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Thirty Years of US Immigration Policy: Lazy Man's Genocide

Updated: Feb 13

Whether in person or via Zoom, I have spent the last few months in front of Chicano studies groups, church groups, law classes, humanitarian groups and so on giving a specific lecture. This essay is the basis of that discussion that has left many of my listeners and followers heartbroken and forced to face a reality they did not understand nor thought they would ever face: the US immigration system is a slow genocide.


I was fortunate to join the US Border Patrol just a year after the first deterrence based immigration policies hit the ground running in San Ysidro, California in October of 1994. Fortunate because it would help me understand how far we have gone in such a short time.


I was assigned to the east mountains in San Diego County at the old Campo Station located right on the border near the Pacific Crest Trail that was used for centuries by Indigenous tribes and European explorers and settlers. During my first year there, I learned that many migrants and asylum seekers would cross in our patrol area and hike the dangerous canyons and mountains for days just for a chance of obtaining work or safety. Even before deterrence policies, it was not unusual for us to find migrants who had succumbed to the dangerous terrain. In the winter, it often snowed and they would freeze to death. In the summer, the temperatures would cause dehydration, heat sickness and death.


When I arrived at Campo Station in November of 1995, the now infamous deterrence wall that has been rebuilt over and over by different administrations on both sides of the political aisle was still slowing making its way to our western patrol area. Back then, Campo Station's patrol area consisted of a little over fifty Border Patrol agents for approximately thirty-five miles of linear border as well as the new Interstate 8 Checkpoint and the Laguna Mountains north of there.


Finding migrant bodies was not an everyday thing back then, but it was an every season experience. When we received news of a possibly injured or dead migrant, we were responsible for tracking the footprints of their groups until we found them. We had no special teams, no special search and rescue equipment. Just a .357 revolver, a baton, a radio that didn't work well in the mountains and as much water as we could carry. Our most senior agents were expert trackers or sign-cutters and they would be sent in first. After ten or twelve hours, they would be replaced with oncoming agents with more energy.


Whether we found migrants dead or alive, they were considered the lucky ones. We knew even back then that most who perished out there would never be found. Many came from poor families which is why the trip was necessary in the first place. The chances that their loved ones would even know where to look or who to call for help were slim from the outset. The chances of us finding the one group when thousands were crossing our area in the mid 1990s were even slimmer though we did find many. Most often we found them when we were just simply following a group and no rescue had been requested.


It has been nearly thirty years since Border Patrol announced their infamous deterrence policies that promised to drastically reduce the numbers of people crossing the border without inspection. In those years, I went from a diehard Border Patrol agent, Senior Patrol Agent, Senior Sector Intelligence Agent and Acting Supervisory Border Patrol Agent with several awards for outstanding performance to resigning in disgust for not just witnessing the daily corruption and brutality that is still rampant in the agency, but because I had come to understand that deterrence policies were intentionally killing migrants.


More than anything, I felt complicit in migrant deaths, and still do to this day.


While I left the Border Patrol shortly before 9/11, I have continued to study how its deterrence policies have grown and seen the regularity of their deadly outcomes repeated ad nauseam all while the agency continues to claim no responsibility While Border Patrol deterrence policies started in 1994, today's immigration system was not fully realized until after the terrorist attacks when the George W. Bush administration reorganized the entire immigration system. Under this new system, there are three cornerstones to our current immigration system: Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Generally speaking, Border Patrol works in between the ports of entry and implements deterrence policies such as walls, cameras, drones, sensors, etc. CBP controls the ports of entry where people can apply to enter and the shipping ports where goods are imported. ICE covers the entire US and is responsible for tracking undocumented and documented migrants who have committed criminal acts in violation of their immigration status before or after they enter the country.



Three cornerstones to US immigration system: CBP, Border Patrol and ICE.

Today's US immigration system does not exist without any one of these three agencies. It is normal to see high ranking administrators move in between these agencies; that is how closely aligned and dependent they are on each other in their missions. Border Patrol agents routinely resign and are hired by ICE or CBP and vice versa. When these agencies make policies, they must consider and seek the advice of the other agencies. In other words, all policies from these agencies must be in alignment with the overall objective which is to decrease the number of migrants and asylum seekers coming to our borders.


Although Border Patrol deterrence policies started seven years before ICE and CBP were developed, they have since joined the agency in its belief that deterrence policies work. However, if walls, militarization, sending migrants and asylum seekers to the most dangerous places to cross, taking their children and giving those kids to American families, forced sterilization, starvation, drowning, dehydration, freezing and all the other ways in which we brutalize them worked, we wouldn't have the record number of illegal crossings we have today.


More importantly, in my studies and research of the US immigration system, I have discovered that it is important to not just look at the actions of the individual agencies and how their policies purport to accomplish their goals but to step back and view them as one immigration system in order to see how their policies affect migrants and asylum seekers in a larger picture and to identify systemic issues. In doing so, I have identified five characteristics of our current immigration system that are consistent and deeply troubling.



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Characteristics of Last Thirty Years of US Immigration Policies


  • US Border Policies are killing thousands of migrants and asylum seekers.


According to Border Patrol statistics, over ten thousand men, women, children and babies have died due to deterrence policies. It is important to note that experts with the agency and outside of it have deemed this number to be an undercount. The number is estimated to be at least three to even ten times as many because Border Patrol has ordered agents like myself not to go into desolate areas where we know many bodies are waiting to be found, the agency has not counted bodies found by hikers or other law enforcement agencies and most bodies are never found.



Migrant and asylum seeker memorials can be seen all across our southern border because US immigration policies intentionally pushed them to cross in dangerous areas. Photos by Jenn Budd.



Although today's Border Patrol has a specialized search and rescue unit just for this type of response, they do not respond in 63% of distress calls according to this study by No More Deaths, an NGO specializing in saving migrants in distress in the Arizona Sonoran Desert. Some of the deceased migrants fell off border walls intended to injure and kill them. Even the thirty foot border wall was designed by CBP after the agency conducted studies to see at what height a human being loses their equilibrium. They found it to be thirty feet, and therefore built the wall at that height.


Others died from deterrence policies that metered the ports of entry thus limiting who can legally apply at a port. It was former President Bill Clinton's 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act that enacted deterrence policies and narrowed who could legally apply for work or asylum. Just as Commissioner Doris Meissner stated, deterrence policies intended to push migrants and asylum seekers into crossing in the dangerous mountains, deserts and rivers of our southwest border to cross just to seek safety.


Other migrants and asylum seekers have died from reckless Border Patrol pursuits in which agents are trained how to bump vehicles and intentionally make them crash killing those involved and sometimes innocent bystanders. I was trained that way in 1995, and this is still going on today. Sometimes asylum seekers and migrants die in Border Patrol processing facilities. This includes children who have been neglected by agents and left to die in their own feces for hours.


  • US immigration policies have caused serious bodily harm and mental trauma to asylum seekers and migrants.


Year after year, various rights watchdog groups have reported on the physical and mental trauma caused by immigration policies. Decades of reports have documented migrants and asylum seekers who are held in immigration custody as being screamed at by CBP officers and Border Patrol agents, having rotten food thrown at them, being crammed into small cells with only one bathroom, beatings, sexual abuse, inadequate medical care or access to personal hygiene products. From 2014 to 2018, over four thousand five hundred unaccompanied children in immigration custody had complained about being sexual assaulted. To date, there has been little investigation and no update on the vast majority of allegations.


  • US Border Patrol deterrence policies intentionally kill and injure migrants and asylum seekers.


As mentioned, when Border Patrol deterrence policies were unveiled in October of 1994, the national strategy stated that intent of these policies was to force migrants and asylum seekers to cross in the most dangerous terrain as possible. The reasoning given was that it would allow Border Patrol agents more time to track the migrants down before they could reach a vehicle and get away. In their own words, the agency stated the point was to push migrants to "more hostile terrain." Then Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner Doris Meissner agreed that if agents could disrupt the easily crossed areas in border towns and push migrants to the mountains, deserts and rivers to cross, the "cost" associated with such a crossing would deter other migrants from crossing illegally.



In other words, once word got back to migrants thinking of crossing illegally about how hard and brutal it was, they would change their minds and not cross. This meant that a certain percentage of migrants would have to be seriously injured, mentally traumatized and/or killed. Agents back then knew what the outcome of this policy would be simply because they were already collecting the bodies of migrants who had succumbed to the dangerous terrain and weather long before this deterrence started. They knew from the beginning that migrants and even some agents would die. The government considered these injuries, traumas and deaths of both migrants and agents acceptable and continues to do so.


The following gallery of articles shows that Border Patrol, its management and agents knew prior to 1994 that such a tactic would intentionally kill migrants. Some agents even argued against it because they knew what it would mean a death sentence for simply crossing a manmade line in search of work or safety. Still, the agency ignored field agents' advice.




In 1979, a Border Patrol agent was quoted saying, "We realize it could mean death for many from exposure and or thirst." Source: Newspapers.com.


Today's US immigration deterrence policies require agents to intentionally hold migrants and asylum seeking families in horrid Open Air Detention Sites (OADS). This is something I never witnessed as an agent, but it seems to be an increasingly cruel tactic that Border Patrol sectors are eager to utilize. These sites typically do not have food, water, medical, shelter or adequate sanitation. Migrants have languished in the hot deserts and freezing mountains in these camps sometimes for weeks. While the Border Patrol denies that OADS are officially outdoor Border Patrol camps, they keep using them. At least one twenty-nine year old asylum seeking woman has died in one of these camps. The Biden Administration quietly has expanded the use of these unofficially official detention camps across the southern border.




As mentioned previously, the wall was built with the intention to cause people to lose their balance and fall. While these walls intentionally injure and kill people, they also are costing American taxpayers millions in medical bills to patch up its victims. Up to 80% of migrant injuries are caused by falls from the border walls.



  • US immigration policies are preventing births and violating reproductive rights.



It is not uncommon to find pregnant migrants held in immigration custody. For years now miscarriages have been reported in the squalid Border Patrol processing centers, in CBP custody and in ICE detention facilities where nutrition and proper medical care are absent. In a two year period, at least twenty-eight miscarriages were reported in US immigration custody facilities.


Women being held in an ICE detention facility in Georgia were often coerced into having "unnecessary gynecological procedures" that left many sterile. While there was a Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General investigation, OIG Commissioner Ken Cuccinelli stated that the accusations that ICE was sterilizing migrants against was "false." To date, no person has been held accountable for these actions. It is unknown what happened to the victims, though it is presumed they have been deported. For their part, the US House of Representatives managed to pass a vote condemning making migrants have gynecological procedures against their will. There have been no known investigations into other ICE facilities to see how extensive this practice is or was.



  • US immigration policies are forcibly taking migrant children from their families, and some are never returned.



In 2014, then President Obama began taking the newborn babies of migrants from them as soon as they gave birth. If a migrant or asylum seeker was in custody and began to deliver, agents would contact Child Protective Services and escort them to the hospital where they went in and took the newborn baby from its mother. Because these babies were born on US soil, they were by law US citizens and cannot be deported. The Border Patrol would then deport the mothers, and the newborn would be placed with US family members or fostered and adopted out to a US family. It is not known if this policy is continuing or not.


In mid 2017, the Trump Administration began taking the children of asylum seeking families if they crossed the border illegally. Millions of Americans took to the streets and demanded the separation of migrant and asylum seeking families stop after seeing and hearing videos of toddlers screaming for their moms and dads as Border Patrol agents looked on and laughed. When Trump officially ended his child separation policy, the numbers of families separated were over fifty-five hundred. Although the Biden Administration promised to reunite and compensate families for their trauma and suffering, hundreds of families remain separated and the government has changed its mind on financial compensation. Whenever and however these families become separated, the fact is that many are never reunited. The children who are never returned end up adopted to American families.



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The last thirty years of immigration policies have gotten us no closer to securing the border as when I was an agent. Our current US immigration system has:


  1. Killed thousands and thousands of migrating or asylum seeking men, women, children and babies.

  2. Caused serious physical and mental trauma to migrants and asylum seekers.

  3. Intentionally killed or injured migrants and asylum seekers.

  4. Prevented births and violated reproductive rights.

  5. Forcibly taken children from their parents and sometimes given those children to American families.


Currently in the US, we are creeping up on the 2024 election. Former President Trump has announced that if he gets back in office, he will unleash these three agencies upon the immigrant population. He has promised round ups, detention, deportation and brutality the likes we have not seen in our immigration system. Just recently, he announced that migrants are "poisoning the blood of our country," which is a reference to Nazi ideology.


Throughout my years, I have often wondered when German citizens thought their government had gone too far in their brutality towards Jews, LGBTQ, Jehovah's Witnesses and others. In studying our current immigration system, I have found that this question haunts me. Have we gone too far? For many of you, just having a Democrat in office reassures you that we have not. As you see above, both sides have equally contributed to this system. The truth is that Democrats are often just as brutal on immigration as Republicans. The difference is simply that they just don't brag about it. When is it too far? How many deaths? Sexual assaults? Sterilizations? Separations? I cannot give you this answer because I was one of the people committing these atrocities. For six years I turned a blind eye to what I witnessed and made excuses for my part. This decision is for the communities affected by our immigration policies to decide.


I believe our current immigration system is a form of genocide. Like the physical elements of our various immigration agency policies, there are five elements to genocide according to US and the United Nations agreements. Looking at these elements of the crime and our immigration policy, it's hard to deny that they are in fact the same elements.



Screenshot of United Nations Office of genocide agreement which the US has signed. Source: United Nations.



In 1988, former President Ronald Reagan finally ratified the genocide convention. This means the US is bound by international law not to commit genocide and try and prevent future genocides. But is this a genocide? There is one line in the genocide convention that many will point to in order to claim that the US immigration system is not a genocide. According to the convention signed and approved of by the US, a genocide must have "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."


While I recognize that migrants and asylum seekers at our borders are from many different nationalities, ethnicities, races and religious groups, I continue to believe that our immigration system is a system of genocide. I believe that I am guilty of this crime as are our leaders, these agencies and their employees. Like other genocides, the victims of our immigration policies do not fit into such a neat and concise identity package, but are instead a variety of humans who all have one thing in common, they are predominately of color.


This was clearly demonstrated under current Democratic President Joe Biden's immigration system when he made an exception to allow Ukrainians fleeing war to claim asylum at selected ports of entry in a humane and orderly fashion. Unlike Black and Brown migrants and asylum seekers, white Ukrainians did not die from waisting away in Border Patrol custody, in car pursuits, falling off the walls or from being forced to cross the dangerous mountains, rivers and deserts of our southern border. They did not miscarry in detention centers nor were they sterilized against their will. There were a few child separations that have been amended, and so far, there have been no reports of abuse nor sexual assault by CBP officers.


Additionally, I base my argument that US immigration policies are genocidal off the fact that even the International Olympics Committee now recognizes the nation-less and the undocumented refugees and asylum seekers around the world as a group or community. The Refugee Olympic Team first competed in 2016 and is expected to participate in the Paris 2024 Olympics and the 2026 games in Dakar. When such a large internationally respected organization such as the Olympics designates migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a group regardless of their ethnicity, religion, race or nationality, when the US applies policies that knowingly and intentionally harm and kill this specific group of people, I fail to see how it is not genocide. The world has put so many in need that the refugee, migrant, the asylum seeker has become an identity as legitimate as any other.


Even if you still disagree, I ask that you think on this: so, what if it is not technically genocide by US or United Nations standards? As I have shown you, the physical elements of the crime have been met. Are you willing to accept the policies our immigration system simply because it is not completely being done to one religion, to one ethnicity, to one race of people? Can Americans sleep at night knowing that we are intentionally doing this to migrant and asylum seeking families? That anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand migrants have died on our borders because US policy intentionally pushed them there? That more than that have been permanently injured and emotionally and mentally damaged by our policies? I am not okay with this, and I will continue to give this speech to any who will listen.


We have gone too far.



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