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Understanding the History & Context of US Immigration Policy: Part I – US violence against immigrants at the Border

November 28, 2018

On Sunday, the whole world watched as the caravan of people from Central America, who are seeking asylum, were tear gassed by US Customs and Border Patrol agents who had been ordered to do so from by the Trump Administration.

People in the US and around the world are condemning the tear gassing of civilians, which also included children. Some are saying this is a war crime, but the fact is that while tear gas is banned from use in warfare, the use of tear gas against civilians is a common practice, especially in the US.

Tear gas was used against people in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, after the community rose up against the police after a cop killed Michael Brown. Tear gas is used frequently by law enforcement agencies when people rise up and demand justice no matter what the cause is.

I have witness the use of tear gas at the 2001 protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americans in Quebec City, Canada and at the 2008 RNC protest in Minneapolis. If you have ever experienced being exposed to tear gas, you know that it is something that is very disorienting. Those exposed to tear gas will have a hard time seeing, a hard time breathing and you are likely to have tears and snot running down your face. Tear gas also causes people to vomit. Thus, you can imagine how the asylum seekers felt at the US border, when they were teared gassed, the confusion and terror they must have felt.

However, beyond the outrage that many people are feeling, most of the commercial media coverage is not providing any context for why those who are seeking asylum, often referred to as people in the “immigrant caravan,” are coming to the US in the first place.

A friend and colleague in the struggle, Fermin Valle, wrote a piece about the asylum seekers and they communicated with him why people have come to the US: 

They wanted to make clear to the world that they are chasing a dream of a better life, and that they left their country in search of jobs to feed their families and children, to buy medicine for sick loved ones, to escape the violence of gangs and drug cartels, and maybe even to find opportunities to send their kids to college.

In addition to what individuals who are coming to the US seeking asylum are saying, we need to develop an important analysis of the root causes of why so many are attempting to enter the US, especially from Mexico and Central America.

There are some really good resources that provides this kind of background information, resources that we recommend. First, there is always solid analysis provided by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Here is a recent piece they put together called 9 Questions (and Answers) about the Central American Migrant Caravan.  Another solid piece of analysis from WOLA is entitled, “Come Back Later”: Challenges for Asylum Seekers Waiting at Ports of Entry. One additional piece from WOLA is, The US Government’s 2018 Border Data Clearly Shows Why the Trump Administration is on the Wrong Track

Another great resource for understanding the context of why so many from Central America are trying to enter the US if from the group A Project for Teaching Change is entitled, Teaching Central America

Public Citizen provides important information and analysis on both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and why those trade policies have displaced so many from the region.

Lastly, there are also some good resources through the American Friends Service Committee, such as their online section on US-Mexico Border Militarization  and Defending Immigrant Rights

Who profits from Asylum Seekers being Tear Gassed?

The security industry is vast and highly profitable in the US and after September 11, 2001, it has gone off the charts. One clear example is the Florida-based Safariland Group.

Safariland Group is the company that supplied US Customs and Border agents with tear gas that was used against the asylum seekers on Sunday. The CEO of the Safariland Group is Warren Kanders, who has been CEO of the company since 1996. Kanders is worth $2.2 billion and he is also involved with the Claus Corporation, PC Group Inc., the Highlands Acquisition Corp. and DHS Techonologies LLC.

The Safariland Group is a one-stop shop for protest repression, since the corporation controls 25 individually branded policing and security sub-companies. The company started off as a gun holster business in 1964 and then merged with Body Armor in 1969.

When Kanders became CEO, the former investment banker gain a controlling share of Body Armor’s stock and then changed the name to Armor Holdings Inc. Armor Holdings Inc. then acquired Defense Tech and added in the company’s portfolio such items as pepper spray, tear gas, distraction devices, flameless expulsion grenades, and specialty munitions.

In 1998, under Kanders leadership, the company bought up Mace Security International, which at the time was a major player in the tear gas manufacturing business.

Then 9/11 came, so Kanders decided to align himself with homeland security and joined the Board of Directors at the Federal Enforcement Homeland Security Foundation, which provides grants to government law enforcement agencies to purchase items like tear gas and other anti-riot resources, all in the name of fighting domestic terrorism.

In Part II, we will look at the history of the US/Mexican border and how it has become more militarized since the US expanded its empire with the war/invasion of Mexico.

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