Wednesday, July 25, 2007

DynCorp at the Border?

Hired Guns at the Border? The Contracting Has Begun
Mid-Vally Town Crier
By Nick Braune
July 23, 2007

The July 8th front page of McAllen's paper, The Monitor, had an article, 'Border Patrol May See Surge,' discussing a proposed increase (surge) in numbers of Border Patrol agents. This momentarily caught my attention for two reasons.

First, the U.S. has not done well with surges lately: 'The Surge' in Iraq has produced nothing but a resented brutal lockdown of Baghdad and its suburbs. And secondly, I always suspect there are too many Border Patrol agents already.

But the article kept my attention. I take it that a private contracting company, DynCorp International of Virginia, is sending out press releases (basically advertising itself) hoping to be hired by Homeland Security in this border region. It is offering 'to train and deploy 1,000 private agents to the U.S.-Mexican border within 13 months, offering a quick surge of law enforcement officers to a region struggling to clamp down on illegal immigration.'

Note that the company thinks we don't know that the 100,000 private contractors in Iraq, with at least half of them doing policing and fighting functions, have a horrible reputation. (See the documentary 'Iraq for Hire.')

DynCorp, it seems from The Monitor, is touting its mercenary -- 'we'll fight anyone for pay' -- experience in Iraq and says that many of their cadre have law enforcement backgrounds and are licensed officers. (The company does not use the term 'mercenaries' however, preferring terms like 'officers,' 'private agents,' and 'contract agents.' The company also does not say what countries the mercenaries are 'licensed officers' in. These big contractors recruit from all over the world; Latin America and Fijian mercenaries have made the news lately.)

To the credit of the Border Patrol, their spokesman told The Monitor that they do not need outside help from private contractors like DynCorp and are recruiting and training new people every day. This claim, however, contains a untruth. The Border Patrol has already contracted ($50 million) to Wackenhut/GEO, a notorious private policing and jailing corporation, for transporting migrants back to Mexico. (Tucson Weekly, May 3, 2007)

So much for the claim that the Border Patrol doesn't need help from private contractors; in the past, transporting migrants to Mexico was done by the Border Patrol itself. To the credit of The Monitor, it quoted a critic, a sociologist studying the border region, who said that private contractors wouldn't have the proper training for this work. The critic was also quoted as taking a dig at the National Guard troops supplementing the Border Patrol, reminding us that three guardsmen recently were arrested on suspicion of smuggling immigrants in Laredo.

Three admittedly impressionistic responses:

First, on the Border Patrol itself: I am unconvinced that their agents, in contrast to the mercenaries, are much better trained and 'professional.' (I have watched their uniformed agents accepting free coffee and discounts on sandwiches…a sure sign of problems.) And I believe, once again, that there are actually too many of them driving around in vans and standing around at the checkpoints already.

Secondly, on the mercenaries — they'd be worse. Even if they were trained to Border Patrol standards, do we really want these mercenaries, who have been in Iraq (maybe helping at Abu Ghraib while reading 'Soldier of Fortune' magazine) patrolling our Valley? The humanist philosopher back in the 1500s, Erasmus of Rotterdam, referred to mercenaries as 'vile excrement of criminality holding life less dear than a small piece of profit.' (They could write caustically in those days.) The 'for sale' mercenaries Erasmus saw coming back from fighting in the Middle East seemed horrifying to him, emotionally contorted.

Thirdly, because border leaders have had such a bad experience with privatized prisons, I would think they would be wary of privatizing policing functions as well. Just last week a prison in Spur, Texas run by contractors (Wackenhut/GEO, which is part of the mercenary business.) was blasted in the press by the State of Idaho. Idaho has sent overflow prisoners to Texas, but one of them committed suicide recently causing Idaho to investigate the treatment. Investigators were shocked, calling it the worst facility they had ever seen.

This is the second scandal in a Wackenhut/GEO prison in Texas triggered by a suicide. A previous suicide, in Val Verde County, apparently resulted from sexual abuse. Our political leaders should be wary of private contractors promising to provide low cost social services. (Here are the first two sentences of a 1999 Gregory Palast article on Wackenhut: 'New Mexico's privately operated prisons are filled with America's impoverished, violent outcasts – and those are the guards. That's the warning I took away from confidential documents and from guards themselves who nervously spoke on condition that their names never see the light of day.')

The importance of The Monitor article: using private contractors directly for border immigration policing is now being publicly floated. Beware. The article even reports that one congressman, Mike Rogers (R-Ala), is authoring legislation mandating the use of 'contractors' by the Border Patrol, if hiring goals are not met. I wouldn't be surprised if Rogers wants to deputize the Minutemen.