Wednesday, March 15, 2023

US Border Patrol: Where horses are treated better than Children

Guest blogger: Duun O'Hara, Masters in Migration Studies Student, University of San Francisco:

It was a sunny, chilly morning in Tucson, Arizona as we drove an hour south to Nogales. Road-trip music was playing, we put our sunglasses on, and felt a mixture of emotions as we got closer to the US-Mexico Border. Many things crossed our minds as we pulled up to one of the guards at the security checkpoint.

When we first pulled into Border Patrol in Nogales, I was not sure what to expect considering it was my first-time seeing Border Patrol officers, trucks, vans, and barbed wire fences. Seeing the militarism up close was something I can only describe as other-worldly.

We parked the car in the “Visitors Parking Lot,” and got out of the car, not sure what we were going to encounter. Officer Walen escorted us to their conference room, and told us to all take a seat. I immediately broke out into a full sweat, and felt immediate discomfort.

When I looked around the room, there were ladders pinned up against the wall as some sort of decoration, along with a van’s windshield that looked like it was cracked from some debris. Mounted on the wall, was also what looked like a rusted bear trap, with the American flag. As my eyes continued to scan the room, there was a presentation that the officers wanted to show us. This was when my stomach began to turn.

On the front slide, there was a scenic photo of an officer facing the mountainous Arizona/Mexico desert. Officer Walen began the presentation, and said, “Here is what my office looks like every day. I am so lucky to be able to work outside in the great outdoors rather than at a desk all day.” As if millions of people have not gone missing, died and risked their lives in that exact space where he called his “office.”

He then proceeded to explain the technology they use to catch migrants crossing the border. Helicopters, camera towers, search towers with officers, cameras that are heat sensitive that can pick up migrant movement in the desert. The list seemed to go on forever.

At that moment, all I could do was keep staring at the loaded gun and taser on each Border Patrol officer in the room. Was that necessary? To have a loaded gun on you in a conference room with a bunch of Master’s students? No one felt safe in their presence.

As the officer continued to speak, I thought “wow, things could not get any worse,” and then Officer Walen invited five more fully armed agents into the room with us. I began to shift in my seat, and realized I sweat through my whole shirt. But when I looked up, I couldn’t help but gasp a little as I looked closely at the officers to enter the room.

These Border Patrol officers were a part of the MMP, the Missing Migrant Program. All five of them were Latino. Their motto, on the front page of the presentation, was “Prevent - Locate - Identify - Reunite.” As I read this over and over again, this made me sicker to my stomach. All of these statements in the motto are contradictory to the things they actually practice.

The head officer began by explaining their program and their jobs. They spoke about themselves as if they were heroes. The officers explained to us that it is not their job to search not rescue migrants. They will only rescue if the migrant calls Border Patrol to turn themselves in.

The MMP works directly with Aguilas del Desierto, the NGO we conducted a search and rescue with early the next day. This relationship put us in a very delicate position as we all sat quietly and respectfully in that conference room that day.

At the end of the presentation, the officers decided to show a video of a dead person they found in the desert. I could not stomach watching the video, so I quickly turned my face away as they forced us to sit through the video of this person dying. The most grotesque part of this, was that I believe they showed this video as a warning to say to us, “this is what happens when you do not follow the law, and wait your turn.”

 It is at this point that I felt the fire through my toes ignite. I felt my face turn red and hot, and I could no longer even look at the officers in the face or I might say something out of anger.

The officers of the MMP made us go around and ask them questions. To them, migrants were only crossing for economic reasons. For some reason, they could not understand as to why these people would cross the desert, endure so much pain, for “just” economic reasons.

The head Latino Border Patrol agent shared his own ex-wife was deported right in front of him, and still looked us all in the face, and said, “90% of these asylum seekers fabricate their situations.” It was at this point that I felt my body fully shut down. I lost feeling in my feet, and the only thing I could focus on was not losing my self-control. This particular officer continued to repeat, “they are all crossing the border illegally, and just claiming asylum even though it is only for economic reasons.”

When it was my turn to ask a question, all I could muster up was to say, “I am all set, I have no questions.” I knew at this moment, we should have never met with Border Patrol. There was never going to be an understanding of our side. Because I realized, there are no sides to take in this. There is only one side, and it is humanity. It is human rights.

Border Patrol produces this propaganda to convince themselves that they are “protecting America.” In this mission, they are committing mass human rights violations and committing war crimes at the border. It is one thing to study and research Border Patrol, but it is a whole other beast to confront it.

To commit to the job, there is this narrative that they are heroes, protecting the country from drugs, drug mules and trafficking. This was the sort of brainwashing they continued to repeat to us in their slideshow, and their tour of the facility.

— “Protect and Serve” —

To end the tour, we ended by the horses in pens outside, overlooking the man-made border between US-Mexico. They explained that these stallions are used to traverse areas of the desert in which they cannot via vans, four wheelers, or on foot. The officers explained that these stallions eat up to 5 times a day, and are well taken care of so they can be in great shape.

The image of these horses alongside the image in my head of the babies and children in el hielera, who were detained just 12 hours before our visit still haunt me to this day. The contrast in my head, of domesticated animals being treated better than human beings, then children, replays in my head as I search for an explanation as to what higher being could ever allow this to be reality. Like a scene from a dystopian novel, this clip replays vividly throughout my mind. The combination of the horses, the officers, the conference rooms with Chipotle was all quite ironic, considering the officers want to eat Mexican food, but their job is to commit war crimes against Mexican and Central Americans trying to seek asylum. 


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