EL PASO—Two Hispanic students stood up in protest as the rest of the audience in the auditorium clapped during Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s recent speech at the University of Texas at El Paso. The female students held up signs that read “Education not Militarization” and “Security to Whom?” but only for a few seconds before they were escorted out of the auditorium.
As this occurred, I wondered if their removal from a public forum is a violation of their freedom of speech. So I asked the question during my next Communication Law class and found out that what had happened is like screaming fire in a crowded theater: “You can say anything you like as long as you don’t put anyone in danger; Napolitano could claim she was in danger,” said Dr. Barthy Byrd, associate professor in the Department of Communication and an expert on media law.
Napolitano barely looked up from the paper she read during her speech to acknowledge what had just happened in the audience. Afterward, she answered a few pre-selected questions that only demonstrated she really does think we owe her our gratitude for protecting the U.S. Southern border.
“Some of the safest communities in America are right here on the border,” said Napolitano, claiming that she was not here doing a victory lap. “The Southwest Border Initiative is working, illegal immigration is decreasing, deportations are increasing, crime rates are dropping and this work will only get stronger with comprehensive immigration reform,” she added.
The federal government’s Southwest Border Initiative has more than doubled the number of federal agents present in El Paso making them a larger force than local police and the Sheriff’s Department combined. Another goal of the initiative is to quadruple the federal presence to keep the El Paso area community the safest in the country. I guess she did not know that El Paso has been ranked among the top three safest cities in the country for more than 10 years, according to an independent study by the CQ Press, long before her Border Initiative went into effect.
These rankings highlight the contrast between Napolitano’s rhetoric about the need for more enforcement on the U.S. side and the reality experienced by residents of the relatively safe Paso del Norte Region. The problem lies not in El Paso but across the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez, considered the murder capital of the world because of escalating drug violence and crime.
This contrast between the two cities has been apparent long before the drug cartels began fighting over control of what has become the most important drug smuggling route along the U.S.- Mexico border. Since 1997 the murder and disappearance of hundreds of women and young girls in Juarez have been making headlines across the world.
That same year El Paso was ranked the second safest city in the country and the North American Free Trade agreement was initiated. Since then, fresh supplies of workers, many of them women and young girls, continue migrating to Juarez from small towns in rural Mexico searching for a job in a maquiladora that usually pays $55 a week, thanks to NAFTA.
A Juarez resident can’t survive on a $55 a week when the average annual cost of living in Mexico is $8,087, according to the office of Desarrollo Económico de Ciudad Juárez.
Can it be that the drug war is somehow linked to this economic injustice? The two students holding up the signs wanted to know, “Security for whom?” Could it be that the over-militarization of the U.S. side of the border is not only keeping the violence on the Mexico side but also ensuring a steady workforce of poor people for the maquila industry?
History professor Dr. Oscar Martinez and some El Paso City council members published an ad in the El Paso Times last May titled “A Call to Action.” The ad called for an end to “unsuccessful militaristic approaches” and demanded that “any future U.S. aid involve a rigorous accounting of allegations of human rights abuses and have strict performance metrics.”
Another suggestion by the committee was to support U.S. aid in the social, educational and economic development of Mexico and support Mexico’s fight to establish an effective and just rule of law.
Although the U.S. media likes to paint immigration in an unsavory light, all Mexican immigrants are not criminals. “Hispanic males are now a majority in county jails,” wrote the Arizona Republic in a July 2009 article. What they don’t tell you is that those numbers have risen since the Border Initiative has taken it upon itself to deport more people than ever before.
Since the start of her border campaign there have been, “more than 779,000 removals nationwide,” said Napolitano. Everyone chooses to ignore publications like the one of The Immigration Policy Center by the American Immigration Council that states: “Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years repeatedly and consistently have found that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born.”
The proof is in El Paso, 81% Hispanic, and other cities like San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth with large Hispanic populations and consequently among the safest in the country no thanks to Napolitano and her $600 million in poorly spent federal dollars.