Essay, Research Paper
Human Rights Abuse on the US-Mexican Border
Between 1993-97 there was a 72% increase in funds provided to the Immigration and Naturalization Services. The INS has a mobile uniformed division responsible for policing the US-Mexican border called Border Patrol. With such a dramatic increase in just four years it is obvious that the border area is a pressing concern to the US government. The Border Patrol conducts inspections of travelers, regulates permanent and temporary immigration into the United States and maintains control of the US borders, which amount to 8,000 miles. They also identify and remove persons who have no lawful immigration status in the United States. The border patrol works hand-in-hand with the INS to ensure that immigration policies are followed under United States law. There is an estimated 7,000 Border Patrol agents, all are armed and have the power to stop and inspect whoever they please. The agents are continuously questioned on their conduct in how they perform their job. The majority of the questions come from human rights activists. These agents are enforcing US law on individuals attempting to enter the country but are the human rights of these individuals being violated?
The topic of human rights is a major issue on the border and there is growing evidence to support the fact that human rights are being abused. In this paper I will identify the causes of human rights abuse in border areas, prove with individual and statistical testimony that human rights are being abused on the US-Mexican border, and present some efforts and policies for the promotion of human rights by both Mexico and the United States. Since the introduction of NAFTA the changes in immigration laws have put tremendous pressures on the INS and Border Patrol. This created more of a chaotic scene across the border and policing tactics had to accommodate with the new regulations. There was more travel for laborers who resided in Mexican territory yet worked daily in the US. With the excessive passing over the border comes more illegal immigration. Tremendous pressure is put on the Border Patrol to prevent the illegal immigrants from successfully coming to the United States.
The Human Development Report states the definition of human rights, as the rights possessed by all persons, by virtue of their common humanity, to live a life of freedom and dignity. They give all people moral claims in the behavior of individuals and the design of social arrangements and are universal, inalienable and indivisible. Human rights express our deepest commitments to ensuring that all persons are secure in their enjoyment of the goods and freedoms that are necessary for dignified living. Human rights belong to all people, and all people have equal status with respect to these rights (UNDP 2000). With human rights is the right to freedom.
-Freedom from discrimination in any form under any circumstance
-Freedom from fear, such as threats to personal security, torture, arbitrary arrest, and other violent acts
-Freedom from injustice and violations of the law and the freedom of thought and speech and to participate in decision-making and form associations
These are individual freedoms that are granted to every human being. They are not arguable and are not outranked in power. Obviously human rights are not priority in every country in the world but many countries strive to achieve the goal of completely equal human rights. Many factors play a part as to the success of human rights. A democracy for instance, has four defining features based in human rights: holding of free and fair elections contributes to the fulfillment of the right to political participation; allowing free and independent media contributes to fulfillment of the right to freedom of expression, thought and conscience; separating powers among branches of government helps to protect citizens from abuses of their civil and political rights; and encouraging an open civil society contributes to fulfillment of the right to peaceful assembly and association (UNDP 2000). This would suggest societies who function under a democracy will rank higher on the Human Development Index (HDI). Human development and human rights share a common vision and a common purpose, to secure the freedom, well being, and dignity of all people everywhere. The HDI ranks countries on the average achievements in three basic dimensions of human development, a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living. The United States is ranked three and Mexico is ranked 55. The difference is reflected by the standard of living in the two countries. This is an important factor when considering the merging economies along the border. Both countries are functioning democracies yet Mexico isn’t included the high developing countries.
Some democracies can harm human rights; they tend to be countries who are in the transition to democracy. Although Mexico has been a democracy for almost three-quarters of a century, they face the same problems of promoting human rights that countries in transition do. One of the challenges facing Mexico is the weakness in arbitrary exercise of power; elected governments frequently lose legitimacy and popular support when they behave in an authoritarian manner. When elite groups act as if they are above the law or when elected representatives arbitrarily remove judges, civil servants and others, faith in democratic institutions weakens. Neglecting the economic dimension of human rights weakens the democracy; failing to address the economic and social rights of significant groups, typically because the neglect does not hurt the electoral outcomes for those in power. Failing to protect and promote human rights seriously effects citizens in Mexico.
Focusing now on the INS and Border Patrol it is important to look at the goal of their job and what is necessary to achieve it. The Border Patrol inspects all persons seeking admission into the US. They look for anything that would expose fraudulent admission and if necessary detain the individual. The Border Patrol is responsible for intercepting terrorists, alien and narcotic smugglers, criminals, and undocumented individuals from crossing the border into the US. The Border Patrol conducts investigations on violations of the criminal and administrative provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The investigations enforcement mission has five broad objectives: identify and remove criminal aliens; counter alien smuggling; counter immigration fraud; enforce employer provisions of the INA; and respond to community complaints regarding illegal alien activity (www.ins.gov 2000)
Initially the Border Patrol’s enforcement strategy has been to apprehend aliens after they had illegally entered the United States. They set up stations in cities that had high concentrations of illegal immigrants and would try to catch them before they reached their final destination in the US. Recently, the Border Patrol’s enforcement strategy along the Southwest Border changed from apprehending aliens after they had entered illegally to deterring them from entering in the first place. The goal is to concentrate agents on the border to raise aliens’ risk of apprehension to a maximum level and thereby deter aliens and alien smugglers from attempting illegal entry (www.ins.gov 2000). The border extends 1,945 miles and is divided in some places by large steel fences and in other places by concrete boundary markers. The US-Canadian border is twice as long and is undefended.
The recent trend of immigration can be placed in the context of globalization, people on the move trying to escape poverty, hunger, civil war, and persecution. The introduction of NAFTA set the trend for entry into the US. People are on the move for jobs, there is a demand for cheap labor in the US and the Mexicans who seek it are leaving a life of poverty. This is not a problem for the Mexicans who work in the US yet reside in Mexico, the problem is the Mexicans who illegally enter the country and take the jobs. They work for basically nothing and will always get the job because they will work for less. With global economic trends borders are no longer sites for imposing levies; rather, they are transmitting membranes guaranteeing the free flow of goods, capital and information (Barbour, Immigration Policy 1995). Problems arising in border areas are attributed to the old border policies and the global economic trends, which are not working together. The borders have opened up all over the world to almost everything. They have opened for the free passage of everything but people; the US-Mexican Border is a perfect example. NAFTA created numerous employment opportunities for Mexicans and other migrants from Central and South America. These jobs have created an influx in border travel because a lot of these people work on US territory and live in Mexico; others are working in maquiladoras in Mexico and some are also working the US farms. No matter how you look at it the reason for concern at the border is a result of the globalization of economy. The increase in border travel has brought more concern to illegal immigration.
I would now like to look at an illegal immigration deterrence operation that started in San Diego. “Operation Gatekeeper” was initiated October 1, 1994 at Imperial Beach in San Diego. Imperial Beach was experiencing large volumes of traffic at the time and they were understaffed. The Border Patrol’s initial goal was to gain control of the first five miles of the border and shift traffic eastward. One of the goals of Gatekeeper was to increase personnel all along the border. Agents were transferred to Imperial Beach to gain the large concentration of agents on the border. Another aspect of Gatekeeper was the sectional deployment of agents on the border. There was a “tier system” set up staging agents at three distinct locations on the border. The first tier was deployed in fixed positions on the border and had “prevention, apprehension, and observation” responsibilities. The second tier of agents – located further north in corridors heavily traveled by aliens – had more freedom of movement in containing and apprehending illegal traffic that made it past the first line of defense. The third tier was charged with apprehending any traffic that penetrated the first two lines of defense (www.usdoj.gov). Gatekeeper received unprecedented resources in the form of manpower, fencing, infrared, sensors, identification systems and vehicles. On average the number of resources increased around 145%. Don’t forget these agents using these resources are armed too. Basically immigrants would have to “run the gauntlet” in order to get into the US.
While under the old system apprehension numbers provided a ready measure of an agent’s skill and work ethic, under the new system the abstract concept of deterrence governed. Agents who were previously free to decide how and where they would work and what illegal traffic they would pursue were now told where to work (often in a fairly constrained area), what traffic they could pursue and how far, and were accountable for their whereabouts at all times. Many agents disliked these new methods (www.usdoj.gov).
Five years after the inauguration of Operation Gatekeeper the number of undocumented immigrants arrested while trying to cross the US-Mexican border has been cut by only 1 percent, while the death toll for immigrant workers attempting to cross the heavily guarded frontier has increased six-fold. The official death toll since Operation Gatekeeper began is 405. US authorities acknowledge, however, that many more bodies of immigrants could lie undiscovered in deserted areas of mountains and desert (www.wsws.org 1999). In California’s Imperial County, where many of the deaths have been reported, arrests have skyrocketed. In one-month alone last year, 7,000 men, women and children were caught in the desert after eluding agents at the border. Detected border crossings in the sector have seen a 10-fold increase since 1996 (www.wsws.org 1999). It would appear that the deterrence of immigrants isn’t working so well and these immigrants are risking their lives just for a chance at life in the United States. The Border Patrol agents in this area have increased their manpower three-fold and as a result they are facing 10 times the immigrants as before. The Border Patrol cannot keep up with the steady increase of people who attempt to cross the border each day. The Border Patrol will receive 1,000 new agents in 2001; this doesn’t seem to be enough to combat the problem. While the US government attempts to militarize the border and pursues immigrant workers and their families as if they were some hostile invading army, the relations between US capitalism and the economies of Mexico as well as Central and South America continue to push ever-growing numbers of unemployed and impoverished people north in search of jobs, even if they pay less than subsistence wages. Thus the brutal forces of the market continue to push thousands upon thousands of people into a death trap created by capitalist oppression and the INS’s border crackdown.
Is Operation Gatekeeper producing results in arrests? Yes. Is Gatekeeper deterring immigrants from trying to enter illegally? No and I don’t think it is for lack of effort either. These people who are risking their lives are looking for work so they can eat, they are political refugees seeking asylum, or the remaining family members of others who have successfully immigrated into the US. If they survive the dangerous areas of passage they then risk their rights as humans to La Migra, the Border Patrol. The number of cases of human rights abuses on the border is growing at the same rate as the intensification of the border crackdown with no end in site.
The INS leaves a lasting impression on many of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants who are arrested by INS agents each year. Unfortunately the impression is one of mistreatment. There are discernible circumstances under which agents are more likely to go beyond apprehending undocumented migrants to judging and punishing them. One reason INS misconduct is so pervasive is that the agency does not adequately train or supervise its agents. The INS cites “ongoing training” in human rights via a mentor program, most of the training comes from older agents, many of whom may never had course work in human rights themselves. Too frequently, this means that the notions that federal agents are untouchable, that physical force is a necessary component of immigration law enforcement, and other similarly questionable attitudes are imparted in the new agents and perpetuated within the Border Patrol (Seltzer 1998). According to ongoing Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Project (ILEMP) monitoring, the occurrence of serious human rights abuses in South Texas during the enforcement of immigration law has increased 38% since the implementation of Operation Rio Grande (Seltzer 1998). Operation Rio Grande made the INS the largest law enforcement agency in the Rio Grande Valley. A significant number of these victims are U.S. citizens, legal residents, or persons seeking asylum. The Border Patrol participated in 79.2% of the abuses documented in this region (Seltzer 1998). This is indicative of the situation all along the border.
According to AFSC’s monitoring project in March of 1998 an incident took place at the San Clemente Border Checkpoint. Two individuals in a taxicab picked up an individual holding a passport and asking to go to the Los Angeles. Assuming he was in the country legally they took the fare and headed north. They were stopped and asked for immigration documents. When the document were inspected it was discovered that the man was an illegal alien and he was detained. The cab driver and his passenger were also detained and accused of alien smuggling. The agents also falsely accused them of being arrested before. They were legal residents of the United States and were being held against their will on false charges. One of the detained was a woman and she was verbally abused, they called her “welfare” because she was a young Mexican with children. The agents made the man with the false passport stand naked in a cell with glass walls where the young woman watched him. The two legal residents were released without charges after three and half-hours (Seltzer 1998). This is a blatant disregard for human rights. No individual deserves or should be subjected to torment and verbal abuse under any circumstance. This is a humiliating experience for everyone involved and no right was done. The illegal immigrant should have been turned back around to Mexico and the two legal residents sent on their way after brief questioning.
Other incidents can show physical abuse even death. On March 11, 1990, Augustine Flores was assaulted by Border Patrol when they were caught trying to cross the border. The young boy was told to kneel so the agent could strike him in the head with a flashlight. The agent then proceeded to ask the boy if he wanted to file a claim with no witnesses to support it since his friends were being deported that night. Another agent threatened any potential witnesses with five-year jail terms if they testified against the abusive agent. The boy accepted voluntary departure and abandoned his complaint. He later reported it after reentering the United States (Barbour, Illegal Immigration 1994). This is a traumatizing experience for anyone to go through. His rights were clearly violated and he was threatened with jail if he reported it. He can be thankful that he wasn’t injured severely.
Over half of the human rights abuse cases go undocumented. The list goes on and on for cases that do get reported. Human rights abuse on the border is a problem. Many of the problems can be remedied by policy and attitudinal changes by the INS and it’s agents. Other problems require regulatory changes but in any case remedies are necessary if the basic human rights are to be respected on the border. Undocumented migrants who enter or are living in the United States may be deportable or excludable, but their immigration status does not less their entitlement to respect for their basic human rights. As an institution the INS needs to redirect its mission to emphasize the promotion and protection of human rights in the fulfillment of its responsibility to enforce U.S. immigration laws.
On May 6, 1997, the Presidents of the United States and Mexico pledged their respective Governments to strive to create a new vision of a shared border to build communities of cooperation rather than of conflict. On the basis of the principles included in the Joint Statement on Migration, the Attorney General of the United States and the Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico reaffirmed both nations commitment to pursue the vigorous administration of justice concerning situations in which migrants and border communities register complaints concerning violence against Mexican migrants, and in cases of unlawful actions and assaults against law enforcement officials (www.usembassy-mexico.gov 1997). To promote human rights on the border and curb violence the governments together are taking steps like transboundary cooperation and conducting joint training. Transboundary Cooperation would develop procedures among Federal law enforcement agencies along the border in each country to respond, each in its own territory, to calls for assistance when conflicts, assaults, violence, and other threats to public safety occur that involve cross-border activities. This may include new mechanisms and procedures for communication and arrest, when appropriate. Joint Training would develop programs for training local and national law enforcement personnel who work along the border including, among other issues, procedures and guidelines on the use of deadly force, the availability and value of non-lethal responses, standards and procedures of patrol and arrest, and heightened cultural and community sensitivity. Participation by Mexican officials in U.S. Border Patrol Training Academy exercises, and comparable efforts to conduct training with Mexican law enforcement personnel on the border, should be expanded.
Both Governments recognize the need to investigate incidents along the border that involve the use of deadly force, assaults and violence, and to establish a mechanism to encourage appropriate law enforcement officials from each country to present evidence or witnesses, and to make other investigative contributions. The only way the human rights abuse cases will diminish is with cooperation from both law enforcement agencies. Containment on the Mexican side is a must and greater penalty to those who try should be enforced.
In an article by Sidney Weintraub titled, Ways to Ease Migration Tensions
Between Mexico and the United States, he states two approaches to dealing with migration tension; the economic development imperative for dealing with supply-push over the long term and the policy actions that might diminish the demand-pull in the short term (www.iadialog.org 1998). On the supply side of Mexico what must be achieved is the expectation that incomes will rise because economic growth will be sustained. Periodic crashes of the type of recent decades will not recur. Job-creation will keep pace with entries into the labor force, and parents can expect their children to have economic opportunities at home. The most important requirement in the economic development area for the United States is to maintain a satisfactory rate of overall growth. Mexico now ships upwards of 80 percent of its merchandise exports to the United States. These exports thrive when the U.S. economy is growing and would be penalized if the U.S. economy stagnated or declined. The second imperative is for U.S. direct investment in Mexico to continue, since this is what spawned the growth of coproduction, more exchange of components rather than final products, and the rise in intra-industry trade. This continuation requires more Mexican than official U.S. actions; namely, for Mexico to provide a stable and welcoming political and economic climate. These approaches are to be looked at in a bilateral sense and yes, the satisfactory growth of economy in the region and in Mexico will prove to be key in the migration reduction.
Mexican President Vicente Fox met with President Clinton in Washington on August 24 to outline his vision for a freer flow of people and goods across the U.S.-Mexican border. President Clinton was noncommittal about Fox’s ideas on immigration and the opening of the border. He said, “I want to hear them. Obviously, we have borders and we have laws that apply to them, and we have to apply them, and so do the Mexicans” (www.abcnews.go.com 2000). Clinton did emphasize the need for a growing interdependence between the United States and Mexico. “I always like to remind the American people that our Mexican neighbors paid their loan back ahead of time and in the best possible way,” he said. “They were good neighbors. We did the right thing. And everything that has happened there has validated the commitment of a very genuine friend of an equal partnership in our country” (www.abcnews.go.com 2000).
“The goal of the United States has been to put walls, the Army, and policeman to stop immigration. I think this gets us nowhere,” Fox said (www.abcnews.go.com 2000). Fox wants the United States to issue as many as 250,000 visas a year so that Mexicans can enter the country legally. The United States needs these workers because of a labor shortage in everything from agriculture to the hotel industry. Fox also wants American investment, billions of dollars, to convince other Mexicans to stay in Mexico. In exchange, Fox promises to vigorously police his side of the border and to cut off social programs in Mexico if a family member crosses the border illegally to work. Michael Fix of the Urban Institute supports Fox’s initiative. “What he’s proposing is something interesting, and it’s not just an addition, not just increased immigrants to the United States,” Fix said. “It’s a changed relationship with Mexico” (www.abcnews.com 2000).
With our presidency in limbo the views of Fox will ultimately see success or failure depending on the turnout of the 2000 U.S. election. Vice President Al Gore praises Fox, calling him a man with “big ideas, very large ideas.” George W. Bush also lauded Fox, but said the United States must do a better job of protecting its Southern border against illegal migration. The Bush statement on immigration contrasted with Fox’s vision of border relations. Bush, on a flight from Austin to New Orleans, said, “I believe we ought to enforce our borders” (www.abcnews.go.com 2000). The views of Fox are promising but they may not be realized for many years to come.
Current efforts to deter the human rights abuse are fairly stagnant and may see positive results within the next few years. The election of Vaccinate Fox was vital in the fight to sustain a peaceful border. His visions of a free flowing border may not be too far fetched. If the wage rates and income differences were brought to a medium across the border than it may be possible. The difference may need to be made up on the Mexican side more than the U.S. side due to the extreme poverty in northern Mexico. These people are generally trying to escape a poverty-stricken life by fleeing to a prosperous United States; the economy must grow in order to deter heavy migration trends. Money needs to be invested into Mexican economy and creation of jobs in Mexico rather than “beefing” up Border Patrol. Once a joint-growth economy flourishes then human rights abuse issues will diminish.
Barbour, William, Illegal Immigration. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1994, 149-50.
Barbour, William, Immigration Policy. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1995, 67.
Seltzer, Nate, Immigration Law Enforcement and Human Rights Abuses. Borderlines: vol.6, Number 9, 1998, 2-4,11.
UNDP, Human Development Report 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 16, 56-59
http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/world/DailyNews/mexico_us_000824.html, Border Talk Mexico’s President-Elect Proposes More Open Border, 2000, 1-4..
http://www.iadialog.org/immigrat.html, Immigration in U.S. Mexican Relations: A Report of the U.S.-Mexican Relations Forum, 1998, 7-10
http://www.ins.gov/graphics/lawenfor/indes.htm, INS Issues Guidelines for INS Operations During Census 2000, 2000, 1-2.
http://www.usembassy-mexico.gov//eSBordViol.html, Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Mexican States on Cooperation Against Border Violence, 1997, 1-4.
http://usdoj.gov/oig/gatekpr/gkp01.htm, Background to the Office of the Inspector General Investigation, date unknown, 7-8.
http://www.wsws.org/ articles/1999/jun1999/ins-j25.shtml, US Border Crackdown Sends Immigrant Deaths Soaring, 1999, 1-3.