Sometimes it takes a small tragedy to call attention to expose a much bigger one.
The small tragedy happened when Nicholas Ivie, a US Border Patrol agent, was shot dead on a dark night in rough terrain along the border with Mexico in Arizona, a state that has been obsessing about illegal border crossers coming into the US from Mexico seeking jobs.
The story, as reported by FBI and Cochise County Sheriff’s Office investigators, as well as the border patrol union’s president, is that Ivie was with one set of border patrol agents responding to a motion sensor that had been triggered — perhaps by a person or an animal — and ended up getting shot by a second border patrol team that had also been dispatched to investigate, but that had approached the location from another direction.
What reportedly happened is that Ivie opened fire on the other team, and when they returned fire, thinking they were under attack by armed smugglers, Ivie was killed. The incident is being called a case of “friendly fire,” a term that is used by the military for cases where US troops kill one of their own by accident in a firefight.
But the incident is more than just an accident. It highlights the sorry state that the gun-obsessed and war-crazed US has reached when it comes to the issue of immigration.
Unasked is the question: Why would a border agent investigating possible illegal border crossing take the first shot at someone he suspected of trying to sneak into the country?
Many of us in this nation of immigrants are descendants of people who sneaked, lied or cheated in order to get into this country. If Agent Ivey and the US Border Patrol had been around when our forebears tried to get their chance at the so-called “American Dream,” our forebears would have been slain, and we wouldn’t be around today.
I can understand that a nation needs to have control of its borders. No nation have a free-for-all open border policy. But having said that, killing people for trying to find a better life is not an immigration policy. It is a war on the poor. This is all the more true when you factor in the fact that the disastrous economies in Mexico and the countries of Central America which most of the immigrants crossing into Arizona and Texas are fleeing have been largely created by US policies like NAFTA and the so-called Drug War, which have in the first case encouraged huge corporate agribusiness conglomerates to move in, set up vast industrial monoculture farms, and destroy local farming economies, and in the second funded the emergence of huge, heavily armed and violent criminal drug gangs.
Arizona is ground zero in the anti-immigrant craze. Gun-obsessed Arizonans have volunteered to conduct armed patrols along the desert border. Never mind that illegal immigration into the US has fallen off substantially because of the economic crisis, since it has become increasingly hard for immigrants to find work here. In Arizona the state government passed a law, and battled mightily to sustain it in the face of federal opposition to a state’s usurping of federal authority to control borders, which allows police to randomly demand documents of citizenship or legal residency of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. It’s amazing that more people — suspected illegal immigrants and whacked-out, pumped-up white gun nuts alike, along with the occasional cop — haven’t been blown away in all this, as was Agent Ivie.
Some people will say that Ivie only fired because he saw a team of armed men in the dark and thought they were human smugglers, but that begs the question, why were both groups out there hunting and heavily armed, when we’re talking about illegal immigration? And more important even than that, what was Agent Ivie doing firing first? There is no claim in any reports on this incident that he was fired at before he took his pot shot at the other agents. Is shoot-first-ask questions-later official Border Patrol policy for illegal immigration?
If so, illegal immigration has become a capital offense on the border with Mexico. This is the indisputable message of the Ivie shooting.
Let’s add that when you make crossing the border into a war game as Arizona authorities and the federal government have clearly done, you also insure that the smugglers will also up-arm themselves, so it becomes a step-wise process which I suppose ultimately could end up in actual warfare.
We’ve already had a Mexican kid on the border between Juarez and El Paso shot to death by a border agent annoyed because the victim and some other friends had thrown some rocks at him. That one could have easily escalated into a border war because some cops from Juarez came to protect the kids, as was their duty — and as US cops would hopefully have done had it been a Mexican agent who shot a US kid.
None of this gun-toting and totally predictable violence along the border is addressing the issue of illegal immigration. Just as people will risk death by packing into airless shipping containers, climbing into aircraft wheel-wells, or clinging to the undersides of trucks in order to sneak into the US, we will have people braving American guns to sneak across the long Mexican border, as long as opportunities to scratch out a living and send money home to struggling families back home exist in the US, a country vastly more wealthy than adjacent Mexico. Until the US accepts this reality and decides to tackle the issue both helping Mexico to genuinely solve its economic problems and by ending the drug war by drying up demand in the US (probably by legalizing and licensing drugs the way it is handled in much of Europe), we are going to have illegal immigration.
The least we can do at this point is to recognize the problem as a social and economic one, and not a criminal one, and stop making the border area a war zone. Agent Ivie was a potential killer who was cut down by a colleague before he hit his mistaken mark. Had he been shooting at immigrants instead of other Agents, he might just as easily have shot a desperate woman or child trying to find a new and better life, and we probably wouldn’t have even heard about it.
We need to seriously address the issues of poverty in Latin America and of ending the Drug War, so that we don’t end up with the Mexican Border becoming a North American version of Korea’s 38th Parallel, a reverse version of the Berlin Wall, or worse.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.