Operation Gatekeeper Fence,” Haymarket Rebel

October 20, 2019; Liberation News

Detention camps for migrants remain in force all over the US, even if they fall temporarily out of the headlines. This month, a number of groups organized protests against the camps in time to mark the 25-year anniversary of Operation Gatekeeper, the original effort to militarize the US-Mexico border.

Liberation News reports that organizers from Democratic Socialists of America–San Diego, Unión del Barrio, Party for Socialism and Liberation of San Diego and Phoenix, Arizona, Detainee Allies, People Over Profits, Anakbayan San Diego, the Brown Berets, the Immigrant Justice League, and other members of the San Diego community came out to protest issues related to the holding of migrants in camps.

Their demands include closing all migrant detention facilities, an end to San Diego city and county contracts with corporations who do business with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), an end to new for-profit prisons, and the resignation of Sheriff Bill Gore. According to the Facebook page for the march, Gore’s police department has violated SB 54, which prevents police from using law enforcement resources to aid ICE.

Some NPQ readers may remember Operation Gatekeeper, which was launched during the Clinton administration. It greatly increased the budget and militarization at the border in an effort to shift “from apprehension to deterrence and prevention” in the San Diego area. Some critics, like Noam Chomsky, claim it was launched to deal with the increase in immigration from Mexico that was a result of NAFTA. The operation included providing border patrol with advanced equipment like infrared scopes and sensors. Despite claims by academics, congressional representatives, and others that Operation Gatekeeper failed, Border Patrol and other related agencies have continued to defend it.

Pedro Rios is the director of the American Friends Service Committee’s US-Mexico Border Program. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, he wrote, “We need to learn from the failures of Operation Gatekeeper and its deadly legacy and reject further funding of these destructive policies…this approach ignored both the reasons people migrate and the enduring ties between communities on both sides of the border.” It is estimated that more than 8,000 people have died trying to make the more dangerous crossings through rural areas that are less closely monitored.

San Diego’s was not the only protest to mark this anniversary. In San Ysidro, where agents fired tear gas at migrants last year, Unión del Barrio, Anakbayan, Brown Berets de Aztlán, ANSWER Coalition, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation gathered to mark the anniversary on October 12th. Before that, activists gathered in protest at Chicano Park on October 1st with the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

The Coalition to Close the Camps—San Diego, which organized marches in San Ysidro and San Diego, acknowledges the Kumeyaay traditional territory on which San Diego was built, and collaborated with a number of community organizations. The Brown Berets, for instance, were formed in the image of the Black Panther Party to promote education reform and community service for the Latinx community. Unión del Barrio is a membership organization committed to the idea that political revolution is the only way that people of color, working class people, indigenous people, and other groups facing oppression will see self-determination.

In a speech at the march, a member of People Over Profits said, “Some of us think of ourselves as progressive, but what we need to be is revolutionary!”

Despite the death toll, despite outcry from inside and outside the country, and despite the demonstrable injustice of crackdowns and sanctions, the US continues to hold so many migrants in detention that the government is repurposing prisons in states far from the border. But even if the news falls out of the headlines, the communities with family in and out of the centers and on both sides of the border are holding out for justice.—Erin Rubin