Security for the Superbowl
Reviewed by Shelley Walia

Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front lines of Homeland Security
by Todd Miller
San Francisco: City Lights. Pages 355, $16.95.

Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front lines of Homeland SecurityTodd Miller's book is evocative of the fascist and inhuman role of the US border patrol, the abrasive predators behind the dehumanising of victims who face hunger, death and torture daily on the southern border as a consequence of a malicious deportation policy that breaks up families, leaving young children isolated from their parents. As he writes:

"I have met many migrants, hurt, dehydrated, exhausted. One man's feet had swelled up so much, thanks to the unrelenting heat and the cactus spines he had stepped on, that he could no longer jam them in his shoes. He had, he told me, continued on anyway in excruciating pain, mile after mile, barefoot on the oven-hot desert floor. Considering the thousands of dead bodies recovered from the borderlands since the massive build-up of Border Patrol forces and technology, he was lucky to have made it through alive." Interestingly, there are testimonies, and hundreds of them, of torture through lowering the air-conditioning temperature to almost zero while the poor migrant is clad only in a cotton shirt suitable for the desert. And still no impact on the heartless state apparatus.

Todd Miller examines border-policing technology
Todd Miller examines border-policing technology

They are no terrorists. They are just farmers who find it difficult to survive in their land which has over time come under the draconian trade policies of North Atlantic Free Trade Association (NAFTA). Subsidised prices of foodgrain fixed by state-sponsored multinationals are too low to compete with, leaving hundreds penniless and with no choice but to seek jobs across the border. This inflow of refugees the US does not permit and has till recently deported more than a million undocumented drifters. Using the bogey of the post- 9/11 scare, the US government uses all the more harsh means to capture these miserable inhabitants from across the border. Miller examines the unprecedented expenditure on border-policing technology, notwithstanding the consequences of the huge Orwellian nightmare that people undergo in a surveillance society: "Never before in the history of the United States have we had so many agents, so much technology, so much money just poured into this border enforcement apparatus." The money spent on border security is $18 billion which is "more than the money given to all other federal law enforcement agencies combined." Surveillance and warfare technology, including long-range cameras, keep an eye on the borders for any "illegal" clandestine crossing over by migrants, terrorists and drug traffickers. Whereas a few years ago only a barbed wire separated Mexico and the Canadian border from the US, you now have high walls and powerful lights that enable the hawk-eyed police to spot any moving object, ignoring the discomfort caused to the people residing near the border for whom it becomes impossible to sleep under the glare. As Miller explains in a recent interview, "The wall is one of many different aspects. Not only the wall, but a concentration of Border Patrol agents along the 2,000-mile border. There are also all kinds of technology. There are lots of things you won't see, such as motion sensors that are implanted in the ground. There are 12,000 of those motion sensors along the US-Mexico border" Sophisticated surveillance systems are easily available now. General Dynamics, FLIR thermal imaging and Raytheon manufacture are the latest in mini-surveillance blimps. NEANY Incís unmanned aerial drones and their water-borne equivalents are a technological feat but a curse for the homeless. Miller draws attention to his research that involves going to trade shows where Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing", are all involved in tailoring some of their technologies used in wars abroad for border security purposes." The threat to humanitarian rights stands superseded by the hunger for gain. And added to this technology is a 20,000-strong force that mans the border in the South West of the US, an over-militarisation turning the country into a virtual fortress. Such border vigilance in the post-9/11 years has snowballed into a nationwide surveillance that has used similar technology to keep a watch across the globe. Interestingly, the universities in the US are the co-opted partners in the research in advanced surveillance technology meant for "spying on us, for our own good." The book is indeed timely especially when the world is weary of the American obsession with snooping in the affairs of other nations. Behind it is the inspiration and impetus so courageously given by Edward Snowden who leaked tens of thousands of secret documents last year provoking intense debates on the American foreign policy and its rogue status especially in the context of its intervention into private affairs of the citizens of the world as well as its insensitive control over free movement of the wretched of the earth. It is deeply an issue about morality and freedom.