Wisconsin will be included in a Customs and Border Protection recruiting effort for border states even though Wisconsin is not a border state.
The largest law enforcement agency in the U.S. – Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – will launch a recruiting effort in Wisconsin in September.
This raises concern in light of recent reports by farm worker and immigration rights advocates, local police agencies, and border residents in the Pacific Northwest regarding an expanded border patrol presence.
•Alleged harassment of farm workers and long-time borderland residents with surveillance cameras, helicopter flyovers, and the 24-hour presence of border patrol agents and vehicles
•Incidents involving CBP agents and described as ethnic profiling
•Stress on local criminal justice systems when federal officials defer prosecution of criminals they apprehend to local authorities. Border protection, with 60,000 employees and a proposed 2013 budget of $12 billion, is the mightiest arm within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Expanding CBP recruitment to Wisconsin, which doesn’t share a border with Canada as do 13 states, is part of a border patrol beef-up campaign that began with George W. Bush’s promise to add 6,000 agents by 2009.
“With more than 17,000 agents on board today, CBP is working toward a total of 18,000 agents by the end of this year,” said an agency announcement issued July 3. “This is the largest expansion of the Border Patrol in history.”
Next year, President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal would fund 21,370 border patrol agents.
The complicated and not always harmonious CBP includes the border patrol working a vast area “between ports of entry,” the Office of Field Operations (OFO) with an additional 21,000 officers stationed at ports of entry, and the Office of Air and Marine (OAM) with 1,200 federal agents and hundreds of aircraft and maritime vessels. None of these should be confused with the infamous Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with its priority to identify and remove “criminal aliens.” That enforcement priority is similar to the purpose of CBP.
Why is this recruitment push happening now with entry into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico at its lowest ebb in years?
A Pew Hispanic Center report this year said migration from Mexico is probably declining for the first time in four decades. And while weakening of the Canadian dollar also affects tourist visits to the U.S. from the north, increased border security since 9/11 is a major reason for declining border crossings from Canada. That was reported in research conducted by Hart Hodges, director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington.
Why is Wisconsin included? A partial answer is provided in releases quoting CBP’s Joe Abbott, national recruiting director: “We are embarking on a recruiting mission into states like Wisconsin that may not be as familiar with the Border Patrol, and we are certain that with awareness comes interest in this unparalleled federal law enforcement opportunity.”
Military veterans are prime CBP recruits and make up 25 percent of its workforce. CBP’s “national outreach” - NASCAR and Professional Bull Riders sponsorships, study guides, laudatory DVDs, and advertising - mimics recruitment techniques used by military recruiters in Wisconsin high schools since 9/11.
The military-like border patrol presence has caused farm worker and rural justice activists in the Pacific Northwest to blame the expanded border patrol for creating “a military culture that has raised the culture of fear” among Latino farm workers in Washington State.
Border patrol recruits earn $36,000 to $46,000 the first year along with ample benefits of federal health insurance, life insurance, retirement, and overtime. The salary can increase to $70,000 within three years, according to CBP information.
Four years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took a close look at border patrol issues and concluded that two out of three Americans live in a “Constitution-Free Zone” wrapping the external U.S. boundary. That makes 197.4 million people within 100 miles of external boundaries potentially subject to stops and searches normally performed at border crossings only.
“The bottom line is that the extraordinary authorities that the government possesses at the border are spilling into regular American streets,” the ACLU noted in 2008.
The ACLU Constitution-Free Zone map was cued by a provision in the Code of Federal Regulations which says: “Reasonable boundary distance means within 100 air miles from any external boundary of the United States.” Thus, patrol agents or special agents can report circumstances within their “reasonable” purview for possible action.
The ACLU said agents are stopping, interrogating, and searching Americans far removed from the actual border “with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.”
“Our overall authority is not geographically limited,” a CBP spokesman told a busload of journalists when we toured the border, met with residents, and visited headquarters for the border patrol’s Blaine, Washington, sector in early July.
Entering the border patrol headquarters we were seated in front of a large flat-screen monitor showing an aerial view of the smoldering twin towers and the caption, “From the ashes of September 11, 2001.” Capt. J. Jones told us photos weren’t allowed and the session “is not to be a town hall or a debate or anything like that.” A list of CBP goals was topped with preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the U.S. Responding to questions, Jones said he didn’t have any information as to whether terrorist suspects were apprehended along the Blaine sector, or drug runners, and so on.
“How do we know the terrorists until they do some terrorism,” he said. The slide show concluded with photos of three men encountered by the border patrol along the Blaine sector “with a nexus to terrorism.” The incidents dated to the late 1990s, well before 9/11.
Earlier in the day we heard panelists discuss the ubiquitous presence of white and green border patrol SUVs parked in prominent locations with motors running around the clock, of CBP Blackhawk helicopters hovering a few hundred feet in the air over houses at night, and of sensors and long-range surveillance cameras installed at regular intervals in a largely agricultural part of Whatcom County along the border with Canada. Unmanned aerial drones have also been put to use over certain areas of the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Though the border patrol was given credit by some for trying to improve community relations in areas north of Seattle, tension created by such an obvious presence is palpable. A borderland journalist described differing opinions between border residents who notice problems of over-policing, and people further inland who want more protection.
A notorious 2011 case resulted in prison time, community service, home confinement, and a $5,000 fine for a Washington dairy farmer who went outside in his underwear and aimed a high-powered light beam at a CBP helicopter hovering 500 feet above his house after dark. The farmer was convicted of incapacitating the pilot who was wearing night vision goggles at the time.
“These people who are here to protect us sometimes don’t, and they sometimes hurt local communities,” said Bellingham immigration lawyer and border security expert Greg Boos.
Rosalinda Guillén is director of a Bellingham-based social justice group led by women, and a former farm worker. “The border patrol has become a mechanism of harassment and oppression,” she said, with more than 300 agents in the Blaine sector. “Their focus has not been on drug runners and gun runners. It is creating a kind of military culture in our community that has raised the level of fear.”
Press officer Cherise Miles was contacted at a CBP office in Chicago and asked for comments about the September recruitment event in Wisconsin. She said she would refer the subject to a recruiter, and that there aren’t any plans at the present time to station border patrol agents in Wisconsin. The recruiting effort is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, September 6, at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, 333 W. College Avenue, Appleton.
The ACLU map shows approximately three-quarters of Wisconsin, the entire northern and western parts of the state, as included within the Constitution-Free Zone. Based on 2007 U.S. Census information, 4.7 million or 84 percent of Wisconsin’s residents are estimated by the ACLU to live within the zone.
July 12, 2012
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David Giffey is a freelance journalist and FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Arena. He is the author of "Long Shadows: Veterans’ Paths to Peace" (Atwood Publishing), "Struggle for Justice: The Migrant Farm Worker Labor Movement in Wisconsin," and "The People’s Stories of South Madison."