While the public waits anxiously for President Obama to unveil comprehensive immigration reform, the Administration has already adopted a good deal of the Bush Administration immigration enforcement regime which is bound to taint the impact of any subsequent reform.
Since his inauguration, President Obama has 1) added $420 million dollars in supplementary spending to the militaristic Merida Initiative in Mexico; 2) committed to the completion of the 700 mile border wall at $3.9 million dollars per mile, and a several billion dollar virtual fence outsourced to Boeing; 3) hoped to rebrand the Real ID program, which intended to turn state issue drivers licenses into a national ID and which 24 states have rejected, into Pass ID, a slightly less egregious proposal which accomplishes essentially the same exclusionary goals; and 4) supported E-verify, an electronic verification system that screens job applicants, but has a high error rate and cannot account for fraud and identity theft.
These seemingly disparate policies are all part of a high tech immigration enforcement regime that criminalizes immigrants and has been a catalyst for domesticating the war on terror with dataveillance technologies. The Merida Initiative militarizes the Mexico side of the border, which, along with the wall and virtual fence, sends a message to potential emigrants in the Americas that the golden door is closed. Such deterrence messages aside, however, militarization doesn’t deter.
According to scholars the only effective deterrence to undocumented immigration during the past several years has come from economic recession, not from an18-foot wall that immigrants traverse with ladders, shovels and human chains or just plain walk around. As Secretary Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security has said, “You show me a 50 foot fence and I’ll show you a 51 foot ladder.”
Quite frankly, even members of congress are hard pressed to define success regarding a border wall. The same goes for the virtual fence and other technology-driven projects. The virtual fence, a network of surveillance towers, sensors and cameras fails to distinguish among human beings and wildlife. Although “Project 28,” the pilot 28-mile stretch of virtual fence in Arizona was a dismal failure, Obama seems eager to continue the project.
Further, in doubling down on such high tech policies that include Real ID, E-Verify, and US VISIT, the Administration wastes billions of taxpayer dollars on what a broad consensus of experts suggest are failed projects and so plagued with technical kinks that it is unlikely they would ever achieve their deterrence objectives, unless of course they are not supposed to.
In short order, the Obama team has bought into the risk approaches to governance that have accompanied the recent rise in government using high tech gadgetry as policy responses to complex social issues. They have also bought into the canard that enforcement practices could replace good social policy. Like his predecessor, the Obama approach to immigration control continues to define undocumented immigrants as prey, which is highly problematic, but then nets everyone who ever applies for employment, a drivers’ license or goes to an airport or federal building, even more problematic. In exchange for going about their everyday activities all individuals must now hand over a good deal of their personal privacy so that the government might construct simulated identities that are inputted and kept in government databases.
With such an overbroad approach to undocumented immigration, everyone is considered guilty until proven innocent by data mining technologies.
This also amounts to the sort of invasive national ID system that civil libertarians have feared for decades; it has become a reality hidden within the new Administration’s immigration agenda.
The shame of the new Administration’s approach is that it disappoints the hopes and expectations of millions of Obama supporters, myself included. Obama could have recalibrated the immigration debate along human rights and civil liberties grounds. Instead, if one follows the allocation of funds rather than lofty rhetoric as the more accurate guide of Administration priorities, human and constitutional rights for immigrants won’t get much of a hearing in this Administration.