Steven Seagal and the U.S.-Mexico Border

Todd Miller 5/11/2011

On March 24 actor Steven Seagal led a posse from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in a SWAT tank, along with other armored vehicles, to a Phoenix, Arizona neighborhood where they raided the house of a suspected ring-leader of a cock-fighting operation, the sleeping and unarmed Jesus Llovera. This was nothing new for the Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio. Llovera was another Latino target for a sheriff famous for busting undocumented migrants.  Seagal’s prominent, growling face oversaw the whole operation from the top of the tank which leveled the gate in front of Llovera’s yard, and blew out two windows in his house. The A&E film crew caught all of this action for Seagal’s reality TV show Lawman, which will film several episodes from Arizona this year.


For those familiar with Arizona politics, such law enforcement overkill should come as no surprise. After all, not only have Arpaio and his posses been raiding, arresting, and purposely humiliating undocumented migrants for quite a while now, but Arizona has become the vanguard of anti-immigrant laws in the country with SB 1070, and its attempt to obligate cops to check the immigration status of anyone they stop, leading the way. Seagal and Arpaio’s excessive and abusive use of force is permitted, and even celebrated, in the Arizona action-thriller. After all Seagal is there “in order to help keep the peace and protect the community,” according to Lawman’s promotional material, the same logic of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).


Border and immigration enforcement have at least partly become exactly what Seagal’s and Arpaio’s antics reflect:  an enforcement-first, ask-questions-later policy with a flare for abusive law enforcement drama, perfect for reality television. However it is the more boring, grueling policy and resource decisions, which comes more from the halls of Washington than Phoenix, that support the dominant and almost unquestioned narrative which allows the pony-tailed action star to carry out his escapades with a straight face, aerodynamic sunglasses and all.


With this same straight face, but with more of a sense of white-collar bravado, the DHS is boasting about its upcoming border and immigration enforcement budget. Approximately $18 billion (31% of its $57 billion budget) will, for one, support 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 21,196 Customs and Border Protection officers, the vast majority of whom will be stationed along the U.S. Mexico boundary. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will also get a big chunk for domestic enforcement. Just like the Arpaio-Seagal duo, the DHS will constantly be on the tail of migrants. However, instead of being a washed-out actor in a Howitzer, the excessive force is entrenched in its very bi-partisan bureaucracy, and the stated attempt to “secure our borders” it represents, which, we are told time and time again, is a prerequisite to comprehensive immigration reform.


If Seagal represents the made for television half of the immigration enforcement apparatus, the DHS is the less dramatic, more entrenched bureaucratic policy machine that makes the militarization normal, part of the every day routine, maybe even unnoticed.


This blog will look at and describe the places where both halves are found with abundance, in Arizona and beyond to the increasingly militarized, fenced, and policed 1,951 miles of U.S. Mexico border, where immigration enforcement meets the war on drugs and the war on terror, in the broader context of a neoliberal economic model exemplified by NAFTA, which many point to as a root cause of so much cross-border migration. This blog will also look at how this border does not stay put in the U.S. southwest, in fact it follows migrants wherever they go in the United States. Under domestic immigration enforcement programs the Arpaios and Seagals are everywhere, from sea to shining sea.


From the mythical wild west of “rugged” Sheriffs, vigilante ranchers, and posses to the bureaucratic machinations of the Department of Homeland Security the blog will try to provide original news, analysis, interviews, and insights to this, which includes talking about books that offer new insights and information on these matters.


The U.S. Mexico borderlands is the most untalked about war zone in the country, a place where the military industry waits in the wings for contracts (like, for example, Boeing), a place where National Guard troops continue to be deployed, and where drones and now even hot air balloons prowl the sky. An uncontroversial 2012 budget will dump further billions into the border enforcement apparatus, and that will be all the support Seagal and Arpaio need to continue their antics.











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