The Border Patrol Makes a Record

Posted in Clara on March 15th, 2009 by clara


Mexico recognized the power of song by outlawing recordings of drug ballads – or narcocorridos –  in an effort to dampen popular enthusiasm for the violent drug-lord heroes.  The U.S. Border Patrol is hoping Border Patrol Ballads – or Migra Corridos – will dampen popular enthusiasm for heading north.

Produced by the D.C.-based Hispanic advertising agency, Elevación, the songs warn of the dangers of crossing.

This from the BBC:

In one, called The Biggest Enemy, a singer called Abelardo from the Mexican state of Michoacan and his cousin Rafael set off to cross the border.
They reach the US but nature defeats them, as they wander the desert without water. Exhuasted they lie down with Abelardo waking later to find his cousin dead by his side:

“He decided to come back/ And have a burial in their town/ And as a vow/ He told his dead cousin/ If God will take my life/ That it be in my beloved land.”

An initial 5-song album was distributed free to Mexican radio stations two years ago.  The U.S. Border Patrol and Elevación are set to release a second in May.

Listen here:


As U.S. Economy Goes South…So Do Immigrants

Posted in Clara on March 1st, 2009 by clara

For many immigrants the recession means it’s time to head home. With unemployment among Mexican immigrants at 9.7 percent in January (up from 4.5 percent last March) Foreign Policy reports expert predictions of an exodus of nearly three million people.

Mexico’s central bank announced in late January that 20,000 of the migrants who returned for Christmas won’t go back to the United States. Officials in Mexican states such as Michoacán, Puebla, and Zacatecas, which send some of the largest numbers of migrants north each year, are predicting a mass return as more migrants give up on the land of opportunity. Fewer migrants than ever are leaving Mexico, too, according to the Mexican government, with the emigration rate dropping 46 percent since 2006.


Webcam project unsuprisingly ineffective

Posted in Ben on January 27th, 2009 by ben


Texas governor Rick Perry awarded a $2 million federal grant to the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition to set up a series of webcams that can be monitored by the public…enjoy.  The El Paso Times has done a bit of digging and found their progress for the first 6 months of the program:

Border cameras by the numbers:
Total one-year grant: $2 million
Amount spent in first six months $625,000
Number of hits on the border camera Web site,, Nov. 19-Dec. 17: 1,894,288
Number of cameras installed:
1-year objective: 200
6-month actual results: 13
Number of arrests:
1-year objective: 1,200
6-month actual results: 3
Number of drug seizures:
1-year objective: 500
6-month actual results: 1
Dollar amount of funds forfeited:
1-year objective: $25,000
6-month actual results: 0
Number of incidents reported to law enforcement:
1-year objective: 50,000
6-month actual results: 8
Number of referrals to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
1-year objective: 4,500
6-month actual results: 6
Source: Six-month progress report by the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition obtained under Texas Public Information Act.

Maybe someone should have told them that $2 million could’ve bought them a couple thousand feet of border fence..

Nashville voters defeat English-only referendum

Posted in Ben on January 23rd, 2009 by ben

By nearly 10,000 votes, Nashville citizens put the final nail in the coffin of the ‘English First’ initiative.  The group Nashville for All of Us is largely responsible for the overwhelming turnout, the largest for a special election in a decade.  If you’d like to let them know how you appreciate their phone banking, fund raising, and door knocking efforts, you can write to them here..

English-only referendum in Nashville

Posted in Ben on January 22nd, 2009 by ben

Voters in Nashville go to the polls today to vote on a referendum that could make the city the largest in the country with a English-only law. The ballot measure, organized by Eric Crafton, seeks to bar government officials from communicating in any language other than english.  This would prevent the city from providing translation services to the city’s growing non-english speaking population, and would put the obligation for providing such a service on the individual in need.

The city spends around $100,000 anually on translation services, but some have argued that witholding such services could be far more expensive.  The initiative is opposed by a litany of Nashville advocacy groups and businesses (see the full list here).  The Tennessean, Nashville’s major newspaper, has called for the ballot measure’s defeat.  Vanderbilt University has joined seven of Nashville’s major colleges and universities by signing a statement declaring that “this ‘blunt’ instrument — would undermine our important work and adversely affect this city known for learning and discovery.”

Polls show that the measure may come up short of the necessary votes to become law, but it is very close.

Nashville is a city speaking 80 different languages.  Immigrants from Mexico and Central America make up the largest bloc of Nashville’s non-native population, but it has also become a major destination city for Kurdish, Vietnamese, and Sub-Saharan Africans.  Should the referendum become law, Mr. Crafton and those voting “yes” will have succeeded in ending Nashville’s role as the welcoming city that it has been over the last two decades, they will have hollowed the meaning behind the city’s nickname (the Athens of the south), they will have stained that city’s reputation for hospitality, and, on this historic week, they will have sent the sense the message to the nation and to the world that Nashville sides with the nativists and the xenophobes and is not ready to move forward.  Let’s hope none of this happens, and if you’re registered to vote in Nashville, make sure it dosen’t and VOTE!.

Bush pardons Ramos and Compean

Posted in Ben on January 19th, 2009 by ben

This story should make our friend Britt quite happy.

Ramos and Compean are two U.S. Border Patrol agents convicted of covering up the shooting.  Bush has pardoned the sentence rather than the crime, so thankfully the two men will not return to service with the Border Patrol.

Here’s the link to the AP story..

Beto O’Rourke goes national

Posted in Ben on January 19th, 2009 by ben

A few days ago, I mentioned the courageous action of El Paso city councilman, Beto O’Rourke.  He brought forward a resolution to express the solidarity of the city of El Paso with its neighbor, Ciudad Juarez, in light of the horrific violence occuring there.

The resolution which passed the city council, was swiftly vetoed by the mayor, and when the veto override was looking possible, the council caved to federal threats to cut the city off from vital funding.

The hubbub was not about the solidarity, it was a carefully crafted call for the governments of Mexico and the United States to “support legislation that examines the nation’s policies on drugs with a focus on rehabilitation rather than incarceration”.

A Q&A with O’Rourke highlights his intentions to go big with this phrase.  He wanted to draw attention to the issue, and spark a real dialog on this critical issue.  His strategy seems to be paying off, he got a chance to talk about the resolution on CNN, NPR, and he’s been the subject of a Lou “serious discourse” Dobbs rant. Nicely done!


Altered landscapes on the U.S.-Mexico border

Posted in Ben on January 19th, 2009 by ben

In 1848, at the end of the Mexican-American War, we set a monument in the ground establishing the new southwestern boundary of the United States.  In 1971, Patricia Nixon would stand in that spot on the beach just north of Tijuana and call it Friendship Park.  People from the U.S. and from Mexico had been meeting in that spot for many years, she just gave it a name.

In recent years, as our border with Mexico has seen increased enforcement, Friendship Park became one of the only places that people from both countries could easily meet face to face.  The park is no more, ripped up by bulldozers last week.  It is one of the many projects, particularly in the San Diego sector, that the Bush administration is rushing to completion in the waning moments of his presidency.  The end result of this project will be a triple fence with a continuous all-weather road running from Friendship Park to the Otay Mesa port of entry.  The new roads will allow Border Patrol vehicles high speed access to all points along this section.

The terrain has been historically difficult for Border Patrol to operate in, and it has provided good cover for those trying to sneak their way into the U.S..  It is becoming less problematic, however, as they are finishing several major earth moving projects to smooth the once dramatic topography.

The most stunning example of this landscape alteration is in Smugglers Gulch.  In just a few months, a private contractor has essentially filled in the gulch with millions of cubic yards of dirt.  The project has planned for some time.  Now instead of doing a series of hairpin turns descending over 300 feet to the bottom of the gulch, and again on the way up, Border Patrol can just speed right across the half mile distance from mesa to mesa.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

With any luck, these two glaring reminders of our ever more militarized border are just the last few projects rushed to completion by an outgoing administration.  There are reasons to be hopeful about the transition of power occurring now in Washington.  There are signals that the strategy on the border will rely on personnel and technology rather than physical barriers.  That Obama appointed a vocal skeptic of the border fence to direct the Department of Homeland Security signals this shift in focus, but much harm has been done.  The park is as symbolic as its demolition, a visual reminder of the tenuous relationship between the two countries, a stain which is becoming more difficult to wash off..

El Paso calls for national discussion on drug legalization…

Posted in Ben on January 7th, 2009 by ben

…and before the resolution could draw its first breath, it was vetoed by mayor John Cook.  The fact that it was vetoed is no surprise, the fact that it passed through the council 5-3 was impressive enough to keep some at the El Paso Times working late.

The resolution was put forward by Beto O’Rourke.  It expresses the solidarity of the council with Ciudad Juarez “in the face of the multiple heinous acts of violence being committe against our bi-national community”.  It also urges the governments of Mexico and the United States to explore policies that seek to reduce drug use while focusing on rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

O’Rourke is calling for a meaningful discussion about our nations drug policy; it’s a tough topic that we can’t continue to ignore or simply find ridiculous.  O’Rourke should be commended for bringing it up and taking it seriously.

The El Paso Times website has a videotaped interview with O’Rourke conducted after the council meeting. .

Happy New Year, Juarez…

Posted in Ben on January 6th, 2009 by ben

…the body count was back to zero, if only momentarily.

Earlier in December, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora released some of the grim statistics from the ever bloodier drug war.

The number of gangland killings reached 5,376 from the beginning of the year until Dec. 2, a 117 percent increase over the 2,477 killings in the same period in 2007, Mr. Medina-Mora said in a luncheon meeting with foreign correspondents.  link

Ciudad Juarez has seen a fourth of these deaths occur on its streets.  Somewhere around 1,350 people have been killed, their deaths announced with music over the police radios, coroners overwhelmed with 15 to 20 cases a day, and 2009 will probably be no less dangerous for Mexico.

I hope that in 2009 we in the United States begin to understand the dangers posed by the continuance of this level and type of violence.  The responsibility for finding solutions is shared between Mexico and the United States.  We should be helping to fight corruption in Mexico’s government and police forces, corruption that paralyzes Mexico’s ability to fight back.  We must also do something to stop the flow of weapons into Mexico, ones that are legally purchased in the U.S. at gun shows or shops and driven across the border into Mexico.

I also hope the U.S. starts to own up to it’s own drug problem.  One hit at a time, U.S. drug users are filling the treasuries of organizations that are holding entire cities hostage fighting over the opportunity to deliver the goods to the jonesing gringos.  For the past three decades, the U.S. has pursued aggressive tactics that have made trafficking more difficult; driving up the price.  But the junkie will always need another one, and the dealer will always find a way to get it to them.  We should know by now that a new drug enforcement strategy will not work.  We need to begin a serious national discussion over a strategy of tolerance of certain activity as it relates to drugs, because tightening the grip has only made what we’ve tried to stop more powerful and sinister.

This year, like last year and many before it, hope is not enough..