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The Book of the Week is “Sand and Blood, America’s Stealth War on the Mexico Border” by John Carlos Frey, published in 2019. This investigative journalist did his homework. He actually practiced what was known in the 1970’s as New Journalism, experiencing for himself what migrants go through. He hired a people-smuggler, and his account was factual and professional. He did NOT throw a pity-party, did NOT spout the kind of daily, tiresome, self-absorbed minutiae of American reality-shows on the idiot box.
The author pointed out that the major focus of U.S. military action is currently at the Mexico border (rather than in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans, Syria, etc., etc., etc.). The twentieth century saw a large increase in demand for farm workers in the southwestern states to provide food for the nation. Between 1942 and 1964, a federal law called the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement allowed Mexican migrants to enter the U.S. to work. They were provided with housing but were ill-treated and exploited. For the next couple of decades, the country was distracted by various military actions around the world.
Finally, in 1986, president Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which conditionally (regardless of smears and lies in sound-bites on the idiot box; as an aside– undocumented immigrants have never been allowed to get welfare services, Social Security or Medicare without identity papers) let illegals earn permanent U.S. residency and eventually, citizenship.
In 1991, president George H.W. Bush signed a bill with a new immigration goal: to use the American military to target drug-smugglers, so Border Patrol could focus on catching illegal-border-crossers.
In December 1993, president Bill Clinton signed NAFTA, which caused more poverty in Mexico. It is not rocket science to infer that more poverty will lead to stronger motivation in more migrants to seek a better life in a land that is conveniently nearby. In 1996, Clinton helped enact a law that denied any and all immigrants due process if they were convicted of an aggravated felony (i.e., entering the U.S. illegally).
In 1994, California governor Pete Wilson was reelected on the scapegoating-illegals-ticket via the passage of Proposition 187. Up until that year, the childhood residence of the author of the book, in the Tijuana River Valley, just north of the Mexico border– was a demilitarized zone in which Mexicans and Americans could freely (at no-cost and with no harassment) enjoy beautiful nature on either side of the border. By the mid-1990’s, the border was a war zone. For, a U.S. Marines and Green-Berets task force was on the job.
After 9/11, the War on Terror was in full swing, yet the initiative caught zero terrorists who had illegally crossed the border. Bloated bureaucracy soon followed, with the burgeoning of the multiple new sheriffs in town: Homeland Security– the boss of INS, Border Patrol, ICE and Customs and Border Protection. By 2005, the border-protection budget had soared to $40.2 billion. That could have paid for a lot of social and education programs instead. Unsurprisingly, the whole border security apparatus became a Self-Regulatory-Organization (translation: fox guarding the hen house).
An infrastructure, security, aircraft, data-processing and spying extravaganza ensued, what with military contractors jumping on the gravy train in winning business from the U.S. government, as the contractors made the following political donations in 2012 (which included but were not limited to):
Barack Obama: $127,000 from Lockheed Martin and about $191,000 from Boeing;
Senator Charles Schumer: $49,500 from Lockheed Martin; and
Senator Lindsey Graham: $16,500 from Boeing.
That said, every politician begins his or her career with such high hopes and idealistic goals. As one of the most powerful men in the world, the American president begins his first term planning to do a big project or perhaps a bunch of them on the same issue– that brings health, education or social benefits to the American people– for which he will be remembered, he hopes, forever.
However, in recent decades especially, with so many factors out of his control, such as
- the lack of time to review proposed and existing policies, legislation and issues– which increases the power of special-interest groups’ financial influence on all elected officials at all levels of government. And those officials’ behavior and votes can affect his popularity;
- vicious political enemies; and
- previous failed attempts at the same programs that just happened to lose their propaganda wars, etc.,
he ends up playing cheerleader for his agenda in between countering smears and lies against him for every little thing.
Here is a brief rundown of the “legacy lottery” of sorts of the last sixtyish years– accomplishments the president and his supporters argued were beneficial to society– for which each president became best known; the programs that were started or were amended on his watch that endure to this day (a few failures bear mentioning), though they have waxed and waned reputation-wise and funding-wise, through the decades.
PLEASE NOTE: viewing or reading one source of historical info is never sufficient for providing an accurate picture of anyone or any event (not even one book.) This blogger suggests reading at least tens of books (if possible) on one era or events detailed in personal accounts or about one person with historical backdrop, that are clearly labeled non-fiction. Even then, there is propagandizing. The following should be supplemented with further readings.
- JFK-Peace Corps (ironic, because young Americans are serving other countries), EEOC. A lot happened in less than three years; though he did inherit oodles of family-power and money.
- Lyndon B. Johnson– Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, Project Head Start; five years crowded with incident.
- Richard Nixon-First Term: EPA, Clean Air Act of 1970. Was always angry, resentful and vengeful for NOT inheriting immense family-power and money. Second Term: Insisted he was not a crook!
- Gerald Ford-??? Too short a tenure to do much on short notice, and didn’t inherit huge family-power and money.
- Jimmy Carter-Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (Superfund program)– almost completely gutted in recent years; his administration was taken hostage in various ways.
- Ronald Reagan-First Term: Renewed Voting Rights Act and made MLK Day a federal holiday, but only under grass-roots political pressure from civil rights groups. Second Term: Enriched profiteers in the criminal justice industry by signing a drug-enforcement bill, but did raise awareness of the high costs of drug and alcohol-related problems.
- George H.W. Bush-Passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, and an amendment to the Clean Air Act and yet, oil-profiteered for himself; this was one cause of his propaganda-war loss on his reelection bid.
- Bill Clinton-First Term: Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993; tried to implement a national-healthcare plan, which turned out to be a dress rehearsal; grade “A” for effort. Second Term: Signed some laws that helped children and families with healthcare, foster care and adoption, but he lost the propaganda war historically.
- George W. Bush-First Term: Unfortunately succeeded in passing the No Child Left Behind Act– but did raise awareness of the high costs of running education like a business. Enriched medical-industry profiteers by partially privatizing Medicare in a massive overhaul. Second Term: proposed privatizing Social Security, and proposed immigration reform while advocating for more funding for beefing up military presence at the Mexican border (igniting all sorts of controversies), but it was his entire disaster, military-conflict, and oil profiteering-oriented tenure that caused him to lose his propaganda war historically, big-time.
- Barack Obama–First Term: While putting out fires of his immediate predecessor, signed an amendment to an anti-hate-crime law and repealed DADT. Signed the Affordable Care Act, whose way was paved for him in the mid-1990’s; tenuous win thus far and needs lots of modifications– but a major feat. And need it be said? Didn’t inherit family hegemony and ginormous wealth. Second Term: Signed an amendment to the Affordable Care Act.
- Donald Trump-Proposed building a Mexican-border wall! No one knows its current status. Did wonders for profiteers (his family and cronies) in health, labor and the environment by signing numerous Executive Orders. Inherited massive family-power and money.
- Joseph Biden-Spent his first year putting out fires of his immediate predecessor. He’s a transition president like Ford, and also didn’t inherit superlative family-power and money.
All of the above presidents have had to make serious ethical compromises in order to try to secure their legacies; pursuant to the amount of power wielded over them by the opposition-party during their time in office. Those who won the “profiteering lottery” favored money over people without a second thought. And, ALL of them felt they needed to do politically expedient military spending, or else their impact on history might suffer.
Incidentally, one turning point in the history of the McCarthy Era occurred when the Republican U.S. senator from Wisconsin, criticized the military. After that, it was downhill for him. One turning point in the history of the Trump administration occurred when the Republican U.S. president from New York State, criticized the military. After that, it was a faster downfall for him.
Anyway, notwithstanding the humungous amount of taxpayer money diverted to militarization of the border, “A weakening [U.S.] economy helped slow migration more than fences did.”
Read the book to learn: about Boeing’s epic fail; why certain areas have no deterrents to migrants; why the government can’t even say how ineffective its militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border has been; how migrants risk their lives; about the smuggling cartels; about a Native American reservation and a church near the border; about how frustrating the U.S. border’s complaint-processing system is; and much more about recent conditions / deaths at the border.