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CBP’s deterrence policies harm U.S. citizens, too

By Maria Hernandez Pinto

A chilling exposé unveiled former President Trump’s purported immigration policy plans, which would bring sweeping raids and mass deportations if he were to be re-elected. 

The lethal consequences of border militarization and “prevention through deterrence” policies on migrants are well-documented. Prevention through deterrence, a staple of U.S. border policy since the mid-1990s, creates obstacles and intensifies the dangers of border crossing in an attempt to dissuade individuals from attempting the journey. 

Prevention through deterrence has manifested in the form of razor wire on the border wall and the criminalization of individuals engaging in humanitarian acts. Since 1998, prevention through deterrence has led to 7,505 official migrant deaths, a number widely understood to be undercounted.  

What proponents of these policies often fail to realize is that they not only affect migrants but also, as forthcoming research reveals, jeopardize the safety of U.S. citizens, particularly Black and brown border residents and “anyone who looks Mexican.” 

Supporters of this approach have implemented policies such as the 100-mile border enforcement zone, which suspends ordinary constitutional rights related to search and seizure, granting U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials an extended reach over individuals within 100 miles of the border.  

Many call this area, home to two-thirds of the U.S. population, the “Constitution-free zone.” 

Internal Department of Homeland Security reports uncovered by Human Rights Watch include allegations of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, as well as due process violations, denial of medical care, and discriminatory treatment at or near the border. A 2016 CBP report acknowledged rampant corruption and excessive use of force within the agency. U.S. citizens bear the brunt of this over-reach as they represent 96% percent of those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border annually

Forthcoming research published in the American Behavioral Scientist examines the firsthand experiences of U.S. citizens living in the 100-mile border enforcement zone with CBP officials, illustrating the agency’s failure to uphold its commitment to professionalism, courtesy, and respect for human dignity. 

“I’ve had hostile interactions with Border Patrol … I’ve had negative experiences with that agency … my citizenship is constantly in question, based on how I look,” said Sonia, a 28-year-old woman from Tucson. 

Black and brown citizens reported being the subject of constant interrogations by CBP officials due to the presumptions of illegality and racialized policing in the United States. 

Questioning and inspections transcend mere inconvenience, often escalating into unfounded assumptions of drug smuggling. Interview participants report feeling scared, intimidated, and vulnerable during these encounters. CBP has employed drug-sniffing dogs and subjected Latino American citizens to random car inspections, even destroying property without reason. 

Black and brown U.S. citizens, in particular, face prolonged questioning and secondary inspections. These experiences erode their sense of safety, security, and belonging, as their citizenship does not shield them from CBP’s intrusive measures. 

The repercussions extend beyond the immediate border zone. A study published by JAMA Pediatrics found that U.S. citizens youth with family members detained or deported faced higher odds of developing suicidal ideation and alcohol use later in life. 

Media coverage of immigration events, coupled with shared social ties among U.S. citizens and non-citizen Latinos, have led immigration-related stressors and adversities to infiltrate the lives of U.S. citizen parents. Latino youth experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues in middle school have a greater chance of developing sleep problems, unhealthy weight gain, and sedentary behavior in high school, according to a study led by researchers at George Washington University

Prevention through deterrence may purport to put “America first,” but it does the opposite. These strategies impact American citizens, particularly children of immigrants, and render some second-class citizens. Without substantial changes, the rights of American citizens will continue to be disregarded, with disastrous impacts on their well-being. 

Maria Hernandez Pinto, a fellow at the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute, is an experienced non-profit professional dedicated to advocating for the Latinx community, particularly in the areas of workers’ and women’s rights. She is a student at the College of Professional Studies at George Washington University and holds a BA in Political Science from Pitzer College.


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