Chasing People Like Animals—on Land and, Increasingly, at Sea

A former U.S. Border Patrol and ICE agent offers a perpective on immigration and boundary enforcement almost never heard of in the halls of power in the United States.

Joseph Nevins 9/7/2011

John Randolph, a musician and migrant rights activist, is hardly a recognizable name in discussions on matters of immigration and boundary enforcement in the United States, but he should be. This is due to a combination of his 26 years as an agent of the U.S. Border Patrol and, later, of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as his present-day willingness to challenge the conventions of mainstream debate and to expose the futility and inhumanity of the status quo.364 Border Patrol arrest. Credit:

Last week, Randolph authored a rather startling piece for the Huffington Post in which he speaks of how, during his many years as a federal agent, he hunted and caught “many people.” The vast majority of them, he writes, “were good, hard working” individuals. This, and the violence and injury that he saw, eventually led him “to wonder why immigrants had to be chased like animals, and why I was being paid to chase them.”

He now understands the U.S.-Mexico boundary as functioning “to keep the good people from both sides from joining together, from knowing each other, and from prospering,” and sees efforts to interdict drugs and migrants as destined to fail.

While Randolph hunted migrants on land, the Border Patrol is increasingly tracking them at sea. As boundary and immigration enforcement has intensified across the U.S. Southwest, growing numbers of migrants are using small boats to reach destinations along California’s Pacific Coast. Reports indicate that migrant boats are showing up along beaches in Los Angeles, and as far north as Santa Barbara (more than 200 miles from the U.S.-Mexico divide).

In addition to illustrating the deep resolve of migrants and their smugglers, these sea voyages exhibit their endless ingenuity and adaptation to the obstacles U.S. authorities throw in their way.

Undoubtedly the rise in attempts to enter the United States surreptitiously via the sea will lead to calls for ever-more resources for the Border Patrol and its “sister” agencies in the Department of Homeland Security. 366John Randolph. Credit: www.watchnewspapers.comAnd undoubtedly the ratcheting up of the regime of enforcement and exclusion will lead to greater levels of suffering among migrants—to say nothing of the harm caused “at home” by the diversion of resources that could otherwise be used to address so many pressing needs, especially of those existing on the socio-economic margins of U.S. society.

To move beyond the treadmill that is the U.S.-Mexico boundary and immigration enforcement apparatus requires, among other things, that we embrace John Randolph’s challenge. “After twenty-six years of chasing people on the behalf of the U.S. government,” he writes, “finally, I have to ask our politicians this question: How many more people will die until our system fundamentally changes?”

It will be a great day when those in the halls of power feel compelled to even consider such a question.


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