Information and Imagery in the Illegal Migration Crisis at the US-Mexico Border
In recent weeks, thousands of illegal migrants, many from Central America, have been flooding into the US across the US-Mexico border. The issue became widely publicized by US popular media when it was reported that ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was actually facilitating the transportation of these illegal migrants from Texas into other parts of the US, including California, Arizona, and the Washington DC area. While some have been transported directly to Border Patrol sites, such as in Murrieta, California,[i] other migrants reportedly have been dropped off at public bus terminals, apparently unimpeded from entry into the US as illegal residents.
This turn of events is becoming a focal point in US immigration policy reform. Ominously, state and federal authorities who have visited to inspect the facilities firsthand were not allowed to photograph the migrants or their living conditions. The images that have been released by those authorities administrating the shelters have been tightly controlled and calculated to serve the narrative of the US political left – images of wholesome, blameless family members huddling together, mothers changing their baby’s diapers, and so on, none of which would seem to justify the deportation of these migrants (or millions of others who live in the US illegally).
With diminished access to images that credibly challenge that depiction of who is crossing the US-Mexico border illegally, the US political right has struggled to find an angle to compel its constituents into action. This began to change over the past week, when reports circulated through public media claiming that MS-13 gang members were among the illegal Central American migrants. Attorney General Greg Abbott appeared on Fox News to express his concerns about such criminals entering the country, and his frustration over the inaction of federal authorities to secure the US border.[ii] Other reports have claimed that MS-13 is actively attempting to recruit new members at the migrant shelters.
MS-13 is a notoriously brutal international criminal organization. It is known for ultra-violence, and the extensively-tattooed appearance of its members. Its infamy can provide a degree of impetus for the US political right to marshal citizens and politicians to support a more vigilant enforcement of current immigration law. Crime scene photos, as well as those of snarling MS-13 members, are plentiful, and have the potential to provide a temporary counter-balance against the family-oriented migrant images disseminated by the Obama administration and others on the US political left. However, this issue has surfaced in US public media before, and it has not affected decisive response from US leadership. It will not compel US leadership here either, and it will not compel US citizenry to oppose the illegal migration surge beyond the immediate short term future.
The MS-13 angle is incidental and temporary, and will not result in long-term, comprehensive political opposition to the Central American migrants entering the US
MS-13 is well established in Central America, where many of these immigrants originate. It so happens that MS-13 members are among the current migrants awaiting entry into the US. Even if screening procedures are introduced, a few persons with highly visible tattoos can be removed and deported without returning the thousands of other migrants hoping to gain entry. But some younger MS-13 members are not extensively tattooed. In fact, their affiliation with MS-13 may not be indicated by any visual evidence available to US authorities. Screening for MS-13 members in such a fashion would not provide much protection for the American public and does not address the substance of the immigration debate.
Those who wish to deport the illegal migrants were wise to seize upon the MS-13 angle, but the story will soon be spent, and the US political right will need to find another angle to engage US citizens and certain government agencies to become involved in the enforcement of existing immigration laws. What is needed to continue to galvanize US citizens and government agencies is an angle that is less incidental than the presence of MS-13 members among the illegal migrants.
Tying the Central American Migrant Surge to Mexican Cartel activity will more reliably galvanize political support in favor of immigration law enforcement than will the MS-13 angle
One alternative to the ephemeral effects from the MS-13 angle is to widely disseminate knowledge to the US public that ties the immigration crisis on the US-Mexico border to well-known profit-generating activities of Mexican Cartels, whereby Central Americans pay cartel representatives for transportation through Mexico and illegal entry into the US.
The well-documented role of Mexican cartels in the transportation of Central American migrants and others illegally across the US-Mexico border is not incidental. Within Mexico’s underworld it is practically systemic. The organizations most directly associated with the transportation of Central American migrants into the US are those that control plazas on the US-Mexico border, including the Sinaloa Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Juarez Cartel, Gulf Cartel, and the Zetas. Some of these groups, particularly the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, are infamous also for exploiting Central American migrants at their mercy. Both groups have been accused by Mexican authorities of kidnapping, extorting, robbing, raping, and murdering thousands of such migrants since the cartel war intensified in 2006. The activities of these organizations have already yielded a cornucopia of compelling imagery involving violence, exploitation, and illegal immigration that dwarfs that of MS-13.
Most Americans do not yet comprehend that Mexico’s cartels wield greater control than the US government over illegal migration across the US-Mexico border. The revelation would not only invoke deep sentiments within the US public, it is readily verifiable through independent sources. The involvement of Mexico’s cartels in migrant smuggling is so widely accepted that widespread public understanding of the role of Mexico’s cartels in the current immigration crisis could result in certain US agencies becoming more directly involved in its resolution, possibly including DEA, ATF, FBI, DOD, and others. As this would mean greater attention to the enforcement of current US immigration law, greater attention from those agencies would not bode well for the Obama administration or the US political left, which ordinarily hamper agencies that aim to enforce federally mandated efforts of border control and immigration regulation.
From a security standpoint, a law enforcement standpoint, and a human rights standpoint, connecting Mexico’s cartels with the ongoing surge of illegal Central American migrants can apply unprecedented political pressure upon those US authorities that have thus far made a concerted effort not to control the US border and not to deport the illegal migrants. The connection can lend itself to a highly compelling body of imagery available through the internet, one that cannot be contained by migrant shelter organizers who may or may not be sheltering MS-13 gang members. While the MS-13 issue can be superficially addressed with spot-check measures to identify such individuals, effectively responding to the cartel connection would necessitate a more comprehensive response from government agencies. While the issue has been touched by some sources [iii] [iv] [v] [vi], it has not been covered with sufficient comprehensiveness or repetition to affect a wide American audience.
Without a more concerted and sustained media push into the relevance of Mexico’s cartels, the MS-13 story will quickly disappear from the headlines and the migrant surge can be expected to continue with marginal political opposition in the US.