by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
When the United States Senate passed sweeping reforms of American immigration laws last month, the United States came one step closer to allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to become citizens. But the reforms, are they to eventually become law, would also mean pouring billions of dollars into beefed-up border security to the consternation of Mexican officials — and to the benefit of major defense contractors.
The reforms have “the potential to improve the lives of millions of Mexicans living in the U.S. today,” the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in a statement. But Mexico’s foreign minsiter, Jose Antonio Meade, didn’t spare criticism for the billions of dollars in border fences and military hardware. “Fences are not a solution to the migration phenomenon, and they are not congruent with a safe and modern border,” Antonio Meade told reporters in late June. He added: “fences don’t unite.”
Among the requirements imposed by the immigration plan — which passed the U.S. Senate in late June but has not been introduced in the House of Representatives — are 15 Black Hawk helicopters, eight AS-350 Eurocopter choppers and 17 UH-1N Twin Huey choppers; slated for the U.S. Border Patrol. Those details, revealed by the Washington Post on Monday, amount to bonanza of contracts, and also include eight of the U.S. military’s VADER (“Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar“) system, which was designed to operate from drones in Afghanistan and automatically detect and track ground movement by vehicles and individuals.
Among other measures included in the bill are 18,000 more Border Patrol agents for the U.S. southwest border, boosting the number to more than 38,000. Four more drones are added to the Department of Homeland Security’s existing fleet of 10 MQ-9 Reapers. Also, according to the Post, the legislation is to add more than 4,500 ground sensors, more than 100 radiation detectors and 53 scopes used to inspect container trucks for smuggled drugs. Physical fencing — 350 miles worth — is also included at a cost of $7.5 billion.
In total, the border spending from the proposed bill would amount to $38 billion. Overall, a militarized border would become even more militarized. “Our country has let the United States government know that measures which affect links between communities depart from the principles of shared responsibility and good neighborliness,” Antonio Meade said. Speaking on radio program MVS Noticias, Jorge Castaneda — Mexico’s former foreign minister under the presidency of Vicente Fox — called the border build-up more “like North Korea and South Korea, not France and Germany.”
Mexican officials have several reasons for hesitance about military hardware on the border. For one, a heavily defended border risks discouraging cross-border trade, with impacts felt most on a Mexican economy dependent on exports to the United States. Central American migrants also pass through Mexico on their way to the U.S., and clamping down on migration could mean thousands of migrants stranded within Mexican territory — a situation the Mexican government would prefer to avoid. But primarily, the perception in Mexico City is that a militarized border is bad for business.
The complaints from Mexico are also unusual in tone — more strident after years of relative quiet from Mexican officials under the offices of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and current President Enrique Pena Nieto. That quiet continued during a build-up of federal resources and infrastructure along the border in the years after the 9/11 attacks and an increase in drug violence in Mexico after 2006.
Tensions resulting from increased border security would be nothing close to Korea. Nonetheless, “We have things we can shut down, too,” Mexican journalist and historian Lorenzo Meyer said, according to ABC News. Mexico has relatively restrictive laws involving foreign property ownership, owing to a history of land speculation by foreign companies and repeated military invasions during the 19th century. Meyer suggested if Mexican officials were inclined, they could further restrict the ability of U.S. citizens and companies to buy and invest in the country.
The build-up amounts to a “monumental waste,” Castaneda said. According to the former diplomat, the cost is a “huge amount of money largely going to be thrown away, because much of this will not be feasible in many communities that do not want a fence or wall.” Another option, according to Castaneda, would be lobbying. “I think Mexico should raise its voice much more clearly and forcefully to say that if the United States wants a wall, it needs to have more doors in this wall, with more bells at these doors so that Mexicans and Central Americans can enter the United States with papers,” Castaneda told television network Univision in late June.
In the meantime, a surge of equipment for the Border Patrol is a potential source of revenue for defense firms seeing contracts evaporate as the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan. The VADAR sensor system, developed for use in Afghanistan by Northrop-Grumman with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will see its future in jeopardy after the withdrawal. Not so on the border.
The boost in helicopters is another source of revenue, but the build-up is relatively slight. U.S. Customs and Border Protection currently uses 85 AS-350 Eurocopter aircraft. A mere eight more is marginal. But the proposed surge in drones flying along the border amounts to a 40 percent increase.
“We’re proud of our long partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and are honored they have repeatedly chosen to acquire our helicopters for their important missions,” Ed Van Winkle, sales manager for American Eurocopter, told the Post. “We stand ready to produce and deliver additional aircraft customized to Customs and Border Protection requirements should Congress authorize and fund their procurement.”
But that’s still a big if, as the immigration reform bill is expected to face stiffer opposition in the House than the Senate. At least for the billions in military equipment, Mexico would prefer to keep it that way.