Over the weekend, the Department of Homelands Security (DHS) issued a warning that there was a “specific, credible, yet unconfirmed” threat of a “terrorist” attack in New York and Washington D.C. In New York City everything became hyped-up and the security apparatus came out full throttle. After seeing the roving Counterterrorism unit of the NYPD on the streets clad with combat helmets, bullet-proof vests, and carrying long automatic firearms, I wondered if this were the permanent state of things in the country, if there were always a “specific, credible, yet unconfirmed threat.” This feeling is particularly sharp on the U.S.-Mexico border where the border enforcement apparatus escalated its presence dramatically after 9/11, building off strategies it began in the mid-1990s.
Douglas, Arizona resident Tommy Bassett describes life on the border, over the last 10 years or so, as being “like the lobster in the boiling pot.”
“First you see a couple Border Patrol agents go by,” Basset says. “Then you start seeing Border Patrol four wheelers. Border Patrol agents on bicycles. Then you see the Border Patrol tank. And the drones and the helicopters and the fixed-wing aircraft. Pretty soon you see the Border Patrol and other federal agents carrying M-16s. And military hardware. And laser sites. And at some point you kind of think something’s wrong. You wonder - should I be afraid?”
In the book “Border Games: Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide,” border scholar Peter Andreas writes that border policing has “some of the features of a ritualized spectator sport,” that is a reflection of the “performance and audience-driven nature” of the politics of border “security.” Analyst Tom Barry, director of the Center for International Policy’s TransBorder project, refers to this Andreas metaphor in the introduction to its report,  "Policy on the Edge: Failures of Border Security and New Directions for Border Control." Barry says that the “secure the border” mantra has a rallying cry that energizes constituencies, “catapults politicians to office and produces a steady stream of Fox News appearances for prominent border security hawks.” This, Barry concludes, diverts the attention away from the real systematic problems that are “producing the border crisis.”
Both Barry’s critique and Bassett’s quote encapsulate much of the information present in the many “homeland” and “border security” reports produced for the 10th anniversary of 9/11—"Policy on the Edge" being but one. One great thing about the anniversary is the quantity of information it produced. What follows is my attempt to synthesize some of the information offered in these reports, to provide links, and offer some research data. Of the many wars that the September 2001 attacks spawned, oddly one of the least paid attention to is the escalation of militarization on the U.S.-Mexico border. Here is how bad it's become.
Let's begin with an investigative report from The Washington Post called "Top Secret America ." The report says that a top-secret world created by the government after 9/11 “has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it.” It’s key point is this:
Some of this border enforcement apparatus, and its further rise to prominence, is broken down by the Migration Policy Institute in a report  called "Through the Prism of National Security: Major Immigration Policy and Program Changes in the Decade since 9/11." This report details the massive growth in budget and “manpower” in immigration enforcement. It’s full of useful statistics that peg numbers to the growth:
All together, a lot of people’s jobs depend, both directly and indirectly, on a “border crisis.” The report also documents key policy shifts starting with:
Another report is a border enforcement monograph  of the 9/10/11 Project by the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council. The report, sponsored by military contractor Raytheon, details some of private industry work in border enforcement. In the report they give a list of companies who have made “substantial investments in innovative products, services and solutions to advance the land, sea, and air border security mission.” To give an example of a few:
Some of the other challenges that remain to strengthen “border security,” according to the 9/10/11 report, have the typical militaristic ring, which is the new border jargon. “Expanded domain awareness,” “technical interoperability,” “segmentation,” are all essential and the enemy, or the cause of border violence, they say, is an “adaptive adversary.”
“In the end,” the report concludes, "the U.S. is faced with an adaptive, changing threat environment that calls for the best use of varied technologies, in multiple layers, to protect the borders and those who patrol them.”
However, in the "Policy on the Edge " report the Center for International Policy critiques the very essence of the 9/10/11 report. It says the term “border security” only gained prevalence in the past decade, in fact it was Homeland Security that “conceived” the term. Besides the sustained critique, the report brings in a drug war analysis that is not necessarily present in the other reports. Barry writes that border security demands are now “couched in threat assessments about spillover violence, narcoterrorism and the drug war.”
All these reports point to one thing—there is either claim of, or an allusion to, a “specific, credible, yet unconfirmed” threat. This has become the permanent state of affairs on the southern border. Perhaps all of this might have as much substance as Department of Homeland Security Cologne .