The comprehensive immigration reform bill before the Senate now contemplates a vast increase in militarization of the border between Mexico and the United States. For the first time ever, the idea is to close up every inch of the 1,969-mile border and have a system of "persistent surveillance" to reduce the number of illegal crossings to nil. Thus, the nation's top military contractors, such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics are reportedly gearing up to provide the necessary technology to fulfill that demand for heightened border security.
According to a New York Times story set in Tucson, the companies are preparing a "desert showdown" this summer in order to display their military technological capabilities, and vie to win the lucrative contracts that will likely result from any immigration reform measure that is passed.
For example, Northrup Grumman is proposing that Homeland Security adopt its automated tracking device, which was first designed to locate roadside bombs in Afghanistan. General Atomics suggests doubling the size of the existing reconnaissance drone fleet.
Such military contracting firms are reportedly facing economic downturns with the country's possible withdrawal from two wars and federal budget cuts, and so they are looking to ramp up business on the Border. "This push for border security fits very well with the need to create an ongoing stream of revenue," Dennis L. Hoffman, Arizona State University economics professor told the paper.
According to the story, teams of lobbyists have already been busily lobbying Homeland Security and lawmakers on behalf of the military contractors, including millions in campaign contributions. Still, there are those who criticize the astonishing amount of spending that is being proposed to guard the border. A former Homeland Security official who now owns a lobbying firm, C. Stewart Verdery Jr., says that the country would get more bang for its buck by decreasing border security and focusing on workplace enforcement, thus creating a disincentive from crossing in the first place.
It seems however, he's missing the point. This astronomical spending seems to be as much about supporting the faltering military contractor industry as it is about protecting the border. "It's been a tough time for the industry: people have been laid off or furloughed," said James P. Creaghan, a lobbyist for military contractors. "This could help."
A question remains though, as to the wisdom or necessity of more long-range cameras, radar systems, mobile surveillance systems, aircrafts, drones, and more border agents and physical fencing. Heightened militarization of this area will send a strong message, to be sure, but lawmakers should carefully decide what message they want to send, and to whom.