Border Patrol is becoming an occupying army in our borderlands

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

The situation on the U.S. border with Mexico may be spinning out of control -- not because of Mexicans trying to cross illegally, but because of the army of Border Patrol agents that is being amassed at the cost of billions of tax dollars.

According to journalist Todd Miller, author of “Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Homeland Security,” the U.S. spent $90 billion on border enforcement in the decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2012, the immigration and border enforcement budget was $18 billion. The immigration bill now being debated in Congress would spend an additional $40 billion and would raise the number of Border Patrol agents to 40,000. That is 10 times the number of agents in service in the early 1990s.

The rush to beef up security after 9/11 was driven by the new fear that terrorists would creep into the country and by the longtime concern about thousands of undocumented immigrants sneaking up from Latin America. Arguably, the dramatically increased surveillance and interdiction has contributed to a sharp drop in illegal immigration and, so far, no terrorists have been discovered trying to cross from Mexico or Canada.

But the new, massive round of spending being proposed may have less to do with terrorists or Mexicans -- those concerns seem to have been met -- than with defense contractors who see America’s wars winding down. Border security is a new cash cow for them, and the more security they can sell, the more profit they will make, even if that security is unnecessary and redundant.


Effectively, both our southern and northern borders are already militarized. If even more manpower and equipment are added, we may have a lot of guys with guns without enough to keep them busy. Miller reports that, already, regular citizens in border areas are feeling as if they live in a war zone where random searches are increasingly common and border agents turn up on private property challenging the right of residents to be on their own land.

In 2008, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy was stopped at a checkpoint 125 miles from the Canadian border, ordered out of his car and asked to prove his citizenship. Leahy said he asked the federal agent who initiated the stop by what authority he was acting. According to the senator, the agent pointed to his gun and said, “That’s all the authority I need.”

This year, Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, added a provision to the immigration bill that would disallow checkpoint searches beyond a 25-mile distance from the border. “The wide latitude in current law for setting up checkpoints far from our borders has led to maximum hassles of law-abiding local residents, with minimal value to border enforcement,” Leahy said in a statement.

Leahy’s provision, by the way, only applies to the northern border. Law-abiding residents of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas will get no such relief -- unless, of course, one of their senators gets pulled over for no good reason by any of the thousands of new Border Patrol agents looking for something to do.