A Town Hall on the Border

Federal policies affect border communites in ways that aren’t always obvious.  For years, border activists have talked about “militarization,” which refers to the increasing presence of Border Patrol and othe federal agencies.  While most of these agencies are not technically “military” (with the exception of the National Guard, which has a continued presence along the border), the effect is often similar.  Border residents pass through checkpoints, are observed by drone flights, and are frequently questioned by Federal agents when travelling on rural roads.  For new residents, the idea of militarization seems very strange, but living here brings a new perspective.  For this East Coast newcomer, it was quite a shock!

It is no surprise then that when a group of Federal agencies under the Department of Homeland Security came to Douglas for a town hall meeting, there was good attendence and many questions.  Below you can watch a video of the entire event.  To jump to specific questions or presentations, see a helpful time point breakdown of the event by click “read the rest of this entry.”

Watch live streaming video from voiceofdouglas at livestream.com

Though many residents have conflicting views, a dominent theme seemed to be a desire for faster transit through ports and easier access to Douglas by Mexicans coming from Agua Prieta (many of whom shop in Douglas).  A few residents expressed concern at the ever-increasing presence of Border Patrol and other agencies, especially given the lack of a clear understanding about how to measure success.  However, other residents defended Border Patrol’s presence, and even suggested that more be done to make sure that rural areas are “secure.”  Yet many residents agreed that it is problematic when the border is depicted in the media as violent, especially when statistics routinely prove that border communities are safer than many large US cities.

Note: This list is not comprehensive.  Please feel free to add more in the comments, if you believe we’ve missed something important.  The times of some especially noteworth comments are in bold.
0:12:05:  Introductions begin.
0:19:29:  The real event begins, with a presentation about Citizenship and Immigration Services (“What is CIS?”).
0:28:05:  Homeland Security Investigations, the newly-renamed arm of ICE, talks about their work.
0:34:10:  An HSI recruitment video.  Could be a trailer for the next James Bond movie.
0:44:10:  Questions begin. Q: the future plans for the Douglas Port of Entry.
0:52:15:  Q: the fees for green cards and citizenship.
0:53:00: Q: commucation systems and equipment in rural areas.
0:56:00:  (Or 0:56:30 when the MC repeats) Q: Who grants visas?  A: State Department.  Also explains fees.
0:57:10:  An explanation of USCIS fees: the USCIS is not funded by American taxpayers.
0:57:50:  Q: Are there plans for a US Consulate in Agua Prieta?  A: State Department (not present) decides this.
1:07:14:  Q: ICE has transparency issues.  Will HSI expand that?  Note: That’s me!
1:08:19:  HSI explains limitations on their authority.
1:08:50:  An explanation on the difference between HSI and ICE’s Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO).
1:10:00:  A breakdown of ICE, ERO, and HSI within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Had enough acronyms yet?
1:10:40:  How to find people in ICE detention.  Note: It’s not easy!
1:11:50:  Q: What about the Forward Operating Base on Geronimo Trail?  Are enough small helicopters to reach rural areas?  Lots of talk about helicopters.
1:15:20:  Q: When will we have drones?  A: We already do.
1:15:34:  Q: Is there a limit to increased militarization?  Note: The questioner works with Frontera de Cristo, a Border Realities member.
1:16:20:  Tim Sullivan, PAIC from Tucson, AZ responds.  Some choice quotes: ”We are a civilian law enforcement agency.” “If you see it as a militarization of the border, that’s your opinion. I won’t turn down any resources.”
1:16:50:  Another member of the public responds, defending Border Patrol.
1:17:15:  Moderator steps in, reminds that “Our politicians are not here.”
1:18:40:  Q: Asks for information on the Border Patrol checkpoint in Tombstone, AZ.
1:25:15:  Q: Why is there backup in Southbound traffic (at the Port of Entry)?
1:31:20:  An explanation of what gets discovered at outbound inspections.
1:36:00:  Q: How do you measure success?  You say more apprehensions is good.  You say fewer apprehensions is good.
1:37:05:  Tim Sullivan responds.
1:37:35:  Fewer apprehensions means “Reducing the clutter.”
1:37:50:  You (the public) tell us if we’re succeeding. “Crime rate in Douglas at all-time low.”
1:38:47: “It’s not numbers.”
1:39:10:  On the Tohono O’odham Nation.
1:40:27:  Q: Guns are getting into Mexico.  Why no assault rifle ban?  (Brady Act ban.)
1:41:35:   Moderator: ATF no longer taking guns into Mexico, fewer guns in Mexico.
1:42:10:   An explanation of the Brady Act.  It had a sunset provision, was not renewed, and expired.
1:42:50:  One official claims that fully automatic guns and RPGs found in Mexico are from Russian and China, and not the USA.  Comment: Does not explain whether this means that these guns did not enter Mexico from the US.
1:43:04:  Q: Why is the border being presented (by Joe Arpaio, etc) as unsafe?  How can we better market Douglas as safe?
1:44:20:  We will release reports on border safety.  Use statistics.
1:45:30:  Border cities safer than many big cities in the US.  Lower violent crime rate.
1:47:00:  Another question on media presentation.
1:48:18:  The moderator, Howard Henderson of KDAP-FM, talks about how the media loves sensational stories.
1:48:57:  Tim Sullivan talks about Border Wars, says they needed weeks of filming to get enough sensationalism for one episode in Douglas.
1:49:36:  Tim Sullivan:  ”The Border Wars program puts our story out there, but it does kind of sensationalize what’s actually happening.”
1:51:00:  What Customs (CBP) agents are doing at Border Patrol checkpoints.
1:52:30:  ”We [Border Patrol in Douglas] are at where we need to be with personnel.  Now we have to bring OFO [Office of Field Operations (Customs)] up to that same level.”
1:54:15:  ”Why are the checkpoints north of the border, why isn’t everyone on the border?”
2:01:35:  Q: If Border Wars sensationalizes violence, why is the Tucson Sector participating?
2:02:05:  Tim Sullivan: “I disagree with that.”  Border Wars “tells our story” to “Joe Smith in Kansas.”
2:02:48:  Q: What is the purpose of the checkpoints?
2:04:05:  Thanking participants for coming.
2:04:30:  Sharing of websites: ice.gov, uscis.gov, state.gov for visas.
2:06:05:  More thank-yous.
Philip Kennedy

About Philip Kennedy

Phil works for Frontera de Cristo at the Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. He is also the webmaster for Border Realities. You can email him at mrc [at] fronteradecristo [dot] org.