Thursday, October 21, 2021
Guest blogger: Alexandra Villalon, law student, University of San Francisco
Living on the Texas-Mexico border is complicated and complex. I used to think that anyone who lives close to the border would abhor the Border Patrol and ICE as 89% of residents of the Texas-Mexico border region identify as Hispanic or Latino. (Texas Health and Human Services, 2017). Many residents are of immigrant families that immigrated across the border and have settled down in cities like McAllen and El Paso. Many may also know of or have family members that are undocumented living with them. Yet, I was mistaken to think that everyone on the border who identifies as Hispanic or Latino thinks the same way. This was evident (but still shocking) when Latinos voted for Trump in 2020. This seemed counterintuitive after Trump’s border wall initiative, family separation policy, and the racist remarks made during Trump’s first term in office. I still did not understand.
And then an article from Texas Monthly popped into my inbox. It was entitled “In El Paso, Joining Border Patrol Offers a Rare Path to Financial Security. But for Some Immigrant Kids, it’s Complicated.” Here, again was a paradox. Why would anyone, much less Gen X kids, want to join the Border Patrol? The same Border Patrol who racially profiles immigrants who have similar backgrounds and look like these kids?
Being a border patrol agent is a job like any other. One can go online to USAJOBS.gov and apply for open positions. The starting salary varies from $49,500-$78,200 for the first year with the opportunity for promotion for each subsequent year. Within four years of service, one can make up to $125,900/year. As of 2016, Latinos make up a little more than 50% of the Border Patrol. Hispanic or Latino border patrol agents make an average of $70,500 compared to the $59,600 that white border patrol agents make. (Zippia, 2021).
Are Latinos in it for the money? Yes, that’s part of it. The Texas Monthly article focuses on the documentary released at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year that follows El Paso’s Horizon High School’s criminal justice club members and their trek to entering the Border Patrol or other law enforcement agencies. The criminal justice club prepares high school students for a career in law enforcement: students practice active shooter drills, hold fake guns, wear tactical gear and learn how to execute search warrants. There’s even an annual UIL “Border Challenge” competition where top high school law enforcement programs compete in real world law enforcement scenarios like felony stop, burglary in progress, hostage negotiation, and active shooter. Students know that a job in law enforcement is “one of only three career fields in El Paso with wages comparable to national averages.” (Texas Monthly, 2021). El Paso’s median household income is $14,000 less per year and 22% of El Pasoans lacked health coverage in 2018. So, a career in law enforcement is appealing across the board. It provides great benefits, doesn’t require moving far from home for those who wish to support their family, and has a great starting salary.
How do the students grapple with potentially arresting their own ethnic group or even a family member? Most, if not all the students in the documentary who want to enter law enforcement are bought into the idea that border patrol agents are here to protect public safety. The job summary outlining the duties for a border patrol agent states that the DHS “is calling on those who want to help protect American interests and secure our Nation.” These students don’t think they’re doing any wrong, which they are not. They are applying to a legal job and enforcing the law of the country they are a citizen of.
Children of Latino immigrants also want to do right by their immigrant parents. Many have seen first-hand what it takes to survive in the United States and how their parents worked hard to provide for their family. Latino children, especially as they get older, want to make their parents proud and show them that what their parents have done for them all their lives was not in vain. How they show that is through a well-paying job.
I can’t fault these high school students for wanting to do better for themselves and their families. It’s sad to know that their only option, it seems like, is to enter the field of law enforcement and be on the side “against immigrants,” those immigrants could have been their parents!
But those are the nuances and complexities that have developed from immigration enforcement in the United States.