corporate takeover of American borders


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,0,1798499.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

From the Baltimore Sun


A corporate takeover of American borders

 By Robert Koulish
August 21, 2006

Borders are a key element of national identity. When borders are violated, the 
result is often crisis and war. Look no further than this summer's conflict in 
the Middle East, set off by a cross-border kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by 
Hezbollah militants. Protection and defense of borders is, for most nations, a 
high priority.

Thus, it is troubling to see our government intent upon passing control over its
borders to private companies.

Immigration control is a fundamental exercise of sovereignty, and sovereign 
powers are considered almost inviolable. As a legacy of its plenary powers over 
immigration, Congress has enacted some of this country's most racist and 
arbitrary policies, which the Supreme Court has never struck down. Examples 
include Chinese exclusion, national origins restrictions and expedited removals.

Turning over immigration powers to private companies further endangers 
democracy. Immigration policy, programs and current proposals are replete with 
references to privatization - enforcement, detention, inspections and services -
that would place the fate of potential immigrants in the hands of private 
mercenaries and military contractors.

The Customs and Border Protection's Expedited Removal Program has contracted 
with Halliburton to oversee the expansion of the federal government's capacity 
to detain immigrants. Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, has proposed 
deploying private "Ellis Island Centers" in foreign countries for the purpose of
recruiting and managing guest workers.

Privatization, a neoliberal trend begun in the 1970s, means policy is driven by 
profit-seeking. During the early 1980s, the federal government began 
experimenting with incarcerating people for profit, using immigrant detention as
its canary in the coal mine. In 1984, the Corrections Corporation of America, 
the private-incarceration leader, cut its first deal with the federal government
to operate Immigration and Naturalization Service detention centers in Houston 
and Laredo, Texas. Since then, private incarceration has become a boom industry 
as well as a lightning rod for credible human-rights abuse litigation.

U.S.-Mexico border control is also being privatized. After more than a decade of
border militarization with "Operation Gatekeeper" and "Operation Hold the Line,"
the deployment of the National Guard and plans for 700 miles of fencing, in May 
the government solicited bids from military contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin,
Raytheon, Ericsson and Northrop Grumman for a multibillion-dollar contract to 
build a "virtual fence" of unmanned aerial vehicles, ground surveillance 
satellites and motion-detection video equipment along the border. With final 
awarding of the Secure Border Initiative Network set for September, the arrival 
of military contractors at the border is imminent.

Add Blackwater Inc., a private security firm that has run mercenaries in Iraq 
and New Orleans, and is negotiating a contract to train U.S. Border Patrol 
officers, and you get a virtual fence that has guns for hire welcoming newcomers
at ports of entry.

Military contractors and private mercenaries as immigration policymakers 
represent a foreboding prospect for any democracy.

Another issue is the use of technologies of power to help manage a cheap 
postindustrial labor force. Guest worker proposals are helping to frame 
immigration within a neoliberal trade context, which opens another door to 
privatized control.

For example, Mode 4 of the recent proposed General Agreement on Trade in 
Services, negotiated in the World Trade Organization, would accomplish what the 
North American Free Trade Agreement couldn't achieve, reducing migrant workers 
to the status of commodities.

Mode 4 would hasten the demise of Human-rights protections for border crossers, 
while the Senate's guest-worker provision would help make Mode 4 binding on 
domestic policy. As an outcome, guest-worker provisions would expedite the 
movement of temporary workers, secure private "bantustans" for border crossers 
in northern Mexico, and control guest-worker populations in this country while 
further marginalizing efforts by NGOs to hold the process accountable.

Finally, guest-worker policies would provide additional opportunities for the 
security-industrial complex at the border. With CCA, Blackwater, Lockheed Martin
and others as gatekeepers, guest workers would come face to face with 
law-and-order activities twice removed from public scrutiny.

The looming presence of "virtual" technologies, mercenaries and military 
contractors as front-line defenders for U.S. sovereignty is cause for alarm well
beyond the potential for individual human rights violations. It suggests this 
country's "deciders" are less interested in physical border fences that would 
harm trade and impede the flow of cheap labor than in securing a system of 
"virtual fence" and paramilitary strategies that would facilitate wholesale 
control over migrants in the name of profit.

Robert Koulish is a political scientist and France-Merrick professor of service 
learning at Goucher College. His e-mail is •••@••.•••.

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