Column: Kicking over dignity

A militarized border and an inhuman mission

For the past few months, debate has raged over whether there is a real or manufactured emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border. There is indeed a real emergency: it is a humanitarian and an ecological one, and it has been precipitated by the cruel policies of the U.S. Government and the destructive economic and social systems of capitalism and imperialism.

On Jan. 18, 2018, ASU professor and alumnus Scott Warren was arrested by Customs and Border Protection for the “crime” of giving, food, water and shelter to a fellow human being, who just so happened to be an undocumented migrant. The arrest came mere hours after humanitarian activist group No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths) published a report about the destruction of essential supplies NMM had left for migrants by U.S. Border Patrol.

Read more: ASU teacher arrested, charged with harboring undocumented immigrants

It was an episode that exposed the grotesque inhumanity of the USBP as well as its inhuman mission. The trials of yet more NMM volunteers force us to confront the ways in which seemingly distinct environmental and human social problems in reality stem from the same set of causes.

Marykelly Starrs, a junior global health major, volunteers with the ASU chapter of No Mas Muertes. 

"No Mas Muertes is, at its core, a humanitarian organization that provides assistance to migrants who are crossing over in the Arizona Sonoran Desert," Starrs said. "We provide food, water, medical emergency assistance, if needed, and if they give us permission."

Between October 1998 and 2017, over 7,000 people died while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the primary causes of which are, according to Starrs, “dehydration, hypothermia when it’s cold, cuts, blisters (and) infections.”

Those deaths are the inevitable result of intentional policy decisions made by the USBP, which has increased enforcement in urban areas with the explicit goal of driving migration into deadly terrain called “prevention through deterrence.” 

Beginning in 1994, the barren terrain of the Sonoran desert has been shamelessly used as a weapon by USBP to slaughter dozens, possibly hundreds, of migrants every year.

No Mas Muertes has historically placed humanitarian aid in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge with permission from local authorities. Now, humanitarians face federal charges for entering restricted areas of the refuge with vehicles, for lacking permits, and for leaving food and water within the refuge.

The federal government’s alligator tears over environmental degradation are deeply ironic given the situation, but they should also terrify us about a future with a rapidly warming climate and inaction from Congress.

Starrs said of the argument that NMM aid degrades the refuge, “(it's) very disingenuous … I don’t know if having a wildlife refuge with dead bodies in it counts as environmentally sensible.”

One of the prosecuted NMM volunteers, Parker Deighan, wrote in a column for CNN that the “pristine wilderness“ she was prosecuted for entering is “the same land that Border Patrol agents now traverse daily, riding ATVs, driving trucks off-road and flying helicopters to police the border.” In addition, the area has been and is still being used as a training ground for the U.S. Military.

If the hypocrisy is not already apparent, consider also what USBP has done with the “litter” it says has been left by NMM volunteers.

Starrs alleges that the border patrol does not clean up the humanitarian aid it destroys. Videos taken by NMM show Border Patrol officers kicking full gallons of water into the desert and leaving.

“In my experience, we’re always picking the trash up ... not the Border Patrol,” she attested.

Not only this, but the U.S. Border Patrol is just as responsible for trash left in the desert as they are for the deaths of desperate migrants; both are direct consequences of its policy of “prevention through deterrence.” The movement of migrants through the desert is by design.

Further border militarization, such as the construction of a wall (or “barrier” and “fencing” if you’re a Democrat), will cause still greater environmental degradation in the Arizona desert. Scientists and environmentalists have objected to the ecological costs of both current and proposed border walls, from carbon emissions to obstructed animal migrations to impacts on endangered species.

If restrictions on human movement will impact the health of our environment, the reverse is also true. The current ecological collapse fueled by climate change, which is widening and deepening every day, threatens to turn every country into a cage and U.S. carbon emissions are disproportionately to blame.

Climate refugees are a present and past phenomenon, not only a future one. Climate change is implicated not only in the Syrian refugee crisis, but also in the migration from Central America to the U.S. that has seen xenophobic rhetoric and fascistic policies from both Democrats and Republicans in reaction. 

America is not unique in this sense. Ben Ehrenreich, a reporter who has written about the West Bank, wrote in a Feb. 15, 2019 article for the Nation, “Around the world, plans for militarized climate change prep have combined with ethno-nationalist panics to fuel a clampdown on the poor.”

Border militarization serves the same function of allowing wealthy countries to shirk their responsibilities to care for refugees. This is true especially in wealthy countries like the U.S., which are attempting to insulate themselves from the consequences of their own contributions to climate change, whether one is in the U.S., Israel/Palestine or the European Union

“Israel and the United States share that common imperialistic ideology of border militarization, and the human rights abuses of Palestinians also coincide with the human rights abuses (of the U.S.) towards migrants,” Starrs aptly pointed out.

Puffed-up rhetoric from the Department of Defense about climate change being a "threat multiplier" obscures that militarism and imperialism are themselves "threat multipliers." 

This is true not only in the sense that U.S. actions globally have inflamed conflict — not only in the sense that U.S. troop deployments on the border play an important practical and symbolic role in growing border militarization but also in the sense that the U.S. Military is partially and directly responsible for climate change.

In 2014 alone, the U.S. Military created more CO2 emissions than the entire country of Romania. Roughly three quarters of all Superfund sites, areas deemed most toxic by the EPA and given special funding for cleanup, are former Department of Defense sites. In light of these facts, warnings about threat multipliers are not a call for policies aimed to address climate change, but a call for a military response, calls tacitly aimed at climate-driven migration as well.

Starrs also noted that U.S. reliance on the exploited labor of immigrants throughout its history and up to the present day is an unsustainable practice: “We buy products and buy food that requires this cheap labor, and for the prices we buy them at … A lot of the conditions that (migrants) work in are really toxic environments in terms of the pesticides and chemicals that they work with.”

The drive to gluttonously produce and consume, for the highest profits at the lowest prices, pushes people to migrate to the U.S. as foreign economies are devastated by trade deals. This is a primary cause of climate change and produces unhealthy as well as unsafe working conditions. 

The worldwide environmental crisis and the humanitarian crises faced by migrants stem from the same roots: border militarization, imperialism and an economic system that treats human beings and nature as disposable.

No Mas Muertes and other humanitarians lamented the state of the U.S. border and have put out a campaign in solidarity with Warren. 

The campaign stated, "The government is fighting for a world in which we no longer exist because it has become criminal activity to provide care for migrants. Let’s make sure the world they want never comes to be."

I couldn't agree more.


Reach the columnist at bjcoope7@asu.edu and follow @bcoop_az on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions represented in this column do not represent those of the State Press Magazine editorial board or any other editorial entity at State Press Media.

Since the original publication of this article in the March 20 print issue of State Press Magazine, Cooper has left SPM staff to run for USG senate.

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