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The dollars and cents of border enforcement


Investigative journalist says global displacement has multiplied enforcement, human costs

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Rosendo Sichler Rubio, at left, street pastor for Frontera de Cristo, one of five organizations celebrating 35 years of Presbyterian Border Region Outreach ministry last week, leads participants in a silly dance at the Migrant Resource Center near the port of entry between Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

AGUA PRIETA, Sonora, Mexico — Investigative journalist and author Todd Miller has been studying the border issues for almost 20 years. Over that time, he told the people attending last week’s 35th anniversary of Presbyterian Border Region Outreach, Miller has learned to follow the money.

In the second year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the total budget for immigration, including border  enforcement, was $1.4 billion. Congress and the Clinton Administration tripled spending by the time Clinton left office six years later.

President George W. Bush started with that $4.2 billion annual budget, and then the 9/11 terror attacks happened. The Department of Homeland Security came into being, “and the faucets opened up for more spending,” Miller said. By the end of Bush’s presidency, the nation was spending $14 billion annually on immigration.

Todd Miller

President Barack Obama saw Bush’s $14 billion and helped boost annual spending to $20 billion annually by the time his second term ended in early 2017. “Obama is known for deporting three million people,” Miller noted.

Under the Trump Administration, annual immigration spending is now $24 billion. “The justification is protecting people,” Miller said, “but I contend it’s more like what (former Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Doris) Meissner was pointing out in 1992, about creating displacement around the world.”

Meissner had warned the nation would have to harden its borders following the displacement caused by actions like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That turned out to be the case, Miller said.

Miller has branched out to study how other nations are enforcing their borders. An exchange from five years ago still haunts him.

He said the U.S. had given Mexico “a lot of money” to fortify its southern border with Guatemala. Miller said he met a man who’d tried to cross that border four times, only to be sent back four times. The man told Miller he was desperate to reach Miami to see the child he hadn’t seen in eight years. He produced the most recent photo he had of his child, who was 2 at the time. The child was 10 when the man told Miller his story.

The photo “was frayed, like he’d had it out 10,000 times,” Miller said. “He said, ‘All the odds are against me, but I’ve been deported four times. All I want to do is see my kid.’”

Sanctuary: A concept dating back to baby Moses

The Rev. Alison Harrington

The Rev. Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, reminded recipients that God instructed the Israelites to set up cities of sanctuary. The church she serves has been at it for more than three decades. She said that sanctuary churches that sprang up during the 1980s formed “a new Underground Railroad.”

Harington told the Exodus 2 story of how Jochebed, Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter worked together to save the baby Moses from the murderous Pharaoh. “This narrative has been my grounding,” she said. “It speaks of noncompliance, resistance and the conspiracy of three women working together.”

“Do we comply with the edicts of death?” she asked. “Or do we conspire to protect the Moses of our generation?”

Harrington confessed that despite her best efforts and the years she spent in community organizing, “I still read the story as a story to justify my role as a white savior, a princess … For a long time I thought sanctuary belonged to the church, and we dole it out to the people we thought are worthy.

“But sanctuary belongs to us all. If the empire is expanding with borders, then the work of sanctuary needs to expand — just as rapidly and with just as much force.”

We may not be in ancient Egypt, “but Pharaoh is on the move,” she said. “But so are the people of God, who are inspired by our ancestors of faith, like Jochebed, Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter.”

Training detainees to represent themselves

Monica Cordero

Monica Cordero, an attorney with Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, said the lack of public defenders in the immigration system has led her organization to prepare migrants as best they can for their day in court.

“The need is huge. We can’t represent everybody,” she said. Instead, staff performs weekly orientations in detention facilities “to educate and empower them to represent themselves. We explain the immigration process, why they’re being detained, what their rights are and what are the most common forms of relief.”

“Often,” she said, “we are the first face they see a week or 10 days after they’ve been detained. They’re not criminals — just people in need.”


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