US Mexico Border

     June 22, 2000 "¡Corranle, allí viene la migra!", translated into English, this
means "Run, there comes immigration!" This is what illegal immigrants shout
everyday when they are about to cross the Rio Grande in search for better lives.

Unfortunately, not many get through alive because of the militarization that has
developed on the U.S. border with Mexico. Operation Rio Grande continues a
process put in motion over a century ago by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. It
tries to erase the reality of a social geographical order that defies neat
national divisions and impose a narrow notion of citizenship on people on both
sides of the international boundary. In the process, the U.S., like all
countries to varying degrees, elevates national citizenship to a position of
primacy and lessens the inherent humanity of those on the wrong side of the
social and territorial boundaries. Operation Rio Grande, launched in August

1997, in Brownsville, Texas, was a special multi-year operation designed to gain
and maintain control of specific border areas through a combination of new
technology and additional staffing. At the start of the operation, 69 Border

Patrol agents were detailed to Brownsville to intensify existing enforcement
effort. In September of that same year, the Border Patrol deployed special
response teams to those ports-of-entry where increased numbers of fraudulent
entry was expected. In the Fiscal Year of 1998, 260 new Border Patrol agents
were added to the McAllen Sector and 205 to the Laredo Sector. An important
feature of Operation Rio Grande has been the integration of a broad range of INS
enforcement operations. Studies show that the crime rate in Brownsville alone
dropped by more than 20% in 1998. (U.S. INS) The origins of the U.S. Mexico
boundary are to be found in the imperial competition between Spain, France, and

Britain for possessions in North America. Lack of agreement between the three
imperial powers over the location of the boundaries separating their territories
in North America led to disagreement between Mexico and an expansionist U.S.

After Mexico gained its independence in 1821, many U.S. leaders argued for
taking part or all of Mexico’s territory. Numerous prominent U.S. politicians,
driven by the ideology of Manifest Destiny, considered taking Mexico "a divine
right." (Acuna, 1988) As tensions mounted between the U.S. and Mexico over

Texas, the U.S. deliberately provoked Mexico by sending troops into territory
claimed by Mexico in early 1846. Battles between U.S. and Mexican troops ensued,
quickly resulting in full-scale war. The war raged on for two years, largely in
favor of the U.S., and ended with the U.S. taking over Mexico City. On February

2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed, and Mexico was forced to
cede half of its territory to the U.S. Under the treaty’s terms, the U.S.
annexed a territory equivalent in size to that of Western Europe, and absorbed

100,000 Mexican citizens and 200,000 Native Americans living in the territory.
(Herzog, 1990) The decades following the imposition of the new U.S. – Mexico
boundary saw widespread violence as U.S. authorities and non-State actors
established their dominance. The Mexican Revolution and the accompanying
socio-political turmoil between 1910, and 1920, caused great concern for U.S.
authorities. Tension along the boundary with Mexico quickly subsided thereafter.
(Griswold, 1990) Pacification did not mean control by the U.S. Migration between
the U.S. and Mexico long preceded the imposition of the modern day boundary.

Mexican migration to the U.S. was not really significant in scale or in
geographical extent until the 20th Century. In 1942, the Bracero (Bra-zeh-roh)

Program was implemented. It was a contract labor program in response to labor
shortages brought about by the U.S. entry into World War II. (The Bracero

Program, 1996) Furthermore, the INS practice of legalizing unauthorized migrants
and turning them into braceros, or ‘drying out the wetbacks,’ increased
unauthorized immigration from Mexico as the news spread that the easiest manner
to obtain a bracero contract was to enter the U.S. illegally. When the U.S.

Congress officially ended the program in 1964, the previously legal migratory
flow simply went underground. As the 1970’s approached, calls to enhance
enforcement along the U.S. and Mexico boundary increased significantly. (The

Bracero Program, 1996) From U.S. perspective, the modern U.S. – Mexico border
has always represented a line of control; one that contains the national body
politic and that regulates the flow of goods and people from without. Needless
to say, there has long been a huge gap between this territorial-state-centric
ideal and the reality of a transnational world. That said, the U.S. has long
made efforts, albeit inconsistent ones, to achieve this ideal as part of its
efforts to realize national sovereignty. In 1921, the U.S. government passed the
first quantitative immigration restrictions in U.S. history. As a result, the

U.S. congress established the Border Patrol in 1924. (Martinez, 1995) The U.S.

Border Patrol is the organization that polices the entry of illegal immigrants
into our country. The official mission of the United States Border Patrol is to
protect the boundaries of the United States by preventing illegal entry, and by
detecting, interdicting, and apprehending illegal aliens, smugglers, and
contraband. Today, the United States Border Patrol consists of 21 sectors. A

Chief Patrol Agent heads each Border Patrol Sector. There are 145 stations
located throughout the continental United States, and in Puerto Rico. The Border

Patrol controls the border by land, sea, and air. It has jurisdiction across all

United States borders and at least 25 miles off the border. The agents are
responsible to check factories and homes for illegal workers. (U.S. INS)

"Border control" particularly from Mexico, emerged as important topics in

U.S. politics. This was due to the mid-1970’s economic recession, rising
numbers of Border Patrol apprehensions, and aggressive INS media campaigns
highlighting the scale of the illegal alien problem. The trend continued through
the 1980’s reaching its apex in the early 1990’s. U.S. public opinion now
consistently shows that there is strong opposition to illegal immigration.
(Cornelius, 1994) Over the last several years, the U.S. has seen increasing
calls and efforts to fight unauthorized immigration and boundary related crime,
specifically drug trafficking. There has been an unprecedented growth in federal
resources dedicated to boundary policing. Unauthorized immigration and an out of
control border region fueled the political sentiment for immigration
enforcement, which climaxed with the passage of the Immigration and Control Act
of 1986. (UTA, 1992) Former President Ronald Reagan starkly framed unauthorized
immigration as a national security issue, warning, "The simple truth is that
we’ve lost control of our borders and no nation can do that and survive."
(Cornelius, 1994) The U.S. – Mexico border region is the fastest growing
border zone in the Americas, perhaps in the world. With a population of 11
million people and an economic output of $150 billion, the region now has an
economy larger than that of Poland. Approximately 230 million people and 82
million cars enter the U.S. from Mexico each year. In 1994, the implementation
of the North American Free Trade Agreement intensified this trend. About 2.8
million trucks crossed the border that year. The "NAFTAization" and growing
militarization of the U.S. – Mexico boundary, are taking place simultaneously.
(Divine, 1999)(UTA, 1992) In an abstract from a book to be published by Harcourt

Brace & Company is a very interesting account of the typical journey of most
of the illegal immigrants that cross through the border of Matamoros/Brownsville.

Most of the immigrants cross the river with assistance from a patero. His job is
to recruit people who want to go to the U.S. in search of better fortune. The
immigrants don’t have to pay anything in advance. Instead, they pay when they
arrive in Houston. They cross the river naked, then take a car to Sarita, Texas.

In Sarita, they get off the car before the immigration checkpoint and walk for 4
or 5 hours until they have well passed the checkpoint. From there the pateros
pick them up and take them to Houston to deliver to their families or friends. A
trip normally costs around $800. (Harper’s, 1998) The militarization of the
border is keeping many illegal aliens from entering the U.S., but many of them
get killed in the process. CNN News reports that authorities recovered the
bodies of two people who drowned in the Rio Grande just yards from U.S. border
agents in a dramatic scene captured on Mexican television. Rescue crews found
the bodies of 26-year-old Walter Maria Sandoval, of San Lucas, Michoacan, and
another victim who has not been identified yet. A Mexican TV (Televisa) crew was
filming in Matamoros on Thursday, June 8, when three men plunged into the Rio

Grande and tried to swim back to Mexico after a Border Patrol squad apparently
blocked their entry into the United States. Two of the men quickly began
flailing and sinking, as the river's current swept them away. The third man made
it ashore on the Mexican side and ran off, Televisa reported. U.S. border patrol
agents and Mexican authorities both saw the men drown, but none knew how to
swim, the Mexico City newspaper Reforma reported. Scores of Mexicans have
drowned in recent years in the Rio Grande, a point of entry for thousands of
illegal immigrants to the United States. (CNN News, 2000) Perhaps the illegal
immigrants face fines and penalties for crossing that way, but in their mind
working for food is most important. Hard labor, usually in agriculture, is all
they can get. Jobs that not many citizens want to perform because of the
physical demands, and prefer to live off of welfare and working people’s
taxes, but then complain about the problem with the Border Patrol. If they are
bringing most foods to their tables, why complain? It’s obvious that some sort
of control, which now exists, is necessary. Many people do enter the country
legally, and in many cases, are given political asylum because of the situations
in their countries. Mexico is not one of those countries, but is yet another
boulder for fleeing refugees to cross before getting to the home of the free.


Acuna, R. (1988). Occupied America - A History of Chicanos. New York: Harper

Collins Publishers Authorities recover bodies of two people who drowned in Rio

Grande. (2000, June 10). CNN News [Online]. P10. Available

Cornelius, W., Philip, M., James, H., (1994). Controlling Immigration: A Global

Perspective. Stanford University Press Divine R. et al, (1999). America Past and

Present. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. Griswold del Castillo, R. (1990). The

Treaty of Guadalupe - Hidalgo. University of Oklahoma Press Ferrying dreamers to
the other side. (1998) Harper’s, 1781 (297) p.22-26 Herzog, L. (1990). Where

North Meets South. Austin Center for Mexican American Studies. University of

Texas at Austin Low Intensity Conflict Doctrine Comes Home. (1992). University
of Texas at Austin Press Martinez, O. (1995). Troublesome Border. Tucson.

University of Arizona Press The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the INS.
(1996). New York and London. Routledge U.S. Border Patrol [Online] U.S.

Immigration and Naturalization Service. Available