For Madison Sweitzer and Ben Blevins of the Highland Support Project, buildup of militarized border protections, overpolicing of poor and minority populations, and massive wealth inequality all have a common root: the US’s colonialist settler-state mentality.
The United States is a settler state. Settlers enter into the territory and make it their own, in contrast with immigrants, who assimilate into their new home’s laws and customs. This situation is not unique to the United States. This same dynamic is found in Israeli settlers displacing Palestinians, the Spanish conquest of Indigenous lands in Guatemala, and the forced assimilation of the Uyghurs in China. In all of these cases, the settler-state status has led to aggressive and malicious attempts to eliminate or forcefully assimilate the Indigenous populations.
Today in the United States, the settler state dynamic continues to manifest itself by pushing out unwanted populations through the militarization of borders, the criminalization of migration, and the policing of poverty. These tactics correlate with the increasing wealth gap, and will only be further exacerbated by climate change.
The militarized US border was fueled last year by President Trump’s $11 billion investment, according to NPR. The border is a major economic enterprise, with private military companies such as General Dynamics successfully lobbying for $113 million, according to Yes! Magazine. This massive influx in funding is what allows the current militarization: prisons are being converted into large-scale detention centers that are trapping migrants en masse, with more than 50,000 people held in ICE facilities, 20,000 held in customs and border protection facilities, and more than 11,000 children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, according to The Atlantic. The incredible amount of funding for the border will only continue to shape it into a violent and aggressive militarized zone.
This imprisonment of individuals and families at the border has also criminalized the action of migration. Asylum laws state that migrants escaping conflict should qualify as refugees and receive a protected status upon arrival, but this is not the reality. According to the Campaign to End Immigrant Family Detention, the enactment of the Secure Border Initiative in 2005 pushed the Department Of Homeland Security to shift from a “catch and release” to “catch and return” tactic, where detention and deportation have become the norm with little regard given to the possibility of valid asylum claims. Attempting to migrate to the US means nearly guaranteed imprisonment in a detention facility with limited freedom and poor access to healthcare, education, and proper conditions for children.
As military forces at the borders control unwanted populations, police officers around the country are on a similar track with their control over populations in poverty. The book Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter explains that as police take on zero tolerance crime policies, they can drive out unwanted populations from a community. With zero-tolerance policing, officers use stop and search, a key tactic of zero-tolerance policing that enables them to target impoverished and minority populations. The racism of these practices means that 1 in 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by the police in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 2,000 for all men and 1 in 33,000 for all women, according to the PNAS.
Meanwhile, wealth inequality is growing exponentially. The average household income of the top 1 percent rose 226 percent from 1979 to 2016, while the income for the majority of the population grew just 47 percent over the same period, according to The Council on Foreign Relations. The same study revealed that considering race makes the disparities even harsher, with the median wealth of white households tripling since 1960, while the wealth of Black households has barely increased. Reallocating spending toward social protection and infrastructure is associated with reduced income inequality in stable countries, particularly when it is financed through cuts in defense spending, such as the massive budget used for border control, according to an IMF study. However, if the US government only continues to channel funds into militarizing the border and its police force, there is little left for improving social services.
Our world’s environmental status will only increase migration and the “othering” of populations. Global climate change is exacerbating migration as people become climate refugees and flee areas plagued by flooding, agricultural insecurity, drought, extreme weather patterns, unpredictable crop markets, etc. Climate-related migration is worldwide, affecting the United States and Israel as settler states, and well as sending migrants out of Central America. Still, it creates an especially unjust dynamic in the United States, where they will likely continue to turn away migrants who are fleeing the impact of a crisis that the US is largely to blame for.
The concept of a settler state, and the mentality and actions that result from it, have always been and will continue to be dangerous and discriminatory. Hopefully, as movements such as Black Lives Matter grow in strength and support, this dynamic will shift.
Highland Support Project (HSP), based in Richmond, Virginia, seeks to support Indigenous communities and their right to be with their culture and community and on their land. On Sunday, September 27th, Ben Blevins, the director of HSP, will be engaging in a virtual discussion with Muna Hijazi about increasing global migration and militarization. Muna Hijazi is a progressive organizer who currently works for the Arizona Advocacy Network and is the CEO and founder of Moon Sun Mountains Consulting. Muna will bring her expertise from connecting Middle Eastern immigrants and indigenous American communities, as well as her personal experiences as a Palestinian-American.
Note: Op-Eds are contributions from guest writers and do not reflect editorial policy.