far away from this region by people with little appreciation for the vibrancy of the region and who are motivated by politics rather than actual border needs. We consider the deployment of the National Guard an affront to border communities and oppose the militarization of our region based on the following:
• The militarization of our border has already reached an extreme level and brought with it negative consequences for those who live there. Our economies are choked by inefficient border crossings, our civil rights are pushed aside, and our quality of life is seriously diminished. Worse, our safety is being sacrificed by those who believe that soldiers trained for war belong near family neighborhoods or should be involved in supporting domestic law enforcement. Let’s not forget that in 1997, U.S. Marines sent to help secure the border, mistakenly shot and killed a teenage U.S. citizen who was peacefully herding goats.
• Militarization is a misguided and unnecessary response that is not based in reality or in the opinions of President Obama’s own border experts. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said repeatedly that her Border Patrol agents have operational control of the border. Crime statistics in border cities and counties show that crime is both low and decreasing. Yet, we are being told once again that we must secure the border, just three years after we built a border wall, added thousands of new Border Patrol agents and deployed virtual enforcement technology.
• Militarization costs us all. Continuing to throw money, resources and military responses at the border is not fiscally responsible, efficient, or humane. The ever mounting costs of militarizing the border are costs borne by taxpayers who can ill afford ineffective and ill-conceived political responses.
• Recourse to the military as a policy option for civilian law enforcement is a disturbing precedent. Forces trained for combat, should not be used for enforcing civil laws. As a matter of fundamental U.S. political values, the military should be withdrawn from all normal law enforcement activities, even in supporting roles.
It is time to rethink our border policy. Increasing the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border does not enhance our national security, but in fact undermines it by misallocating resources. Humane border policies should emphasize quality law enforcement, and the effective focus of resources on real threats in the region, while ensuring that border communities are consulted on their specific needs, and that the rights and well-being of border residents are protected and upheld. Toward this end, we need the following:
• Consultation with local border communities on a regular basis about border enforcement; decisions about the border should not be made in a vacuum in D.C.
• More accountability and oversight of immigration enforcement officers, who have become the largest law enforcement presence in the border region.
• A standardized complaint process that aggregates complaints the length of the border should be implemented to better understand potential abuse of power and civil and human rights violations. Enforcement agencies should publicize this data and then use appropriate performance measures to correct gaps in current or ongoing training.
• Increased funding for ports of entry to facilitate the flow of legitimate goods and people authorized to work, visit or contribute to the nation’s economy.
• Compliance with environmental protection laws without exceptions for the border; we deserve the same protections as the rest of the country.
• Compliance with national and international civil and human rights protections, and creation of humane detention and short-term custody standards at the border.
• A zero-migrant-death standard that is incorporated into enforcement policies and practices and addresses the mounting death toll—over 5,000—of migrants who lose their lives as a result of inhumane enforcement strategies.
• Comprehensive immigration reform that moves beyond enforcement and focuses on fixing the interconnected parts of our broken immigration system.
• Economic development for Mexico, our second largest trading partner and primary source of immigration; a stronger Mexican economy would benefit both countries economically and ease migration pressures.
The federal government is as responsible for protecting the lives and well being of border residents as it is of protecting residents of the interior of the United States. Unfortunately, border residents have borne the burden of national security under the current hard-line strategy, but can do so no more. We oppose the deployment of the National Guard to the border as a misguided political response, and we urge our national leaders to pursue real solutions to border enforcement that take into account the needs of the border region.
American Friends Service Committee (CA)
San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (CA)
San Diego Foundation for Change (CA)
Border Action Network (AZ)
First Christian Church of Tucson (AZ)
ACLU Regional Center for Border Rights (NM)
Border Network for Human Rights (TX)
Immigrant Justice Alliance (TX)
Freedom Ambassadors (TX)
Casa de Proyecto Libertad (TX)
Project Puente (TX)
U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force