Custom and Border Protection plans to open a new holding facility in El Paso.[1] After backlash against the deaths of two children in the CBP custody and the force-feeding of migrants on hunger strike, the agency will design a detention center to incarcerate families. Many of those detained will be migrants seeking asylum from state cooperation with organized crime, civil unrest, and retaliatory violence in Central America and the Caribbean.

The bipartisan border security deal gave $192 million for new El Paso holding center.[2] In February, Department of Homeland Security, which houses CBP, chose the site, a 478,000-foot former Hoover factory. Luckily, the federal government has pushed back the original opening of April 15, to June. (Phew, we still have time to fight it!)

Border Patrol’s current position is that prolonged detention is a public health concern, and the only answer is build more cells.

The families who cross the U.S.-Mexico border are detained for 8-10 days in small cells that are so cold fingers turn blue, lips chap and split. [3]

The rooms, known as ice boxes or hieleras for their frigid temperatures, look like drunk tanks. They were designed in the 2000s to hold individuals for short periods of time before deportation. Children are often separated from their parents, and then all migrants are divided by gender into the overcrowded holding cells. Children are not supposed to remain in the processing centers for more than 72 hours.

Since December, Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, age 7, Felipe Gómez Alonzo, age 8, and two adults have died after protracted stays in the hieleras. Border Patrol responses by blaming the migrants for their own illness and death. It has argued that crossing the border terrain is inherently dangerous and migrants risk perils, apparently like dying in custody, when they decide to make the trek. Agency heads have also stated that asylumseekers are more likely to arrive ill, because they comprise more vulnerable populations than the “single, healthy men from Mexico” whom las hieleras were originally built to hold. Rep. Escobar (D) told the Washington Post a new facility is long overdue, “The government has known for almost five years that there are fewer and fewer Mexican single males coming across our border and more and more Central American families and unaccompanied minors fleeing Central America.”

When Border Patrol argues that migrants die, because the agency doesn’t have the personnel to process the influx of migrants, they subtly ignore CBP’s history of medical neglect. [4]

Children in cages that way –>

As Trump further criminalizes immigration, lashes out at Department of Homeland Security leadership and lures in Democratic presidential candidates to comment on his “winning issue,” we are left with one watchword, “crisis.” [5] [6]

The political stakes are set in concrete and guarded by razor wire. Trump has used the crisis at the border to justify the expansion of the migrant incarceration. The Left may disparage Trump’s lie that “the country is full,” but both sides fixate on “peak capacity,” “flooding,” and the system’s “breaking point.” Seemingly everyone agrees: there is a crisis at the border.

“Neither side is characterizing this accurately. But it’s absolutely, 100 percent true that every part of our border management system is beyond capacity and completely overwhelmed right now.” [7]

The proposition that there are too many people for the system to hold shifts the responsibility for the crisis onto to immigrants’ shoulders. We hear from the Left and Right: Had they not come in massive waves, we wouldn’t need massive detention centers.

Blame is a key characteristic of “crisis racism,” a process of shifting cultural opinions that excludes immigrants from social life by making crisis synonymous with foreign identity. “The presence of immigrants poses a problem’ (no matter what ‘solution’ is being proposed),” explained Etienne Balibar in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities.

It is, in effect, character­istic of these utterances that they induce a transformation of every social ‘problem’ into a problem which is regarded as being posed by the fact of the presence of ‘immigrants’ or, at least, as being aggravated by their presence, and this is so whether the problem in question is that of un­employment, accommodation, social security, schooling, public health, morals or criminality. As a consequence they further serve to spread the idea that the reduction – and if possible the ending – of immigration (in practice the expulsion of as many immigrants as possible…) would enable us to resolve our social problems.

Remember how CBP denied responsibility when people died in its custody?

Deterrence = Death

No one seems willing to oppose Border Patrol’s fateful ‘deterrence‘ strategy, much less the racism that underpins it.

Most news coverage has claimed the border crisis begin in 2014 when “families first began showing up in large numbers,” as reported by the New York Times or the “child migrant crisis” as reported by Vox. This myopic history takes for granted that the core functions of immigration enforcement are to deter migrants from coming to the US.

The current, never tenable, immigration program kicked off in 1994, when the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) introduced the “prevention through deterence” strategy. With several local initiatives under this banner, Border Patrol re-envisioned its mission and implemented a course of action to deter, detect and detain “illegal entrants.”

Make no mistake, this (unchallenged) practice of exclusion is lethal. The scheme–a deathly troika of more agents, electronic surveillance, and border fencing–pushed migrants into the hostile deserts and mountain ranges between cities and ports of entry. In 1994, the number of migrant deaths ballooned from 14 deaths, to 163 deaths in 2002. In the early 2010s, human rights organizations observed that the 6,000 people who died in the desert was a “predictable and inhumane” consequence of “deterrence,” and condemned the the strategy as eliciting “a continental humanitarian crisis,” and resulting “in the purposeful displacement and diversion of migrants into more treacherous and dangerous zones to cross.” [8]

The caravans from Central America explicitly organized to safeguard against the risks posed by smuggling and hostile terrain. Many members of the caravans end up in Ciudad Juárez in hopes of crossing over into El Paso.
Border Patrol has apprehended 361,087 migrants in the first months of 2019, and 71,063 in El Paso alone. Apprehensions include migrants without documentation of their entry authorization, whether they present at a port of entry, for example to claim asylum, or are found between ports of entry. 53% of the apprehensions in 2019 have been “family units.” A family unit does not include unaccompanied minors. Though apprehensions at the southern U.S. border have risen sharply in 2019, the numbers “remain below historical highs.” [10]

Under Deterrence, the number of Border Patrol agents has quadrupled, from 4,287 in 1994 to 16,608 in 2018, after a decline from its peak at 18,611 in 2013. [11] The rapid increase in recent years has sacrificed quality training, employee screening, and has led to ideological rigidity in the agency. All of these factors increase migrants’ risk of abuse while in custody. [12] CBP agents in El Paso have been closing the border to conduct riot gear exercises, “in preparation for the possibility that migrant caravans attempt to rush the border.” [13] Crisis racism justifies violence against migrants for any reason.

It must be said, the fear-mongering of crisis obfuscates the ceaseless violence, to which the US immigration system has subjected and continues to subject immigrants. We cannot turn a blind eye to the casualties found in the borderlands, the months and years spent waiting in gang-controlled border cities, the children frozen in hieleras, the lost parents, the force-fed, maimed and dead due to unchecked torture and medical negligence.

The only crisis is border patrol violence.

The proposition from the Left is that those in custody will receive better treatment once the U.S. builds more detention centers. However, the exclusionary mission of CBP fails to support this delusion.

The lack of oversight for the detentions has meant migrants languish in jails for months after their scheduled release.[14]

The desert is littered with slashed water jugs. [15]

At the underpass-turned-concentration-camp, Border Patrol turned away a volunteer donating baby food.[16]

Both systemically and discretely, the domestic-security agency demonstrates its stated goal: to terrorize people into self-deporting.

Joshua Clover observed in Riot. Strike. Riot, “Populations are disciplined not by the minimum but by the matraque, by the direct application of ongoing brutality that defines the colonial scene.”