Border Militarization and Health: Violence, Death and Security in Mexico and the United States

Posted on September 8, 2014 • Filed under: Border Issues, Latin America Health, Mexico, Police/Military Activity, United States

Border Militarization and Health: Violence, Death and Security in Mexico and the United States
Key Words: Violence, Trauma, Border Security, Migration
Despite proposed increases in spending on personnel and equipment for border enforcement tied to the amended version of the U.S. Senate’s current immigration reform bill, the public health impacts of border militarization are relatively under-examined. We begin to explore these health impacts by drawing on the Migrant Border Crossing Study (MBCS) a new data source based on 1,110 surveys of a random sample of deportees we carried out with a bi-national team in five Mexican border cities and in Mexico City. The violence generated by current border and immigration enforcement practices has led to a humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. We specifically examine the risks and dangers associated with contemporary border crossing experiences, migrant deaths in the desert, abuses committed by U.S. authorities involved in immigration enforcement, and migrants’ conditions while in U.S. custody, including access to medical attention. The paper also draws from research with families of migrants in Puebla to expand our understandings of the health impacts of migration that extend beyond people impacted directly by U.S. policies to include their families and return migrants’ experiences. We end this paper with suggestions about how to address negative health impacts through policy changes.

In 2013 the United States Congress has been locked in a contentious battle over immigration, border security, and the need for a military surge to close off the border. While we are writing this paper, the Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill (CIR) that includes about $30 billion in additional spending on border security and calls for an additional 20,000 – 30,000 new Border Patrol agents. This proposed expansion comes on the heels of an already unprecedented buildup along the border that tripled the size of the Border Patrol between 2004 and 2012. During this same period the Mexican side of the border has undergone intense conflict and violence, and the number of people dying in the desert has escalated, although apprehensions have decreased from peak highs in the mid-2000s.1 Our goal for this paper is to develop a new perspective on border militarization, one that interrogates the public health impacts of a highly militarized and violent border. We ask: what negative impacts on public health have been caused by border militarization? What could be done to better mitigate these problems, not only for the migrants themselves, but for everyone affected? It is important to address these questions, as improvement in the health and well-being of disadvantaged groups has a positive impact on society as a whole.
The proposed increase in border security will not create a linear increase in the health impacts we attribute to border militarization in this article. There could be positive, negative, or even new health problems depending on the approach taken by authorities. For example, while the previous waves of border militarization have been associated with an increase in migrant deaths,2-4 the next wave may increase deaths, and it may not. Much of this is contingent upon numerous push/pull factors contributing to migration flows. However, if the past is any indication of the future, increased border militarization is likely to lead to an increase in migrant deaths. Immigration enforcement is a large, complicated and amorphous set of practices and procedures, some more harmful than others. We propose that law-makers examine which aspects of enforcement actually fulfill the tasks at hand, rather than simply creating new and more complicated social problems.
We will begin this paper with a discussion of important definitions and aggregate figures by scholars examining border militarization and clandestine migration from Mexico before proceeding to our theoretical orientation on violence and health. After briefly discussing our methodology we will proceed to our findings, which draw on descriptive statistics from new and unique data sources on unauthorized migration to better understand the violence of the crossing experience, as well as the practices and procedures of U.S. authorities regarding the health and well-being of alleged immigration offenders post-apprehension. READ ARTICLE/PAPER

Titulo Breve:
Border Militarization and Health
Jeremy Slack (Candidato de Doctorado, University of Arizona)
Daniel E. Martínez, PhD (George Washington University)
Alison Elizabeth Lee, PhD (Universidad de las Américas)
Scott Whiteford, PhD (University of Arizona)

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