On the border of the law: A case study analysis of Operation Stonegarden on the U.S.-Mexico border



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The past three Presidential Administrations have made a point to increase the militarization of the Southwest border by increasing the alliance between federal and civil policing agencies. Operation Stonegarden (OPSG)—a post 9/11 federal grant program used to enhance the cooperation between federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to secure the United States borders has remained under the radar for much of the immigration debate. Among the few familiar with the Operation, it provokes heated debates due to its operational misuse through racial profiling and as a force multiplier to Border Patrol. Unlike highly visible 287(g) cousin, Operation Stonegarden has remained a discreet but crucial budget enhancement program for borderland policing agencies. This qualitative study consisted of 18 in-depth interviews and field observations with Texan and New Mexican to law enforcement, city/county officials, and community leaders to understand how OPSG overlaps as an immigration enforcement program, the community perceptions, and the socio-economic factors that motivate public officials to partner their communities with Stonegarden despite its controversy. The results of this case study, in tandem with the theoretical frameworks, indicate that policing presence through OPSG expands immigration authority by redrawing the international boundary lines effectively pipelining undocumented migrants to Border Patrol when encountered by the local police, manifesting an Embedded Bordering of Authority. The social and economic factors driving Public Officials to take Stonegarden are varied sets of opinions as some claim its visual ‘dual component’ capability simultaneously acts as a speeder and an unauthorized entry deterrent and recreates a Panopticism across the borderland due to its overt surveillance system. On the same token, underpaid officers who risk their lives to serve and protect their communities, benefit from OPSG as a financial safety net to make ends meet. Lastly, this “boots on the ground” approach continues to be revisited not just through Stonegarden alone, but in the myriad of operations over time designed to restrict migration from multiple angles. In turn, Public Officials have subscribed to a Habitus of Enforcement—a false consciousness that justifies Stonegarden and other similar programs as “common sense practice” towards border control willfully ignoring the potential civil rights abuses while wasting taxpayer funds in the name of appeasing xenophobic insecurity fueled by centuries of anti-immigrant rhetoric.



Operation Stonegarden, Immigration Enforcement