Jamelle Bouie, blogging at Matt Y’s place, has a post up about how Obama sending the National Guard troops to Arizona’s border is a naked political ploy to look tough that is a) unnecessary and b) won’t even work to get Obama any votes. The notion that there’s some horrible crime wave from Mexico gushing over the border is just wrong. I’m not denying the horror of the drug cartel wars, believe me. But crime isn’t like, say, an oil volcano under the Gulf of Mexico. It doesn’t just spew out randomly in every direction, letting the tides carry it wherever. There’s been a whole lot of murdering going on in Mexico, but as a general rule, people who kill have specific targets in mind, and those targets by and large aren’t living on the U.S. side of the border. And conflating your average immigrant here looking for work with dangerous drug dealers and bona fide racketeers is just straight up racism.
As Jamelle notes, crime in Arizona hasn’t actually gone up despite the drug wars. Last time I was in El Paso, it was right as shit was spiraling out of control in Juarez,* and rest assured, things seemed as peaceful as ever in the hot, dry, thickly polluted place of my birth. My gut sense that I was unlikely to be gunned down in an spate of drug-related violence in El Paso turned out to hew closely to reality. El Paso has once again made the list of the top 25 safest cities in the country, despite being across a very small (creek-like, really) river from the most dangerous city in the Americas. (News which has naturally made me incredibly fucking sad; I remember when Juarez was considered safe enough, at least for law-abiding citizens and visitors.) If the crime in Juarez isn’t spilling over into El Paso despite the very thin and malleable border between them, then it’s completely asinine to think that it’s just going to spill over into Arizona for no reason whatsoever.
Militarizing the border is a bad idea. I’ve seen this before, and all it does is sow animosity and suspicion, at best. It’s well worth remembering that dumping a bunch of troops into an area full of wary people who are armed to the teeth, which is how I’d describe (with love!) the people of the Southwest, is a recipe for random acts of pointless violence. I still carry horrified memories of an incident that happened when I was visiting home in West Texas while in college. The Marines were stationed on the border during another spate of drug war violence in Mexico, and while there they got trigger happy on an 18-year-old kid who was herding goats. I promise you that, on top of the anger and grief at the loss of an innocent life, there was also a rush of fear and suspicion. There are a lot of people hanging out in the countryside with guns at any point in time, and often they need them for work, like this young man did. But if you put a bunch of troops out there and fill them up with fears that they’re going to a war zone, they’re not going to see a goat herder with his anti-coyote weapon so much as they’re going to see drug dealer on a mission.
Even if the troops are just for show, I promise you that it’s really disturbing to have at least the visual image of martial law imposed on your home. You can intellectualize it, say that they’re not there for you, or say that it’s just political theater. But when troops are dispatched to your relatively peaceful home because of the imaginary violence in the streets, you catch yourself wondering if you’re still living in the United States as you understand it.
*For those who don’t know the geography, Juarez is not only right across the border from El Paso, for all geographic purposes, the two cities are basically one. Just imagine a huge, sprawling city that has a river flowing through it, and that’s what El Paso/Juarez looks like. The biggest border crossing is actually up on downtown El Paso.