The Border Patrol Has Been a Cult of Brutality Since 1924

Since its founding in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near-complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement — even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover’s directorship. The 1924 Immigration Act tapped into a xenophobia with deep roots in the U.S. history. The law effectively eliminated immigration from Asia and sharply reduced arrivals from southern and eastern Europe. Most countries were now subject to a set quota system, with the highest numbers assigned to western Europe. As a result, new arrivals to the United States were mostly white Protestants. Nativists were largely happy with this new arrangement, but not with the fact that Mexico, due to the influence of U.S. business interests that wanted to maintain access to low-wage workers, remained exempt from the quota system. “Texas needs these Mexican immigrants,” said the state’s Chamber of Commerce. Having lost the national debate when it came to restricting Mexicans, white supremacists — fearing that the country’s open-border policy with Mexico was hastening the “mongrelization” of the United States — took control of the U.S. Border Patrol, also established in 1924, and turned it into a frontline instrument of race vigilantism. As the historian Kelly Lytle Hernández has shown, the patrol’s first recruits were white men one or two generations removed from farm life. Some had a military or county sheriff background, while others transferred from border-town police departments or the Texas Rangers — all agencies with their own long tradition of unaccountable brutality. Their politics stood in opposition to the big borderland farmers and ranchers. They didn’t think that Texas — or Arizona, New Mexico, and California — needed Mexican migrants. (…) The Border Patrol is often thought of, even by critics of its brutality, as a sleepy backwater federal agency, far removed from the Cold War’s ideological frontlines. But the Patrol played a role in expanding the radius of Washington’s national security doctrine — the tutoring of allied security forces in counterinsurgency tactics — and accelerating the tempo of paramilitary action. The career of John P. Longan, who worked as an Oklahoma sheriff before joining the Border Patrol, is illustrative. Following stints in New Mexico and Texas, Longan was tapped to help run Operation Wetback, a mass deportation drive focused mostly on California that, as the Los Angeles Times put it, transformed the patrol into an “army” committed to an “all-out war to hurl tens of thousands of Mexican wetbacks back into Mexico.” Modern armies need a modern intelligence service, and Longan, operating out of an unmarked location in an old Alameda Navy installation, updated the Patrol’s ability to gather and analyze information — including information extracted during interrogations — and then act on that information quickly. A few years later, Longan transferred to the State Department’s Public Safety Program, doing tours in a number of third-world hotspots, including Venezuela, Thailand, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. According to Stuart Schrader, in his forthcoming “Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing,” Longan was one of a number of Border Patrol agents recruited to train foreign police through CIA-linked “public safety” programs, since they were likely to speak Spanish. And having worked the southwestern borderlands, these patrollers-turned-covert operators were familiar with societies built around peonage-like labor relations; they seamlessly extended the kind of free-range immunity they enjoyed at home to poorer, oligarch-ruled nations like Guatemala.
In Guatemala, Longan used the intelligence techniques similar to the ones he developed in Operation Wetback to train local police and military officers, creating an “action unit” that could gather information — also mostly from interrogations, many of them including torture — and act on that information in a rapid manner. Within the first three months of 1966, “Operación Limpieza,” or Operation Clean-up, as Longan called his project, conducted over 80 raids and scores of extrajudicial assassinations, including the murder, during one four-day period in early March, of over 30 political activists (I describe Longan’s time in Guatemala in detail here). Likewise, through the early 1970s, the U.S. trained Latin American security forces, the majority from countries run by military governments, at the Border Patrol Academy in Los Fresnos, Texas, where, according to the Los Angeles Times, “CIA instructors” trained them “in the design, manufacture, and potential use of bombs and incendiary devices.”

via theintercept: The Border Patrol Has Been a Cult of Brutality Since 1924

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