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The Naked Anthropologist · Borders | Police | Corruption | Smuggling | Illegal migration | Mexico | The Naked Anthropologist

Smuggled people get help from border police themselves

The simplification of complexity is well illustrated by the idea of putting physical obstructions at national borderlines to keep people out. The stereotype of illegal migration imagines three clear roles: the migrant trying to cross, the smuggler or trafficker helping to flout the law and the police officer attempting to stop them. The reality is often much more complicated. The other day a story from Moldova pointed to corruption as a major problem in controlling migration there, and now here is a more tightly focussed account from the Mexico-US border.  I understand corruption to mean, in both cases, that those on the police and government side of the equation – who are paid to prevent people from getting in – take money in exchange for making entry easier. This can happen whether the activities in question are labelled smuggling or trafficking.

The below excerpts are from a news report about Lowell Bergman’s documentary on smuggling; his comments were made during a recent briefing at the University of California.

Corrupt U.S. Agents Aid Human Smuggling at Border

New America Media, Annette Fuentes, 6 Feb 2009

‘Building a fence and wall at the border and putting more border agents down there creates a bigger pool of potential corruption targets.’

The build-up of security agents on the border, especially since Sept. 11, 2001, hasn’t slowed illegal migration . . . Those who would have tried crossing alone are more likely to pay a smuggler to shepherd them across. ‘If people try to get across the border, they eventually get across . . .  Part of the fee to the smuggler is the guarantee that they’ll get you across. If they fail the first time, they’ll try again.’

. . . Proponents of the militarization of the border have used the threat of terrorist attacks in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 to justify the build-up. But Bergman noted that there is no evidence that terrorists have ever entered through the Mexico-U.S. border. Of all those apprehended at border crossings, there is no record of non-Mexicans. . .

. . . there has been no effective internal oversight of border agents since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Multiple agencies, each with some responsibilities for immigration, customs and law enforcement, have meant no coordinated approach to investigations. ‘They completely lost any idea of what was going on . . . Only now are they beginning to find out, and they are overwhelmed by the number of leads and cases to follow up on.’

The FBI . . . now has about 200 open cases of human smuggling involving corrupt border agents. But the agency is swimming against the tide. ‘People coming through checkpoints . . . is still a growth industry.’

Here the whole black and white, law-and-order idea loses ground, and we see instead a multi-national social setting. Placing people at a border to enforce it provides them with opportunities to make money doing exactly what their formal job pays them to prevent. This is, of course, a widespread phenomenon amongst police of all kinds. Many people take law-enforcement jobs not out of an inspired devotion to the State but because they can get those jobs.Maybe they perform many aspects of their jobs correctly, but they don’t believe in ‘the law’ enough to resist opportunities to freelance. 

Here are three more examples of specific cases where those with power were paid to smooth crossing the border: a Dominican diplomat in New York, a filipino in New Jersey and a US customs officer and Chinese smuggler of people via Ecuador.

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