- Spaces of Law in American Foreign Relations: Extradition and Extraterritoriality in the Borderlands and Beyond, 1877–1898
This book has a deceptive title. Although it is an examination of extradition and extraterritoriality, Daniel Margolies has brought the myriad ways United [End Page 215] States federal authorities crossed and sought to cross the U.S.-Mexican border with impunity to bear on the punishment of property crime, the definition of crime, and the use of judicial standards to evaluate political issues in Texas and northern Mexico. These authorities sought to impose a predictable, business-friendly American order unto Mexican and American citizens alike. This book narrates the legal making of a transnational American order in northern Mexico and other similarly positioned countries.
Spaces of Law brings a hidden transnational undercurrent in American law and informal public policy into public view. It documents a thread in public policy that connects the 1877 Salt War in El Paso to American police efforts against Mexican insurgents at the turn of the century. Courts and consuls allowed local officials in Texas to detain and prosecute people outside their immediate jurisdiction, and found ways to make these cross-border adventures defensible exercises in sovereignty. What is particularly fascinating about this meticulously documented study are the “unique interactions between the highest level of foreign policy creations and the most local points of police power” (15) that extradition practices made possible.
Spaces of Law richly documents the numerous ways consuls and ambassadors intervened in criminal prosecutions and judicial affairs in Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. In Margolies’s re-telling of cattle property disputes, libel charges, and contract disputes, officials in the border states took diplomatic leeway to exert state power in Mexico. Moreover, when businessmen and newspapermen in those states perceived that the State Department was not pursuing their interests with the proper intensity, they were happy to pressure federal authorities to do so. This transnational realm of public policy became astonishingly beholden to border-states commercial interests. For Margolies, the successful efforts to extradite the people who fled to Mexico after defending themselves against the Texas Rangers during the El Paso Salt War points out the ways extradition was part of the panoply of extra-legal state power in Texas. Margolies’s analysis of the Cutting case—the trial of newspaperman Alonzo Cutting for libel in Ciudad Juárez—points out the ways American officials began to use American citizenship to justify extraterritorial interventions into judicial affairs in Mexico.
Spaces of Law is at its best when it examines the wide ranging U.S.-based debate over the nature of crime and criminals and its effect on the practices of extradition and extraterritorial authority. The State Department definition of “dynamite crimes” like the Haymarket Affair and violent actions like train robberies by organized paramilitary groups as extraditable crimes that were “too political to be criminal and too criminal to be political” should be required readings for people interested in the prehistory of the “enemy combatant” and “extraordinary rendition” in the history of the United States. I wish Margolies had explained more clearly who was able to set the transnational machinery in motion and thus illustrate whether the relative political power and commercial clout of ethnic Mexicans in urban communities along the border also translated into access to this form of state power.
Spaces of Law is an important contribution to the scholarship on state violence and American state-building, and should be read alongside recent works like Nicole Guidotti-Hernández’s Unspeakable Violence, Elliot Young’s Catarino Garza’s Revolution on the Texas-Mexico border, and Karl Jacoby’s Shadows on the Land. This is [End Page 216] an enthralling investigation of the sovereign exception in the making of American foreign policy practices.