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Border militarization extends to interior communities

Pedro Rios  |  Issue: May | June 2020
ICE arrest of migrant

The Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) police force to aid ICE in sanctuary cities.
PHOTO: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)


President Trump wants to intensify his war against local and state governments that block immigration enforcement agents from terrorizing migrants and their families. And this time, he plans to send SWAT-style Border Patrol agents to target “sanctuary” cities. This drastic political move is dangerous because it normalizes militarization for immigration enforcement operations.

The New York Times reported on the Trump administration’s intent to ramp up immigration raids by sending the Border Patrol’s elite team of special forces to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is Trump’s latest effort to intimidate cities whose policies seek to end harmful collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities that cause separation and trauma for working families. The Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) police force, which had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, will make violence more likely and will militarize immigration enforcement operations that already are under intense scrutiny.

One hundred agents from BORTAC will deploy in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit, and Newark, NJ. This news follows Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf’s response to President Trump’s State of the Union speech directing a veiled threat to policymakers who propose laws limiting local law enforcement collaboration with ICE: “If you will not protect your people, we will. DHS will soon announce measures to counter dangerous state and local laws that prohibit coordination with DHS law enforcement officers.”

Wolf’s statement adopts Trump’s false and racist narrative that jurisdictions with so-called sanctuary policies are less safe and that migrants there are violence prone. In fact, Trump signed an executive order during his first week in office attempting to hold back federal funds to municipalities his administration identified as providing sanctuary for undocumented migrants arguing that such cities breed crime.

A 2017 study by University of California San Diego associate professor of political science Tom K. Wong is the latest research that debunks Trump’s falsehoods, demonstrating that sanctuary cities had significantly lower crime rates and enjoyed stronger economies.

The optics serve Trump well in this election year. Using fully armed agents with sniper certification and stun grenades at the ready and who support ICE agents known to operate on the margins of the law fulfills the misguided promise that Trump is protecting citizens whose legislators have abandoned in support of undocumented migrants.

The real threat is in unleashing a combat-ready Border Patrol force onto city streets when there are few measures, if any, to hold the Border Patrol accountable for mistreatment or abuse.

An unaccountable and opaque militarized police force operating in urban centers represents a new paradigm for interior communities. While the Border Patrol’s violent culture of impunity is already normalized and extensively documented, this new proposition could reconfigure immigration enforcement to the detriment of our civil liberties.


Pedro Rios, Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S./Mexico Border Program

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