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Border Patrol proposed using a 'pain-inducing heat ray' on migrants. That's not okay.

Though the United States is yet to officially use the heat ray, the plan to do so has been described as pointlessly cruel if not downright dystopian

Border Patrol proposed using a 'pain-inducing heat ray' on migrants. That's not okay.
Image Source: Migrant Caravan Crosses Into Mexico From Guatemala. CIUDAD TECUN UMAN, GUATEMALA - OCTOBER 19. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Trigger Warning: Detailed descriptions of torture

In 2018, officials from the United States Customs and Border Patrol filed a proposal to use a "non-lethal military directed-energy weapon" that had the potential to induce agonizing pain against migrants attempting to cross the border from South America, Forbes reports. The weapon was intended to force these individuals, fleeing terrible circumstances such as war and poverty in their own countries, to turn back. The proposal was made following a call from President Donald Trump to exercise "extreme action." Thankfully, it was never passed. However, the weapon is still in the possession of the United States and could be deployed at any time, which poses deeply problematic humanitarian concerns.


The technology was developed by the United States Air Force Research Laboratory and Raytheon as a substitute for using rifle and machine gun rounds against civilians while defending the perimeter of a military base in a combat zone or other high-risk environment. The department reportedly began work on the project over two decades ago as a means to give soldiers a "non-lethal" way to handle civilian mobs or suspicious interlopers on the perimeter of overseas military bases. Named the Active Denial System (ADS), the device is mounted on a truck and can affect multiple people at a range of up to one mile away. In technical terms, the weapon uses a gyrotron which silently emits a very high frequency of a microwave-like beam (about 95-gigahertz). This beam has the ability to penetrate clothing as well as heat sweat or water molecules on the surface of the skin to 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 C).


A victim of the ADS will experience nothing short of physical torture; a feeling described as similar to pressing a hot fluorescent light bulb to one's skin. The sensation is said to compel an individual to immediately jump or run away on reflex. Some studies have claimed that the pain, which is supposed to dissipate within seconds, lingers on in the form of a tingling that can last several hours. The proposal to use the ADS on the border was submitted two weeks prior to the 2018 midterm elections, after President Trump called for "extreme action" against migrants crossing the US-Mexico border into the United States. It was former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen who stopped the proposal from moving forward.


At the time, she was working on implementing the Trump administration policy of separating families. She allegedly informed an aid that the concept "should never be brought up again in her presence." Apparently, the device is non-lethal and non-harmful. According to the Pentagon, injuries only occur in one out of every 1,000 exposures. A study of thousands of human volunteers, nonetheless, found that the ADS caused experienced second-degree burns including blistering in a few cases. Those with piercings, tattoos, and contact lenses could suffer more harmful effects. There is also the potential to cause greater harm through prolonged exposure, for instance, if the weapon were used for torture.


This is not the first time the United States has proposed using the ADS. In the 2000s, military officers were asked to deploy the weapon in order to "quell violent protests in Iraq." These requests were denied. Perhaps this is because the weapon, though potentially less fatal than rifles and machine guns, is still a threat to humanity. "Contemplating using a high-tech pain-ray against impoverished migrant men, women, and children often fleeing criminal violence in their home communities and who are unlikely to pose [a] deadly threat is pointlessly cruel if not downright dystopian," aerospace and defense expert Sebastien Roblin writes for Forbes. "Of course if the intent is to use the system in service of xenophobic political theater, [the] use of excessive force may very well be the point."



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