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Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol by Kelly Lytle Hernández (review)

From: Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume 116, Number 4, April 2013
pp. 419-420 | 10.1353/swh.2013.0027

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Kelly Lytle Hernández's Migra! is an in-depth study of the United States Border Patrol, from its inception in 1924 as an agency fused specifically on migration control to its development into an organization that more broadly polices "criminal activity." (13) Rather than begin with the assumption that Border Patrol actions against "illegals" were inevitable, Hernández's book examines how the employment of local working-class Anglo men as agents early on steered the federal service towards targeting poor, dark-skinned Mexicans or "Mexican Browns."(10) Aside from shedding light on the individuals and local issues that shaped the patrol, Hernández succeeds at making Migra! a transnational story of U.S. and Mexican government policies coming together to regulate unauthorized migration across their shared border. Utilizing a wealth of previously unexamined archival material in the U.S. and Mexico, Migra! is more than just a history of the Border Patrol, but a wider consideration of how Mexicans emerged as this country's "iconic illegal aliens." (2)

Texas figured prominently in the process of the "racialization and regionalization" of federal immigration law enforcement. (2) The Border Patrol's founding in 1924 came after almost sixty years of expanding immigration restrictions and growing nativist sentiment in the United States. Although laws barred the entry of prostitutes, paupers, and all Asians (to name but a few of the host of persons prohibited from legally entering the country) as late as the 1920s, Mexicans could freely migrate into the United States. Mexicans became the target of U.S. immigration law enforcement when Border Patrol officers interpreted their mandate to police unsanctioned border crossings to mean keeping excess Mexican laborers out of the country. Hernández does an excellent job of showing how the first Border Patrol agents came mostly from poor Anglo backgrounds and had a personal stake in limiting labor competition. Moreover, drawing from established regional law enforcement, the Border Patrol absorbed a substantial number of former Texas Rangers, many of whom carried their instilled suspicion of Mexicans with them to the federal level.

Rather than make Migra! a simple retelling of Anglo wrongs, Hernández is keen to point out Mexico's hitherto unexamined participation in U.S. migration control. U.S. immigration restrictions coincided with growing nationalism in Mexico, whose government viewed their emigrants' cheap labor as a national resource and their deportation from the United States as an indignity. Indeed, such concerns prompted Mexico to establish its own Border Patrol in 1953. Although never reaching the size of its U.S. counterpart, Mexican efforts to restrict the movement of its citizens led to bilateral collaboration between both governments and pushed unauthorized migrants to increasingly perilous methods and areas for crossing.

Migra! concludes by examining the Border Patrol's development into an organization that policed drugs as well as people. In the wake of the mass deportation drive known as "Operation Wetback" in 1954, which Hernández frames as more a public relations campaign than a genuine effort to oust all unauthorized Mexican migrants, the Border Patrol sought new ways to establish itself as the federal government's most essential police force on the nation's edge. The Border Patrol's interception of smugglers bearing narcotics, in particular, expanded the organization's activities beyond immigration law enforcement to the broader mission of "crime control." (213)

Aside from providing the most thorough history of the Border Patrol to date, Hernández's Migra! makes significant contributions in the fields of transnational borderlands and Mexican American studies. Well written and highly insightful, the book will serve students, scholars, and policy makers well.

Copyright © 2013 The Texas State Historical Association
Project MUSE® - View Citation
George T. Díaz. "Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol by Kelly Lytle Hernández (review)." Southwestern Historical Quarterly 116.4 (2013): 419-420. Project MUSE. Web. 8 Jan. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Díaz, G. T.(2013). Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol by Kelly Lytle Hernández (review). Southwestern Historical Quarterly 116(4), 419-420. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved January 8, 2014, from Project MUSE database.
George T. Díaz. "Migra! A...

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