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CarlosSpectorOffice
Carlos Spector in his El Paso office

El Paso immigration attorney Carlos Spector represents more than 100 families who have fled violence in Mexico. Many were forced to flee while investigating the disappearances of their loved ones by the military or law enforcement.

In Mexico, 98 percent of murder cases are never investigated or solved by the authorities. Even fewer cases are investigated when the disappearances or murders are linked to soldiers or law enforcement. Families who investigate on their own often risk their lives.

This was the case for the Alvarado Espinoza family from the small town of San Buenaventura 170 miles south of Juarez. On December 29, 2009, Mexican soldiers forced 32-year-old Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza and her cousin Jose Angel Alvarado into a military vehicle. Another cousin Rocio Irene Alvarado was also picked up the same day, according to a petition filed with the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Their families haven’t seen them since and the Mexican military won’t provide any answers. So the family took it upon themselves to investigate the disappearances. But soon they began to receive death threats. Ultimately, they were forced to flee to the United States and seek political asylum.

Seeking justice in Mexico from the United States adds another layer of difficulty and frustration for families in exile. The three daughters of the disappeared Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza—18-year-old twins Mitzi and Nitza and fifteen-year-old Deisy who now live in the United States—formed a group called Hijos de Desaparecidos (children of the disappeared) to pressure Mexican officials to investigate the disappearance of their mother and countless others. The Mexican government estimates there are as many as 27,000 disappeared in Mexico since the drug war violence began in 2006. But many Mexican activists suspect the number is much higher since most families are too scared and distrustful of the authorities to report disappearances.

So it was a significant event last week when a Mexican federal law enforcement official, Salomon Baltazar, came to El Paso to meet with relatives of missing men and women. Baltazar was appointed in 2013 as the head of the newly-formed Special Unit to Search for Disappeared Persons within Mexico’s Attorney General’s office. For the first time, Baltazar traveled to the United States to take complaints and testimony from the Alvarado Espinoza family and other exiles searching for missing relatives. During a short press conference at the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Baltazar said officials in Mexico were committed to investigating the missing persons cases. Baltazar’s meetings with the families were private. But Carlos Spector said another high-ranking Mexican human rights official, Ricardo Garcia Cervantes, also attended the meetings in El Paso and was visibly moved by the testimonies of the families. “He was the most vocal in pledging to do something about the disappearances,” Spector said.

Three days later, however, Mexico’s attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam announced that Garcia Cervantes would be resigning from his post. “Garcia Cervantes was the most open to doing something,” says Spector. “It seems odd he would leave his post three days later, which makes you wonder if he was fired and if so, why?”

Spector and the nonprofit group Mexicanos en Exilio, as well as Mexico’s Women’s Center for Human Rights, were instrumental in persuading the Mexican officials to come to the United States. The next step for Spector and Mexicanos en Exilio is to persuade Mexican congressional members to hold a hearing in El Paso on the murders and disappearances as well as the numerous properties and businesses lost by people now living in exile. More than anything families want justice and they want closure after years of searching for missing loved ones. “So far there’s been symbolic gestures, which is a positive step,” Spector said of Mexican government officials. “But it’s not enough.”

(UPDATE: On May 31, Ricardo Garcia Cervantes told the Mexican magazine Proceso that he chose to resign and was not pushed out by the Peña Nieto administration. Garcia Cervantes said he left because Peña Nieto’s administration was giving less priority to investigating  the thousands of disappearances throughout the country, and that he could no longer bear the sorrow of so many families whose cases were not being investigated by the human rights agency.)

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Courtesy of Mexican government
A diagram released by the Mexican government on its plan for Tamaulipas

The residents of the Mexican State of Tamaulipas, Texas’ closest neighbor to the south, have been living under a near constant threat of violence since 2010. That was the year the paramilitary organization Los Zetas splintered from its former partner in crime the Gulf Cartel.

Since then, so many kingpins, plaza bosses and sicarios have been killed by the military or cartel rivals that it’s almost impossible to keep count. But one thing is certain. The death of kingpin “Tony Tormenta” or the arrest of “Z-40” hasn’t made Tamaulipas a more peaceful place. Instead the state of 3.3 million people is experiencing its worst wave of violence since those dark times in 2010 when 72 migrants were massacred in San Fernando and nearly the entire city of Ciudad Mier fled to Texas after living under siege for weeks. In 2010, journalists from Mexico City who came to report on the bloodshed in Tamaulipas were kidnapped and threatened with execution. Many local reporters were killed.  After two reporters escaped with their lives and returned to Mexico City their editor in an open letter pronounced the death of press freedom in Tamaulipas.

After that the lights went dark. Most of Mexico’s national media stopped coming and few foreign reporters ever go to Tamaulipas. It’s a tough state to parachute into, because it’s been co-opted for so long by the Gulf Cartel and organized crime. Corruption has flourished for decades and festered. The local police have worked for the cartels for years. The only way any information gets out of Tamaulipas these days is through a dedicated network of citizen reporters sending out short dispatches on Twitter streams like #reynosafollow or through Facebook.

But the most troubling aspect of Tamaulipas’ descent into violence is how a state so rich in hydrocarbons and other natural resources could be so utterly abandoned by Mexico’s political class. That’s why many citizens were buoyed by the news that after weeks of gun battles, bodies in the streets and blockades, Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto announced he had a plan. Last Tuesday, Mexico’s Interior Secretary, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, and top military officials traveled to Reynosa to announce the government’s new strategy to quell the violence. The government will split the state into four parts: two regions controlled by the Army and the other two by the Navy. Each region will have its own federal prosecutor to investigate crimes. Local and state police, which have long been accused of corruption, will be disbanded and replaced by the federal police.

It might sound like progress until you look at what happened in the state of Chihuahua or Michoacan—largely run now by self-defense forces—where Mexico has tried similar military takeovers. Violence and human rights abuses have skyrocketed.  In 2009, former President Felipe Calderon sent more than 8,000 soldiers and federal police officers to Juarez to help fight organized crime. But after their arrival, the murder rate spiked,  and Juarez became the murder capital of the world. Human rights abuses were rampant and residents fled to other parts of Mexico or to the United States to seek asylum. In the Juarez Valley, which I wrote about in 2012 for the Observer, it was a scorched earth scenario. Many surviving residents blame the military and the federal police for extortion, extrajudicial killings or for standing by as cartel gunmen massacred families and burned down their homes. No law enforcement or military official has been investigated in any of these allegations.

Still, at least we knew about the extrajudicial killings, the human rights abuses and other atrocities because of the fearless Juarez journalists who not only didn’t give up despite the murders of their coworkers, they also helped hundreds of foreign journalists like me access the sources and information we needed to report these tragedies to the world. We can also thank the state’s brave activists and human rights defenders. Tamaulipas has few such journalists or activists. The grip of organized crime is so tight that few journalists or activists can take the risk and speak out.

What our neighbor really needs are strong civic institutions, freedom of the press and the rule of law.  These are the most effective weapons against the deep-seated corruption that is fueling the violence and destroying the state. Sadly, President Peña Nieto’s plan to save Tamaulipas doesn’t include any of these key aspects of a healthy democracy.  Instead, it’s the old heavy-handed method that so many leaders have tried before. “What Tamaulipas needs is not military occupation but sustainable peace,” says Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, chair of the government department at the University of Texas-Brownsville who has studied this complex border state for years. We should all pay more attention to our neighbor to the south because it points to Mexico’s future. And if we’ve learned anything from the past, we should be deeply concerned.

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Eugenio del Bosque
Unaccompanied Mexican children waiting to be processed in Reynosa, Mexico

The U.S. government has reopened an emergency shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to house unaccompanied children from Central America.

Government officials had estimated as many 60,000 unaccompanied kids—the majority of them from Central America—would be apprehended at the border this year, but now officials predict it will be 70,000 or more.

“The shelters are running out of bed space,” says Lavinia Limon, CEO of the nonprofit advocacy organization U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. At least 75 percent of the children traveling without a parent or adult relative are from three countries: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

On May 12, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson declared “a level-four condition of readiness” in the Rio Grande Valley, according to the New York Times, which allows the department to receive resources from other federal agencies when it’s been overwhelmed. The level-four declaration also triggered the reopening of Lackland Air Force Base as an emergency overflow shelter. The military base was used as an emergency shelter for two months in 2012.

The military base will temporarily house at least 1,000 children, says Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of public affairs for the Administration for Children and Families, which provides care and shelter to the children as an agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Since 2011, the number of unaccompanied children in U.S. government shelters has skyrocketed from 8,000 to more than 60,000 this year. Limon said that officials had worked to significantly shorten the time in detention as a way to deal with the surge in child migrants but the rapidly increasing number of children outpaced them. The increase in children trying to immigrate to the U.S. is due to several factors, including deteriorating security and economic conditions in Central America. “Honduras is the murder capital of the world,” Limon says. “Children are willing to risk the dangerous journey because they think it’s less dangerous than staying home.”

DPS Goes International

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw
Steve McCraw

Ever since Steve McCraw, who was once an FBI agent, became director of the Texas Department of Public Safety in 2009, he’s striven to make the state’s largest law enforcement agency more like a wing of the Department of Homeland Security. McCraw has invested in armored gunboats, a surveillance plane and even a helicopter sniper program (since discontinued after two undocumented Guatemalan migrants were killed in 2012). Now the agency has become the federal government’s newest partner in fighting the global war on drugs.

In late March, McCraw signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) that allows DPS to send its troopers to other countries to train. DPS can also train foreign police officers in Texas under the new agreement.

The INL oversees a $1.7 billion annual budget, of which about half a billion is dedicated to “counternarcotic control strategies” such as law enforcement training, drug crop eradication and foreign programs that support the U.S drug war strategy. INL spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala says the federal agency has one other partnership in Texas. Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar (whose brother is Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar) signed an agreement with the agency in 2011. Last year, Martin Cuellar’s department hosted a three-week study tour in Laredo for eight narcotics officers from Ecuador.

After signing the agreement with DPS’ McCraw, Ambassador William Brownfield, assistant secretary for the INL, told Texas Public Radio that DPS has unique expertise in border security, especially in drug- and gang-related crimes. Brownfield cited Central American gangs as one area that DPS might focus on in the new collaboration. He said he hopes U.S. law enforcement will soon “address issues related to gangs down there that eventually operate up here.”

McCraw, in a written statement, said he was pleased to have DPS join the U.S. State Department’s global campaign in the war on drugs: “Crime today is alarmingly transitory, transnational, organized and covert, and it’s not enough for governments to focus solely on protecting public safety and disrupting crime within their borders—the efforts must be global.”

A Memorial for Migrants in Reynosa, Mexico
Eugenio del Bosque
A memorial to fallen migrants at the edge of the Rio Grande in Reynosa, Mexico.

On Saturday a group of 61 men, women and children walked across the Hidalgo International Bridge near McAllen to seek political asylum. At least 48 of the immigrants were fleeing Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world.

The men, women and children who arrived in the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday had been on a weeks-long odyssey through Mexico that began in mid-April. Their exodus from Honduras underscores growing problems in that country as well as the persecution of Central Americans as they make their way to the U.S. through Mexico.

Since a coup in 2009 of the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, the country of 8 million has come unraveled. Crime has skyrocketed and the country now has the greatest income inequality in Latin America. Increasingly, Hondurans are fleeing the country for safer ground.

But many never reach their destination. In Mexico, Hondurans and other Central Americans are often beaten, raped, kidnapped or even killed by police and organized crime members especially while riding on top of the freight train north, known as “The Beast.” In early April, a group of Hondurans who had lost legs and arms after falling or being pushed from trains in Mexico requested an audience with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. The dozen men from a group called the Association of Disabled Returning Migrants said they represented 452 mutilated migrants from Honduras, and several more from other Central American countries. The men were rebuffed by Peña Nieto but were allowed to address the Mexican Senate where they asked for visas to travel safely through Mexico and an end to the persecution of migrants. “We have hit bottom,” said Jose Luis Hernandez, leader of the group, according to the Associated Press. “It is no longer even news when two people die on ‘The Beast,’ or that somebody fell under the train and lost his legs.”

A few weeks after the group’s plea to the Senate, a thousand Central American migrants, Catholic priests, activists and reporters began the Viacrucis del Migrantevia crusis is Latin for “stations of the cross”— on April 15 marching from the southern border of Mexico to Mexico City to protest the cruel treatment of Central American migrants. But instead of stopping the protest at the capital it swelled to at least 1,500 with more Central American migrants joining after they were barred by the railway companies from riding The Beast north. The government also began a massive roundup of Central American migrants, many of whom were reportedly beaten, arrested and deported.

A core group of about 400 protesters kept marching north into the border state of Tamaulipas, one of the most dangerous regions of Mexico. They arrived on the outskirts of the border city of Reynosa on May 2, where gun battles were raging among the the military and splinter groups of the Gulf Cartel. The city is in the midst of its worst episode of violence since 2010 when the Zetas split from the Gulf Cartel. Most left for Mexico City the next day, but 61 migrants—the majority of them Hondurans—chose to cross the Hidalgo International Bridge to ask for asylum. Their chances of getting it are slim; U.S. asylum law doesn’t recognize poverty and violence as credible claims for asylum.  In 2013, 70,658 Hondurans were deported from the United States and Mexico—nearly twice the number of Hondurans deported in 2011, according to Aracely Romero of the Center for Returned Migrant Services in Honduras.

Without a lawyer it’s also nearly impossible to win asylum. Carlos Spector, an El Paso immigration attorney, who specializes in political asylum cases, has volunteered to help the asylum seekers. Spector, who founded a nonprofit called “Mexicans in Exile,” says the group has a good chance of winning because they’re part of a political movement. “They’re fleeing authorized crime—gangs in complicity with the state who are persecuting them,” he says. “This is one of the strongest cases I’ve seen in a decade.”

 

The sheriff and his sons (from left to right) Juan Carlos and Jonathan
Photo from Lupe Treviño's Facebook page
The former sheriff and his sons (from left to right) Juan Carlos and Jonathan

One by one, members of the disbanded Panama Unit, a street level drug trafficking task force, stood before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane in a McAllen courtroom this week to receive their sentences. The longest sentence—17 years—went to Jonathan Treviño, the leader of the task force and the son of Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño, the former sheriff of Hidalgo County.

“I blame nobody else but myself,” Treviño told the courtroom Tuesday, according to KGBT News. He then thanked the federal prosecutors for arresting him and stopping the rogue Panama Unit before more damage was done.

Jonathan’s father, once the most powerful law enforcement figure in the Rio Grande Valley, was noticeably absent from the courtroom. Last month he was indicted for money laundering and forced to resign as sheriff. It was the 65-year-old Treviño, a career lawman, who had engineered his son’s quick rise through the ranks of law enforcement, making sure he was appointed head of the Panama Unit in 2006 at the age of 22, just months out of the police academy.

But instead of busting drug dealers, the task force devoted itself to stealing from dealers and reselling the drugs for a profit. Jonathan surrounded himself in the unit with close friends, including Alexis Espinoza, the son of Hidalgo Police Chief Rudy Espinoza and five deputies who worked under his father. For a while the rogue task force was the worst-kept secret in Hidalgo County, at least among law enforcement and local drug dealers. Then, in December 2012, the FBI indicted Jonathan and other members of the Panama Unit, following a nearly year-long investigation.

But the scandal only widened from there to include two deputies, Jorge Garza and J.P. Flores, from the sheriff’s crime stoppers program who worked in tandem with two drug dealers, Fernando Guerra Sr. and Fernando Guerra Jr. The crew would fake police stops in order to rip off other local dealers trying to move their product north, according to court documents. Eventually, Flores introduced the Guerras to the Panama Unit, which also included deputies Gerardo Mendoza, Claudio Mata, Eric Alcantar, Sal Arguello and Fabian Rodriguez, who had until then sold their stolen drugs to various local dealers.

The trial, which stretched from early Monday to late Tuesday, was packed with media, attorneys and family members of the 11 defendants. The deputies received sentences between 10 and 14 years with Jonathan receiving the stiffest sentence. Fernando Guerra Sr. received 15 years and his son received 8 years.

This week’s sentencing signals the end of one complicated chapter in a law enforcement scandal that continues. Throughout his son’s travails, the former sheriff has repeatedly insisted he knew nothing of his son’s activities or of the corruption in his own department. But after his recent indictment, the normally talkative former sheriff has gone quiet, even deactivating his Facebook page—where he often addressed his critics. The sheriff’s right-hand man, Deputy Commander Jose “Joe” Padilla, recently pleaded guilty to bribery and has been linked to a local convicted drug dealer, Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez, who reportedly gave thousands of dollars to Treviño’s reelection campaigns. And just two weeks ago, the former sheriff pleaded guilty to taking the campaign contributions. Now Treviño is awaiting his own sentencing before a federal judge in July.

The hunger strike has ended at a federal immigrant detention center in El Paso, but at least 37 men from northern India say they are still being wrongfully detained after requesting political asylum in the United States nearly a year ago.

The men, in their 20s, are from Punjab state, and follow Sikhism. They are part of a minority political party that has advocated for a separate Sikh state. John Lawit, a Dallas-based immigration lawyer representing six of the men, says the party’s members are politically persecuted in India. “They’ve been attacked and threatened with arrest,” Lawit says. “And they’ve been victimized at rallies and their families have received death threats.”

The majority of the men arrived last June and July and requested asylum at the international port of entry at Columbus, New Mexico. From there they were detained and transferred to the El Paso Processing Center. Lawit says his clients have passed their credible fear examinations and should have already been released on parole to wait for their day in immigration court. “It’s abysmal,” Lawit says. “They’re being held indefinitely, and ICE has thrown away the key.”

The men started their hunger strike to protest their continued detention, Lawit says. The men began the strike on April 8 and ended it April 21 after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents promised to facilitate their release, Lawit says. But the agency has yet to make good on its promise, Lawit says. “There’s a very strong chance that there could be another hunger strike,” he says. ICE wouldn’t comment on specifics of the case.

The El Paso strike came just weeks after separate and unrelated hunger strikes at immigrant detention centers run by the private corporation GEO Group in Tacoma, Washington, and Conroe, Texas. With no movement in Congress on immigration reform and a growing number of immigrant detention facilities, families have become increasingly desperate to see their relatives released. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security held a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants in more than 250 facilities across the country, even though a majority of the cases didn’t warrant detention, according to the ACLU.

El Paso is the toughest venue for political asylum cases in the country, Lawit says. “I’ve been practicing there for 35 years, and it’s always been that way,” he says. El Paso has an 87 percent denial rate for asylum. The national average is 50 percent. El Paso Immigration Court Judge Thomas C. Roepke has the fourth highest denial rate in the nation, rejecting 96.7 percent of all applications, according to a 2012 report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a research organization based at Syracuse University. But the El Paso sector also has an unusually high number of immigrants without legal representation, and without a lawyer, it’s often difficult to win asylum. And now some of them, desperate to get their cases moving, are resorting to hunger strikes.

The sheriff and his sons (from left to right) Juan Carlos and Jonathan
Photo from Lupe Treviño's Facebook page
The sheriff and his sons (from left to right) Juan Carlos and Jonathan

Former Hidalgo County Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño pleaded guilty Monday to money laundering, just two weeks after resigning from office.

For several months federal investigators had been looking into cash donations to the former sheriff’s campaign from a convicted drug trafficker named Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez. Last Friday, Treviño’s former chief of staff, Maria Patricia Medina, who also served as his campaign treasurer, pleaded guilty to withholding information from a crime.

During a hearing Friday in McAllen, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Sturgis said that Medina knew that Treviño had deposited money from Gonzalez in banks under false names. Medina then falsified campaign reports to make it look like Treviño had returned the money to Gonzalez after it became public, according to the Monitor.

Scandal has shadowed Treviño since ICE’s homeland security investigations and the FBI arrested his son Jonathan Treviño, a former Mission police officer, in December 2012. Since at least 2006, 30-year-old Jonathan Treviño had run a street-level narcotics task force called the Panama Unit in Hidalgo County. In March 2013, Jonathan and other officers associated with the Panama Unit—including five Hidalgo County deputies—were indicted for “conspiring to possess with intent to distribute” cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.

Deputies and former deputies also told the Observer that Treviño had forced employees to work on his campaigns or be demoted. They said they were forced to buy and sell tickets to fundraisers to pay off Treviño’s campaign debt. Many of the deputies said that one of the sheriff’s commanders, Jose “Joe” Padilla, served as the sheriff’s chief enforcer, making sure deputies carried out his wishes. In December, Padilla was arrested on a seven-count indictment for drug trafficking and money laundering related to the El Gallo case. Padilla is still awaiting trial.

Miguel Flores, a former narcotics investigator at the sheriff’s office, said he felt relief after the sheriff’s admission of guilt Monday. For more than six months, Flores wore a wire and worked as an informant for the FBI to bring down the corrupt Panama Unit task force. Last May, Flores revealed for the first time to the Observer that he was an informant because he felt Treviño was retaliating against him after he found out Flores had been instrumental in his son’s indictment. Eventually, Flores was forced out of the department and was unemployed for several months. He recently found another job with a local police department. “This has ruined a lot of lives,” he said. “And It’s been a long hard journey for me, but I feel that it was worth it,” Flores said. “No one wanted to believe me but now they’ll know the truth.”

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Todd Miller

Todd Miller, a Tucson-based freelance journalist, has covered the U.S.-Mexico borderlands for the last 15 years for publications, including Mother Jones, The Nation and Salon. His new book, “Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Homeland Security,” explores how the post-9/11 border security bonanza has gone global, morphing into a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry or as Miller calls it, “the new world border.”

At home, border militarization is spreading into the interior of the country with SWAT-style immigration raids, increasing surveillance and checkpoints. And abroad, the U.S. Border Patrol is exporting its training techniques and resources to countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Dominican Republic. Miller combines on-the-ground reporting with extensive research to expose the booming industry for military-grade weaponry, cutting-edge surveillance technology and prisons where corporations and politicians profit, while communities suffer the consequences.

Miller’s book is surprising and alarming, even for people, like me, who’ve covered the border for many years. I spoke with Miller recently about his new book.

Texas Observer: You cover a lot of territory in this book. It’s a very thorough examination of how the notion of border security and the U.S. Border Patrol has changed since 9/11.

Todd Miller: Yes, I wanted to really focus on the expansion of the agency and what that means in one sense and also look at some of the not so obvious, yet powerful manifestations of the expansion.

TO: What are some of the less obvious manifestations?

TM: One that I really focus on in the book is money. The idea that there is a private sector increasingly attached to this world of the Border Patrol and border security. If you look at Border Patrol agents they are just one part of a larger systemic world where more and more private interests are involved. One thing I do is go to border security trade shows and talk to vendors from different companies trying to sell their products in what they call the border security market. I talk to Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and other big military companies as well as startup companies interested in this market. Projections show it’s a market growing at an annual 5 percent clip. In 2013 it was a $20 billion global market and if you add in homeland security and emergency management services we’re talking about a $544 billion market.

TO: You wrote that what was once a border reality has become a national reality. Could you expand on that?

TM: One of the things I do is spend extensive time on the northern U.S. border. I went to places like Detroit, Buffalo and even Syracuse. In western New York people have never seen these green striped vehicles before and all of sudden there’s checkpoints and roving patrols. There are more people being pulled over and more police collaborating with immigration. In New York state if you’re pulled over and don’t speak English they will call Border Patrol. They don’t have SB 1070 like Arizona but I interviewed a woman who was driving to the grocery story outside of Rochester, New York, when she was pulled over by the local police. She couldn’t produce a driver’s license so they called Border Patrol and she was detained for a month and then deported.

There are all kinds of stories like that in many places where you’ve never had stories like that before and it’s taken many people by surprise. In Erie, Pennsylvania, it’s much like Rochester—it’s not near a border crossing. It’s actually on a lakeshore, but it’s considered an international border because the borderline is 12 miles out on the lake. Alan Bersin, the former chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said a threat of terrorism was more likely to come from the Canadian border than on the U.S Mexico border. There’s way more agents and resources on the southern border but the buildup has increased at a much higher rate on the northern border, especially since 2005. Another aspect is the increased operations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the interior of the country. Border Patrol agents can operate within 100 miles of an international border but ICE, with its increasing collaboration with law enforcement under different agreements like 287g and Secure Communities, can operate anywhere. The way people are being arrested and deported often in the interior of country there’s a semblance of that reality from the southern border moving north and into the interior of the country.

TO: In the book you talk about growing up in Niagara Falls and about the economic collapse of your town and then the expansion of the homeland security state in and around Niagara Falls. Can you talk about that a little?

TM: When I say I’m from Niagara Falls most people think I’m from Canada mainly because that’s where most tourists go to see the falls. Niagara is a border town and I grew up on the New York side of it. It’s mostly an industrial town that’s relied on the chemical and metallurgical industries. In the last 20 years it’s been in economic decline. Many of the companies have left. Now when you go there it’s a very tragic scenario. The city of Niagara has about 35 percent poverty. There’s potholes everywhere and collapsing homes. The town seems like it’s dying but at the same time in the last five or six years we’ve seen a lot of growth of the Border Patrol in Niagara Falls. It’s quite astonishing for me, because I’ve lived in the Arizona borderlands for a long time now, so when I see one of the green and white striped Border Patrol vehicles in Niagara, I feel like I’m in Arizona or Texas. It’s almost surreal but it’s happening. You have a city that’s collapsing but the Border Patrol is growing and they are working with the Niagara Falls Police Department and they have all of these resources. The Border Patrol’s Buffalo sector headquarters has huge video walls, high-powered surveillance cameras and all of this really expensive technology, plus these shiny new vehicles and all of these resources in a city that is economically collapsing, so it’s quite startling.

TO: It sounds like they might be the only employer hiring in Niagara these days?

TM: It’s definitely one of the only agencies that seem to be growing. Perhaps the Niagara Police Department is hiring as well.

TO: How are the role of the Border Patrol and the notion of border security expanding outside of the United States? You call it “the new world border.” And there are some interesting examples you cite like the recordings that were broadcast by the U.S. government from airplanes over Haiti after the earthquake that said, “Don’t even think about coming to the United States.”

TM: I spent a lot of time doing research on the Dominican-Haitian border. The reason I went there is because the Dominican Republic formed its own Border Patrol in 2007 at the urging of the United States. And it turns out that the United States also helped the Dominican Republic with the resources to form their own border patrol and U.S. Border Patrol agents went to the Dominican Republic to give trainings and help the new force get off its feet. I went there and met with some border guards from the Dominican Republic on the northern Dominican-Haitian border. What you see is a very rudimentary version of the U.S.-Mexico border. The Dominican Republic has put up a wall but it looks more like protest barricades. There are agents sitting and watching their patch of border and making sure that no one gets across.

It’s a phenomenon that’s happening globally. There’ve been over 100 countries that the U.S. Border Patrol has traveled to give trainings on border security and in some cases help other countries form their own border policing units. Especially in the case of Iraq where they’ve been going for about seven years now and helping Iraq form it’s own border police—the same with Afghanistan. Wherever the United States has had some serious military efforts abroad that’s where we’ll then follow up with this notion of border security. In Central America if you look at some of the money the U.S. is giving to Central American countries, especially in the drug war effort, there’s money designated for different Central American countries to increase their border security and Border Patrol agents have gone into places like Honduras and Guatemala. And so you see it’s more and more of an international phenomenon. When I go to border security trade fairs there’s a significant foreign presence as more and more countries ramp up their border policing apparatus. That’s why the global market is increasing at 5 percent and it’s becoming a booming market.

TO: Who’s competing with the U.S. in this booming border security market?

TM: When I talk to experts in the United States they often cite Israel as a leader as far as this idea of development of national security technology used on a border. Israel is leading the charge. The University of Arizona has a science and technology park and they are one of the first that is actively trying to develop a border security cluster in the U.S., at least according to its CEO. They are trying to attract all kinds of companies who work on border security, border management technologies. I asked the CEO if it would be the most significant cluster of its kind in the world and he said, ‘No, Israel has the most significant cluster in the world’. This will be the first of its kind in the United States.

TO: So, do you think most Americans are unaware of all of these huge changes in border security?

TM: Yeah, I do. If you look at immigration reform and the ongoing debate rarely are the for profit interests mentioned. For instance, with the Senate passage of the immigration bill last June there was $46 billion going to border security technology, drones etc. You have all these private interests invested in this legislation passing with a huge package for border security. It’s something that needs to be talked about because it’s a significant actor especially if they have lobbyists in Washington. You go to a trade show and last year at the main one in Phoenix everyone was talking about immigration reform like a treasure trove for border security interests. That part of the comprehensive immigration reform package is not being debated. The reason not many people know about it, is because it’s not being discussed as it should be.

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Photo from Eddie Guerra's Facebook page

After the sudden—yet not entirely surprising—resignation Friday of embattled Sheriff Lupe Treviño, Hidalgo County moved quickly to appoint an interim sheriff Wednesday. The Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court appointed Precinct 4 Constable J.E. “Eddie” Guerra to run the law enforcement agency, one of the largest in the state with nearly 800 employees and a $44 million budget.

County residents will have an opportunity to elect a new sheriff in the November general election. The Monitor in McAllen reported that 12 candidates applied to replace Treviño as interim sheriff and there were three finalists up for consideration Wednesday. Guerra, the only elected official in the running, was chosen by unanimous vote after about 25 minutes of deliberation.

The 52-year-old Guerra will resign from the constable position immediately and begin serving as sheriff Thursday. “The message that I really want to give out is that we’re going to start restoring accountability back to the Sheriff’s Office,” Guerra said, according to The Monitor. “We’re going to hold these people accountable—the deputies accountable for their actions—from now on. We’re not going to make any excuses for any troubles.”

Treviño, in his resignation letter submitted to County Judge Ramon Garcia last week, said that Texas’ “eighth largest sheriff’s office deserves dedicated and focused attention which I have not been able to give it.” The 65-year-old has dealt with a series of scandals since ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI arrested his son Jonathan Treviño, a former Mission police officer, in December 2012. Jonathan and other officers associated with the Panama Unit—including five Hidalgo County deputies—were indicted for “conspiring to possess with intent to distribute” cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.

Shortly after the Panama Unit bust, James Phil “JP” Flores, who ran the sheriff’s Crime Stoppers program, and 47-year-old warrants deputy Jorge Garza were also indicted along with Aida Palacios, an investigator with the district attorney’s office. According to federal indictments, the drug conspiracy centered on local drug dealers Fernando Guerra Sr. and his son Fernando Jr.—also indicted—who helped set up fake drug stings with the corrupt cops to rip off other local dealers and then sell their drugs.

In December of 2013, Treviño’s management of the law enforcement agency was dealt yet another blow when Commander Jose “Joe” Padila, a close ally and integral part of the sheriff’s re-election campaigns was indicted for drug trafficking and money laundering in connection with a known Weslaco drug trafficker, Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez. Padilla has pled not guilty and is still awaiting trial.

Treviño received two $5,000 cash donations from “El Gallo” Gonzalez. Treviño told The Monitor that Padilla had delivered the campaign donations but that he rejected the money. Gonzalez also paid for campaign re-election signs for Treviño.

Federal agents don’t seem close to ending their investigation, which only spells more trouble for the embattled Treviño who, to date, has not been charged with any crime. On March 10, Texas Rangers and federal agents executed a search warrant at the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office and confiscated a computer. Two weeks later Treviño’s Chief of Staff Maria “Pat” Medina resigned for “personal reasons.” Medina is also Treviño’s campaign treasurer.

Treviño’s replacement, Guerra, will be sworn in tomorrow. Guerra has worked in Hidalgo County law enforcement since 1995. He has also worked as a reserve deputy for the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office. In a press release sent out late Wednesday, Guerra called his new appointment “nerve racking” but said he feels he can make a difference at the troubled sheriff’s agency.

“My first order of business tomorrow after I submit my bond and I am officially sworn into Office; is to address the hard working men and women at the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “I am going to challenge them to work with me to regain the public’s trust and admiration and lift the dark cloud over the Sheriff’s Office.”