BROWNSVILLE, May 18 - A few weeks ago, I wrote about the horrors that a U.S. Border Patrol agent wreaked upon three Honduran immigrants–a border patrol agent, while on duty and working the river not far from McAllen, Texas, raped and tried to kill two fourteen year old girls and a mom (The Beast).
This weekend, I travelled over a thousand miles from the border to Birmingham, Alabama, to visit my dad.
After lunch, he and I stopped into a small shop where he knew some friends who worked there. I struck up a conversation with one of the clerks, a pleasant young woman who told me that she had an interest in public health, and had thought about joining the Peace Corps. I suggested that she think instead about coming to the Rio Grande Valley, a place with public health challenges, with a different culture, and with a love for big hearted people – as she seemed to be.
When I mentioned the Rio Grande Valley, she looked at me sharply and asked me if I knew McAllen. When I said yes, she quietly mentioned that she had a brother there, working with “some government agency” in a position that she couldn’t say more about. And then she asked me, “Did you know about the three Honduran women, and what happened to them?”
I told her that indeed, I had known. She continued on, “My brother called me after that happened, and when I told him I hadn’t heard the news, well, he couldn’t believe that. My brother couldn’t believe that the entire nation wasn’t outraged. My brother has had it with the border, and can’t wait to leave.”
She realized at that point in the conversation that she had probably said too much, and went back to her work.
I returned to my dad’s place, and, after going online, read about some hearings that were being held in Austin, and how Senator Jose Rodriguez from El Paso was moved to intervene when a woman from Houston talked about “the military incursions” taking place in the region (meaning, I assume, Mexican military), and that south Texas was a “war zone.”
I think that both the Houston woman and the Senator are wrong. Our region is in fact militarized, not by troops from Mexico, but by agents from the USA. There are more than 3,000 officers assigned to our region–and there is not, as of yet, any sort of accountability to the local citizens for their behavior. According to the Southern Border Communities’ Coalition, since 2010, at least 27 people have died at the hands of CBP personnel along the southern border. Not a single one of these cases has been subjected to even the most minimal sorts of accountability standards that local police departments offer their citizens.
What does this “militarization” mean? So far, it is not tanks on the streets of Brownsville, but it is Border Patrol agents bracing elderly women as they go shopping at the local grocery. It is not, up until now, soldiers on the street corners, but it is border patrol agents boarding city buses and demanding immigration papers. Militarization of our community is not machine gun nests set up in city parks as a show of force, but border patrol trucks parked outside elementary schools and the agents stopping women who are coming to pick up their children.
Militarization, in my mind, means that civilians have no say-so in the operations of soldiers, as opposed to normal policing operations, in which civilians hold those officers accountable for protecting and serving the community.The advocates for our community have repeatedly asked Customs and Border Patrol to have their officers wear lapel cameras. Community leaders from Brownsville to San Diego have repeatedly asked the Border Patrol to release to the public its use-of-force policies, as well as the findings of an internal audit completed by the Police Executive Research Forum. We have made long, costly trips to Washington, D.C. to meet with Department of Homeland Security officials, and have worked with congressional officials to make the case that our border communities insist upon our right to be secure and free from fear.
The latest announcement, just a week after the tragedy of the three Honduran women, was that another 100 agents would be sent to the Rio Grande Valley.
Homeland Security also announced that we have a new Border Patrol sector chief. He is an ex-marine.
Michael Seifert is a community leader and writer who lives in Brownsville, Texas.