Secret Agent Orange and the Department of Homeland (In)Security

Art Credit: David Horsey Los Angeles Times

Of the 2,148 respondents of a recently released Harvard-Harris online poll exclusively reported by The Hill, the vast majority of registered voters surveyed were strikingly in favor of a number of Trump policies regarding immigration, border control, and refugees.

The Harvard Center for American Political Studies declined to provide me with the survey data, so I am unable to analyze the methodology and poll questions, which might provide key insights to the results, but the report is nonetheless troubling.

Despite being composed plurality (39%) of registered Democrat voters, 80% of the respondents think that local police ought to be forced to report undocumented persons arrested for crimes to federal authorities, 75% support increased border patrol presence, 51% believe that accepting 100,000 Syrian refugees is too many, and nearly half approve of Trump’s plans to build a wall along the southern border.

So-Called Sanctuary Cities

Although there is no officially recognized term, “Sanctuary City”, the designation refers to cities that have pledged some level of protection to undocumented immigrants. The topic of “Sanctuary Cities” has grown since the term was coined in 2008, but became especially politicized during the election following the 2015 murder of Katherine Steinle. Public anxiety revolving around cities associated as such provide the Administration with the political expediency to tactically design budget cuts specifically aimed at attacking already marginalized communities benefitting from them.

According to Reuters, the top ten so-called sanctuary cities receiving federal funding are facing $2.27 Billion in cuts, many of which feature programs that will be at the detriment of already marginalized communities in addition to debilitating CBP/TSA efforts to secure American points of entry.

On the federal chopping block is $460 million for Head Start preschool programs nationwide, as well as funding to subsidize low-income housing, both of which predominantly serve communities of color. In 2015, for example, Head Start Program funding was utilized by 57% non-white families, 38% Hispanics, with 29% of participants primarily speaking languages other than English in the home. Cutting the funds to Head Start programs will exacerbate the already existent deviation in racial achievement gaps, which will assuredly produce generational effects.

Head Start isn’t by itself however, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Block Grant Program (CBGP) is another primarily minority serving program that is facing a slashed budget. In Los Angeles County alone, $114 million in community development appropriations, as well as $113 million in HIV prevention and relief is under threat to be defunded. The CBGP was designed to improve historically marginalized communities, and HIV undoubtedly correlates to both race and sexual orientation — in 2015, gay and bisexual men accounted for 67% of all new diagnoses, and despite only encompassing 12% and 18% of the total American population, Black and Latinx demographics represented 45% and 24% of new diagnoses respectively.

Bombarding the Border

In a recent memo, Secretary Kelly called for the immediate processing of the “hiring of an additional 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, as well as 500 Air & Marine Agents/Officers”. While on its face this directive may appear fiscally sound and well suited to prevent illegal immigration, realistically, it will be costly. According to Glasshouse, the average CBP Agent Salary is $80,250, so in five years, the cost of implementing such hiring could cost taxpayers over $2 Billion. Expanding policies to further militarize law enforcement have been largely unsuccessful in the past, and will likely contribute to already simmering racial strife and unrest. Moreover, the $238 million allocated for airport improvements is part of the budget cut package designed to punish cities that don’t comply to federal regulations, more importantly, it is likely to compromise domestic security, undermining Kelly’s purpose of increasing DHS hiring objectives in the first place.

The 9/11 Attacks exposed the vulnerability that airport security plays in Airport entry points are as integral to Homeland Security in controlling the fluidity of borders. Airport attacks have been prevalent for decades, but have become particularly central to attacker tactics lately. Last year, the Ataturk airport in Istanbul was terrorized killing 41 and injury more than 200. Five people were killed this year in a Fort Lauderdale attack, 32 were killed at the airport in Brussels in 2016, and LAX was the site of an attack on TSA agents specifically in 2013. TSA is forced to negotiate the tension between ensuring passenger safety and implementing expeditious screening, a negotiation that has typically been mediocre in the past. Improved technologies led to the interdiction of 2,653 firearms in security lines 2015, but the same year, DHS “Red Teams” tested security procedures and were able to get weapons through airport security on 67 of 70 attempts. Other programs, like the nearly $900 million spent on racial profiling, otherwise known as the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program focused on “behavior detention”, was scrapped in 2013 due to its lack of efficacy.

Last year, to mitigate TSA security deficiencies, Administrator Neffenger pledged to Congress to revamp training, limit passenger delays, improve leadership, increase pre-check enrollment, and expand the use of canine detection units. Neffenger doubled down in a speech a month later and vowed to implement a crosscutting, intelligence driven security strategy as advised by the Office of the Inspector General. “Insider threats”, or domestic actors employed at airports appear to be an emerging trend in global terror strategies, so cutting airport improvement funds, many of which that would be directed toward improving and streamlining airport security completely destabilizes the entire purpose of DHS.

“Seat’s Taken”

The 51% of respondents that think that 100,000 is too many Syrian refugees is too many for the U.S. to accept, despite the disastrous foreign policy that led to the disaster creating the refugees in the first place, closely resemble a longstanding tradition of public opinion rejecting refugees in crisis. In 1938, just months prior to Kristalnacht, Fortune magazine published a poll that asked, “What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US?” The overwhelming resulting response was with 67.4% thinking, “we should try to keep them out”, and only months after Kristalnacht, another poll indicated that the majority of respondents, 61%, were opposed to permitting 10,000 refugee children into the country.

Even after being struck down by the 9th District Court, 53% of the poll respondents still support Trump’s travel ban, which does not come as much of a surprise. While the highly contested “Muslim ban” that sparked nationwide protests, although nuanced, isn’t too awfully different from the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program instituted by the Bush Administration in 2002. NSEERS forced all males age sixteen and over from 25 countries, to register with DHS to be tracked throughout their entire stay in the United States. Although NSEERS sought to prevent terrorism, and included the seven countries on Trump’s ban list, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, out of the nearly 100,000 people placed in the program, zero terrorism convictions resulted. Because of the lack of efficacy, the program was indefinitely suspended in 2011, to be fully dismantled by President Obama as a lame duck in December of last year. The evidence suggesting that there is an overwhelming transnational terrorism threat from those countries is lacking, so by establishing his executive order, Trump is contributing to the mobilization from militant groups in the region like Da’esh, and will likely continue to ignore or attempt to silence any dissenting voices around him.

The Great Wall of the Pipo’s Republic of AmuriKKKa

As for the 47% approval for the wall that Trump has proposed to build along the southern border… The initial estimates of the cost of the wall are outrageously expensive, especially for someone elected by the party that touts itself as fiscally conservative. Despite claiming that it would cost roughly $8 billion on the campaign trail, low end estimates near $25 billion, and an MIT study notes that to build a 1,000 mile long wall to Trump’s previously stated specifications, costs will be closer to $40 billion. Like the alternative facts that many of the other aforementioned policies are founded upon, a border wall is unlikely to ameliorate the immigration issues that Trump is concerned about. For starters, in the last decade, the net-migration trend between Mexico and the United States has seen a sharp decline and is actually at zero or below. That is to say, as many, if not more people, are migrating to Mexico from the U.S. than vice versa. Furthermore, closing the border and inhibiting commercial flow could have disastrous economic implications. In 2010 for example, on a daily basis, “an average of 965,167 passengers and pedestrians, 47,293 truck, rail, and sea containers, and 257,990 privately owned vehicles entered the United States. Roughly $2 trillion in imports and $1.8 trillion in exports crossed our borders that same year”. When the border was closed following the 9/11 Attacks, “We began to understand that our borders begin not where our ports of entry are located, but rather, where passengers board air carriers and freight is loaded on maritime vessels bound for those ports of entry.”

Resorting to building a wall also ignores many of the facts about immigration. Firstly, most illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. came here legally on visas but remain here having overstayed their duration. Of those overstaying visas, Mexican immigrants only “account for only about 9% of foreigners (or 42,000 people) who arrived by air and sea, overstayed and had not left by the end of fiscal 2015.” Additionally, unauthorized Mexican immigrants make up roughly half of the unauthorized people in the country, which is a steadily declining percentage of the immigrant population. Granted, there are immigrants that cross the border from other southern neighbors, but I have chosen to overlook it largely in part because the rhetoric surrounding immigration is very Mexico-centric. Building a wall neglects to address the cumbersome immigration/naturalization processes that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take years to complete. Deportation threats also create a void in the justice system and crimes, chiefly domestic violence, making immigrants apprehensive in reporting incidents.

The United States was founded as an immigrant colonial project, yet, in the contemporary context, framing immigration as inherently negative does a disservice to the astoundingly positive trends that challenge traditional narratives. Immigrants have been vital for economic recovery and growth, in Michigan for example, immigrants create businesses at three times the rate of native-born residents, 63% possess a college degree, and despite only encompassing 6% of the total population, immigrants were involved in the establishment 33% of high-tech firms between 1990 and 2005.

Trump is quickly recognizing that the Presidency is more complicated than campaign rhetoric. His wall proposal is simply put, fiscally irresponsible, yet still, even if the wall is built, Trump has yet to offer legitimate solutions to the human cost of his plan. He has suggested that more funds will be dedicated establishing a “deportation force” to detain the ten million plus undocumented immigrants in this country. He has however, yet to provide any details on what will happen to the children of the families that will be devastated in the process of having their parents ripped from their homes. But perhaps even more disconcerting of any of his statements regarding the subject, is his conflation of DHS deportation measures as a “military operation”. Although Sean Spicer attempted to walk back the comments as an “adjective”, the notion is no less concerning and indicates that amidst fears that the administration is hastily propelling toward a full blown fascistregime, Trump neither recognizes the increasingly minimized difference between law enforcement (more aptly designated “crime prevention”) and military tactics, nor the power limiting purpose of Posse Comitatus.

In all, the Trump Administration doesn’t seem to care about national security. From the utter disregard for operational security at Mar-a-Lago to Michael Flynn’s resignation over Russian ties, the first month of the Trump presidency has been, as Senator McCain called it, a “troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national-security apparatus”. Despite McCain’s sentiment and their willingness to hold Hillary Clinton’s feet to the fire, the GOP refuses to investigate Flynn, giving the public little hope for Congressional accountability of the Trump administration within the checks and balances provided within the framework of the Constitution. Trump’s homeland security policies are founded upon alternative facts, they are outrageously costly and fiscally irresponsible, and most importantly will almost certainly lack the intended results. Unfortunately, as the Harvard-Harris Poll indicates, the American public is also largely ill informed about the depth, breadth, and complexity of the issues at hand, and as it appears, more than willing to follow the White House to our doom.

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