By Roberto Lovato
New America Media
SAN ANTONIO, TexasAsk her about President Bush’s planned deployment of National Guard troops to the border and San Antonio resident and writer Barbara Renaut Gonzalez will quickly mention Redford, Texas. “When he was governor here, Bush had the federal government send troops to the border, supposedly to fight the drug wars. One of those Marines ended up shooting and killing a young sheepherder,” she says.
Gonzalez and many others here in Texas recall the controversy surrounding the shooting death of Esequiel Hernandez, a U.S.-born high school student shot by Marines in 1997. “Soldiers are trained to kill. They’re not trained to deal with immigrants,” says Gonzalez, who fears that Bush is “pushing us further down the down the slippery slope toward a militaristic state.” Back in Redford, the young sheepherder’s 79-year-old uncle, Valerio Pando, echoes her concerns. “There was no motive for them to (shoot) Esequiel,” Pando told the Associated Press near the border on Monday, adding, “and I worry that the same thing could happen, or worse.”
Many in Texas and beyond fear what they perceive as the grave danger posed by a president and a Republican Party that appeal to white, conservative voters by targeting immigrants with punitive policies. Waving twin flags of patriotism and national security, Bush has led us into the age of migration and militarism, an age that will and must also see the birth of an “immifada,” a more militant, non-electoral, cross-border response to the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino politic gripping the most conservative and dangerous sectors of U.S. society.
In the face of NSA snooping revelations, rising oil prices, corruption and leak scandals, sagging approval ratings and the failure that is Iraq, Bush is doing what other presidents have done when confronting growing crises: declare war on the most vulnerable.
Even Latino Democrats like Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and New Mexico Governor Bill Rich-ardson have followed the strategy first introduced by former Republican California Governor Pete Wilson, by framing the border-crossing of tired, poor and hungry workers as causing a “state of emergency.”
Before voters approved Wilson’s Proposition 187, which sought to deny health and education benefits to the children of the undocumented, Wilson sent the California National Guard to the border with the election-year excuse of reinforcing the U.S. Border Patrol. Not to be outdone, Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced her own National Guard Plan for the border just before the historic 1994 Congressional elections, when the Republican Party gained a majority of seats in the House for the first time since 1954.
As some of us prepare responses to the president’s announcement, and in the face of such a bipartisan border political feeding frenzy, we need to remember that after the California proposals swept successfully through Congress, the Pentagon ruled that Boxer’s plan did not have a legal foundation and essentially prevented National Guard units from being used to deal with immigration and border issues.
At the time of Boxer’s proposal, Lt. Col. Tim Callan, executive officer of the California National Guard said, “We have a document from the National Guard Bureau saying (the Boxer plan) is not legal and we can’t do it.” Whether crisis-ridden Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the spying scandal-riddled Pentagon decide to similarly weigh in on the Bush military and migration proposal, anyone caring about immigrants rights and about the separation between military and civilian affairs must speak vociferously and with greater frequency about the radical and unconstitutional turn announced by Bush.
Bush’s fusion of militarism and migration should lead to a similar fusion of anti-militarism and pro-immigrant agendas. In the Bush era, shutting down National Guard and other military recruitment stations in schools and streets across the United States becomes an act of defending immigrant and Latino rights as much as it is a rejection of militarism. In actions like these lies the great potential to unite the diverse coalition needed to end the radical, national security-driven politics that impoverish communities, defund and destroy schools, instill fear and kill in the name of “protecting freedom.”
Despite Bush’s attempts to soften and sweeten the announcement by calling the National Guard deployment “temporary” and by including his proposal for immigration reform (“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,”), his border proposal represents only his most recent attempt to end the separation between civilian and military affairs embodied in statutes like the Posse Comitatus Act. The act prohibits the military from being deployed within U.S. borders to do what civilian law enforcement is trained to do. Yet we live under an administration that has consistently and eagerly sought out opportunities to deploy the military within the United States, whether during Hurricane Katrina or with the possible outbreak of avian flu.
Even the conservative Cato Institute has warned that Washington’s will to “embrace further centralization and militarization at home has the makings of a policy disaster that would dwarf Hurricane Katrina.” Bush’s plan to send troops to the border is yet another attempt to normalize militarism. One of the main components of an authoritarian government is to militarize civilian relations.
Writer Gonzalez’s and others’ concerns about mixing military and migration issues have roots that extend far beyond the border, far beyond Latinos; these concerns about militarism must move farther from the ballot box and deeper into the streets. Redford, Texas, or the corner of Militarism Boulevard and Migration Avenue are good places to start the immifada.