By BARRY SHEPPARD
Sand and Blood: America’s Stealth War on the Mexico Border
By John Carlos Frey
Bold Type Books, 2019
This book presents a harrowing well-researched description of Washington’s war against immigrants on the Mexican border. The author is an investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker.
Frey was born in Tijuana, Mexico. His parents moved across the border to southern San Diego in 1965, where he could see Tijuana as a child. His mother was Mexican, and his father was a United States citizen, so he was a U.S. citizen too, which enabled him to move fairly freely back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico.
Americans are well aware of Trump’s cruel treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers at the border. Less well known is how the stage was set for Trump’s war against immigrants by previous administrations.
A qualitative turning point came in 1986 under the Regan administration, as immigration from Mexico grew, with what became known as the “amnesty bill” because it allowed legal status for many undocumented immigrants who had worked in the U.S. for years and had put down roots.
“But the bill did not address the root causes for the migration …. [T]he bill’s authors also made sure to provide for a militaristic approach to border enforcement. [It] would be fortified with physical barriers, and more border guards would be deployed” Frey writes.
“If the United States was going to grant an exception to codified immigration law by granting amnesty, it was going to make sure, by sheer force, that migrants would not come illegally again.” But, of course, they continued to come anyway.
Frey also says, “Southern California was the destination for undocumented immigrants, and they would gain access to the United States through Tijuana and cross into San Diego …. But in the late eighties and early nineties, this pristine area became one of the main centers for the militarization of the border with Mexico.”
Under the administration of George H.W. Bush, 1989-93, the size of the Border Patrol was doubled and seven hundred miles of new border fencing was built. But the real militarization of the border began under Bill Clinton as immigration continued to grow along with anti-immigration sentiment whipped up by the Republicans.
Sensing a winning issue, Clinton out-Republicaned the Republicans on immigration. Under Clinton’s order, the Border Patrol issued the Border Patrol Strategic Plan 1994 and Beyond – National Strategy, which became known as the “prevention through deterrence strategy,” which is still being employed today.
The strategy was to build up fencing and Border Patrol agents at the border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, and to do the same between Tijuana and San Diego. This would force those entering the U.S. without documents to cross the border in the inhospitable and sometimes scorching hot terrain of mountains and desert.
The trek across this terrain is long and difficult. Many die along the way, most often from dehydration – this is the “deterrence.” The border between El Paso and Juarez is the Rio Grande, crossed by bridges. Some try to evade the Border Patrol by swimming or using rafts to cross the river, and there are drownings – another “deterrence.”
It isn’t known how many migrants have died in the deserts and mountains since “prevention through deterrence” was implemented, for reasons Frey explains, but it is in the thousands. Many bodies and skeletons have been found by humanitarian volunteers who venture into these areas to leave water for the migrants.
These heroic volunteers notify local authorities, who sometimes can bury the bodies. But most of the time they can only advise the Border Patrol where the bodies are. Although the Patrol has the resources to find and bury the corpses, and keep track how many there are – and are supposed to do so – they most often do nothing.
In his State of the Union address to Congress in 1995, Clinton struck many themes and presented falsehoods still used today by Trump:
“All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens….”
When Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996, included in the bill was the provision that barred even legal immigrants from accessing welfare for the first five years of their stay in the U.S.
Also in that year, Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, after the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings. The Act allowed the government to increase prosecutions and arrests of suspected “terrorists.” But it also allowed immigrants, legal or otherwise, to be apprehended and detained without due process, if they were convicted of certain felonies. As a result, the number of immigrants held in detention doubled.
Another law signed by Clinton, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, placed new restrictions on immigrants anywhere in the country who were caught without documents, denying them due process. If an undocumented immigrant was deported, they could not apply for any legal means to re-enter the U.S. for ten years. This meant families of mixed-status undocumented, documented and citizen members could be separated for ten years. Most likely, those deported would try to re-enter the country without documentation.
The law also allowed the Attorney General’s office to, in effect, deputize local law enforcement as federal immigration officers. Sheriffs and cops could stop anyone and demand proof of legal residency. This measure sent shock waves of fear in Latino communities. People stopped trusting police, and avoided reporting crimes to local police, lest they be deported.
Clinton also made it even harder for migrants to apply for legal documents to enter. The reason there are so many immigrants crossing the border without documents, is that it can take years – even two decades – to get legal documents for migrants from Mexico and points South.
Also under Clinton, the military increasingly was used at the border to enforce anti-immigrant laws. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 said the military cannot be used as a police force domestically – unless the Congress or the President authorizes it. This loophole was rarely used, but that has been reversed in the war against immigrants at the Mexico border.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the “War on Terror” was launched justifying the war against Afghanistan and Iraq, and with attacks on civil liberties domestically. The border with Mexico was falsely claimed to be an entry point for terrorists, and the militarization was greatly increased. Under George W. Bush, the annual budget for the the Border Patrol jumped from $1 billion to $2 billion. Under Obama and Trump the amount continued to rise and is now around $4 billion.
Bush established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which took over all functions of Customs, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), including the Border Patrol, creating the largest police force in the country – some 60,000. It was composed of Customs and Border Patrol agents, and immigration inspectors. ICE did not fall under the CBP, but was part of DHS.
The George W. Bush administration added another law, making crossing the border without papers a crime for the first time.
The Trump administration’s cruel border policies required no new laws. The laws passed under Clinton and Bush – whose policies were continued and expanded by Obama – sufficed.
Under Obama, ICE ballooned to 20,000 employees, with 400 offices around the country. Its duties morphed to include a massive immigrant detention center complex, and deportation force, with a budget of $6 billion. ICE operates throughout the country, but also in the border area where the Border Patrol operates.
“Obama continued the legacy of all U.S. presidents and administrations since Ronald Reagan, making life more difficult for immigrants,” Frey writes. “Obama’s rate of deportations of immigrants already established in the country was higher than any president before or since. During his eight years in office, Obama deported more than five million people, and, so far  even Trump has not beat that record.
Frey notes that, “Obama also expanded family detention facilities for women with their children,” as a response to an influx of thousands of Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty.
The stage was set by both Democrats and Republicans for the openly racist Trump to intensify and deepen the war against immigrants on the border, in all the horrific manifestations we see today.
End the deportations! Immediate legalization and full equal rights for all immigrants! Open the border!