Along US border, a growing opposition to military deployment

he amount of militarization that we already experience on a daily basis and that we are currently living under is like living in a waking nightmare, says border resident. (The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Along US border, a growing opposition to military deployment

  • I find the fact that the military is being deployed absolutely terrifying: Arivaca resident
  • The military expects to have most of the over 7,000 troops planned for the mission deployed by Monday

PHOENIX: Amy Juan drove two hours north from her remote community on the US-Mexico border in Arizona to rally against the deployment of troops there.
She’s one of many residents of the Southwest who oppose and are speaking out against President Donald Trump’s deployment of over 5,000 military troops to the border to fend off a slow-moving caravan of Central American migrants headed to the US
In El Paso, Texas, a march is planned to protest the deployment this weekend. In Laredo, the city’s mayor released a statement referring to the deployment as “false efforts” that will “harm morale and damage the economy of our region.”
“Even though our communities are all very different and diverse, we all experience the same thing, which are the effects of militarization at the border,” said Juan, who was one of several speakers at a news conference in Phoenix on Thursday. “Having an increased presence of military is scary, you know. It’s scary.”
Juan is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, which sits on about 75 miles along the international border. Residents of the reservation have long had a complicated relationship with the US Border Patrol, and its leadership has been vocal about its opposition to the president’s plans for a border wall.
“I find the fact that the military is being deployed absolutely terrifying. The amount of militarization that we already experience on a daily basis and that we are currently living under is like living in a waking nightmare,” said Eva Lewis, a resident of the small town of Arivaca just north of the US-Mexico border.
Many residents of Arivaca have spent years battling the Border Patrol’s checkpoints, which require everyone who cross them to stop and declare whether they are citizens. Trips to school or the grocery store require passing through checkpoints, and many residents say that agents discriminate against Latinos in the area, a claim the agency denies.
In Nogales, Arizona, which shares a name with its neighbor to the south, residents said they were distressed, confused and shocked when the military showed up on election day to install barbed wire on a border fence, according to the Nogales International newspaper.
As of Thursday, there are over 5,600 troops deployed at the border. There are 2,800 in Texas, while 1,500 are in Arizona and another 1,300 are in California.
The military expects to have most of the over 7,000 troops planned for the mission deployed by Monday. A spokesperson for the Department of Defense could not be reached Thursday.
But not everyone opposes the military presence.
Jim Chilton, an Arizona border rancher and staunch Trump supporter, said in a news release to the AP this week that he looks forward to the arrival of more troops. Chilton said the 25 miles of international border in Arivaca is poorly secured and actively sees drug smuggling and human trafficking.
“The lack of access and infrastructure, cartel scout presence, and rough terrain and inefficient ‘defense in depth’ strategy creates a de facto ‘no man’s land’ in which border ranchers live and work,” Chilton said.
Despite rhetoric about the Central American migrant caravan, illegal immigration to the US is at historic lows, with only a fraction of arrests made by the Border Patrol — and twice the number of agents — made this year compared with 2000, at the height of illegal activity.


Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

Updated 19 November 2018
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Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

  • Some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops
  • ‘It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps’

LAREDO, United State: They started work in the cool of the morning and moved quickly, uncoiling reel after reel of vicious-looking fencing and tying it with barbed wire to green poles hammered into the ground.
Over the course of three days, a gleaming, shoulders-high barrier of concertina-wire emerged like a silver snake along a lush riverbank, stretching as far as the eye could see.
This was the work of 100 or so American troops from the 19th Engineer Battalion, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Rather than finding themselves in a far-off warzone, the soldiers are in Laredo, a busy border town overlooking a stretch of the Rio Grande river in southwest Texas, carrying out controversial orders from President Donald Trump.
He has sent about 5,800 troops to the border to forestall the arrival of large groups of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico and toward the US, in a move critics decry as a costly political stunt to galvanize supporters ahead of midterm elections earlier this month.
Before the election Trump called the matter a “national emergency” and warned that so-called migrant caravans were an “invasion” with “some very bad thugs and gang members.”
So far at least, the most visible aspect of Trump’s deployment is the fence, a visible deterrent and physical obstacle to migrants, designed to corral would-be asylum seekers toward organized points of entry into the US.
Over the weekend, Lt. Alan Koepnick’s platoon could be seen stringing concertina wire, which is built to snag clothing, along one edge of a quiet riverside park near downtown Laredo.
As families walked dogs, grilled sausages and relaxed, the soldiers mounted the wire, occasionally ripping their camouflaged uniforms on its metal barbs.
Koepnick said some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops.
“But there’s also been a lot of support, people coming in, vets shaking our hands, bringing us cakes, water, things like that,” Koepnick said.
About 100 yards (meters) behind him, a group of people on the Mexican side of the river could be seen standing on the bank.
“You’ll see people across the river cursing at us in Spanish, throwing bottles at us. But on this side it’s more positive,” Koepnick said.
He and his soldiers were unarmed, but a group of armed military police officers stood by to provide “force protection.”
Under US law, the military is not allowed to conduct domestic law enforcement in most cases, so soldiers here will not have any direct interactions with migrants.
Trump created a media whirlwind by sounding the alarm about the migrant caravans before the November 6 elections. He has mainly stopped raising it since, though last week he praised the military’s work.
“They built great fencing, they built a very powerful fence,” said Trump, who wants to build a hardened wall along the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border.
Laura Pole, a British tourist visiting Laredo for the third time, was less enthusiastic.
“It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps,” she said, but added: “I really don’t know what’s the best thing to do.”
The border mission has put the supposedly non-political military in an uncomfortable spotlight.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has hit back at critics who say the Pentagon should not be doing Trump’s political bidding, saying “we don’t do stunts.”
He visited troops on the border last week and reiterated that their job in the short term was to assist under-resourced Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and put up physical obstacles.
But “longer term, it’s somewhat to be determined,” he said.
After some rank-and-file troops grumbled about the purpose of the mission to US media last week, they are now under strict instructions not to voice personal opinions to the press.
Several soldiers AFP spoke to said their time on the border provided valuable real-world training, albeit without the risks of combat.
“We have a very large group of brand-new soldiers and it’s really good for them,” Corporal Samuel Fletcher said, citing a chance for the green troops “to do real work and put their skills to use.”
In Laredo, large groups of migrants from the caravans in Mexico had not arrived.
Instead they were mainly headed to Tijuana, about 1,300 miles away in San Diego, where authorities say more than 3,000 have already arrived.
Still, a CBP agent, who was not authorized to give his name, said he was glad of the military assistance as each day, “hundreds” of migrants attempt to cross the approximately 30-mile stretch of border he patrols.
The military deployment is set to wrap up December 15 and it is not clear what will become of the wire fencing.
Already, the winds whistling down the Rio Grande valley are strewing trash, clothing and plastic bags along the jagged wire.
“Nobody seems to know when it’s coming down. It’s not really our decision,” said Koepnick.
“If we are told to take it down, we will take it down with a smile on our faces, like good soldiers.”