Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Texas Confidential: Perry's Touts State's Secret Model of Border Security

(Another article in a Border Lines series on outsourcing border security in Texas.)

 “We know how to secure the border,” Gov. Rick Perry told Fox News in the wake of his reelection. Perry, who is promoting his new book, Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, told Fox that “this administration and frankly this Congress have been abject failures [at securing the border] and have been for many years now.”

 But what exactly is Perry doing in Texas, and how can it be assessed?

Perry and his chief of homeland security Steve McCraw, who also serves as director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), explain that the Texas model of border security comprises an array of innovative strategies and operations that other border states and the federal government should adopt.

While Perry and McCraw routinely charge that Washington is not fulfilling its responsibility to control the border, they do more than complain. Since 2005 they have launched an array of high-tech and intelligence-centered border-security initiatives, including the Border Security Operations Center, Joint Operations Intelligence Centers, the TxMap border crime-mapping project, and “Unified Commands.” In addition, the governor’s office has supported -- with federal and state funding -- the border-security deployments of the border sheriffs, known as Operation Linebacker. Five years into the Texas model of border security, there is, however, little information about these operations and only vague assertions about their effectiveness.

Nonetheless, the Texas Public Safety Commission approved, without discussion, an “emergency procurement” contract between DPS and Abrams Learning & Information Systems (ALIS), the private contractor to which DPS has delegated its core border security operations. Prior to the transfer of the Department of Emergency Management to DPS in 2009, it was the Office of the Governor that outsourced border security operations.

 ALIS has two border security contracts – one to develop and operate the border crime-mapping project called TxMAp and a larger Border Security Operations and Management contract. Both have been routinely renewed without any public accounting of accomplishments. DPS has declined to fulfill an open records request for documents and progress reports mandated by these contracts.

 In a Nov. 15 letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott, DPS Asst. General Counsel Jennifer Cohen contends that “the reports are confidential” and “consequently must be withheld from public disclosure.” Among the public records requested were documents that DPS has contracted ALIS to produce.

These requested documents included:

• Most recent version of Texas Border Security Campaign Plan (Subtask 2.2);

• Program status reports for August 2010, September 2010, or most recent month available, including BSOC-specific monthly reports (Subtask 1.1); •

•ALIS’s plan to integrate the three fusion centers (Task 8); • Most recent version of the “comprehensive plan for conducting effective information operations” (Subtask 4.2);

• Most recent plan “for the conduct of unified information operations” (Subtask 4.2);

• Most recent monthly report from BSOC/ALIS (Subtask 4.2); and • Most recent edition of Border Sentinel.

The DPS letter makes the following case, citing legal precedents, for nondisclosure of these public records:

“[T]he Department believes this information is either confidential or extremely sensitive to ongoing law enforcement operations along the Texas-Mexico border. Operation Border Star is a comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional border security program. Some important goals of Operation Border Star are to arrest narcotics smugglers and human traffickers; interdict shipments of drugs coming from the border as well as money and weapons going to the border; and cripple the support structure used by smugglers and traffickers. Clearly, these are important law enforcement goals, particularly in light of the upsurge in border violence as drug cartels become increasingly confrontational toward each other and toward law enforcement officers"

“The requested reports contain detailed border operations, including pre-mission summaries, post-mission briefs, and mission analyses. All of these reports contain extensive information regarding the detection and investigation of crimes, including tactical plans, equipment details, critical assessments, and so forth.”

 “The information contained in the reports at issue would reveal highly sensitive information that, in the hands of criminals, would greatly impede the efforts of law enforcement officers along the border. For instance, revealing the equipment and tactics utilized by Texas law enforcement in their border security operations would help smugglers and traffickers avoid detection as they cross the border into Texas with illegal cargo. The analyses of weaknesses contained in the responsive reports would be even more beneficial to criminals seeking to avoid detection and prosecution. Accordingly, the Department believes these responsive records are excepted from required public disclosure. In addition to the discretionary exception to disclosure stated above, the Department believes the reports at issue are confidential by law and therefore must be withheld from public disclosure.”

 “As described above, the requested reports are prepared by the Department for the purpose of preparing for and analyzing law enforcement operations along the border. Numerous law enforcement agencies are part of the Operation Border Star program, and their teams detect, impede, and interdict narcotics smuggling and human trafficking across the border. Clearly, border security issues are extremely important to preventing terrorism and related activity. The reports at issue provide comprehensive information regarding the types and number of personnel utilized during border operations. In addition, the reports detail tactical plans before missions are carried out and analyze the success of those tactics after the missions.”

Governor Perry and DPS Director McCraw have promoted the Texas “model” or “paradigm” of border security as one that is having great success in the state and one that should be widely adopted. It is, however, a model that is almost exclusively in the hands of a Washington Beltway consulting firm – ALIS – that has been contracted over the past several years not only to implement the model but to design in.

 Yet neither the Public Safety Commission nor the state legislature has taken its oversight responsibilities seriously. As a result, basic questions about the Texas border security model remain unanswered, such as:

* What exactly are the Border Security Operations Center and Joint Operations Intelligence Centers that ALIS has created and staffed, and what kind of information and intelligence do they disseminate?
* Is there any vetting of the information and intelligence distributed by these outsourced border security institutions, and are civil liberties and privacy concerns respected?
* Where is the statistical evidence and crime data that demonstrated the effectiveness of ALIS’s border crime mapping and its “border security operations and management.”?
*Why are these contracts being routinely renewed without any accountability?
* What type of oversight is provided by the Texas Rangers Division, which DPS's McCraw recently put in titular charge of the BSOC and JOICs?

Public access to information about the structure and impact, as well as to the contract-mandated monthly progress reports from ALIS, will help Texans and Washington officials better understand the much-touted model of border security in Texas.

Research support for this series was provided by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Also see, Tom Barry, "At War in Texas,"  Boston Review at:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Alternative to Border Security Boom on Arizona-Sonora Border

(Part of a Border Lines series on border security on Cochise County and Agua Prieta.)

Pedro Maldonado of Café Justo in Agua Prieta/Tom Barry
Cochise County is the epicenter of border security.

The killing of prominent Cochise County rancher Rob Krentz last March by a suspected illegal border crosser precipitated a border security firestorm in Arizona – leading to Gov. Jan Brewer’s approval of the controversial SB 1070 bill, the governor’s creation (with federal stimulus funding) of the Border Security Enhancement Program, and the increased deployment of Border Patrol agents to southeastern Arizona border.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever cofounded (with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu) Border and became a national voice for a border and immigration crackdowns.

While the killing of the rancher led to national attention to border security in Cochise County, this Arizona border county has been the focus of border crackdown campaigns since the 1990s. Leading the way were vigilante groups like the Minutemen, American Border Patrol, Civilian Defense Fund, and Cochise County Concerned Citizens, as well as the Texas-based Ranch Rescue.

As border control tightened along traditional crossing corridors in the mid-1990s, especially in the El Paso and San Diego areas, illegal border crossers sought other routes that weren’t as heavily patrolled and guarded. 

Responding to the surge of immigrant flows through southeastern Arizona, the Border Patrol launched Operation Safeguard 99, which included intensive Border Patrol deployment. Hotels in Douglas, the border town that hosted the Border Patrol’s district station, filled with Border Patrol agents in 1999.

At a time when border vigilantism and federal deployment were intensifying, there were other forces working to integrate the two sides of the border. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1992 boosted the maquila sector in Agua Prieta, the sprawling Sonoran town that lies opposite it much smaller border twin, Douglas.

The expanding maquila sector in Agua Prieta attracted thousands of women and men from southern Mexico, with an especially large number from Chiapas. As coffee prices plummeted in the mid-1990s, small coffee growers left their land to seek a livelihood in the only formal economic sector that was expanding in Mexico – the exported-oriented maquilas that assembled imported components destined for foreign markets.

Among those chiapanecos working in the maquilas, assembling car parts and seat belts, was Eduardo Perez Verdugo, who had left his mountain village near the Guatemalan border to come 2,000 miles to the U.S. border. Hurricane Mitch had devastated his town, and in 1998 he traveled north with his son, where they made $47 for a 48-hour work week. Seeking more income to support his family back in Chiapas, Perez unsuccessfully tried crossing the border to seek a job at a Phoenix golf course.

Both in Chiapas and in Agua Prieta, Perez had attended services at Presbyterian churches. After being deported, in conversations with Mark Adams, the minister of the Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church in Agua Prieta, a vision of a cross-border economic integration project slowly emerged.
“To leave our land is to suffer,” Perez said, “If only we could control the sale of our coffee, we would be able to stay on our land.”

More than a decade later, the binational Presbyterian ministry, Frontera de Cristo, has made this vision a dynamic economic development project that turned despair into hope – and a sustainable livelihood – for dozens of coffee farmers in Chiapas. Across from the Lirios del Valle church in Agua Prieta now stands the roasting and marketing center for Café Justo/Just Coffee.
Frontera de Cristo Coordinators Angel Valencia and
Mark Adams/ Photo by Tom Barry

Visiting the Other Side of Border Security

A visit to the U.S.-Mexico border is likely to shock and depress.  At a time when debt and deficits are defining the political debate, the region oozes with federal dollars. No expense is spared to “secure the border.”

Border control costs the nation more than $10.5 billion annually (not including the $5.5 billion for immigration enforcement), and border security advocates in Congress pass measures to increase the number of Border Patrol and to bolster border fortifications.

A region, once prideful of its cultural diversity, is now being defined by the extremes employed to control the international divide.

But there are countervailing trends, while not necessarily more powerful, are certainly more hopeful – while costing nothing to U.S. taxpayers.

In 1984 the U.S. and Mexican Presbyterian churches joined together in a common border mission called Frontera de Cristo with six binational centers along the border.

Next to the Mexican customs and immigration office at the port of entry is the Centro de Migrantes, one of the numerous projects supported by Frontera de Cristo. Like most of its other projects, the immigrant center is a joint effort of other church groups, particularly the Catholic Church in Douglas and Catholic Relief Services, and community groups. “We always try to work cooperatively,” noted Adams. “Rarely do we do anything alone.”

In the case of its Water for Life project, which leaves strategically located barrels of water for migrants crossing ranch lands on the Mexican side of the border, the Frontera project even counts on the cooperation of the municipal government of Agua Prieta.

While most of its numerous projects are service-oriented -- like its New Hope community center, health clinic, and involvement in the city’s substance-abuse treatment center CRREDO -- Café Justo aims not just to serve but also to solve structural problems.

I visited Café Justo on the eve of what the staff call the “Día de Exportación.” It’s a time when the Agua Prieta members of the cooperative are preparing bags of coffee to meet the expanding U.S. market.
Preparing coffee for "Día de Exportación"/Tom Barry

It took a few years to turn the vision of Sr. Perez into a reality. The idea of a fair trade economic project that would unite small producers with U.S. consumers had been percolating for a few years. 

All started coming together in 2002 through additional brainstorming among Mark Adams and Daniel Cifuentes, another former coffee farmer who found work in the maquilas, and Tommy Bassett, a maquila manager who became excited about the prospect and offered his full-time management and business expertise to concept. Through a $20,000 loan from the Presbyterian Church USA, Café Justo purchased a coffee roaster.

The project currently supports 40 coffee growers in Salvador Urbina, the home village of Daniel Cifuentes. Now, rather than leaving for work on the border or to cross illegally into the United States,  to support their families, the women and men of this semi-tropical village are tending their coffee bushes.

Once harvested, the coffee beans are dried and then shipped in burlap bags to Agua Prieta. No longer obligated to sell their produce to coffee buyers, known as coyotes, the coffee cooperative sends their beans to its border branch facility, where their coffee is roasted and prepared for market.

Sitting on the porch the Frontera de Cristo house in Douglas, Adams told me that the obvious success story of Café Justo has been its ability to build a sustainable enterprise that supports its members and keeps them in their villages (the project has recently expanded to four other villages, three of which are in other southern Mexico states). 

“But the success is also making international connections real for our coffee consumers,” he said. “Fair trade is not just ideology but a real relationship that now exists between the cooperative members and those drinking Café Justo coffee. It’s not just fair trade, with growers getting a fair price, but it is real trade, a real relationship that makes people feel good.” 

It’s all part of Frontera de Cristo’s vision of sustainable and just binational relations through its Just Trade Center and other projects.

As Café Justo’s mission states:
“Café Justo's mission is to deliver the highest quality, organic, environmentally conscious, fresh roasted coffee to our customers at a price that is fair and just. We work to create a bond between the members of the coffee growing community in Salvador Urbina and our customers throughout the world.”
Back in Salvador Urbina, life has changed dramatically since the mid-1990s when the men and boys, and then the women, started leaving in droves. It used to be that ad-hoc bus companies would regularly announce by megaphone “Departures to Agua Prieta” and other border locations like Altar and Tijuana.

The stagnant U.S. economy and increased border control measures only partially explain that these advertised “salidas al Norte” are no longer the central feature of life in Salvador Urbina.

Thanks to Café Justo, these chiapanecos are staying home, finding ways to improve their coffee crops, fixing their homes, and communicating by internet with fellow cooperative members in Agua Prieta and other family members at the cooperative’s internet café.

(To get involved – buying Café Justo coffee, making a donation, visiting the project in Agua Prieta or in Chiapas -- and beat the border security blues, contact: To read more, read the inspiring story of Café Justo in Just Coffee: Caffeine with  Conscience by Mark Adams and Tommy Bassett, available from Just Trade Center.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Arizona's Border Walls Don't Stop Tomatoes

(Part of a continuing Border Lines series on Cochise County, Arizona and Mexico.)

The forbidding array of the new border fortifications in the Douglas area has cut deeply into crossborder flow of illegal immigrants – dramatically fewer are coming north while those already on the U.S. side aren’t risking the traditional holiday trips back to their hometowns in Mexico.
Shift change at Agua Prieta maquila/Tom Barry
Still, Agua Prieta -- a quiet, relatively well-ordered city of 120,000 -- is, at its core, inextricably linked to the U.S. economy.
At a time when many Arizonans and other Americans are alarmed by Mexico – with Arizona politicians calling Mexico a “national security threat” – some U.S.-based companies, including an increasing number in Arizona, are moving south of the border.
EuroFresh, a multinational firm that is the country’s largest producer of greenhouse tomatoes, has, for example, opened a branch in Agua Prieta last year. The intensifying immigrant crackdown in Arizona has severely reduced the labor supply in Cochise County.
EuroFresh still operates a vast 300-acre greenhouse complex located outside Willcox, at the northern edge of Cochise County. But, unable to find enough workers in Arizona to prune, pick and package the tomatoes, the company at 5 each morning ships the tomatoes two hours south to Agua Prieta.
In the new EuroFresh maquila in Agua Prieta’s industrial zone, the workforce prunes leaves and packages the tomatoes. By the day’s end, the maquila-ed tomatoes are back on EuroFresh trucks headed for markets across the Southwest – still fresh after two border crossings. Not at risk, apparently, is the designation of EuroFresh’s producing “America’s Best Tasting Tomatoes,” according to the American Culinary Institute.
“We take out the leaves, prepare and package them, and return them the same day. And they are distributed to all the major consumers within 24 hours," said Maria Elena Rigoli, president of Collectron International Management Inc., the Mexican-owned company that manages maquila logistics in Arizona-Sonora. (Images from the tomato maquila can be found at: )
Tomato maquila in Agua Prieta/Tom Barry

The EuroFresh maquila in Agua Prieta has broken new ground in the 45-year maquila history. According to Collectron’s Rigoli, EuroFresh is the first agro-maquila among the some 200 others it has helped establish in Sonora.
It’s a case, it seems, of good-old American ingenuity at work.
It’s not American, though. EuroFresh is a Dutch-owned agribusiness.
Since 1992, when the company opened operations in Cochise County, most of its workers have been Mexicans, and now the fresh tomatoes it brings you come direct from Mexico, where for tax and logistical reasons it has partnered with a Collectron affiliate in Agua Prieta called Sonitronies, which functions as a “shelter company.”  
At a time when border security is hardening because of the drummed-up fear of criminal aliens and spillover violence from Mexico, companies like EuroFresh are heading to Mexico for “shelter.” According to Collectron, the shelter concept allows “the client the ability to maintain complete control over the Mexico production management, while also enjoying the security of knowing that administrative requirements are being met by the offshore operation.”
Twin Cities, Twin Plants
Changing shifts and childcare at Agua Prieta maquila/Barry
es) – $70-$100 for a 48-hour week – and an abundant supply of young, hard workers, along with a rafter of tax benefits, have attracted 22 foreign (mostly U.S.) firms to Agua Prieta. By no means is this weekly salary enough income to support a family. But with two or more family members working different shifts, it’s enough to get by.
Border security aims to seal the border against illegal immigrants and drugs – and to keep the drug-related violence plaguing Mexico contained on the southern side.
Oddly, though, many U.S. border towns are deeply dependent on Mexico. Conversely, many Mexican border towns like Agua Prieta depend on U.S.-owned assembly plants, like Velcro-Mex, for most of their formal employment.
At shift change, thousands of maquila worker stream out of factories where they have spent their day assembling and packaging pre-manufactured components to create seatbelts, car ignitions, seatbelts, surgical masks, Velcro products, and, more than anything else, “window treatments” – a steady stream of boxes of custom-cut shades, shutters, and blinds. Most come with a personal-touch label that bears the name of the worker who assembled the window treatment for $1.75 - $2.00 an hour, including benefits.
Not uncommon at shift change is a child exchange, as a mother, father, sister, or brother hands off an infant to the family member who has just finished his or her shift.
All these assembled goods are shipped north to U.S. consumers. It’s the global economy right next store.
You can’t miss the crossborder economic integration when in Agua Prieta. Company buses carrying maquila workers to and from the assembly plants are the most prominent form of mass transportation in town, and tractor trailers line up behind the plants everyday to carry the finished goods north.
Workers at Japanese seat-belt assembly plant in Agua Prieta
Cheap foreign labor for cost-conscious consumers in foreign countries. It’s what makes the global economy hum.
What’s so telling in border towns like Agua Prieta is not this outsourcing of labor, but just how close this foreign labor is to the foreign market. So close and so far for these Mexican women and men – divided by a line that has been walled, watched, and secured. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Border Identity At Risk in Arizona

(Part of a Border Lines series on Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora.)
The border security imperative has deeply scarred the borderlands, putting its very identity at risk. But fear, ideology, and walls have not yet trumped the seemingly irrepressible drive to integrate socially and economically.
Welcoming immigrants at Centro de Migrantes in Agua Prieta
Horrific drug-related violence across the Mexican borderlands, northbound flows of narcotics, and millions of desperate Mexicans and Central Americans eager to immigrate to the United States.
Clearly, we can’t stand idly by. Something must be done to ensure that this violence doesn’t spill over the border and to ensure control over what and who enters our nation.
The politics of border security have rushed to the rescue. Yet it remains unclear what is really being accomplished by the tens of billions of dollars spent each year to “secure the border.”
Splitting the Twins in Cochise County, Arizona
In Cochise County, the immense expanse of desert, mountains, and farmland that spans the border in southeastern Arizona, something is being done. Over the past five years, the difference has been dramatic. Perhaps no other part of the border so well reflects the new combined federal, state, local, and citizen commitment to what is now commonly called border security.
Driving south from Interstate #10 toward the border, you can travel an hour and encounter only green-and-white Border Patrol vehicles. Residents and city officials in the border town of Douglas describe a dramatic buildup in agents stationed on this stretch of the border.
“Overwhelming,” “Border Patrol agents are now living on every block in our city,” “an occupation,” and “omnipresent” are among the common observations. The number of Border Patrol agents deployed in the Tucson sector (which includes Douglas) has more than doubled since 2000 – up to 3300.
It used to be that Douglas and Aqua Prieta, the Sonoran city that sprawls along the border, were commonly called twin or sister cities. In effect, for many residents, the U.S. and Mexican cities comprised one metropolitan area.
Operation Safeguard
But the image of a binational community began to erode in the 1990s, as the Border Patrol launched operations to shut down illegal border crossings through urban areas.
The launching in the Douglas area of Operation Safeguard in 1999 marked the kick-off of the ongoing Border Patrol campaign to gain “operational control” over the Douglas crossing corridor. By 2000 about 350 Border Patrol agents were assigned to the Douglas station for Safeguard operations, and by 2005 there were more than 1,0000 employees, including BP, CBP, and ICE agents, of the Department of Homeland Security working in the Douglas district.
The walling and fortification of the border, however, constitutes the most dramatic change in border control operations around Douglas. The 12-ft wire mesh fence erected in the late 1990s to divide the downtowns of Agua Prieta and Douglas has since been supplemented by double and triple fencing that is both higher and more heavily reinforced.

Accompanying this array of walls and fencing is a phalanx of other fortifications, including remote-motion sensors, video and infrared cameras, sky towers, and high-intensity stadium lights.

Looking toward the border twin of Agua Prieta, the border that skirts Douglas and its 18,000 residents is now less a line than a forbidding security zone – offering assurance to who regard Mexico (and Mexicans) as a threat but badly undermining the city’s tradition of integration.

In 2008 Douglas Mayor Ray Borane, speaking with NPR about the new border fortifications resulting from the Secure Fence Act of 2006, reflected on the measure’s likely negative impact on crossborder relations:

“We depend almost 100 percent on the economy from - not only from that sister city, but from other cities near the border. On any given day, you know, one-third of their population will be over here and one-third of our population will be over there. So we have a completely different perspective because we consider ourselves one bilingual, bicultural community.”
Over the past decade, border security policies have severely damaged the commerce and social integration of the two cities. Downtown stores in Douglas have taken a severe hit from the decrease in pedestrian traffic from Agua Prieta.
Suffering in Agua Prieta
But it’s been Agua Prieta that has suffered most.
While the era of border security has greatly bolstered Douglas with the infusion of Homeland Security and Justice Department jobs, construction work, and related services employment, Agua Prieta has little to counterbalance the dramatic severe downturn in the number U.S. shoppers, dental patients, and tourists.
Compounding the economic suffering, the downtown hotels, shops, and restaurants that were once filled with prospective immigrants have emptied and are now mostly shuttered.
Yet, for all that the border security build-up has done to divide the two cities, Douglas and Agua Prieta remain largely bilingual, bicultural, and, most remarkably, binational communities.
Fear, long delays at the port-of-entry on the Pan American Highway, and the increased documentation needed to travel have all decreased northbound crossings at the Douglas POE. From 2003 to 2008, the number of people crossing into Douglas dropped by 16%.
Yet the number of legal crossings remains remarkably high: 4.7 million people crossed from Agua Prieta to the small and very remote city of Douglas during that six-year period.
Truck traffic from Mexico to Douglas – largely copper, cattle, and assembled manufactured maquila products -- actually increased 20% during this period, while car traffic dropped by 22%.
Border fence/Tom Barry
While there are no reliable statistics on southbound crossings, the two communities remain inextricably linked, as witnessed each day by the long and bending queue of cars, most with Sonora plates, lining up along the Pan American Highway to cross back into Agua Prieta.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dueling Border Personalities in Arizona

Agua Prieta on the other side/Tom Barry

(Second in series on Agua Prieta and Cochise County, Arizona. First in series: "Loca, Loca, Loca" Border Security.)
Cochise County in southeastern Arizona has dueling personalities.
It’s a stark divide, and the dominant personality exudes fear, hate, and a macho individualism that leave the less assertive personality in the shadows.
Bill Wendt boils over when he talks about border insecurity and the failure of the federal government to protect the ranchers and others who are making their stand in the highland desert and rugged mountains of Cochise County – named for the Apache warrior who fought U.S. and Confederate armies for more than three decades, finally signing a peace treaty in 1872 and then dying later on a military reservation.
Guns, Ammo, and Hallmark
It’s not the guns and ammo that stand out as you enter Wendt’s gun shop in downtown Douglas. It’s the messaging. 
In the middle of the window display on 11th street, in the shadow of the famous Gadsden Hotel (named for the Gadsen Purchase of 1853 that made this part of Mexico part of America’s expanding Manifest Destiny) is a poster that proclaims, with great effect: “Homeland Security Since 1492,” with an accompanying black-and-white photo of armed Apaches – who haven’t been seen in this region since the late 1800s.
Inside, by the counter, is another poster you can’t miss. It’s a head shot of Obama, with the counterintuitive caption: “America’s No. 1 Arms Salesman.”
Wendt wasn’t in.  A prominent member of gun rights group and the Arizona Citizens Defense League, Wendt, a lifetime NRA member, was found behind the counter across town at the empty Wendy’s Hallmark (Cards & Gifts), which his mother owns.
Border Patrol truck on other side in Douglas/Tom Barry
The dark, steel gray of his Allsafe Security gave way to the light and pastels of the Hallmark store.
Guns, ammo, and Americana kitsch – along with Tea Party messaging – combine to create a personality profile of the border-security hardliners have come to define the politics of Cochise County.
The rising national and state prominence of County Sheriff Larry Dever, cofounder of, is another indicator of how the politics of fear, law-and-order crackdown, and secure-the-border populism now marginalize the area’s recessive but enduring trait – its biculturalism, binationalism, and transborder economic life. (See related Border Lines post: Last, Best Chance” to Defend Arizona.) 
“Why all the emphasis on citizen action?” I ask Wentz. “The Border Patrol is everywhere, Washington is spending billions of border security, and crime rates have been down for several years.”

“The federal government has no mandate to protect us,” asserts Wentz. “We need to protect ourselves.”

For that reason, Douglas-native Wendt says he hasn’t’ stepped foot in Mexico for ten years.  So committed is he to his gun-rights principles, he explained that he recently told his wife he wouldn’t accompany her on an expenses-paid trip she had won to a Mexican resort.

“I can’t protect myself there, like I can here,” asserts Wentz, indicating that he has the will and means to terminate any threat to his person or business.

A steel wall now separates the formerly twin cities of Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, with more barriers and fortifications constantly being erected.  “What we need to extend that wall from Brownsville to San Diego,” contends Wendt.

The gunshop-gift store businessman acknowledges that the killing of Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz may have been an isolated incident. “Or it may be the first of more to come,” he observes, explaining why more security and an all-border wall are urgently needed.

“The illegals come through the ranches, wearing a path, and they scare the cows, damage the ranchers’ fences, and empty their water tanks.”  And now they come bearing drugs, he says. “It’s a threat to the nation.  They may have TB, and are sweating on the dope they back-pack in, creating a public health risk.”  (Now, that’s something I hadn’t thought to fear yet.)

Other Side of Cochise County Brain

There’s another side of Cochise County that isn’t as quick to increase the divide between Mexico and the United States.  It’s actually more pervasive and persistent than the Wentz-Dever brand of borderland politics. 

Entry to Agua Prieta/Tom Barry
At first, it’s the border-security buildup at the Douglas-Agua Prieta Port of Entry that impresses.  So cluttered is the POE with all variety of surveillance equipment , license plate readers, and radiation detectors, etc. – now including full-body scanners for pedestrians – that it seems like a border–security trade show.  

The proliferation of ICE and CBP agents, along with their leashed K-9’s, working within the newly fortified POE exude the politics of fear and nationalism – at all costs.

But then you notice that all these people, enduring long wait/inspection times, want or need to be on the other side.  Heading to or from work, visiting families, going shopping, on their way to a dentist appointment in Mexico or a medical specialist in the U.S, these folks live in a crossover, transboundary world. 

While not making the news or shaping electoral victories, these are the borderlanders who still live the longer tradition of border integration, rather than the newer border divides.

(Next in Douglas-Agua Prieta travelogue:  “The Other Side of Border Security.”)

(Note to Readers:  More articles on border security outsourcing in Texas coming up.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

"Loca, Loca, Loca" Border Security

Securing the border in Douglas/Tom Barry
From a distance, it seems so simple.  The border marks the starting and finishing line of national sovereignty.  To ensure U.S. sovereignty, we need to secure the border.

Border security is – from a distance – a no brainer.  The border line needs to be secured.  

But the closer you get to the U.S.-Mexico border line, border security policy seems more simplistic than simple.

The Douglas, Arizona – Agua Preita, Sonora port-of-entry is within my sight as I write this morning. It’s a brisk spectacularly clear and beautiful morning in Douglas (and in Agua Prieta).  I am sitting outside a new coffee shop, which , unlike anywhere else in this town of 12,000, has free wi-fi! 

Border Patrol trucks line up in the drive-through.  Contemporary Latino music is a welcome reminder that this isn’t Starbucks.  Shakira’s “Loca, Loca, Loca,” adding a pulsing  edge to my caffeine high.
Loca (Loca) 

No te pongas bruto 


Caffenio,this appealing coffee shop, is new to Douglas. It’s part of a new chain of cross-over coffee shops owned by a Mexican company from Hermosillo, about five hours south of the border.

The divide between north and south is so stark.  The dividing line is no longer a simple line, where one country ends and another begins. Over the past several years, the national boundary has become a non-stop construction zone.  

In populated areas,  like Douglas-Agua Prieta, the famous 15-18. ft. steel border fence – less a fence than a wall  – now lays behind rows of accompanying  border security fortifications – what the Border Patrol calls “tactical infrastructure.”  Another impossibly high fence, concrete moats, and orange vehicle barriers now parallel the actual border, overseen by rows of stadium lights and surveillance towers.

Behind these new lines of security are stationed dozens of the omnipresent green-and-white Border Patrol vehicles and their olive-green uniformed agents.  They occupy a border zone they have declared their owned.  Taking photos is a security risk, and I need to show my passport and move on.

Coming back from Agua Prieta last night, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent at the crossing didn’t take kindly to me.  I noticed a more aggressive posture after he had looked in the trunk.

It may have been the “Enjoy Life. Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal” bumper stick on my car.  It’s a car my spouse normally drives, and I have tried to persuade her to remove the bumper reminder of what life should be, arguing that it’s viewed as an ideological statement by the border sheriffs, prison officials, and the diversity of federal border security forces.

“What did you do in Mexico?”

“What kind of work do you do?”

(Was telling him I was a writer and worked for a Washington, DC policy institute a mistake?)

“Where are you going this evening?”

“What are you bringing back from Mexico?” (A trick question.)

“Nothing,“ I unthinkingly reply to the last question. (Wrong.)

“That’s not the case. You haven’t declared that bottle of wine in your back seat”

“But I didn’t buy it (which was near empty from enjoying life the night before) in Mexico.”

“That’s not what I asked you. I said, what are you bringing from Mexico. And you are clearly bringing that liquor from Mexico.”

“Yes, that’s true. But I am also am bringing my camera, my sleeping bag, my notebook.”  (Did I, the self-identified writer, really want to argue about language and meaning with this stern, calm, but clearly raging border guard? But what should I have said – that ”you are so right” sir?

He closes his station, and I think about the frustrated drivers waiting in line behind me while accompanying him to “secondary inspection.”

A half-dozen or more CBP agents stand idle, while my guard, who may have identified me as an atheist by my partner’s “No Dress Rehearsal” bumper sticker (the border now breeds delusion and paranoia, and I may not be exempt) oversees an exhaustive inspection of the car.

Leaving the hood up, the car doors open, I am told that I can leave.

Loca, Loca, Loca.
No te pongas bruto.

This is border security,  which is increasingly crazy, ideological, brutal, and insanely expensive.

About expensive.  I need to get going, back across the border for a dentist appointment. Even with dental insurance, I can’t afford the price of a dental crown in the United States.