Immigrant families fleeing civil strife must give up their privacy in new ways.
Under mounting political pressure from its northern neighbor, Mexico has been allowing agents of the United States deep into its territory to allow the bulk collection of biometric data, such as fingerprints and retinal scans, from Central American migrants fleeing domestic violence and civil conflict in their own homeland.
The questionable legality of any of this aside, Trump’s aggressive, nativist immigration policy is placing undue strain on a program that has made Mexico and the U.S. unlikely partners in the fight to stop the flow of undocumented labor across their shared border. This change has also contributed to the violent torture and killings of both migrants and local indigenous populations at the hands of Mexican immigration officials.
The U.S.’ intention behind collecting this data remains relatively unclear at the moment, compounding the difficulties faced by this population. Migrants traveling through Mexico without documentation have been susceptible to exploitation from both regional criminal organizations and governments. While the U.S. insists this program will be used to deter crime, its results so far have been less than convincing: out of 21,000 scanned in 2017, only eight were known gang members.
This quiet, unprecedented cooperation between borderland neighbors has unfortunate points of comparison to the disastrous Bracero Program of the ’40s and ’50s, when an entire generation of Mexican men were abused at the hands of American business owners. And just as the braceros were treated as the second-class citizens of the era, this project dehumanizes migrant workers and hijacks their personal agency, processing them the way a researcher tags an animal in the wild.
The United States’ policies perpetuate the abuse of one of the most historically oppressed populations in the world, and this biometric database is nothing more than an attempt to understand and regulate a black market for its own gains.
Words by Jack Long
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