Why Interdiction? Immigration Control at the United States- Mexico ...

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Immigration Control at the. United States±Mexico Border. JOSIAH MCC. HEYMAN. Department of Social Sciences, Michigan Technological University,1400 ...
Regional Studies, Vol. 33.7, pp. 619± 630

Why Interdiction? Immigration Control at the United States± Mexico Border J O S I AH M C C . H E Y M A N Department of Social Sciences, Michigan Technological University,1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49931-1295 U SA (Received September 1998; in revised form November 1998) H EYM AN J. MCC. (1999) Why interdiction? Immigration control at the United States± Mexico border, Reg. Studies 33, 619± 630. International borders are open to some movements and forbid others. These roles appear to be opposites, with intensi® ed cross-border transactions accompanied by a heightened interdiction of unauthorized immigrants and narcotics. This is an outcome of the contradictory political interests and ideas which promote and oppose globalization. These political processes not only shape general policies, but are expressed in the speci® c tasks and technologies applied by border control agencies. They are revealed through detailed ethnographic ® eldwork on U S agencies on the Mexican border, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (I NS), its Border Patrol and Inspection branches, the U S Customs and the military. Interdiction

Border controls



H EYM AN J. M C C. (1999) Pourquoi l’interdiction de seÂjour?: le controÃle de l’immigration aÁ la frontieÁre entre les EtatsUnis et la Mexique, Reg. Studies 33, 619± 630. A la frontieÁre, la circulation est tantoÃt libre, tantoÃt interdite. Ces deux possibilite s semblent eÃtre opposeÂes, eÂtant donne l’intensi® cation des opeÂrations transfrontalieÁres, conjointement avec l’interdiction renforceÂe des sans-papiers et des stupe® ants. Ceci est le reÂsultat des inteÂreÃts et des ideÂes politiques contradictoires en faveur de et contre la mondialisation. Ces processus politiques ne font que formuler les politiques geÂneÂrales, mais s’ expriment aussi dans les taÃches et les technologies speÂci® ques appliqueÂes par les forces de l’ordre aÁ la frontieÁre. Ils se font jour aÁ partir des eÂtudes ethnographiques des forces de l’ordre ameÂricaines aÁ la frontieÁre mexicaine, y compris les services de l’immigration et de la naturalisation, ses divisions de la surveillance et du controÃle, la douane, et l’armeÂe. Interdiction Stupe® ants

ControÃle de l’immigration Etats-Unis Mexique


United States


H EYM A N J. M C C. (1999) Warum Verbote? Einwanderungskontrolle an der Grenze zwischen Mexiko und den Vereinigten Staaten, Reg Studies 33, 619± 630. Internationale È berschreitungen, waÈhrend sie Grenzen gestatten gewisse U andere verbieten. Sie scheinen entgegengesetzte Rollen zu spielen, wobei verstaÈrkte grenzuÈberschreitende Transaktionen von schaÈrferen Verboten nicht genehnigter Einwanderung und unerlaubter Einfuhr von Rauschgiften begleitet zu sein scheinen. Dies ist ein Ergebnis widerspruÈchlicher politischer Interessen und Ideen, welche sich fuÈr Globalisation einsetzen und widersetzen. Diese politischen VorgaÈnge praÈgen sich auch in spezi® schen Aufgaben und Technologien aus, die von Grenzkontrollstellen angewandt werden. Diese Befunde sind das Ergebnis ins einzelne gehender ethnogra® scher Feldforschung, die sich mit Grenzkonstrollen der Vereinigten Staaten an der mexikanischen Grenze beschaÈftigen, einschlieû lich zustaÈndiger Stellen fuÈ r Einwanderung und EinbuÈrgerung (Immigration & Naturalisation Service IN S), den Grenzkontroll-und Inspektionszweigen, den ZollbehoÈrden der U SA und dem MilitaÈr. Verbot Grenzkontrollen Wanderung Rauschgifte Vereinigte Staaten Mexiko

I N T E N S I F I E D I N T E RD I C T I O N I N A N E RA O F RE L A X E D B O RD E RS : P A RA D OX O R C O N S E Q UE N C E ? Interdiction seeks to stop ¯ ows of goods or people by intercepting them in movement, often at or near international boundaries. At certain borders, for certain ¯ ows, interdiction is growing today in terms of the size and sophistication of police powers. Why should this be? I have proposed that we view borders as the 0034-3404/99/070619-12 ©1999 Regional Studies Association

intersection of several dimensions (H EYM A N , 1994), all of which shed light on the question. Borders are the spatial edges of territories governed by social `rules of the game’, many of them expressed as laws. In a given place, de® ned rules enable capitalists and other transactors to realize value, but further increments of value are found in the spatial disparities between sets of rules. Value can thus be gained by moving across borders. Borders often have a salient public image because they mark the outer spatial edges of meaningful


J. McC. Heyman

social rules. Simultaneously, the conceptual boundaries of rules are viewed as dangerous and powerful (D O U G LAS , 1966). Taken together, all these dimensions sustain local border populaces, which in turn induce nations to de® ne borders yet more strongly (S A H L I NS , 1989). Often motivated by the search for added value, people or goods are subject to interdiction when they enter a space where they violate rules. Interdiction involves both the practical and symbolic dimensions of borders: practical, because border crossing brings illegality into being; and symbolic, because when borders are seen as perilous, their reinforcement is vital. Strongly implied by borders though it may be, boundary interdiction is not inherent. Entry may be the ® rst illegal moment, but that illegal status extends in time and space (laws can be enforced later), often involving people and activities in the national interior (see H EYM A N , 1998a). Logically, interdiction is not the only way to halt an illegal process. I aim to problematize interdiction, to turn it from a taken-forgranted aspect of borders into an object of social scienti® c inquiry. First, why use this form of rule imposition for a given issue? That is, why make the border crucial? To approach this, I will delineate alternatives to interdiction, thereby indicating a social process, rather than a purely tactical one, in choosing the means of border enforcement. Second, what do we know about the practice of border interdiction? While not inherent, it is widespread and important. Yet we have surprisingly few social scienti® c descriptions of it (but see A N DR EA S , 1999a, 1999b), and we especially lack sustained observations. Important clues as to how, and why, it is chosen lie buried in the matrix of daily law enforcement practices, waiting to be uncovered by careful ® eldwork. Interdiction is all the more interesting because it is strengthening while borders otherwise slacken as lines of division. As states consolidated over the last several centuries, they sought to render their spatial rules clear, distinct and deliverable. Of course, many borders failed to live up to this aim, or local populaces subverted it, but it was the generally acknowledged ideal of a modern border. Recently, however, governments have harmonized, or mutually recognized, certain rules (given them similar principles and even speci® c content), thus reducing spatial disjunctures, as seen in market-blocs like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Union, as well as global initiatives like the General Agreement on TariVs and Trade (GATT). Harmonization across borders has its limits, however, ensuring the persistence of border interdiction. We should ask, therefore, what rules are not harmonized across borders and why, and under what circumstances is boundary interdiction reproduced and expanded? Two general responses to those questions will emerge after we consider the persistence of US border law enforcement against undocumented Mexican immig-

rants in the NAFTA era. Mexicans have migrated without formal US permission since the late 1870s, and the US has interdicted this ¯ ow since the 1924 founding of the Border Patrol. We cannot here delve into this long and complicated history (see B ACH , 1978; G A RC I A , 1980; M A S S EY et al., 1987; C A LAV ITA , 1992; H EYM A N , 1998b) but a few characteristics emerge over time. First, undocumented Mexican migration occurs whenever border crossing is restricted, only disappearing during extended depressions or while the US has a massive legal guestworker programme (e.g. the Bracero programmme, 1942± 65, especially after 1954). Second, extensive economic and social practices (housing, employment, etc.) in the interiors of both states sustain undocumented immigration (S T OD DAR D , 1976). Migration is treated as a border question because the entry takes place and the US focuses its interdictive eVort there, but this emphasis is incomplete and at times misleading. Third, undocumented Mexican migration has been a focus of US nativism since at least the mid-1920s. Finally, US interdictive law enforcement has strengthened even as the border signi® cantly relaxed as a rule boundary. In 1965, Mexico launched a programme to attract assembly plants (the maquiladoras) to its border cities, which caused them to grow quite rapidly. Post-1965 manufacturing and other US investments in Mexico, along with longer-established linkages to Canada, served as a run-up to the 1994 NAFTA treaty. The free trade agreement itself, environmental and labour side-agreements, and a unilateral Mexican policy of investment and property liberalization, signi® cantly reduced US± Mexico disparities in spatial bounded rules, consonant with the established pattern of the US and Canada. The Canadian± US border has only a few barrier or inspection functions, and the Mexico± US border is changing in this direction. However, two issues persist on both borders: narcotics and immigration. Because of the overall harmony of US and Canadian social patterns, these persistent concerns do not demand intensive boundary policing. However, US policing has become quite massive on the Mexican border, with much of its growth recent. For example, in 1994, when NAFTA was signed, the Border Patrol, the uniformed police arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), deployed approximately 4,000 oYcers. In 1998, four years into NAFTA, the Patrol had almost 8,000 oYcers, most of them concentrated on the Mexican border and Congress authorized that the Patrol grow to 12,000 oYcers over the next four years (Migration News, 1998a). Fundamentally, immigration interdiction persists amidst border reform for two reasons, well-illustrated by the US± Mexico border but generally applicable throughout the world. Firstly, current trends harmonize laws governing investment, property ownership and the trade of goods, but by no means do they harmonize the legal status of peoples moving between states.

Why Interdiction? Immigration Control at the United States± Mexico Border Mexicans can legally immigrate to the US, but they are restricted by US numerical quotas. This is in sharp contrast with the ease of US citizen entry into Mexico. These disparate approaches to harmonization appear to facilitate the transfer of commodities and return on investment while perpetuating international inequalities in social wages (the typical level of wages plus corporate and governmental redistributive bene® ts). A USowned, US-exporting Mexican auto stamping and assembly plant has a US$672 per vehicle labour cost advantage over a comparable US plant (S HA I KE N , 1990, p. 32). In this and related instances, immigration interdiction: (a) maintains the distinction between the two polities that undergirds their diVerent social wages; (b) restricts the free market movement of labour relative to those social wages; while (c) facilitating the transfer of commodities produced in Mexico to US consumers whose purchasing power re¯ ects their higher social wage; and (d) enabling the investment of capital in this process and the recovery of pro® t from it. We thus expect strong immigration interdiction on borders between core and periphery nations, while immigration control declines or disappears between core nations. In the case of NAFTA, the core± periphery division exists inside the free trade region. The second reason for the persistence of immigration interdiction stems from nationalist reactions to global restructuring. As an organizational form, the nationstate has great ability to unify people (W O R S L EY, 1984, pp. 235± 95). In periods of rapid change, nationalist ideologies provide eVective collective mobilization. On the one hand, nationalism inspires groups opposed to domestic change and international harmonization; on the other hand, selective nationalist gestures help political elites retain oYce while they modify investment and property laws in non-nationalist ways. Interdiction is the quintessential expression of the national idea; drawing a strict limit around the body politic, it characterizes goods and people arriving at the border as potential contaminants to be kept out or inspected and allowed in under certain conditions. The US± Mexico border, as a high-water mark of past conquest (M O NT E JANO , 1987), as well as the contemporary limit of US prosperity (the social wage), is readily imagined to delineate the American-nationalist collectivity. A margin always in danger of penetration or confusion, it focuses hostility and defensiveness. The Mexican border is a key image of economic and social change in the US, as the public has witnessed the gradual movement of manufacturing to Mexico since 1965, culminating in the controversial NAFTA treaty. Importantly, US nationalism blurs general concerns about societal change with a speci® c fear of illegal in® ltration along the Mexican border. Analysing letters written to him as director of the Center for US± Mexican Studies, C O R N EL I U S , 1982, ® nds a combination of worries about changing US society, international competition and loss of jobs, and


undocumented immigration across the Mexican border. This 1982 analysis holds even more strongly for the current decade, marked in the US by a peculiar mixture of global investment euphoria and fear of foreigners (P ER E A , 1997; H EYM A N , 1998c, 1998d). Because of reactive nationalism, reducing barriers to some ¯ ows of value does not contradict but instead heightens barriers to other ¯ ows, expressed politically as demands for more powerful boundary policing operations. Although these two arguments explain the general contours of US border policy, it helps to review certain speci® c points about undocumented immigration to the US (summarized from H EYM A N , 1998d, 1998e). Undocumented Mexican immigrants toil in congeries of agriculture, light manufacturing and urban services (C O R N EL I U S , 1989). Their employers, most of whom face volatile and highly competitive conditions (and some of whom struggle with global competition themselves ± see S A S S E N , 1988), eagerly hire the covert and relatively exploitable immigrants. Politically, such employers have been able to prevent law enforcement coming their way, as we shall see shortly, but they typically cannot set an immigration policy that directly serves their interests (by opening or shutting the border, by winking at illegal entry or by tolerating a large ¯ ow of stigmatized migrants). Instead, domestic antiimmigrationism, as outlined above, underwrites border enforcement policy. The recent increase in interdiction described in this paper almost certainly has made undocumented entry harder, and in that sense the US does pursue its manifest goal, halting illegal entry. However, despite being harder to accomplish, illegal border crossing has not significantly declined, which re¯ ects both the immense eVorts undocumented Mexican immigrants make to overcome the border barrier and the widespread acts of everyday assistance (from employers, landlords, smugglers and relatives) in both states. In summary, US undocumented migration policy has a covert functional side and a more overt symbolic side, both of them stigmatizing undocumented Mexican people (H EYM A N , 1998e, p. 161, pp. 173± 74). Nationalism, which strongly supports border action, combined with employer interests which weaken interior law enforcement, leaves little room for alternatives to interdiction. Employer sanctions, laws against hiring undocumented aliens, are ¯ accidly enforced (C A LAV ITA , 1990; see also C A LAV I TA , 1982). The manpower dedicated to them is less than one-eighth that of the Border Patrol.1 Also, undocumented immigrants easily obtain fraudulent documents that short-circuit the law (C H AV EZ , 1992, p. 169). However, an obvious solution, a national identi® cation card and centralized database (US C O M M I S S I O N O N I M M I G R AT I O N R E FO R M , 1994), has had no `political life’ during the 1994± 98 period when border enforcement more than doubled. Consistent with its weak identi® cation system, the US practices little enforcement in interior immigrant areas


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(except a few close to the border). Instead, Mexicans are arrested at the southern boundary in numbers far exceeding their percentage of US undocumented immigrants (E S P ENS H A DE , 1990, p. 161; F I X a n d P A S S EL , 1994, p. 24; US INS, 1997, pp. 165, 183). These observations lead ineluctably to concluding that the US prefers border enforcement to confronting the support for undocumented migration in interior society.2 Furthermore, US immigration policy is subordinate to the interests of ¯ uid international ® nancial capital when it comes to using development policy to limit undocumented immigration ¯ ows (on this approach, see C O M M I S S I O N FO R T HE S T U DY OF I N T ER NAT I O NA L M I G R AT I ON A N D C O O P ER A T I V E E C O NO M I C D EV ELO PM E NT , 1990). A strong case can be made that the rapid withdrawal of external stock market and other speculative capital from Mexico in 1994, damaging its domestic economy (M A R I C H A L , 1997), caused a signi® cant increase in undocumented entry to the US, even though border enforcement was intensifying at the same time. Pulling back from the details of US± Mexico border policy, we perceive an overall pattern. There are alternatives to boundary interdiction; it is not necessary that particular illegal practices be controlled at the boundary. But disproportionately they are, because even as other ¯ ows and rules are harmonized across boundaries, these practices retain their capacity for stigmatizing `outsider’ populations and limiting (though not halting) their access to symbolic and material values (H EYM A N , 1998e). The hidden assumptions of interdiction can be ferreted out by careful analysis of everyday law enforcement at the US± Mexico border.3 Notably, US politics mandate that border agencies realize a rather Utopian vision, physically sealing the boundary to dangerous penetration while maintaining it open to other ¯ ows and realizations of value. In the following four sections, I ® rst review the Border Patrol, an agency dedicated to sealing the border to undocumented immigrants and arresting those who attempt illegal entry. By the close of that section, we will see why undocumented immigration persists in spite of the eVort directed against it. I next turn to narcotics interdiction. Although this paper focuses on immigration, the oYcial agencies and individual oYcers typically combine immigration and drug law enforcement with the prestigious and wellfunded world of narcotics interdiction shaping the smaller, but rapidly growing practice of immigration interdiction. In border interdiction, the US military started with narcotics but is sliding into immigration control, so I review this dramatic process next. Finally, I describe ports of entry, which undertake the contradictory roles of facilitating legitimate entry and commerce while interdicting illegal ¯ ows. Some of the limitations of US border interdiction, especially their local compromises, are most clear at ports of entry. Throughout these four descriptive sections, I refer to the INS and other border agencies as the `local state’ .

They are literally that, for as ® eld units of federal US agencies they operate in the speci® c social, economic and cultural setting of the border. However, my aim is not to advocate pure localism in border studies, for observing the US state in action reveals that some interdiction is locality-denying, a nationally-mandated technique oblivious to its regional setting, while other interdiction is woven densely into local society. Pulling together these analytical threads such as the ideology of border sealing and the locality-denying approach, in the conclusion I revisit my original question ± why interdiction? ± with the de facto practices of border interdiction revealed. T H E B O RD E R P AT RO L The work of the Border Patrol is quite diverse, from walking city streets, boarding northbound buses and stopping traYc at ® xed checkpoints, to monitoring brushlands at night with electronic sensors, night vision stations, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles. Patrol oYcers identify the nationality and immigration status of persons, some whom they have seen cross the border and others who are presumed to have done so, and then make arrests of anyone who is `out of status’ in the US (`in status’ refers to citizens, legal immigrants and admitted visitors). Acknowledging its complexity, I divide the Patrol’s duties into two clusters: control operations in close proximity to the boundary; and arresting people after they have crossed. The former set of tasks, termed `stillwatch’, approximates the pure concept of interdiction as physically sealing the border. It is thus interesting to hear a Patrol oYcer describe the experience of serving as a human border wall: On stillwatch you’re assigned an area, that one little area, and you hold back a whole lot of people. A lot won’t come across, they’ll just sit and watch you, waiting for a shift change for 30 or 40 to get past. . . . There are stillwatch guys on both sides, and a backup unit goes back and forth to relieve your tensions. I’ ll tell him, my tensions are driving me crazy.

Stillwatch is physically exhausting, stressful, and while partially eVective, hardly impenetrable. In addition to stationing oYcers near the border, the INS has 62 miles of 10-foot steel walls between important US and Mexican border cities that serve as major crossing points. While they do allow for better interception and tactical control of illegal crossings (e.g. massing of crowds), these walls do not stop illegal entry; there are various gaps (e.g. at rivers) and ladders are used to cross them. Their actual eVect is therefore less dramatic than their public symbolism, both to US immigrationrestrictionists who envision a simple solution to illegal immigration, and to US immigration liberals and the Mexican public for whom they represent prejudice and discord between the nations. Despite steel and human walls, it has proved neces-

Why Interdiction? Immigration Control at the United States± Mexico Border sary to detect and arrest people who have penetrated frontier barriers, using electronic movement sensors, helicopters, vision-enhancement technology and motorized units. The number of undocumented entrants in major corridors just beyond the boundary can hardly be overstated. As one interviewee remarked, the night-vision scope operator calls out many more `glows’ (green-tinted images of people in® ltrating the border) than ® eld oYcers can handle. In these circumstances, interdiction demands high-adrenalin pursuit and rigid crowd control: In linewatch [Patrol jargon for this work] you wait for the [foot] traYc to come to you, . . . small groups from two to thirty, sometimes even larger groups. Sometimes one agent will chase a group of ® fty by himself. With large groups, you grab as many as you can, or maybe they don’t want to run anymore. Sometimes you get them all, sometimes you don’t. A lot will just sit there; maybe one in a hundred will give you trouble, so you have to [hand] cuV him down. Then, the transport unit comes around to bring people in.

Once brought back to the Patrol station, almost all arrestees will be questioned about their nationality, immigration status and a few other basics, and if they are undocumented Mexicans, they are released back to their nation on `voluntary departure’: Most of them will be oVered voluntary departure. It’s done right in the station, in the back. We catch too many to run checks on them ± we just do a biography, a name, where they are from ± it takes two, three, maybe ® ve minutes. They are returned that day; we try to get them back [to Mexico] before the next shift starts.

Voluntary departure consists of the undocumented immigrant waiving the right to a deportation trial that most would unquestionably lose, in order to return to Mexico without a formal record that would penalize them if they later seek legal immigration. For most Mexicans, it truly is voluntary; the waiver of rights is more a problem for potential asylum-seekers. It saves the US the enormous costs and embarrassment of imprisoning millions of Mexican citizens awaiting deportation hearings. Because the departure is rapid and located right at the border, most undocumented migrants resume entering the US; eventually, most make it (E S PE NS H A D E , 1990; S I N G ER an d M A S S EY, 1997). This `voluntary departure complex’ (H EYM A N , 1995, p. 267) exposes the limitations of interdiction and how intensive law enforcement and a continuing labour supply can coexist (see H EYM A N , 1998e). As the interviews show, actual border practice di Vers from, though it is determined by, the nationalist project of `sealing’ the border. The INS at best delays illegal immigration by making sections of the boundary hard to cross and returning arrestees to Mexico to try again. It maintains partial closure of small, but important, segments of the boundary for hours, but not months


or years; it also marks as `illegal aliens’ those people who do slip through. The other key Border Patrol activity is identifying and arresting illegal aliens on the move inside the US. This work takes place throughout the US west and south, though mostly in the cities and farms of borderlands, within 25 miles of the boundary. Pairs of oYcers move through urban zones or hill and canyon country in vehicles, relying on their own experience rather than being positioned by supervisors, and visually guess who is undocumented based on expertise and working stereotypes. Pursuit may be needed and, after physical apprehension, oYcers question the person about nationality and immigration status, leading in many cases to arrest for illegal immigration. One oYcer described such duties in the streets of San Diego county, a multi-ethnic, multi-million person metropolitan area that is also a main corridor for illegal border crossing and movement north: I’ll go through any neighborhood, Imperial Beach along the seacoast [a main area for movement north], just drive around, but basically I hit the main drags [roads] because that’s where you ® nd most of them. I sort out legals from illegals by going after the runners [those who ¯ ee] ® rst, because they’re illegal. I go by, ask them where they are from. . . . I pass by a person on the street, ask of what country are you a citizen? I ask in Spanish. If their reply is other than US, I ask them if they have any documents. Legal permanent residents [legal immigrants to the U S], eighty percent of the time they are ready with their documents. Sometimes not, then it is up to us ± I run the name through dispatch, it takes a little while [to con® rm or deny their claim to legal status in the U S].

Border Patrol organizational culture plays an important role in this highly discretionary work. Patrol oYcers generally share an idea of a self-reliant task group whose members spread autonomously across the periborder terrain, in search of their prototypical target immigrants (see below). They `work hard’ (an important phrase), obtaining the maximum number of arrests the system can handle, in terms of transport units available and the need for fast processing for `voluntary departure’ . The INS in general, and the Border Patrol in particular, specializes in Spanish language and Mexican culture (see H EYM A N , 1995, pp. 267± 68), and thereby imbues its oYcers with the American societal assumption that a prototypical target is the humble peasant Mexican migrant worker, despite immigrants having diverse nationalities and the diversity even among Mexicans. In other words, the Patrol enacts the widespread public notion that there is a discrete illegal immigrant population which needs to be policed and which di Vers from the collectivity of valid citizens. Two problems with this notion are better understood by Patrol oYcers than by the politicians that set their agenda. Firstly, many Hispanics in the borderlands are US citizens or legal immigrants. Nevertheless, the location and objectives of INS work mean that


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Hispanic-appearing people are disproportionately targeted for policing (H EYM A N , 1998e, pp. 166± 69). H A RWOO D , 1986, defends the INS by observing that oYcers focus on those Hispanics who are by behaviour and appearance most likely to be undocumented entrants, since they cannot aVord to waste their time in complicated situations; on the other hand, critics of the INS document cases where oYcers do make serious mistakes, such as deporting Hispanic US citizens by accident (A M ER I C A N F R I E ND S S ERVI C E C O M M I T T EE , 1990, pp. 20± 21). Both positions are valid, since they comment on the same political mandate for the INS to police a population distinguished by national origin. Secondly, because of `voluntary departure’ and subsequent attempted return, ® ltering `illegal persons’ from the streets does not work eVectively. To ® lter implies to keep the item out after it is ® ltered; but this is not what happens at the border. Rather, such patrolling reduces the border anxieties of the nationalist collectivity in the US. Such a reduction entails a human cost, however. Interdiction with the `voluntary departure’ loophole piles up would-be immigrants at the border. With tougher border patrolling, undocumented immigrants have a lower probability of success on any one attempt, and thus make more attempts before they get through. Typically, they spend their small savings quickly and have no way to earn more until they get into the US. Thus, large numbers of prospective crossers wait in Mexico homeless, cold and hungry (or hot and hungry, depending on the season). Some crossers shift from the heavily patrolled optimal crossing zones in hills near cities to rugged and risky mountains, tricky river channels or dangerously hot deserts. Deaths are mounting with intensi® ed border control (B A IL EY et al., 1996). Other migrants use smugglers to pass the INS cordon. Journalists and social scientists have documented a sharp rise in smugglers’ prices (R O T EL L A , 1995; D I L LO N , 1996; G R A H A M , 1996; S I NG E R and M A S S EY, 1997). Smuggling leads to debt and, through that, to worsened exploitation at work and in rental housing (H EYM A N , 1998e). Finally, the risks to immigrants are increased because of the overlap of narcotics with immigration law enforcement, as we shall see. N A RC O T I C S I N T E RD I C T I O N A N D B O RD E R S URV E I L L A NC E Interdiction against narcotics smuggling is the largest US governmental operation on the Mexican border, although immigration enforcement is growing rapidly. Between ports of entry, the Border Patrol focuses on land-surface smuggling (its agents are cross-designated to make both immigration and narcotics arrests), while the Customs Service monitors the border airspace in conjunction with the military. Customs also conducts extended investigations of narcotics smuggling networks, along with the Drug Enforcement Agency

(DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and state and local police agencies. INS Inspections and Customs share primary interdiction duty at ports of entry for both narcotics and immigration, while the development of narcotics cases after initial detection there belongs to Customs, just as immigration cases belong to the INS. The force devoted to narcotics interdiction on the US± Mexican border is impressive, but not omnipotent. When I interviewed a supervisor of a special Customs oYce focused on criminal investigations, he began by describing the power he wielded, but ended with a note of scepticism: This morning there were 47 arrests processed in this oYce from a joint operation of the F BI, DEA, and Customs. I supervise all the Customs criminal investigators (Special Agents) here in Arizona. There are eight oYces with 138 special agents, from Douglas to Yuma [two border cities at opposite ends of the state]. Customs inspectors work at Ports of Entry but Special Agents work wherever we have intelligence. We enforce a multitude of laws for 60 agencies, but here our major focus is on interdicting narcotics and investigating, not making seizures. Seizures are for the Border Patrol and the Port Inspectors. [He also discusses non-narcotics areas such as weapons smuggling out of the US and commercial fraud.] . . . I run all the investigators in the air branch operating out of Tucson and Phoenix seven days a week, twenty four hours a day. . . . We have a Blackhawk jet helicopter with nine machine gun toting agents. Citation jets intercept ¯ ights, and the Blackhawk follows behind with the bust [arrest] crew. As soon as it is dusk, the dopers [narcotics smugglers] ¯ y twin-engine planes real low to the ground, with lights out. But it has gone down since we put up the Aerostats [balloons above the boundary with advanced monitoring electronics] ± the idea was to be a good deterrent with the radar coverage, and then we would interdict anyone who crossed with the airwing. Pilots are less and less willing to test it. . . . This seems to have just pushed crossings to lots of small mules [couriers]. There is much less exposure of the smuggling organization if there are a lot of small anonymous mules than a few pilots ± so Aerostats don’t make busts, but they do deter air traYc.

In the endless push-and-pull between law enforcement and smugglers, advanced technology pushes drug movement down to the desert ¯ oor. Here, the drug war exploits the low technology `sign-cutting’ (tracking) skills of Border Patrol agents, once used to follow undocumented immigrants across the crusty desert soils. A characteristic skill is dragging (smoothing) dirt roads so that new footprints, vehicle and horse tracks can be detected and dated: Sign-cutting is thought of as an archaic Border Patrol tradition, and all the emphasis is put on technology. But drag roads should be like a computer tape collecting data ± when it crossed, where it went, whether it was drugs or aliens ± these come ® rst, and they tell you where to use sensors, night-scopes. . . . New drag roads are being

Why Interdiction? Immigration Control at the United States± Mexico Border built for us by the Corps of Engineers [a branch of the U S Army]. I draw big maps each month, marking every load, whether we got it or not, de® ning where the drugs are coming and when.

This `traditional’ Border Patrol agent criticized newer military tactics and technology. I cannot tell whether his criticisms are valid, but the quote illustrates the increasing presence of the military in border interdiction: Listening posts [with electronic equipment] and [Army] Special Forces observation posts are ineYcient. They layin on the side of trails but this requires a lot more skill and knowledge of the area than they think. It sounds eVective, but the idea that there is one trail is wrong ± this country is ¯ at, there are many trails. . . . Or they ¯ y along the [boundary] line with side-spotting radar. They spot vehicles south of the border. This is absolutely useless to us. It just justi® es their budget and training by the war on drugs.

Behind both sides of this debate is an unstated assumption of interdiction, that to capture the drugs before they make it to American society will halt narcotics (a similar assumption holds for undocumented migration). Thus, when I observed the Patrol in Arizona, one internal budgetary criterion was pounds of narcotics seized. The limits of this commodity-oriented, boundary-wall notion of controlling illegality, and alternatives to it, are discussed in B E RTR A M et al., 1996, and F A LCO, 1998. Here my concerns are less with the policy than the human costs. The overlap of the relatively peaceful undocumented immigration trade and the signi® cantly more violent (both by smugglers and the government) drug trade increases the risk of violence to immigrant and Border Patrol oYcer alike. As one oYcer told me, while I put on my bullet-proof vest before leaving on evening patrol, `you always have in the back of your mind, that when you chase someone, they might not just be an illegal [alien, implicitly peaceful], they might have a weapon’ . It is informative to connect the Patrol oYcer who spoke about military listening post operations with the recent Redford, Texas incident, in which a Marine unit on such an operation killed a Mexican American goat herder (D U N N , 1997). Likewise, in 1992 a Border Patrol oYcer killed an immigrant (A M ER I C A ’ S W ATC H , 1993, pp. 4± 7) in a southern Arizona locale where I had done ® eldwork; I can say with certainty that the potential for violence increased there because of narcotics interdiction. This is not a war, and violence is not deliberate policy, but it also is not an accidental or deviant product of interdiction; it is the systematic result of major increments of force at the border.4 Another eVect of the narcotics war is the surveillance of the people of the borderlands, as exempli® ed in an interview with a representative of the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC): EPI C is a coalition of many agencies directed by the Drug


Enforcement Agency. It has DEA, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Coast Guard, the CIA, the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the F BI, the IN S, the Internal Revenue Service, the federal Marshalls, the Secret Service, the Department of State, and Customs. The most important agencies here are DEA, Customs, I NS, and the Department of Defense. About 300 staV work for EPI C. EPI C involves all types of smuggling on all borders ± aliens, drugs, and arms. Because of national and I NS priorities [in 1992] about 98 percent of inquiries are about drugs. We began in 1974 to coordinate intelligence sharing on the southern [Mexican] border. In the past, the Border Patrol was not serious about intelligence. They didn’t need intelligence when they could just arrest a million aliens a year. But as they interdict drugs, the Border Patrol begins to realize that they are looking for a needle in a haystack. We have two branches. Operations is a communications oYce. It provides worldwide communications to oYces of all agencies based on general watch functions twenty four hours a day. U S agents both domestic and foreign can inquire about known or suspected smugglers. In the analysis section, we cover air, maritime, and land boundaries, doing trend analysis, organizational analysis, concealment technologies, avenues of entry into the country ± mostly it’s interdiction related. Our main aim is to provide tactical intelligence, time-sensitive intelligence, actionable intelligence. EP IC was created for the frontline agents . . . created to say `that guy is a courier’. Other centers provide strategic intelligence ± the National Drug Intelligence Center ± they pick the place for the ® ght, determine the real big problems.

Although in 1992 E PIC focused on narcotics, in the last four years the INS has sought to control immigration by registering arrestees on a digital ® ngerprint system linked with a database of previous entry attempts. Multiple attempts should lead to punitive deportation or even criminal `illegal entry’ prosecution, not just `voluntary departure’. The Border Patrol’s ID ENT database has 1´4 million records, including 150,000 `lookouts’, ¯ agged records that putatively ® t a smuggler’s pro® le (Migration News, 1997c). However, many arrests are not entered or records checked (Migration News, 1998c), because `voluntary departure’ is convenient compared with time-consuming records research. Also, the INS does not have detention space to hold repeat illegal entrants; it is used for higher priority deportations, e.g. of criminals (Migration News, 1998c). We should not exaggerate the impact of advanced surveillance. Many ® eld oYcers make little use of EPIC. Most border control is localistic, relying on tips or oYcer response to immediate cues. EPIC and ID ENT show the tendency for interlocking interdiction agencies to drive each other to more advanced technologies of control. The entry of the US military into civilian law enforcement is its most extreme expression.


J. McC. Heyman T H E US M I L I TA RY I N B O RD E R I N T E RD I C T I O N

Militarization involves a military presence in social control, especially in law enforcement that had once been civilian. D U N N , 1996, is the seminal study of border militarization and one of his ® ndings suYces to illustrate its importance. From 1990 to 1992, Joint Task Force-6 ( JTF-6, the main military unit dedicated to Mexican border interdiction) conducted 775 missions in the region, the majority of them in support of the Border Patrol. The largest category, operational missions, with 384 activities in the three years, was also the `most obviously militaristic’ . (The other categories were general support (training, intelligence, photo interpretation, etc.) and engineering/construction.) Most operational missions deploy small units, from 10 to 120 soldiers, in surveillance roles lasting up to a month. `Terrain-denial’ operations were less frequent, but signi® cant in their implications. These involved a saturation deployment of 60 to 900 soldiers, divided into 45-member ground patrol units, in a show of force designed to deny drug traYckers access to a speci® c area temporarily. They report other crimes, such as illegal immigration, to linked Border Patrol units (D U NN , 1996, pp. 134± 136, quote on p. 135). Border militarization grows from the fundamental interdictive concept. Fearing penetration of the collectivity by dangerous, illegal things, through a weak border barrier, why not put the most powerful and technologically advanced control organization in the world, the US military, into action? This approach is stated quite openly in US politics, where the military serve `two masters’, interdiction and the bureaucratic `necessity’ of having missions to justify bloated budgets in a post-Cold War era (ibid., p. 25, pp. 176± 77). The civilian role of the military on the border raises many concerns about the militarization of US society and the human rights of border crossers and residents. Here I emphasize its implicit concept of interdiction as an impersonal technique, as if no people or subtleties were involved. This seems inappropriate once we realize that law enforcement is always located among distinct populations comprising oYcers, criminals and other civilians. P O RT S O F E N T RY: T H E RE L O C A L I Z AT I O N O F I N T E RD I C T I O N Ports of entry display the limitations of `abstracted’ perspectives on interdiction because ports serve legitimate commerce and because the surrounding border society aVects them considerably. In other words, ports are distinctly `located’ . At a land border port, entering pedestrians and cars get an initial (primary) inspection for both imported items and nationality/immigration status from either a Customs or an INS oYcer. If there

is any question about either issue, then the person or vehicle has a sustained (secondary) inspection by an oYcer of the relevant agency. Immigration and goodssmuggling interdiction is an important task at a port of entry. With heightened policing along the border between ports, smugglers and illegal immigrants increasingly utilize ports. Here, however, potential illegal actors act as if their entries were legitimate, as opposed to the rest of the border. Port interdiction is more complex, and ports also weigh interdiction against other interests in local borderlands society. In a simple, but important way, this complexity is demonstrated in the handling of traYc at ports. When I made observations at San Ysidro, California, one of the busiest border crossings in the world, primary inspectors had to dispose of entering vehicles at an average of one per 45 seconds. In this time, the oYcer had to enter the license plate number into the Customs computer system, read the results (to see if there was any previous record of smuggling or illegal entry, or indeed any `lookout’ rumours in the system), verbally ask about nationality and, if the occupants had brought anything back from Mexico, inspect any immigration documents provided and examine the occupants of the car for their comportment (to see, for example, if they were nervous or sitting rigidly). Using this set of clues, some clear and others quite vague, the oYcer either cleared the car into the US without further inspection, or sent the vehicle to the side for an appropriate secondary inspection. If an admitted car was later stopped and found to have narcotics or illegal immigrants, the computer record would reveal who allowed the vehicle to enter. On the other hand, if the inspector took too long making decisions, it would back up traYc, with consequences including exacerbating air pollution and slowing down the interchange of people and goods on the Tijuana± San Diego corridor, the most important passage in the Mexico± US free trade system. These contradictions weigh on the minds of the Port Directors who shape the work of inspectors. `Port policies’ are not enacted immigration or customs regulations, but rather determine how those laws are applied, e.g. balancing speed and thoroughness of inspections. They emerge from a constant, if informal, dialogue between the port and eVective local interests. By `eVective interests’ I mean less the day-to-day border crossers than the businesses who employ them or sell to them. A particularly telling description emerges in the working network of a capable I NS Port Director. Among other activities, she belongs to: . . . the Arizona/Sonora Commission and the Border Trade Alliance, which are the front-runners for free trade, so I see a lot of customs brokers. I am a member to see what’s going on, how they are feeling about [the port]. I wanted to get involved in this very small community. Produce people [fruit and vegetable brokers] tend to run it. So I am a member of two groups, the Rotary (one

Why Interdiction? Immigration Control at the United States± Mexico Border of only two women in it) and the Business Women’s Association. Also I am on the [name of city] Chamber of Commerce Strategies for the Future group ± they are kind of a wish club. . . . [Question: What do you hear from these groups?] Oh, I hear the need to facilitate traYc through the Port of Entry. By being in the clubs, I can handle issues before they get out of hand. My boss [the District Director] never gets a call; things get settled locally. Last week we had a meeting with the merchants, because the border fence is in bad shape. In the past they criticized the IN S and the Border Patrol for being too strict, but now they are asking us to plug up the holes because there is too much crime and shoplifting.

Since the interview, a steel-plate wall was installed along this section of the border. The merchants’ past complaints about strictness had re¯ ected their desire to have customers from Mexico, legally or illegally, a desire that is also addressed by the port issuing border crossing cards. The border crossing card, an informal mechanism peculiar to the US± Mexico border, permits the bearer to go to the US for up to 72 hours within 25 miles of the border, and is used to visit relatives and shop. It is issued to residents of Mexican border municipalities, and requires proof of residency and also proof of economic ties such as steady work, home-ownership and paid utility bills. These items presumably indicate that the person will not come to the US to work illegally. However, the border card is a viable way to do just that, while by-passing the Border Patrol. When I lived in a Mexican border city, I knew two people (at least) who worked or visited illegally on a border card. Later, I observed the handling of border card requests in the front oYce of a US port of entry. One woman applied for a third card, her ® rst two having been `lost.’ She was turned down by the inspector, who noticed that her job records were xeroxed onto one sheet from several diVerent sources. She was gently turned away with the request that she return in six months with proof positive of work, including pay stubs. This rejection may have been obvious, but other cases were not. One young woman was stopped at primary inspection even though she had a card, because her pattern of crossings (seen on the computer) suggested to the inspector that she was living in the US, not just visiting there. After arguing with the secondary inspector, she went to the supervisor. It was not possible to ascertain de® nitely where she lived. Her only evidence of Mexican residence was her parents’ address. Issuing, and allowing entry on, a border card is purely discretionary on the part of the US Government. But the supervisor was realistically ambivalent. Though he did seize the card, he summarized his thinking as: (1) she did not want to live in Mexico, and probably was living and working in the US at a certain (named) oYce; but (2) she came from a politically powerful family in Mexico, so that he expected criticism. Indeed, after an appeal from the Mexican consulate, the young


woman was asked to provide additional proof of residence to have her document returned. Given this set of cases, which certainly indicates de facto illegal immigration, even though they were handled with rigour and aplomb, and given the otherwise intense US emphasis on immigration control, why are border cards issued at all, let alone as extensively as they are? One clue is to be found in the family in¯ uence of the young woman. Border crossing cards indicate how local social relations bend and limit the US state, not only in the obvious role of political connections, but also in the very need for routine ways to penetrate the boundary, which re¯ ects the web of kinship, friendship and visiting relations on the border (see H EYM A N , 1991). Humane though this may be, it also is the social basis for practices that defy border control, such as the distorted use or transfer of cards. Another constituency for cards is American-side merchants, who sell to residents of Mexican border cities. These are usually larger than US border cities and thus constitute an important retail market (see P AT R IC K , 1996; P ATR I C K an d R EN FO R T H , 1996). The border crossing card, often called a `shopping card’, facilitates this commerce. In both instances, the strict nationalist model of interdiction is not fully compatible with the existence of a large border community, in the ® rst instance because local border society `outwits’ the state (S KAL N I K , 1989) and, in the latter case, because it shapes the local state agency (S A H L I N S , 1989). W H Y I NT E RD I C T I O N ? I began the paper by questioning whether interdiction inheres in borders, and if not, why it does occur. Important clues were found by observing everyday operations at the US± Mexico border, using the idea that particular law enforcement styles and tactical choices expose the causes of interdiction. What was found? The deployment of large INS and Customs police forces at the border, including extensive use of air and electronic interdiction devices, responds to a nationalist concept that the border can be physically sealed to illegality, and that illegality exists outside domestic society. I suggest that such ideal boundaries have gained in political appeal during the post-1965 transformation of the US± world relation. At its most extreme, these ideas lead to the militarization of the border on the assumption that if penetration is the problem, it merits the most massive, forceful and technically advanced response possible. Meanwhile, interdiction politics glide from fear of physical penetration toward identifying external penetration with stigmatized communities of people. Popular US stereotypes of `illegal immigrants’ support the INS’s disproportionate emphasis on arresting Mexicans rather than other undocumented entrants who are less likely to cross the southern border. Stigmatizing certain immigrant ¯ ows ® ts a broader public notion that distinguishes the cross-border


J. McC. Heyman

harmonization of rules on commodities and investments, and sometimes on human beings as labourers, from people entering a new society. This notion may imply an impossible segregation of border interchange, but it underwrites an enormous law enforcement eVort. The inevitable local compromises of governmental agencies with border society and culture undermine purist boundary control. Impersonal barrier approaches to illegal ¯ ows cannot be used at ports of entry because ports have important roles in facilitating and monitoring legitimate ¯ ows that increase with free trade. Given such ambiguities, Customs and INS Inspections negotiate with powerful persons in borderlands society. In a more enforcement-oriented vein, the local emphasis emerges in systematic surveillance of, and databases on, Mexican border populations. Some agencies of the US state are distinctly anti-local in their mode of action, while others are compromised with localism. Overall, cross-border harmonization and free trade have an ambiguous relationship with border law enforcement, accelerating it in some ways, compromising it in others. I take seriously the argument that public preferences might justify immigration control. For this reason, I brie¯ y outlined immigration policy options which have been ignored. Elsewhere, I have delineated an alternative US immigration policy that rests on a fundamental social contract with employers taking more responsibility for, and society giving more positive values to, immigrants (H EYM A N , 1998d). Knowing that we do have choices, we should be cautious about interdiction. It increases the price of smuggling, worsens the suVering of persistent illegal border crossers and results in more deaths at the boundary. It has militarized border society, where more and more people either work for the watchers, or are watched by the state. Borderlands are creative and dynamic places. It is thus tragic to witness the distorted development of the US± Mexico borderlands into a society comprised substantially of `police and thieves’. This outcome is not inherent; we, in the US, do not have to emphasize interdiction so heavily, and citizens of other states can learn from our unfortunate experience.

Acknowledgem ents ± I thank my informants, inside and outside the INS, who cannot be named for obvious reasons. I also thank the reviewers and guest editors of Regional Studies for their thoughtful comments on this paper. The research was generously supported by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All responsibility for errors of fact and interpretation remains my own.

NOT E S 1. This is calculated from ® gures in Migration News (1997b). My ® eldwork indicated that the I NS Investigations branch allocates around one-third of its eVort to employer sanctions. 2. It is by no means clear that intensive border interdiction eVectively controls undocumented Mexican immigration. For debates over evidence and trends, see B EA N et al., 1994; Migration News, 1997a, 1997b, 1998b. 3. Ethnographic ® eldwork on the oYcers and operations of the I NS was conducted from December 1991 to June 1992. The research was conducted at two areas of the border: San Diego county, California; and in southern Arizona at Nogales and Douglas. The research comprised: observations of routine I NS operations including Ports of Entry and Border Patrolling for narcotics and undocumented immigrants; 104 semi-structured, open-ended interviews with INS oYcers and managers in seven operational branches; interviews in other U S border control agencies; and interviews with lawyers and immigration advocates outside the I NS. My understanding of the border also re¯ ects prior residence and participantobservation in a border city from 1984 to 1986 (H EYM AN , 1991). 4. Human rights abuses by U S border agencies are well documented. What remains controversial is: (1) the context of the build-up of force; (2) the frequency of abuses relative to the millions of arrests, inspections and other law enforcement actions; and (3) the adequacy of internal controls in U S agencies, both in advance and after the fact (see A ME RI CA N F R IE NDS S E RVI CE C O M MI T TE E , 1990, 1992; A M ER IC AS W ATCH , 1992, 1993, 1995; D U N N , 1997, A M NE STY I N TE RNAT I O NA L , 1998).

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