‘Border Industrial Complex’ Persecutes Immigrants While Enriching Corporations

Interview with Todd Miller, journalist and author, conducted by Scott Harris

The number of families and unaccompanied children from Central America seeking refuge in the U.S. is now on the rise along the U.S. southern border. This spike in people wanting to emigrate to the U.S. is part of a decade-long pattern, where these numbers grow beginning in March, before declining in the summer. This year, the numbers may be greater due to a backlog of demand because of 2020 coronavirus border closures and lockdown policies.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans have flocked to the southern border for press conferences and photo ops onboard Border Patrol gun boats outfitted with multiple .30 caliber machine guns, as they attempt to blame the increase in border crossings on Biden administration policies. While there’s no clear evidence making that connection, there is growing concern about the overcrowded, poorly equipped facilities in which thousands of immigrant children are being held. The president says ending the Trump policy of forcing migrants to remain in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated is “a moral imperative,” while asserting the Trump administration handed it a deliberately broken immigration and asylum system.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with journalist and author Todd Miller about how lucrative government contracts and campaign contributions have resulted in policies that have militarized the southern border under both Republican and Democratic presidents. Here, he talks about his recent article titled, “The Greater the Disaster, the Greater the Profits: The Border-Industrial Complex in the Post-Trump Era.”

TODD MILLER: And you really have to understand the border industrial complex. It’s a complex that goes back many decades, even into the 1970s, but for our purposes, if you look from 2008 to 2020, you have 105,000 contracts given out by Customs and Border Protection and ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — to the tune of $55 billion. That total, $55 billion, is the same total of all the border and immigration enforcement budgets combined from 1975 to 2003, or even more than that. The total cumulative budgets for those 28 years are $52 billion. So that goes to show you a number of things. One, the massive shift to the privatization of what is the border — I would say immigration enforcement apparatus. And two, just the historic increases of budgets that are given to border and immigration enforcement.

If you go back to 1994, and I say 1994, because that’s the year several operations — Operation Gatekeeper; Operation Safeguard, Operation Hold the Line — went into effect under the Bill Clinton administration that form the strategy that we still have on the border today. And that strategy is known as prevention through deterrence.

The first idea was that you build up urban areas like Nogales or San Diego or Brownsville or El Paso with concentration of armed agents and barriers and walls of some sort and technology. So this idea of those three things on the border wall system blockading these traditional places where people would cross more safely and then forcing people to circumvent those areas and go into deserts — like the Arizona desert, which would be a deterrent because it’s too desolate, dangerous, even deadly. And so the formation of the border industrial complex follows these include ever-increasing budgets, increasing amount of money in contracts going to different companies, like the big military companies. There’s also security companies like Deloitte. There’s transportation companies like G4S. There’s private prison companies like GEO Group and CoreCivic.

In a report from The Transnational Institute, we analyzed 13 of those companies and we looked at what those 13 companies of the border industry did during the 2020 election. So we firstly looked at the presidential election. And we didn’t know what we were going to find. And what we found in the presidential election — these companies, the 13 companies that we analyzed — donated three times more to the Biden campaign than to the Trump campaign.

And so, then you start getting into the mechanisms of the border industrial complex. In 2016, you saw that these same companies were actually donating more to Trump and the Republicans — and now, who knows, you know, they might’ve seen that Biden was most likely going to win this election. Overall, these companies also donated 55 percent to the Democrats and 45 percent to the Republicans. Whatever the reason is, what it amounts to from the company perspective, from the influence perspective, giving those sorts of campaign contributions — and we can talk about lobbying too, because there’s a bad aspect of it as well — it’s like you give a vote and your vote’s a win-win no matter who wins.

SCOTT HARRIS: We’re talking about a lot of commitment of billions of dollars on border security on the U.S. southern border. But none of these funds of course, are being applied to the root causes of immigration in central America, where people face daily threats of violence, drugs, gangs, poverty, corrupt governments and the like. Just say a word, if you would about the allocation of resources here and how they could be better spent.

TODD MILLER: Yeah. That’s a great, great question to end on, actually, because when you think of the border, the border is the “solution.” It’s asking the wrong question, right? About a solution to a problem. It’s like, “Oh, like you say, there’s all kinds of factors in Central America that are, that are causing people to be displaced.” Yet, the solution is a border wall. Many communities are facing really, you know, hardships on particularly in central America, in the rural areas of Guatemala or Honduras, small farmers have been just marginalized for a long time. Many don’t even have cash. And now you have this intensifying effect of climate change on farmers in what is known as the Dry Corridor in Central America. They’re not able to depend on the rains for the harvest anymore. And so, sometimes harvests are being lost and that leads so many, even millions of people into crises.

And those sorts of things. If we lived in a world where people were coming together and honestly looking at the problems in the world, looking at issues such as climate change, such as poverty, such as corruption, such as all these different factors that cause people to be displaced, I think that we’d have a lot more holistic, better solutions that would be for the well-being of all rather than the way that things are being “solved” in this very moment, which from the United States perspective, a worldwide displacement crisis of displacement crisis in Central America is being “solved by border wall.”

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