What is Militarization? Edit

When a zone becomes militarized, its administration of the society in the zone in one which posits military ideals and adopts military equipment as if to prepare for military conflict or other forms of violence. It often embodies statecraft that holds a symbolic importance. In the transnational context of the modern day, militarization of borders stands as a firm statement of the sovereignty and a “show of force” of a state in response to incoming migration.

Militarization is manifested in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands by the use of equipment ostensibly designed for war usage, military inspired surveillance systems, and a heavy presence of Border Patrol and sometimes National Guard troops. However, the practice of border militarization negatively impacts many actors, including migrants themselves, borderlands communities, and the environment.
Innovation and acquisition

Technology innovation and acquisition by the Border Patrol[1]

A History of Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Edit

The Border Patrol was originally created in 1924 to keep out Chinese immigrants entering in the wake of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The true formation of militarizing U.S. border policies that continue today began in the 1970s, however (Dunn). Congress began to allocate more funds to the border patrol within INS in response to Mexican immigration. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 furthered the presence of border patrol agents, doubling the total number of staff. These agents also received 22 helicopters and night-vision technologies (Meyers).

In 1994, lawmakers anticipated the fueling of more immigration from Mexico as a direct result of the passage of NAFTA that year. Therefore, the first formal border control strategy was adopted by the INS, followed by the implementation of militarization programs. First, El Paso saw the incorporation of Operation Hold the Line in 1993. Every hundred yards border patrol agents lined the border, totally 400 additional individuals than previously (Figueroa). Operation gatekeeper introduced a significant upswing in personnel for the border patrol in the San Diego region specifically, and it initiated a three-level system of patrol placement to filter down migrants. The operation aimed to effectively close the US-Mexico border at San Diego within five years. The operations also provided four-wheelers and state of the art surveillance technology like infrared goggles and sensors.

Port Security Equipment[2]

These two operations signaled the shift in US border policy to intercept migrants with increased manpower and technology rather than apprehension after crossing. The following operations featured military constructed apparatuses and surveillance systems modeled after military systems. As a result of the subsequent funneling of migration by these operations towards Arizona, a similar 1999 Operation Safeguard was introduced in Arizona to further reroute migration to dangerous desert passages. The operation literally incorporated equipment from San Diego's Operation Gatekeeper (Office of the Inspector General).

Militarization in the 21st Century Edit

The post 9/11 context has seen more militarization than ever at the border. After the terrorist attacks at the turn of the twentieth century, the United States immediately created the Department of Homeland Security, which merged twenty-two federal agencies, which facilitated more militarization programs. Among these agencies were the U.S. Border Patrol, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Customs Service (Loyd, Mitchelson, Burridge). These agencies within DHS receive increasingly large portions of the national budget to limit immigration. In addition to the Border Patrol agents responsible for employing military on the border, the National Guard has been summoned to border on occasion as well.

Other uses of military technology have characterized border control policies through initiatives that bolster fencing. In 2005, the Department of Homeland security introduced the Secure Border Initiative, which aimed to create the most impressive "virtual fence" to date. With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers occupied with post-Katrina duties, DHS hired private contractor Boeing to design the fences which would feature detection capabilities to alert border patrol of any crossings. The program has experienced no success, however, and the $2.4 billion fence technology has been plagued with technical difficulties (Immigration Policy Center). The next year, President Bush enacted the Secure Fence Act of 2006 to better incorporate surveillance systems comprised of "unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras." The act also improved infrastructure of the border patrol, constructing more roads, vehicle barriers, and checkpoints. ( The high cost of the fence act disallowed it to be fully funded and completed (Isacsonn and Meyer).

Militarization of the border has continued without restraint in recent years under the Obama administration. The Border Patrol routinely uses drones in the borderlands for detection and pursue practices of rounding up migrants, fast-track proceedings, and quick deportations. President Obama also sent national guard to the border in 2010 to deter immigration (Archibold).

Border Patrol Budget
Staggering facts and figures display the allocation of funds for military equipment and personnel at the border and the drastic escalation of Border Patrol in the last two decades.

New specializations of Border Patrol groups highlights the militarization trends in border control policy as well. BORTAC, or the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, is the Border Patrol on steroids and now has combined with other sub-groups of the Border Patrol to create the Special Operations Group. The SOG offers the DHS specially-trained forces to complete particularly dangerous missions, rapid response, intelligence analysis, and anti-terrorist tasks (

Summer 2014: A Case Study Edit

Many scholars have noted the image-making component of border militarization, both as a symbol of power or reclaiming of state sovereignty as well as a symbolic gesture to answer domestic calls for action at the border. Such internal pressure applied on the federal government by U.S. Americans manifested itself this past summer when the media closely covered immigration amidst the surge in unaccompanied children migrants at the border. Many urged Obama to send national guard to the border again, although he did not immediately do so, instead electing to focus on an anti-immigration campaign in Central America (Archibold).

The Governor Perry of Texas did send the state national guard to the border, however, which provides us with a striking image of the inappropriateness and futility of militarization in the borderlands. In the summer of 2014, the United States noted a remarkable upswing in the amount of unaccompanied minors fleeing the conditions in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. As many as 70,000 children were expected to cross the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year (Park). The Central American context from which they flee and the horrific journeys through Mexico to the United States did not simply arise in the summer of this past year; a vast array of literature and films have documented Central American immigration throughout the twenty-first century. 

The children often pass from their home countries through southern Mexico atop the “bestia,” or a cargo train on which criminals roam and trees slash (UNCHR). Widespread poverty and corruption among officials characterize life in all three of the countries from which the emigrate (UNCHR). Also each features militarized societies of their own, facilitated by a history of U.S. interventions and tacit U.S. acceptance of a 2009 coup in Honduras, which perpetuates a culture of fear. Given this violent, impoverished context and the increasing opportunities for family reunification in the United States, a surge in child migrants seems obvious. 

After Operation Gatekeeper pushed immigration routes into the dangerous desert lands of Arizona, the last few years have brought changes to migration corridors again, as the majority of migrants to the U.S. are Central Americans (not Mexicans) passing through south Texas. So how did these fleeing children from poor, militarized countries? Governor Perry further militarized the border, and as the Washington Post described, National Guard troops arrived in Rio Grande City in August, “outfitted in body armor and carrying pistols to help bring more security to the U.S.-Mexico border” (Olivo). This policy of militarization not certainly raises questions of proportionality. Yet, not only does this action represent an overly extreme response in appearance, but it also is ineffective (Isacson and Meyer). The migration from Central American states peaked in August, although the numbers of migrants crossing the border historically taper off at this point in this year (Immigration Policy Center). The media attention on the issue permitted Perry to enact this measure, however unfitting troops may seem to the subject of child migrants at the border. Therefore, as the roaring media coverage of Central American migration subsided, Texas recently announced the forthcoming withdrawal of the some 1,000 National guard troops deployed at the border in the spring. Nevertheless, Texas lawmakers authorized a security enforcement package to replacing the National Guard that will cost $86 million. This new militarization tactic will utilize high-tech surveillance systems and additional state troopers (Weissert).

Current Issues due to the Militarization of the Borders Edit


Border Barrier versus Wildlife

With the increased military presence on the border between the United States and Mexico, several new issueshave been created. Large border walls posing environmental threats to humans, animals, and native plants, Constitution-free zones in American areas near the border, and a changing rhetoric about how we look at the border have all followed the buildup of military-like forces on the frontiers of the two countries.

Effects of Militarization on the Environment Edit

With the ramping up of a military presence on the border, the protection of the environment has gone to the wayside. Starting in the mid-2000s, the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, among thirty three other federal laws passed to make sure we protected our environment, were waved by high-ranking officials in charge of the border patrol in order to militarize the area faster (CSMonitor). The constant construction and upkeep of the barriers on the border, the large amounts of border patrol agents patrolling desert areas more often, and the cutting of a protected wildlife area in half have all lead to issues.

Wildlife Edit

When the decision to create a larger and more extensive border wall was implemented under the Bush Administration in 2006, the construction of such a barrier caused many environmental issues.  Due to the fact that the United States government was is a rush to get the wall constructed, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff waved many federally implemented environmental laws that protected endangered species, water access for both animals and people living in the borderlands, and native plants in the area from being destroyed (NBC). The disregard for the environmental impacts because of the militarization of the border has also caused many of the local animals, both wild and livestock, to be cut off from millennia old sources of food and water.

Natural Preserves Edit


A Polluted River on the Border

With the construction of the border wall, many natrually preserved places were negatively impacted. The bordercrosses through many natural wetlands, river valleys, and fragile water sources, and therefore any source of development will cause them to be at risk. The quick timeline for building a well-policed border wall has made many of the means of building this wall to threaten many aspects of the environment. For example, to build walls in the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, south of San Diego, the Department of Homeland Security dynamited 530,000 cubic yards of rock from mountainsides and dumped the waste into the Tijuana River (CSMonitor).

Rise of Militia Edit

The crossing of undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States has created a movement by Americans nationwide to start a citizen’s response to the topic. Fueled by claims of patriotism and alligations of racism, the rise in the amount of citizen-started groups taking immigration polict into their own hands has followed the buildup of military forces on the border.

Minutemen Edit

Minuteman project

Armed Citizens Patrol the US and Mexican Border

The Minutemen Project was started in the American borderlands in 2005 with the idea of becoming the "Neighborhood Watch" of the borderlands area. Created by civilians to aid the Border Patrol in preventing undocumented migrants from crossing into the United States, and to get the attention of the federal government to raise the issue that the border need to be more militarized and Often going in small groups, these heavily armed paramilitary groups travel around the remote sites on the American side of the border, hoping to intimidate crossing migrants and potentially place those that they capture under a citizen’s arrest until official border patrol can come and arrest the migrants for crossing the border illegally (Fox). Often charged with allegations of racism, the Minutemen Project has received both praise and sharp criticism for their action on the border. With chapters in every border state and a couple northern states, the Minutemen Project has quickly become a force in the ever-militarized borderlands.

Bibliograpgy Edit

Archibold, Randal. “Obama to Send Up to 1,200 Troops to Border.” The New York Times, 25 <May 2010.>.

"Costly Fence on US-Mexico Border Is Effective – Only in Hurting Nature." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2014. <>.

Crossing Arizona. Cinema Guild, 2006. DVD.

Dunn, Timothy. The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1978-1992: Low-Intensity Conflict Doctrine Comes Home. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

Figueroa, Lorena. “Hold the Line: Experts say operation did more harm than good.El Paso Times, 30 September 2013. <>.

Isacson, Adam and Maureen Meyer. “Beyond the Border Buildup: Security and Migrants Along the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Washington Office on Latin America, April 2012 <>.

Looking For A Quick Fix: The Rise and Fall of the Secure Border Initiative’s High-Tech Solution to Unauthorized Immigration. Immigration Policy Center, 15 April 2010. <>.

Loyd, Jenna, Matt Mitchelson, and Andrew Burridge. Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders, and Global Crisis. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012.

Meyers, Deborah Waller. “From Horseback to High-Tech: U.S. Border Enforcement.” Migration Policy Institute, 1 February, 2006.

Miller, Joshua. "Minuteman Project Ready to Return to Border amid Wave of Illegal Immigration." Fox News. FOX News Network, 13 July 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2014. <>.

Olivo, Antonio. “Deployed by Gov. Rick Perry, National Guard adjusts to its new role on the Texas border” The Washington Post, 1 September 2014. <>.

Park, Haeyoun. “Children at the Border.” The New York Times. 21 October 2014.

Pastor, Honary Ed. “Immigration and Naturalization Service Comprehensive Southwest Border Enforcement Strategy.” Congressional Record Volume 142, Number 39, 20 March 1996. <>.

"U.S.: Border Fence Will Hurt Farmers, Wildlife." Web. 6 Dec. 2014. <>.

UNHCR. "Children on the Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection.” 2014.

Weissert, Will. “Texas OKs Extra $86M for Border Security Surge.” ABC News, 1 December 2014. <>.

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