The dirty little secret of talks underway in Washington on immigration policy reform is a taxpayer-funded bonanza for private contractors tucked into so-called "border security" proposals.
These plans to escalate unnecessary border control technologies - including drones, helicopters and sensors - would pour billions more down the black hole of the current broken immigration system. If passed, these provisions would squander a unique opportunity to enact humane and fair reforms that protect human rights and keep families together.
Proposals in both the House and Senate bear the fingerprints of private defense contractors that have spent millions in lobbying and campaign contributions to politicians writing these policies. These bills result from efforts by Pentagon contractors to increase their own "security," or revenue, as the United States withdraws from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and there is a pause on military action in Syria. These proposals are a boondoggle for defense contractors, not a meaningful solution to the chaos of our immigration system.
On June 27, the Senate passed the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," which adds $46 billion for a "surge" of spending to militarize the US/Mexico border with additional manpower and technologies used during the wars. The bill's language allows millions of dollars in sweetheart deals to go to top Pentagon contractors.
Even before the "border surge" was proposed, too many public dollars were going to these failed policies. Last year alone, the US government spent $18 billion - more than all federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined - on immigration enforcement efforts, including on the southern border.
When these enforcement tactics lead to separation of families and fragile communities, it is clear that our current enforcement system needs closer scrutiny, particularly in the area of abuse by Border Patrol agents. Little or no accountability exists for extreme human rights violations, such as the murders of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, 16-year-old Jose Rodriguez, and Valeria Monique Tachiquin, a US citizen and mother of five who was shot by an undercover Border Patrol agent in broad daylight.
Border security tactics are extremely problematic and costly. So why then are certain members of Congress so eager to send a blank check to militarize the southern border, especially during this time of deep budget cuts?
Let's follow the money, as reported under the Lobbying Disclosure Act:
* The four top defense-contracting corporations collectively donated $937,000 to Senate candidates in 2012 alone.
* The corporations and employees manufacturing the products listed in the Senate bill have dedicated a whopping $11.5 million to federal political candidates/campaigns since 2009.
* All of the eight Senate coauthors of the bill took campaign contributions from the top defense contractors' political action committees in 2013.
* Between April 1 and June 30 alone - as the Senate was debating and eventually passing the bill - defense contractor Northrop Grumman spent $3.5 million on lobbying; United Technologies paid $2.29 million, and EADS North America put in $906,440.
* This group of companies spent about $74,250 per day on lobbying activities during that short window of opportunity.
This flow of cash is part of a strategy that brought an excellent return. The bill specifically orders the Department of Homeland Security to purchase six Northrop Grumman manufactured radar systems totaling over $55 million, 15 United Technologies' Blackhawk helicopters at over $250 million, and eight helicopters from parent company EADS North America for $24 million, as reported by the Washington Post.
What's at risk is more than humane immigration reforms that allow families and communities to prosper together. Our democracy itself is at stake when constituents expressing concerns about their communities are drowned out by the siren call of cash-carrying corporations wooing all-too-easily influenced elected officials.
By gearing up to create one of the world's most militarized borders, Congress plans to line the pockets of contractors seeking their next windfall.
Benjamin Franklin said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Those who would secure profits at the expense of humane, fair and comprehensive immigration reform must be rebuffed, for the sake of all our essential liberties.