In 1994 under the Bill Clinton administration, the annual border and immigration budget was $1.5bn, through the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In 2020, the combined budget of its superseding agencies, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), exceeded $25bn. That is a 16-fold increase.
Another way to look at the scope of this money juggernaut are the 105,000 contracts, totaling $55bn, that CBP and Ice have given private industry – including Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, G4S, Deloitte and CoreCivic, among others – to develop the border and immigration enforcement apparatus. That is worth more than the total cumulative number of border and immigration budgets from 1975 to 2003. That’s 28 years combined amounting to $52bn.
The companies can also give campaign contributions to key politicians and lobby during budget debates. And so we have the formula of a perpetual “border crisis”: the bigger the crisis, the more need for border infrastructure, generating more revenue.
Since the 1990s, nearly 8,000 human remains have been found in the US borderlands. The number of actual deaths is almost certainly much higher.
The “dry corridor” describes a huge swath of territory running from Guatemala to Nicaragua that is getting dryer and dryer as a direct result of global warming. According to an estimate from the World Food Programme, this has left 1.4 million farmers in severe crisis. The back-to-back hurricanes in late 2020, in particular, displaced countless people.
The United States has produced nearly 700 times more carbon emissions than El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras combined since 1900. You might think the USA would be ethically obligated to help undo the damage. Instead, as with other large historic greenhouse gas emitters, it is at the global forefront of militarizing its borders.
Instead of truly confronting the problems that we face as a planet – such as climate change, wealth inequalities in which 2,000 billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people, and runaway pandemics where the health of people and peoples across borders become intimately interconnected – the solution somehow always becomes more border walls, more surveillance technologies and more suffering.
In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, there were 15 border walls worldwide. Now there are 70, two-thirds created since 9/11.
Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign received three times more campaign contributions from the border industry than did Donald Trump’s. While the president has called for a reversal of Trumpian policies, he is far from challenging a border-industrial complex.