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  • Uncle Sam’s Policeman: The Pursuit of Fugitives across Borders by Katherine Unterman
  • Andrae Marak
Uncle Sam’s Policeman: The Pursuit of Fugitives across Borders. By Katherine Unterman (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2015) 288 pp. $35.00

Unterman’s Uncle Sam’s Policeman is a delightful romp through more than 100 years of the United States’ pursuit of fugitives from the law. She begins her study by exploring the ways in which the United States’ determination to follow the rule of law in the 1880s allowed embezzlers, for the most part, to walk across the Detroit–Windsor (or El Paso–Ciudad Juárez) bridge to evade the rule of law. She ends her study a century later when the United States adopted the practice of extraordinary rendition (extralegal kidnapping) in order to place potential terrorists into black sites and locations such as Guantanamo that are beyond the reach of the law.

The meat of the book focuses on the crimes of mobility that emerged as a result of new technologies that facilitated greater flows of goods and higher levels of economic activity. On the one hand, the availability and accessibility of railroads and steamships increased the likelihood that employees would engage in opportunistic embezzlement. On the other hand, telegraphs, passports, photographs, and fingerprint cards helped policing agencies to catch criminals if they did not get too much of a head start. Who had the advantage, state agents or fugitives? The answer was neither. Even though U.S. law actually prevented the U.S. government from pursuing fugitives across borders, it did not prevent U.S. corporations from hiring private detectives, such as the Pinkertons, to do so. These detectives often engaged in a series of confidence scams, such as hiring women to seduce male fugitives into crossing back into the United States where they could be apprehended.

Canada and Mexico (the locations to which fugitives were most likely to flee) and other Latin American countries were not necessarily in favor of changing their laws to make extradition back to the United States easier. Certain Latin American countries, like Honduras, even viewed embezzlers as excellent sources of investment capital, often actively encouraging them to stay. The United States responded to the limitations imposed by its law by trying to establish a series of bilateral extradition treaties, envisioned through the lens of the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary. By creating an “empire of justice,” the United States aimed to enforce the rule of law around the world (or at least the Western Hemisphere). Unterman effectively explores the terms under which the United States eventually permitted the extradition of its own citizens to other countries as well as the assumptions about whiteness and U.S. nationality that led to a backlash against the extradition of white U.S. citizens to developing countries, which were often viewed as incapable of providing justice for them.

Unterman’s book makes two important contributions. First, it demonstrates that the United States and its allies began to intrepret laws to affect policy outcomes, regardless of the original intent. The move [End Page 248] from extradition to deportation, for example, shifted the grounds for expelling fugitives from the judicial to the executive branch, speeding up transfer even as it undermined due process. Second, the book alters the focus from the ways in which immigrants, terrorists, and others were able to penetrate the sovereignty of the United States to the ways in which the United States has increasingly and routinely violated the sovereignty of other nations, even when doing so was against international law. Back during the gilded age, the United States was loath to commit such intrusions simply as a matter of principle.

Andrae Marak
Governors State University


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pp. 248-249
Launched on MUSE
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