The public will remember the Trump administration’s border policies for its visual horrors: a mother pulling her children away from tear gas launched over the border by US border authorities, Border Patrol agents dumping water left for migrants by aid groups, children sitting alone in chain-link cells after being taken from their parents. The cruel and complicated mess of Trump’s policy shifts could fill a small book, but it never made the same impression on the average observer. Images and symbols drove public anger. And over the last four years, there has been no clearer representation of Trump’s anti-immigrant fervor than the border wall.
After four years of outrage, the Biden administration faces a dilemma. Its voters expect a change, but many of his advisers fear a border surge and are torn between competing visions of immigration policy: Is it primarily a humanitarian or a national security issue? As part of a series of day-one executive actions, the president halted construction of the wall and stopped new enrollments in the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which forced asylum seekers to wait in often-dangerous circumstances in Mexico for their US immigration hearings. He has yet to say what exactly he’ll do about the thousands of troops stationed along the border, but we can generally expect him to pursue a softer, less militarized public image of border enforcement.
An enticing alternative is the “smart” wall, where advanced surveillance tech replaces steel bollards and armed patrol routes. While the full text of the immigration legislative proposal Biden sent to Congress has not been made public, a fact sheet distributed to reporters contains a section titled “Supplement existing border resources with technology and Infrastructure,” which calls for additional funding to, among other things, “enhance the ability to process asylum seekers” and “manage and secure the southern border between ports of entry that focuses on flexible solutions and technologies that expand the ability to detect illicit activity.”
Many Democrats have embraced aerial drones, infrared cameras, motion sensors, radar, facial recognition, and artificial intelligence as more humane ways to reach the shared, if somewhat amorphous, goal of border security. “It has been easy for politicians to point to border security technology as a fallback option if they just don’t like the idea of physical barriers,” said Jessica Bolter, associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. These implements have the veneer of scientific impartiality and rarely produce contentious imagery, which makes them both palatable to a broadly apathetic public and insidiously dangerous. Read Full Article >