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Explosive Report Details Corporate Profiteering and Militarization of US Borders

Border Patrol conducting patrols on ATVs
Border Patrol conducting patrols on ATVs, September 2005. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

“It is time to expose the contractors, lobbyists, campaign contributions, influence on policy-makers, and ultimately profits wielded by the border-industrial complex.”

Although the militarization of the U.S. border has become a hot topic today, the current atmosphere is a continuation of policies, government spending and lobbying that has existed since long before the Trump administration, according to a new report.

In “More Than a Wall: Corporate Profiteering and the Militarization of U.S. borders,” a recent report from Transitional Institute (TNI), author Todd Miller details the history of the militarization of the U.S. border. In his report, Miller argues that the biggest threat to “a humane and compassionate response to migration” is not the Trump administration but rather big corporations with media and political ties.

Exponential Budget and Personnel Growth 

In 1980, when border control was under the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the budget was $350 million, the report says. The budget increased to $1.2 billion in 1990, and it rose to $10.2 billion in 2005.

By 2018 the budget for border control was $23.7 billion in a joint budget under Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Essentially, the border budget has increased 6,000% since 1980, and more than doubled in the past 13 years.

There has been a similar increase in border patrol agents from the 1990s to 2019. The number of agents in 1994 has grown exponentially today. In 1994 there were 4,000 border patrol agents, compared to the 21,000 agents today. The CBP has become the federal government’s biggest law enforcement agency with over 60,000 agents.

Border Security Becomes More Than a Wall

The physical wall is only one part of a complex “technological border-control infrastructure” that extends beyond the U.S.-Mexico border into Central America and the Caribbean, says Miller. Since 1997, the American government has enlarged its surveillance technology to include biometrics, drones, aircraft, motion sensors, cameras and video surveillance.

At the Border Management Conference and Technology Expo in El Paso, Texas, in 2012, Border Patrol Agent Felix Chavez referred to the arsenal at the U.S.-Mexico border, stating that “in terms of technology, the capability we have acquired since 2004 is phenomenal,” Miller reported.

“U.S. border policies, over the past three decades, have continued to push migration further and further into these deeply militarized zones,” said Hannah Taleb of No More Deaths, a border humanitarian aid organization that co-sponsored the report. “This has not only boosted corporate profits but also caused untold human suffering. No More Deaths has decided to co-sponsor this new report because of the important link between U.S. Customs and Border Protection spending and the massive crisis of death and disappearance of migrants in the U.S. borderlands.”

Since a 1946 modification to the Immigration and Nationality Act, along with an additional decision in 1957 by the Justice Department, border control operations reach 100 miles inland. This increases the border industry market to at least 200 million people, two-thirds of whom are U.S. residents.

Corporate Profits Incentivize Border Militarization

Miller’s report reveals the degree to which the border-security industry — or “border-security bonanza,” as he puts it — has provided major corporations with profits, especially U.S. corporations. From 2006 to 2018, the Coast Guard, ICE and CBP collectively issued more than 344,000 contracts for border and immigration control services valued at $80.5 billion.

“This report reveals the profound and pervasive connections between security and arms corporations and the politicians who both make border policy and determine the money allocated to its enforcement apparatus. All too often these very entrenched and lucrative bonds are hidden from the public eye and, thus, erased from the public conversation. The exact opposite needs to happen: the fact that giant corporations are both benefiting from and driving border militarization needs to be front and center of one of the most important discussions happening in the United States at this time,” Miller said in a press release.

According to Miller, corporations are surprisingly not the only ones to profit from the border security industry. Several universities and research centers have also benefited via the creation of nine Centers of Excellence on Borders, Trade and Immigration that received $10 million in 2017, with another $90 million given to research and development.

Nick Buxton, who co-edited the TNI report, echoed Miller’s sentiments that the militarization of U.S. borders and borders worldwide has been driven extensively by profit-driven arms and related firms.

“Militarization of borders worldwide is increasingly driven by the world’s largest arms firms who are reaping huge profits while creating an ever more deadly environment for migrants who cross borders. What is worse, these same arms firms are often fueling the conflicts that force people to migrate. If we want a humane and compassionate solution to migration, a first step must be putting an end to the arms industry’s involvement in politics and policy,” remarked Buxton.

US Border Problems Go Beyond Trump

As Miller writes, removing President Trump from office – as many people seem to think – would not change the current policies on border security and U.S. migration. But rather, constructing a new strategy to make the “lives and dignity” of the people involved a priority presents the biggest challenge, especially while big corporations continue to profit from the government’s sizable budget for border control.

Miller goes on to emphasize that the militarization of the U.S. border has been a non-partisan phenomenon, as both Republicans and Democrats have been easily influenced by the arms and security industries. Removing Donald Trump or his Republican party from office will have little consequence to the well-heeled “border-industrial complex.”

“The militarization of U.S. borderlands has a long history, which has been entrenched by the corporations that thrive from it. The revenues and profits of extremely powerful business interests depend on an ever-expanding market for border control and militarization. These border-security giants exercise strong influence on Republican and Democrat politicians in strategic positions in the executive and legislature as well as in key media positions. Any strategy to change the direction of U.S. policy on migration will require confronting this border–industrial complex and removing its influence over politics and policy,” writes Miller.

Ultimately, border security challenges cannot be solved by “increasingly ubiquitous militarized borders.” As Miller concludes:

“The constant push for more border walls, more technologies, more incarceration, more criminalization is in a holding pattern, stuck in a corporate dynamic with a growth doctrine. It is time to expose the contractors, lobbyists, campaign contributions, influence on policy-makers, and ultimately profits wielded by the border-industrial complex. The ‘business as usual’ border regime is a recipe to make millions or even billions experience the most acute suffering inflicted on humankind. Just like tobacco firms have been removed from forums on health, and oil firms from forums on environment, we need to remove security corporations from forums and policy-making bodies on migration issues in order to find a more holistic solution.”

Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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