We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Run for the Border

Vice and Virtue in U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings

By Steven Bender

Publication Year: 2012

Mexico and the United States exist in a symbiotic relationship: Mexico frequently provides the United States with cheap labor, illegal goods, and, for criminal offenders, a refuge from the law. In turn, the U.S. offers Mexican laborers the American dream: the possibility of a better livelihood through hard work. To supply each other’s demands, Americans and Mexicans have to cross their shared border from both sides. Despite this relationship, U.S. immigration reform debates tend to be security-focused and center on the idea of menacing Mexicans heading north to steal abundant American resources. Further, Congress tends to approach reform unilaterally, without engaging with Mexico or other feeder countries, and, disturbingly, without acknowledging problematic southern crossings that Americans routinely make into Mexico.


In Run for the Border, Steven W. Bender offers a framework for a more comprehensive border policy through a historical analysis of border crossings, both Mexico to U.S. and U.S. to Mexico. In contrast to recent reform proposals, this book urges reform as the product of negotiation and implementation by cross-border accord; reform that honors the shared economic and cultural legacy of the U.S. and Mexico. Covering everything from the history of Anglo crossings into Mexico to escape law authorities, to vice tourism and retirement in Mexico, to today’s focus on Mexican border-crossing immigrants and drug traffickers, Bender takes lessons from the past 150 years to argue for more explicit and compassionate cross-border cooperation.


Steeped in several disciplines, Run for the Border is a blend of historical, cultural, and legal perspectives, as well as those from literature and cinema, that reflect Bender’s cultural background and legal expertise.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (79.8 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (76.1 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (77.8 KB)
pp. ix

As always, I am grateful for those who invested their considerable time in reviewing this manuscript or in contributing ideas along the way, including Raquel Aldana, Keith Aoki, Ray Caballero, Gil Carrasco, Evelyn Cruz, and Ediberto Román. The University of Oregon law school supported my research in several respects, from a 2010 summer...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (92.7 KB)
pp. 1-8

For years, Congress has been debating so-called comprehensive immigration reform proposals. Especially since the September 11 attacks, these proposals are grounded in U.S.-Mexico border security measures that include using walls, technology, and expanded border patrol fleets to exclude undocumented entrants and drug traffickers and to block terrorists who might someday enter through...

read more

PART I. Running for the Border to Escape Justice

The phrase “run for the border” originated long before its use in Taco Bell fast food advertising. As examined herein, it represents the familiar image of the treacherous Mexican outlaw running south for the Mexican border to escape justice...

read more

1 El Fugitivo

pdf iconDownload PDF (142.9 KB)
pp. 11-28

Taco Bell’s “Run for the Border” slogan tapped into a rich and longstanding vein of bandido imagery in U.S. media. The cinematic Mexican bandido dates to the silent “greaser” films of the early 1900s, depicting Mexicans as dirty, oily, and gap-toothed in appearance, and as treacherous and soulless in character.2 They slung guns, swilled tequila, and terrorized gringo men, women, and children while prowling..

read more

PART II. Economic Motivations for Southbound Border Runs

U.S. citizens retiring in Mexico or purchasing a vacation residence on its sandy beaches, and U.S. corporations headed south of the border, tend to share the economic motivation of maximizing wealth or profit. Yet even more striking economic imperatives propel most Mexican immigrants headed north. The Mexican...

read more

2 Gringos in Paradise

pdf iconDownload PDF (104.7 KB)
pp. 31-39

Addressed in chapter 4 is the lure of Mexico as a tourist destination. Related to that impetus for transitory south-of-the-border runs is Mexico’s more permanent attraction to retirees and second-home buyers, as well as telecommuters and others with the flexibility to conduct their business in the United States from Mexican turf. In..

read more

3 A Giant Sucking Sound

pdf iconDownload PDF (136.4 KB)
pp. 40-54

Just as U.S. retirees and second-home owners have journeyed south of the border for economic advantage, so too have U.S. entrepreneurs and corporations run for the Mexican border for decades to profit from Mexican business and labor markets. Around the start of the twentieth century, U.S. entrepreneurs amassed controlling...

read more

PART III. Illicit Motivations for Southbound Border Runs

For at least a century, U.S. residents have crossed the border into Mexico to engage in activities otherwise illicit1 in the United States. In contrast, in Mexico these pursuits were legal or, if not, at least more readily available. This history demonstrates that differences in law can prompt border crossings, particularly transitory...

read more

4 Margaritaville: The Lure of Alcohol

pdf iconDownload PDF (138.8 KB)
pp. 57-69

Before Prohibition, Mexico’s border region had already begun to draw vice tourists based on differences in laws. For example, the state of California, like many U.S. cities, forced out prostitution in the early 1900s.1 California banned betting on horse racing in 1915, and two years later banned professional boxing.2 In Tijuana...

read more

5 Losin’ It: Prostitution and the Child Sex Trade

pdf iconDownload PDF (113.9 KB)
pp. 70-78

Eclectic international rocker Manu Chao’s signature ode to Tijuana—“Welcome to Tijuana”—includes in its chorus the three vices U.S. residents tend to associate with the Mexican border town—tequila, sex, and marijuana. Constituting a wide range of indulgences, the south-of-the-border sex industry prompts border...

read more

6 Going Southbound: Mexican Divorces and Medical Border Runs

pdf iconDownload PDF (115.8 KB)
pp. 79-88

Differences in laws throughout history have drawn U.S. residents south of the border. As with travel southward for illicit entertainment and the pleasures of drinking, gambling, and sex described in earlier chapters, U.S. and Mexican residents crossed the border in both directions for a variety of other aims that...

read more

PART IV. Economic Motivations for Northbound Border Runs

The variety of border crossings by U.S. residents into Mexico, some of them detailed above, run into the many millions annually. Border politics today nevertheless are shaped by the numerically much smaller reverse flow from Mexico of undocumented immigrants and drug runners annually into the United States. For example...

read more

7 Rum-Running for the Border

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.3 KB)
pp. 91-94

Graham’s Border Town adventure novel outlined the mechanics of Prohibition-era trafficking using specially modified cars to carry a heavy cargo of booze across the border into Los Angeles. The two partners in trafficking each agreed to purchase a couple of cars, paying Los Angeles “punks” $50 a trip to drive each load, and...

read more

8 Acapulco Gold

pdf iconDownload PDF (161.8 KB)
pp. 95-113

Before switching to the equally lucrative practice of Prohibitionera rum-running, Border Town’s fictional Johnny Ramirez carried drugs across the Mexican border to Southern California, earning a substantial payment for each trip given its risks. By the time of the novel’s 1920s setting, the United States prohibited..

read more

9 Coming to America

pdf iconDownload PDF (187.8 KB)
pp. 114-138

Reviewing the history of border crossings into the United States by immigrants—documented and undocumented—confirms two fundamental points. First, immigrants are lured by compelling economic forces sourced in el Norte, namely employment opportunities and wages in the United States that far surpass those...

read more

PART V. A Framework for Comprehensive Border Reform

Comprehensive border reform requires a framework that goes beyond the border-security-centric proposals of late that assume higher walls, more border officers, and advanced technology implemented through unilateral action by the United States will snuff undocumented immigration and drug trafficking. Rather...

read more

10 Lessons from 150 Years of Border Crossings

pdf iconDownload PDF (132.4 KB)
pp. 141-157

Comprehensive immigration reform proposals are too often dictated by biases and prerogatives of the moment that are blind to history. The history of border crossings, detailed above, supplies perspective on the shape of reform that reaches beyond just migration northward, and which situates those northbound migrants...

read more

11 Good Neighbor Immigration Policy

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.2 KB)
pp. 158-162

U.S.-Mexico border history suggests that laborers will follow economic opportunity across borders if necessary, and that no barriers or other enforcement strategies will impede migrant flows driven by such economic necessity. In the compelling words of a Tucson artist: “How far would you walk to feed your...

read more

12 Reefer Madness

pdf iconDownload PDF (108.2 KB)
pp. 163-171

The last 100 years of U.S.-Mexico border history reveal the futility of the war on drugs. The Prohibition-era experience of the 1920s demonstrated convincingly that legal restrictions fail to curb U.S. demand for an illicit product. Instead of quelling demand, Prohibition launched organized crime deep into the U.S. heartland...

read more

13 A Framework for Southbound Crossings

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.7 KB)
pp. 172-176

Focusing nearly obsessively on northbound crossings they find threatening, whether by undocumented immigrants or drug couriers, most every U.S. politician contends that these crossings must be halted. In response they offer simplistic and narrow solutions of enhanced border enforcement that, as shown above, will...

read more

14 Laws the Border Leaves Behind

pdf iconDownload PDF (102.6 KB)
pp. 177-182

Addressed previously are a variety of cross-border differences in law that have affected border crossings. Some are very subtle, such as the lower property tax rate structures in Mexico, in relation to most U.S. jurisdictions, that add to the appeal of a Mexican retirement or second home. Others are more substantial, such as Mexico’s...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (61.3 KB)
pp. 183-184

Predicting the future of border crossing is risky business, but demographics and history seem to point to several trends. In the southbound direction, as the U.S. Anglo population grows older,1 and as the U.S. economy swings wildly as it has in the last decade, no doubt U.S. retirees will continue to flock to the border...Steven W. Bender is Professor of Law at Seattle


pdf iconDownload PDF (300.3 KB)
pp. 185-220


pdf iconDownload PDF (181.1 KB)
pp. 221-223

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (58.9 KB)
pp. 224

Steven W. Bender is Professor of Law at Seattle...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814789537
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814789520
Print-ISBN-10: 0814789528

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Emigration and immigration law -- United States.
  • Mexican-American Border Region -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Fugitives from justice -- Mexico.
  • Fugitives from justice -- United States.
  • Emigration and immigration law -- Mexico.
  • Border security -- Mexican-American Border Region.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Mexico.
  • Mexico -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access