Power  /  Comment

On the Edges of Fascism and Other Unsettling Possibilities

The legacy of the Immigration Act of 1924 and the launching of the Border Patrol, which inaugurated the most restrictive era of US immigration until our own.

In the region surrounding El Paso, in September 1993, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)—which was later absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—inaugurated a new campaign of militarized policing at the border: Operation Blockade. Seemingly without warning, agents of the Border Patrol—the US’s largest police force—descended on a small stretch of the border, blocking thousands of people from crossing to their jobs and families in El Paso. Quickly renamed to the more politically palpable Operation Hold the Line, this campaign began just months before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was imposed in Mexico: consolidating economic liberalization in Mexico, and dramatically augmenting Mexican immigration to the United States. Even as jobs were threatened in Mexico (particularly in the agricultural sector, as demanded by NAFTA), the United States ensured that the border would now be far more difficult to cross for those leaving Mexico in search of work.

Thus, the year 1993 inaugurated our long moment of crisis across the southern border of the United States. Some 10,000 deaths of would-be border crossers, thousands upon thousands put into detention, and an incredible militarized policing presence in the US-Mexico border region, are the result.

The very next year, the Border Patrol Strategic Plan 1994 and Beyond: National Strategy advanced a new strategy of border and migration controls called “prevention through deterrence.” According to said plan, it was expected that with the Border Patrol’s intensified campaigns across the border region, “violence will increase as effects of strategy are felt.” Furthermore, “The Border Patrol will achieve the goals of its strategy by bringing a decisive number of enforcement resources to bear in each major entry corridor.” The government document further notes, “The prediction is that with traditional entry and smuggling routes disrupted, illegal traffic will be deterred, or forced over more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing and more suited for enforcement.”

Militarized policing and related machinations aggravated conditions for unauthorized crossings. Today, it sets the material conditions for unauthorized border crossings: forcing undocumented crossers into more and more perilous terrains, where they take more and more risks.