American Crossings: Border Politics in the Western Hemisphere ed. by Maiah Jaskoski, Arturo C. Sotomayor, and Harold A. Trinkunas (review)
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American Crossings: Border Politics in the Western Hemisphere. Edited by Maiah Jaskoski, Arturo C. Sotomayor, and Harold A. Trinkunas. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. vii + 231 pp. Maps, tables, figures, index. $39.95 paper.

In the current political discourse, it is easy to forget that we are a nation of immigrants. At the settlement peak in the late 1800s, the Northern Plains was home to almost 40% foreign-born nationals. Those numbers are a far cry from the most recent data showing lows of under 3% foreign residents in the Dakotas to a high of 16% in Texas. Yet the border looms large in our collective imagination, and the authors of American Crossings: Border Politics in the Western Hemisphere take full advantage of the political moment.

Mexican photographer Tomas Castelazo's cover image of coffins buttressing the United States–Mexico border and the book's introduction on the plight of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America to the United States suggest a text rich in the human cost of border conflict. The immigrant voices and stories, however, are absent elsewhere in the book.

Largely, Jaskoski and her coauthors offer a theory-heavy exploration of territorial disputes in Latin America. It is more anthropological than proscriptive in how the western hemisphere has kept border conflict relatively low as compared to other regions of the world. Readers looking for comparative examples and tools to evaluate the campaign promises to build higher walls and protect the sovereign state will be disappointed.

One exception is Adam Isacson's consideration of the recent history of the US-Mexico border. He demonstrates that despite the rhetoric, the number of irregular [End Page 60] border crossings is at a near historical low (2014 saw 59% fewer apprehensions of undocumented migrants along the southern border than in 2005). Focusing on the myth of an unsecured border, he challenges the current rationales used to fund the behemoth enforcement machine involving various government and private actors. The "threats" of cartel violence from Mexico, terrorism, drugs, and undocumented migrants are simply nonexistent or significantly less than touted. In fact, as he points out, the 2014 "surge" of migrants from Central America happened in only one border sector, while Border Patrol's apprehensions declined by 14% in all other sectors. He urges us to listen to communities living on the border and to be bolstered by their sense of safety and preference for laws permitting a more generous flow of workers between the countries.

Peter Andreas's research on the proliferation of smuggling across national lines throughout history is also engaging. For every border and every prohibition, a black market of contraband has flourished. Andreas rightly questions the credibility of those calling to regain control of the borders where none has ever existed.

Overall, the authors threw too wide a net in their project. It is hard to connect the conversations between emerging fora for dispute resolution and the economics of the Iguazu Triangle. The book would be appropriate for a graduate-level seminar in Latin American political science. It holds little for the average reader, however, whose ideas of borders will be more in line with the false perceptions Isaacson seeks to dispel. Most disappointing, the concluding essay offers few realpolitik recommendations for how to increase the influence of the people most impacted by border disputes and their resolution.

Elissa Steglich
Immigration Clinic
University of Texas School of Law
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