Latino Voices

Latinos And Terrorism: In The Name Of National Security

In an analysis of post 9/11 security measures, journalist Michelle Garcia looks at the intersection of fear and national security and its impact on Latinos

The 2001 attacks carved a deep gash into Lower Manhattan, and scarred the minds of New Yorkers with memories of the collapsing Twin Towers that left 2,753 people dead. Ten years later, the nation can count two wars and a sprawling national security apparatus as a part of the legacy of that bright autumn day.

Less obvious in the calculus of the ‘post 9/11’ world that emerged is the 700-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, the unmanned drones that cruise into Mexico on the hunt for drug traffickers, an unprecedented level of immigrant deportations and one baggy pant wearing baby-faced Mexican kid known as ‘Puebla’—New York state’s first and only convicted terrorist.

With the term terrorist left undefined in the state laws adopted after the attacks, the profile of a ‘terrorist’ turned up unexpected face in 2004 when the Bronx district attorney unsealed an indictment Edgar Morales, aka "Puebla," on charges of terrorism in the killing of 10-year-old Malenny Mendez.

The DA argued that he and the other members of the St. James Boys street gang ‘terrorized’ the civilian neighborhoods of the West Bronx. But Michael Balboni, the Republican senator who sponsored New York’s anti terrorism statute, has said publicly that he envisioned the use of the ‘terrorism’ law in scenarios involving mass destruction and that its use in the Morales case was an “unanticipated application.”

Morales’ parents were shocked at the charge they associated with the 2001 attacks. “What is happening with the laws here,” asked Lourdes Morales, his mother told me in 2005. “Isn’t there a limit?”

A policy of mass deportation

Terrorism, which is a technique of violence, rather than an enemy, was housed within DHS and alongside with agencies responsible for two ongoing domestic issues-immigrants and drugs. After securing the nation against terrorism, DHS names securing the border and immigration as its top missions. The 9/11 Commission recommended improved screening at borders to detect potential threats and improvements to an “immigration system not able to deliver on its basic commitments, much less support counterterrorism.”

The effect was immediate in Washington Heights where Raquel Batista, then the executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, remembers the immigrant families that overwhelmed her office after a surge of Dominicans in deportation proceedings, many for drug convictions. “We felt the difference with immigration (agents) coming into communities to do raids and knocking on people’s doors in the morning,” Batista said. “People would come to my office and tell me they would come and say they had closed down the street on 179th for a raid.”

Since the 2001 attacks, the number of deportations has tripled with a record number of 400,000 immigrants removed last year alone. “There is a domestic component to the culture of fear--the fear of immigrant,” said Roberto Lovato, an activist and writer who has covered the intersection of national security and immigration. “We imported the fear of Al-Qaeda.”

Border security

Soon after, the federal government began work on a multi-billion dollar 700-mile fence on the U.S. Mexico border ostensibly to protect against terrorists, although suspected terrorists have entered through the northern border with Canada and with visas through airports. Drones used in Afghanistan have been deployed along the border and into Mexico in the fight against drug traffickers who have been deemed a threat to national security.

“It wasn’t accidental that counterterrorism is housed with immigration and customs because conceptually the two had been long linked,” said Strozier. “All of that had to be in the political culture and social culture of fear where people are willing to turn a blind eye.”

Last November, a state appeals court reduced Morales’ sentence saying his crime did not fit the definition of terrorism. The Bronx District Attorney declined requests for comment. Earlier this year an internal report compiled by the Transportation Security Administration found that security screeners at the Newark Airport regularly singled out Mexican and Dominican passengers for scrutiny of travel documents as a way to appear more ‘productive.’

A decade later the ‘war on terror’ fits firmly within the paradigm of national security. In July, the Obama Administration announced a new strategy against ‘transnational organized crime groups” that pose a threat to national security and threaten to destabilize nations. Among the four groups listed was the Zetas, a Mexican organized crime group responsible for countless killings and tied to the ongoing and lucrative human and drug smuggling trade.

A decade after then President George W. Bush said, “the object of terrorism is to try to force us to change our way of life,” one might argue that the fight against terrorism was grafted onto our way of life.

This article is part of a 9/11 Anniversary series from El Diario, to read more, please click here.

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