Most of you are likely by now aware of President Obama's decision on Tuesday to send over 1,000 National Guards to the southwest border in order to assist local police in tracking down drug smugglers. While these soldiers will not arrest undocumented immigrants crossing the borders, their presence is likely to (indeed, intended to) increase such arrests by local law enforcement. I've posted before (here and here) about the myriad forms of violence suffered by those who attempt to cross the border. Without a coherent immigration policy that creates safe and legal migration routes for low and unskilled workers and those fleeing persecution, increased border enforcement will increase migrants' vulnerability to violence perpetrated by a variety of actors, not least the very drug smugglers against whom Obama is taking aim.
But it turns out that Obama's not alone in his approach; on Wednesday, South African special forces arrived at the border with Zimbabwe in the first phase of a long-term deployment of various units of the South African military to combat violent border gangs. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported earlier this month that as many as 300 Zimbabweans were arriving per day at just one border post in order to apply for asylum. Ironically, these Zimbabweans are eligible for a 90-day visa to South Africa, which has instituted a moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe -- in other words, they have a legal route to enter and remain in South Africa. But in a Kafkaesque twist, many Zimbabweans cannot afford a passport and must therefore cross the border illegally. (The South African Department of Home Affairs has yet to create a promised special dispensation permit that would enable such migrants to cross the border legally and safely.) Their resultant vulnerability has enormous costs; MSF reports that at least 20 women, children, and men are raped per month at that same border crossing. In a country in which one in seven adults is living with HIV, rape can have consequences far beyond the initial physical and emotional trauma. Again, increased border enforcement alone, in the absence of a legal route to entry for those seeking safety, is likely to increase migrants' vulnerability to the violence of the border. In other words, without a sensible immigration policy, the border will enforce rather than control violence.