Friday, July 18, 2008

"Attrition Through Enforcement" Agenda

Anti-immigration groups like NumbersUSA are propagating "attrition through enforcement" as the sensible, practical "middle ground" or "third way" in immigration reform.

Rather than calling for a costly and morally repugnant mass deportation of millions of immigrants, the restrictionists have united behind a strategy aimed at wearing down the will of immigrants to live and work in the United States. illegal alien crisis – give illegal aliens amnesty or round them up and deport them.”

NumbersUSA calls Attrition Through Enforcement “the most effective and efficient solution.” It is not a quick final solution, but one that NumbersUSA believes will work over the medium term. “it took 20 years to create an illegal population of more than 12 million, and it may take at least ten years to substantially reduce that number,” says NumbersUSA.

According to NumbersUSA, the goal of the attrition through enforcement strategy “is to make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States. There is no need for taxpayers to watch the government spend billions of their dollars to round up and deport illegal aliens; they will buy their own bus or plane tickets back home if they can no longer earn a living here.”

By increasing the pressure on immigrants through employer verification and immigration enforcement by all law enforcement agencies, local and national, the SAVE Act, according to Beck, is the “middle-ground solution.” It’s what “most Americans want” since the bill offers an option that involves neither “massive legalizations” nor “massive round-ups.” (See: Save Us from the SAVE Act)

“The goal is to make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States,” explains NumbersUSA. “There is no need for taxpayers to watch the government spend billions of their dollars to round up and deport illegal aliens; they will buy their own bus or plane tickets back home if they can no longer earn a living here.”

For NumbersUSA, immigration policy is just an easy math problem. With lots of subtraction (“removals” by Homeland Security and self-deportions), no addition (neither legal nor illegal), and the inevitable division (parents taken away from children and spouses), the problem will be solved.

But it is a solution with an awfully large remainder: divided communities, broken families, multibillion dollar crackdown budgets, overflowing detention centers, and a modern America that has turned away from its own heritage and toward one shaped by the hate and resentment of immigrants.
(See TransBorder Profile of NumbersUSA)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Restrictionist Take on Elections

NumbersUSA, founded in 1997, is one of a trinity of closely related policy organizations dedicated to restrict immigration flows. It describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy organization that favors an environmentally sustainable and economically just America.”
The other two major restrictionist organizations based in Washington, DC area are the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
NumbersUSA was the lead organization is mobilizing grassroots opposition to the proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate was considering in June 2007. Its organizing efforts proved a tremendous boost to its membership base. It now boasts that it counts on 640,000 members with an average of 1,300 members in every congressional district.
Commenting on the Obama and McCain candidacies, Beck told the Los Angeles Times, "These two guys were pretty much at the bottom of all the candidates. They're the worst, the bottom of the barrel, that ended up winning."
“That's the reality we're dealing with: a choice we don't consider a choice," said Beck. "The chances of influencing one of these two guys to take a pro-worker, pro-environment position are very low.” However, he said that "bringing public pressure to bear to not dismantle enforcement and improve border security has some chance of success."
NumbersUSA tracks the immigration positions of congressional candidates and members, as well as presidential contenders. It sponsors the Americans for Better Immigration website ( that grades candidates and notes the ones that are “True Immigration Reform Candidates.” While not endorsing candidates, NumbersUSA does promote the reelection of the members of the Immigration Reform Caucus.
Americans for Better Immigration “believes the problem with immigration today is not the individual immigrant but the numbers. ‘Better’ immigration is lower immigration.” While Beck, like other restrictionist leaders, is not pleased with either presidential candidate, he says NumbersUSA is focusing on building local opposition to liberal immigration reform and support for such restrictionist bills as the SAVE Act.
In Beck’s view, a Democratic Congress "doesn't necessarily mean bad things for us." He points out that some freshman Democrats who beat Republican incumbents in 2006 are tough on illegal immigration because "they need a way to show people that they're different from the party leadership." "We've spent the last seven years separating the Republican back bench from the party leadership with tremendous success," Beck told the Los Angeles Times, adding that his sights are now on the Democrats. "We'll continue to push that line hard."
Photo: Roy Beck, NumbersUSA

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Republican Caucus Opposes Immigration

The U.S. House of Representatives has its restrictionist Immigration Reform Caucus. It recently created Senate counterpart is the Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus. Formed in March 2008, the new restrictionist caucus doesn’t include senators from states along the southwestern border with Mexico or other states with large immigrant populations. Instead, all but one of its members represent southern states with relatively small numbers of immigrants but with large anti-immigrant constituencies. The lone exception is Sen. Inofe, who represents Oklahoma. All members are Republicans. The Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus has adopted the "attrition through enforcement" strategy advocated by restrictionionist groups such as Numbers USA, Center for Immigration Studies, and Federation for American Immigration Reform. Copying the language found on NumbersUSA website, the caucus says: “The principal mission of the Caucus is to promote a true, achievable alternative: attrition through enforcement. Living illegally in the United States will become more difficult and less satisfying over time when the government – at ALL LEVELS – enforces all of the laws already on the books.” See TransBorder Profile: Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Looking to the Future, Halliburton On Call for Immigration Crackdown

Halliburton construction and engineering subsidiary KBR is also benefiting from the escalating crackdown on immigrants. ICE has awarded KBR an “indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity” contingency contract to support ICE in the event of an immigration emergency. Halliburton says that the $385-million contract provides for “establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the United States, or to support the rapid development of new programs.” The 2006 five-year contract represents the continuation of a 2000-2005 contract. According to Halliburton, under the terms of the contract the company, the company may also provide “migrant detention support” to other unnamed U.S.-government organizations “in the event of an immigration emergency.” In addition, Halliburton may be asked to develop a plan to react to a national emergency. “We are especially gratified to be awarded this contract because it builds on our extremely strong track record in the arena of emergency operations support,” said KBR vice president Bruce Stanski, “We look forward to continuing the good work we have been doing to support our customer whenever and wherever we are needed.” DHS awarded the contract to Halliburton despite the controversy of Halliburton’s unsubstantiated billing for its Iraq reconstruction contracts. The company also came under public and congressional scrutiny because of accusations that VP Dick Cheney helped Halliburton obtain the Iraq contracts. Cheney was Halliburton’s president before being elected vice president.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Business of Outsourcing Immigrants

Immigrants are good for business and economic growth say immigration advocates and immigrant rights activists. Immigrants take jobs away from citizens and keep wages low contend immigration restrictionists. Macroeconomic studies tend to support the claims of immigration proponents, although restrictionists rightly can point to certain economic sectors to support their arguments against immigration. But there’s one industrial sector that depends both on immigrants and tough immigration enforcement. That’s the private prison industry, which has been experiencing record profits for the last few years. The immigration crackdown is also considered an economic development opportunity for an increasing number of local governments that are building new jails or expanding old ones to make room for arrested immigrants. In many cases, private prison firms team up with county and state governments to attract business from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Immigrants are the fastest growing sector of the federal detainees and prisoners, and there’s hundreds of millions of dollars to be made by enterprising business and governments. The private prison industry is now well established and is spreading throughout the world. Immigrants were the industry’s first prisoners, and the upsurge in immigrant detention during the Bush administration has reversed a downturn in industry profits at the turn of the century. It all started in 1983 as a result of a policy environment created by the Reagan administration that favored all variants of free-market policies, including privatization of government services such as health care, foreign aid, and the penal system. Two prison corporations – Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group – dominate the immigration detention business. Other key private prison firms that are profiting from the surge in immigrant detention are Cornell Cos. and the Management and Training Corp. Rep. Tom Tancredo spoke earlier this year in favor of the expansion of the GEO Processing Center in in Aurora, Colorado. "Does anyone think we don't have 1,100 illegal aliens in the area?” he said, “I don't think that there's much to worry about. If there are 1,500 beds available I guarantee you they will be used." GEO was seeking the county government’s permission to expand its 400-bed ICE detention center in Aurora to make room for another 1,100 detainees. Immigrant-rights advocates and opponents of private prisons spoke out against the expansion, which the county eventually approved.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Missouri Is FAIR Territory

On Monday Gov. Matt Blunt signed a tough anti-illegal immigration law for Missouri. Among other things, the law requires the state police to enforce immigration law, makes it a crime to help an undocumented immigrant obtain a driver’s license, and requires that all applicants for public assistance show proof that they are legal residents. In addition, the new law empowers the attorney general to file civil actions against employers who hire illegal workers and allows the state to cancel contracts with such companies. The law is the latest in an array of new state anti-immigration laws. Like in other states caught up in the anti-immigrant hysteria, the Federation for American Immigration Reform was involved in the Missouri initiative. FAIR director Dan Stein greeted the new law, saying: “Kudos to FAIR activists in Missouri for this important victory!”
He boasted, “FAIR's legal affiliate IRLI, the Immigration Reform Law Institute as well as FAIR activists were involved in making sure that this measure was crafted as well as instrumental in keeping the pressure on to pass it. Kudos to FAIR activists in Missouri for this important victory!” See previous post: Anti-Immigrant Movement's Legal Arm
Photo: Dan Stein

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Anti-Immigration Movement's Environmentalism

Environmentalism is not opportunism on the part of immigration restrictionist groups. Protecting the environment was fundamental to the founders of the U.S. restrictionist movement. A new campaign by restrictionist groups that links traffic congestion, environmental destruction, and urban sprawl to immigration growth is being criticized by liberal groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center as being an attempt to win new adherents to immigration restrictionism. A new anti-immigration coalition called America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning placed large ads last month in such national publications as the New York Times and The Nation. One ad shows an eight-lane highway clogged with stalled traffic with the caption: “One of America’s Most Popular Pastimes.” Another ad shows a bulldozer plowing through a forest with the provocative caption: “One of America’s Best Selling Vehicles.” In the traffic congestion ad, the member groups – Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, Social Contract Press, and American Immigration Control Foundation – state: “We’re the nation’s leading experts on population and immigration trends and growth.” SPLC notes that this was “not the first time that … anti-immigration activists have tried to woo environmentalists in an attempt to gain political support for their cause.” SPLC, which categorizes NumbersUSA, and American Immigration Control Foundation as hate groups, points out that John Tanton, a founder and principal figure in FAIR and Social Contract Press, lobbied the Sierra Club in 1996 to approve a plank calling for immigration restrictions, and in 2004 an anti-immigrant faction sought election to the Sierra Club’s board of directors. But it would be wrong to dismiss these immigration restrictionists as simply opportunists attempting to create inroads among liberals and environmentalists. The modern restrictionist movement emerged from the zero population and environmental movements of the 1970s. Unlike most immigration advocates, such leading restrictionist organizations as FAIR, Social Contract Press, Center for Immigration Studies, and Numbers USA have environmental credentials that date back four decades. Tapping his base in environmental and population control organizations such as the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, and Zero Population Growth, Tanton in 1979 cofounded FAIR and was instrumental in founding many other leading restrictionist groups, including Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA. Because of his central role in creating the organizational infrastructure of restrictionism, SPLC calls Tanton “the puppet master of the modern anti-immigration movement.” While anti-population environmentalism is no longer a pillar of restrictionism, it continues to be a strong tendency among the anti-immigration forces. The leading restrictionist institutes in Washington – NumbersUSA, FAIR, and Center for Immigration Studies – continue to publish analysis and studies detailing what they claim are the direct links between immigration, environmental destruction, and the declining quality of life in the United States.
The public voice of the anti-immigration environmentalists is Richard Lamm, the former Colorado governor who is the coauthor of The Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America. Lamm, who serves on FAIR’s advisory board, led the restrictionist slate of candidates who in 2004 sought unsuccessfully to win control of Sierra Club’s elected board of directors. Immigration restrictionists have become experts in out-flanking immigrant rights activists and immigration proponents.
But they have repeatedly failed in other attempts to integrate the U.S. environmental movement into their fold. Groups like the Sierra Club have rebuffed attempts to merge environmental and restrictionist forces.
The new campaign indicates that some of the leading restrictionist organizations believe that with higher gas prices and rising environmental consciousness it may be an opportune time to make another bid to link environment, population, and immigration issues. Those who are concerned about the escalating immigration crackdown in America would do well to forward their own arguments about immigration and sustainable development.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Who is Drug Czar John P. Walters?

Bush administration drug czar John Walters is a conservative ideologue and loyal Republican. Appointed in December 2001 to direct the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, Walters came to the Bush administration from the Philanthropy Roundtable, the consortium of mainly conservative foundations, where he served as president from 1996 to 2001. Known for his brash statements and dogmatic politics, Walters in July 2007 called northern California marijuana growers “violent criminal terrorists.” Reacting to rising public sentiment in favor of using marijuana as a medical treatment for cancer and other patients, Walters in 2003 aid that medical marijuana – now permitted in 12 states – made no more sense than “medical crack.”
According to ONDCP, “As the Nation’s “Drug Czar,” Director Walters coordinates all aspects of Federal drug control programs and spending.”
Walter’s association with right-wing organizations involved in foreign and domestic policy extends beyond the Philanthropy Roundtable. He served as president of the New Citizen Project, an initiative of the right-wing Bradley Foundation. Other principals of the New Citizen Project in the mid-1990s included William Kristol, Gary Schmitt, and Thomas Donnelly, who later also played leading roles in the Project for the New American Century.
His work with right-wing organizations also included his participation as a fellow at the Hudson Institute and his founding role in the Madison Foundation.
Along with William Bennett and John Dilulio, Walters coauthored Body County: Moral Poverty and How to Win America’s War Against Crime and Drugs. People for the American Way, which tracks right-wing groups, summarized the 1997 book: "In the book, Walters and company see the 'moral poverty' of today's youth as the root of all violent crime and drug abuse in the country. They call for a moral awakening brought about through religion and education to ward off the coming wave of youthful 'super-predators,' members of 'the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known.'”
Dan Baum, author of Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure (1996), quotes Walters, as saying: "The health people say 'no stigma,' and I'm for stigma'." According to Baum, Walters "took the position that marijuana, cocaine and heroin 'enslave people' and 'prevent them from being free citizens' in a way that tobacco and alcohol do not.'"
Walters held positions in both the Reagan and Bush I administrations, following his mentor William Bennett from the U.S. Department of Education to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. During the Reagan administration, he served as Assistant to Secretary of Education Bennett and representative to the National Drug Policy Board.
During Reagan’s first term, Walters served as Acting Assistant Director and Program Officer in the Division of Education Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Under Bennett again in the first Bush administration, Walters was the ONDCP’s deputy director for supply reduction and chief of staff to the ONDCP director. Walters took the New York Times to task for its editorial criticism of the ONDCP and the drug war. In public letter sent to the New York Times, Walters wrote: “Today's New York Times has published an editorial that willfully cherry picks data in order to conform to their tired, 1970's editorial viewpoint that we're ‘losing the war on drugs.’” In its July 2, 2008 editorial, the NYT said: “The drug cartels are not running for cover. Mexico and parts of Central America are being swept up in drug-related violence. Latin Americans are becoming heavy consumers of cocaine, and traffickers are opening new routes to Europe through fragile West African countries. Some experts argue that the rising price of cocaine on American streets is mostly the result of a strong euro and fast-growing demand in Europe.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Building Communities by Imprisoning Immigrants

New immigrant detention projects are particularly attractive to county governments because immigrants are considered minimum security risks and don’t require the correctional services – education, health care, and job training – offered other prisoners. James Parkey, owner of the prison consulting firm Corplan, says that his company has “developed a philosophy of building these facilities in communities that need jobs and economic development.” Corplan has been instrumental in developing immigrant detention centers in Polk and Willacy counties in southeastern and southern Texas.
"We were looking at a myriad of ways to broaden revenues when this option walked in the door [in the form of Corplan],” explained Polk County Judge John P. Thompson remarked in 2006 when the project got underway. “Now it appears this facility is going to help us with that very soon."
On the county’s website, Polk County Judge’s Office boasts that not only does “this type of alternative revenue source for the County lessen the local tax burden,” but additionally the Secure Adult Detention Facility utilizes local business and workforce for construction and operation, providing an even greater benefit to our economy.”
The contract with Community Education Centers, the private prison firm operating the center, guarantees a minimum fee of $100,000 annually, but the judge’s office says the county realized more than double the guaranteed revenue in the first seven months of operation.” Less than a year after the $15.4 million center was completed, Polk County and CEC launched an expansion of the detention center. The county projects that the immigrant detention will net the county $1 million in revenue in 2008.
“Like most local governments everywhere, Polk County found it tougher and tougher to fund essential services in the face of public resistance to higher taxes,” observed Texas County Progress magazine in a report on this increasingly popular economic development option.
On the occasion of President Bush’s visit to southern Texas in early August 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of Homeland Security, hailed the opening of the first phase of a 2000-bed lockup for immigrants in Willacy County. “The first 500 beds are open and accepting illegal aliens apprehended at the Southwest border,” said ICE.
Joining in the celebration of the opening of the new jail beds for immigrants, Willacy County Judge Simone Salinas said, “Willacy County recognizes that homeland security is a shared mission. We are proud to have been able to bring on these new detention beds in record time, which will result in improved border security not only for county residents but also our nation.”
"You talk about economic development, this is it," Salinas told a reporter, noting the county's initial cut is $2.25 a day, per occupied bed.”A year later, a new agreement with ICE for another thousand beds was greeted enthusiastically by some officials in Willacy County, one of the poorest counties in the nation.
The new county judge Eliseo Barnhart said the expansion of the immigrant detention center run by Corrections Corporation of America will “bring jobs that are needed in Willacy County and it means income, which we desperately need.” According to Barnhart, the detention center will create about 200 new jobs within the Raymondville’s (county seat) sprawling prison complex – which locals call “Prisonville.”

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Ingrid Betancourt is liberated.
Liberation, a term appropriated by the Left in the 1970s, has lost its meaning and its power. And the Left has mainly itself to blame. By indiscriminately calling all armed struggles against imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism movements of liberation, the term devolved – from a word that signified joyous freedom to one that meant militant resistance by Marxist forces.
Liberation might have evolved to mean the freedom enjoyed by those participating in and benefiting from anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist armed movements. The problem was not that these struggles were armed, since armed resistance was the only way forward in many countries. Neither was the problem that the goals of these “liberation movements” – post-colonial, post-imperial socialist societies – were so inherently misguided.
Rather the main flaw of so many liberation movements was that the essence of liberating and being liberated was lost in the blindness of doctrinaire politics, the rage of battle, and the rush of power.
The prisoners of Nazi killing centers and concentration camps were truly liberated, and the Soviets, American, and British forces truly liberators. Liberation in 1944-45 had a lived meaning for captives and liberators. It meant individual and collective freedom.
Many of those, many of us (perhaps even most of us) who have participated in or worked in solidarity with the liberation movements in this post-World War II era have had freedom as a core motive and uncompromised practice.
But too often we have let political doctrines blind us, power corrupt us, and violence distort us. In the struggle for liberation, we have let our rage against injustice and repression lead us away from the meaning and the feeling of liberation.
Liberation and revolution became just other words for not being free. Being captive to power, ideologies, and our own hate and fear.
Some have attempted with varying success to give liberation new meaning. Liberation as countercultural revolution in the wake of the 1968 youth rebellions. Liberation as freedom from capitalist alienation and oppression, as in the founding of Libération newspaper by Jean-Paul Sarte and others in 1973.
Reacting to the patriarchal control of leftist organizations and movements, the women’s liberation movement enlarged the province of liberation to include personal and political struggles against sexism and male chauvinism. In the 1970s liberation also came to mean a fusion of religious belief and social struggle as in liberation theology.
Then there was the short-lived men’s liberation and youth liberation movements.
As the women’s liberation movement has faded, liberation today, at least in the U.S., may be most often associated with the animal liberation movement. Liberation for many means not freedom but the Liberation type font or the computer games Liberation: Captive 2 and Killzone: Liberation.
It would be nice to believe in liberation again. To believe that, for ourselves and others, freedom is possible. To know that we can liberate and be liberated.
It might have felt better if movements and governments identified with the principles of freedom, justice, equality, creation, and sustainability had been responsible for the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt. And it surely feels badly that self-identified movements of the left, like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), are the captors, oppressors, and terrorists.
But for Ingrid Betancourt and the other former FARC prisoners liberation has only one meaning – being free at long last. And knowing that others have made this freedom possible.
It’s time to celebrate liberation. To embrace it as a common goal. It’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Maquila Doldrums, Mexican Nightmares

In Chihuahua dependency is measured in 90% figures. When the U.S. economy is booming, that’s good news for this northern border state whose exports and imports are intricately tied to the fortunes of the United States, the world’s largest national economy.
But when bear markets turn bullish, and when insatiable U.S. consumers run out of cash and credit, Chihuahua suffers.
Chihuahua is a maquila state. According to the Center for Economic and Social Information (CIES), a government-affiliated research center, 97% of Chihuahua’s exports and 94% of its imports are related to the maquila industry.
In Mexico, maquilas mean the export of assembled imports, and the sector is officially categorized as the Maquila Export Industry (IME). In other words, maquilas aren’t integrated with the local production but are highly integrated with foreign economies, particularly the United States – which is the source of most of its imports and the destination of most of its exports.
Here are the hard numbers of declining exports and imports in Chihuahua: In the first quarter of 2008, Chihuahua exported $2.9 million in goods, down from $5.1 million in the same period last year. Imports dropped from $4.4 million in 2007 to $2.6 million in the first four months of 2008. These are frightening numbers. Especially for a state with various other 90% plus dependencies. Virtually all of Chihuahua’s emigrants head for the United States, and this has resulted in a flood of remittances. But when times are bad in the United States, immigrants stop sending money back home.
Remittances have experienced double-digit growth since the late 1990s, but in 2008 remittances are dropping precipitously. Newly released government figures show that remittances in May dropped 3.4% from May 2007.
Illegal business is a particularly dangerous dependency. More than 90% of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines that enter the United States come from or pass through Mexico.
What’s more, the U.S. and Mexican government concur that more than 90% of the illegal weapons entering Mexico and arming the drug cartels come from the United States.
There are no hard numbers, though, about the economic benefits of the illegal drug trade. But it’s clear from a casual look at the new luxury housing and restaurant/nightclub construction in border cities like Juárez and Palomas that drug money is being laundered. Overall, it is estimated that the illegal drug economy in Mexico is immense, dwarfing other economic sectors -- $24-$40 billion.
In Chihuahua, illegal drugs have injected billions into the state economy. But the drug violence that is terrorizing the state is shuttering the tourist trade and turning once-thriving business districts into ghost districts.
Dependency on the U.S. market, whether for legal or illegal consumer goods, is a mixed blessing for the Mexican borderlands.
Photo: Maquila factor/Siglo 21

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Betting on Mexican Army in Drug War

At a time when the U.S. government is seeking more cooperation with the Mexican armed forces, Mexicans are becoming increasingly disillusioned. The Mexican army has long been regarded as one of Mexico’s most highly regarded institutions, generally ranking second in public polls following the Catholic Church. However, its high-profile role in President Felipe Calderón’s drug war has highlighted its gross incompetence, corruption, and disregard for human rights. As a result, public confidence in the armed forces is plummeting. After three months of the Mexican army’s Joint Operation Chihuahua, two out of three people recently polled in Ciudad Juárez said that the army’s anti-drug operation has had little or no impact. At the outset of the army’s anti-narcotics campaign in Chihuahua, the army ranked first in public confidence among thirteen institutions. Today, only 34% of those polled in the border city of Juárez had confidence in the army – a drop from 77% in early April. It’s no wonder. The drug violence that sparked state and local government officials to request an expanded army presence has continued unabated. In public displays attended by school children, the army periodically burns stacks of marijuana that it has “decommissioned” and display the rangy “delinquents” it has arrested. But there have been no arrests of drug lords or major raids on the highly lucrative drug trafficking networks that run through the border state. At the start of Joint Operation Chihuahua, the army engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign to win public support and explain its mission. General Jorge Juárez, commander of the Chihuahua operation, explained away the drug violence, asserting it was the result of the “efecto cucaracha” or cockroach effect whereby the army presence set off increased feuding among the country’s main drug organizations. This explanation is the official line of the Calderón government, which insists that the escalating drug-related violence since December 2006, when the current drug war began with the army in the lead, is actually a sign of success. More sober assessments, however, attribute the new violence to the internal dynamics of the illegal drug business in Mexico rather than a reaction to government progress. The various drug cartels are competing among one another for increased control, and in the process they are eliminating police who aren’t loyal to the new regional drug bosses. It’s the “plata ó plomo” (silver or lead—bribes or death) system gone wild. The United States is betting that the army, with its help, can bring stability to Mexico. It praises the Calderón administration for “using the military to reestablish authority and counter the cartels’ firepower.” (see International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 2008). In its ever-hopeful vision of the drug war, the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy declares that the Mexican institutions leading the drug war “are making a tremendous amount of progress” – without detailing what that progress is. Reacting to congressional concerns about gross human rights abuses by the army, ONCCP Chief John Walters says, “The use of the military against the cartels is a temporary necessity; President Calderón is reforming Mexican police institutions to enable them to confront cartels that use the income from our addicted citizens to arm themselves and kill and corrupt security forces.” Few Mexicans, who detest the police, would bet on that scenario. And few close observers of the drug war in Mexico would bet that the military’s role in the drug war is temporary.
Photo: Bush and Calderon shake on drug war cooperation

Merida Initiative and Failed Drug War Paradigm

“The Government of Mexico is fighting a deadly battle to protect human rights and stop those who seek to rule by violence and terror.” John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House, made that assessment in the ONDCP’s blog, Pushing Back.
Drug Chief Walters asks us to believe the Mexican government is fighting a life-or-death battle to protect human rights. “Pushing back,” ONDCP took Congress to task for adding strong human rights conditionality to the proposed Merida Initiative to aid Mexico is its drug war.
According to ONDCP, “Insisting on such conditions would reduce the possibility of implementing our strategic partnership and compromise relations with a vital partner in the fight against crime and illegal drugs.” What’s more, the strong human rights conditionality included in the original Senate version of the bill raise serious sovereignty concerns.”
Echoing the complaints of the Mexican Congress and President Felipe Calderón, the title of the ONDCP blog posting asks, “Is it fair to ask Mexico to change its constitution?” It surely was an odd turn in U.S. politics when the Bush administration, eager to increase its drug war involvement in Mexico, stood behind nationalist sentiment in Mexico against U.S. meddling in its internal affairs.
The Mexican political elite stood largely united behind the Calderón administration’s position that human rights conditionality violated national sovereignty and undermined the cooperative character of the Merida Initiative – a binational anti-narcotics, border security, and anti-terrorism accord that was publicly unveiled by President Bush in October 2007 and named after the March 2007 meeting of Bush and Calderón in Merida as part of the trinational Security and Prosperity Partnership.
Expressing the political opposition’s view, Ruth Zavaleta, a leading deputy of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told the Dallas Times: "We are the first ones to defend the idea that Mexico needs these reforms, along with advances in human rights," she said. "But the United States cannot make unilateral demands."
Human Rights Demands Not Unilateral
Human rights demands weren’t exactly unilateral. Mexico’s human rights community called for human rights conditionality. According to Victor Serrato Lozano, the president of Michoacán's state commission for human rights, the Mexican army’s drug war has come with a “high cost to human rights.”
"There should be conditions on the aid package. This is not a violation of our sovereignty if what the US is seeking is to strengthen human rights organizations." Which of course it does not do. It gives the state department—a dubious authority on human rights-- the task of rubber stamping Mexican government actions.
A May 29 letter from directors of Amnesty International Mexico and the Miguel Augustín Pro-Juárez Human Rights Center to the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives, which was signed by 25 other Mexican human rights and civil society organizations, stated: “The strengthening of efficient mechanisms that guarantee full respect for human rights should be at its center if it truly intends on being an act of collaboration between countries with common concerns.”
Opposition by the Mexican government and Congress, together with the “push back” strategy of the Bush administration, persuaded U.S. congressional representatives to withdraw the controversial human rights conditionality. As a result, Mexico is set to receive $400 million in anti-drug and security aid this year, with $116.5 million allocated to the Mexican armed forces for training and equipment.
The House of Representatives has already authorized the president’s $1.4 billion three-package, but additional funds for the next two years will still need to go through the appropriations process. According to the original Merida Initiative presented to Congress by President Bush, another $450 million appropriation is proposed for the initiative’s second year.
Increased U.S.-Mexico cooperation on illegal drug flows and other transborder crime is clearly needed. But cooperation in a failed drug war won’t solve drug violence and drug abuse as the history of the U.S. government’s drug war – launched by President Richard Nixon in 1972.
New Paradigm—Legalization of Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin
Bush and Calderón should have taken advantage of their alliance and meeting in Merida to call for a new cooperative campaign that treats the transborder drug problem as a public health issue rather than as a threat to national security. Rather than helicopters and weapons, what’s needed is a combination of a shared intelligence, public education, treatment, and the regularization and legalization of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Instead, the failed drug war is being extended and pumped up by more foreign aid.
Concern for human rights should be part of all U.S. foreign aid agreements – with the exception of humanitarian and disaster assistance. Congress was right to consider adding human rights conditions to its aid package to Mexico. U.S. taxpayers should be able to rest assured that our foreign aid isn’t given to recipients with patterns of human rights abuses – like the Mexican army and police.
But the main failure of Congress was neither adding the human rights conditions nor withdrawing them. Rather, Congress should have outright rejected Bush’s Merida Initiative as a waste of taxpayer money – throwing scarce dollars into yet another war that is misguided and counterproductive.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), one of the Senate’s leading voices on Latin America policy, may have expressed it best when he called the Bush administration’s Merida Initiative part of the “old war on drugs paradigm.” Unfortunately, even critics of the drug war model in Congress have been reluctant to cast their votes against funding the drug war – just as they continue to vote to fund the Iraq war. And so the drug war continues from decade to decade, country to country.
A new paradigm is badly needed.
For more information:Resource Page on Plan Mexico: