Clandestine Crossings

Clandestine Crossings: Migrants and Coyotes on the Texas-Mexico Border

David Spener
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Clandestine Crossings
    Book Description:

    Clandestine Crossings delivers an in-depth description and analysis of the experiences of working-class Mexican migrants at the beginning of the twenty-first century as they enter the United States surreptitiously with the help of paid guides known as coyotes. Drawing on ethnographic observations of crossing conditions in the borderlands of South Texas, as well as interviews with migrants, coyotes, and border officials, Spener details how migrants and coyotes work together to evade apprehension by U.S. law enforcement authorities as they cross the border. In so doing, he seeks to dispel many of the myths that misinform public debate about undocumented immigration to the United States.

    The hiring of a coyote, Spener argues, is one of the principal strategies that Mexican migrants have developed in response to intensified U.S. border enforcement. Although this strategy is typically portrayed in the press as a sinister organized-crime phenomenon, Spener argues that it is better understood as the resistance of working-class Mexicans to an economic model and set of immigration policies in North America that increasingly resemble an apartheid system. In the absence of adequate employment opportunities in Mexico and legal mechanisms for them to work in the United States, migrants and coyotes draw on their social connections and cultural knowledge to stage successful border crossings in spite of the ever greater dangers placed in their path by government authorities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6039-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    David Spener
  4. Terminology Used in This Book
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Lives on the Line
    (pp. 1-27)

    This book documents and analyzes the experiences of Mexican men and women whose poverty and difficult circumstances at home obliged them to journey to the United States in search of work or to reunite with family members who had already done so. They would have liked to have had official permission from the U.S. government to do so, but they knew that such an invitation would not be forthcoming, so they crossed the border anyway, in spite of the risks involved. Mexicans have been crossing their country’s border with the United States clandestinely since the early 1900s, and in large...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Unfolding of Apartheid in South Texas: Domination, Resistance, and Migration
    (pp. 28-59)

    The Northeast Mexico-South Texas border region has been one of the principal corridors for Mexican migration to the United States since the late nineteenth century. It was the single most important migratory corridor between the two countries until the 1960s, when a variety of factors combined to redirect much of the flow of migrants toward California through the Tijuana-San Diego corridor. In order to understand the dynamics of resistencia hormiga at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we must first examine the particularities of the region’s history and its social, economic, and geographical characteristics. A vital part of this history...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Clandestine Crossing at the Beginning of the Twenty-first Century: The Long March through the Brush Country
    (pp. 60-86)

    Absent the possibility of supporting themselves and their families at a decent standard of living at home, communities in many parts of Mexico at the end of the twentieth century continued to do what they had been doing for most of the previous hundred years—they took matters into their own hands and sent thousands of their members north to work in the United States. Reacting to this autonomous movement and the political headaches it provoked, the U.S. government dramatically intensified policing of its southern border. As described in the previous chapter, this policing took the form of a series...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Coyotaje as a Cultural Practice Applied to Migration
    (pp. 87-120)

    With intensified surveillance of the South Texas border by U.S. authorities in the 1990s and early 2000s, autonomous Mexican migrants have increasingly turned to coyotes to help them enter the United States to live, work, and reunite with their families. Though the proportion of migrants hiring coyotes today may be higher than in the past, the practice itself is far from new: coyotes have played a significant role in the migratory process since Mexicans first began traveling to the United States to work in large numbers at the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the role played by coyotes in...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Coyotaje and Migration in the Contemporary Period
    (pp. 121-161)

    In this chapter I review the range of activities and actors that constituted coyotaje on the Texas-Mexico border in the first years of the twenty-first century as documented in my own fieldwork, in federal court records of cases involving the “harboring and/or transporting of aliens,” and in published press accounts.¹ All but one of the coyotaje strategies discussed here (short-distance coyotaje) had as their goal the undetected movement of migrants across the Río Bravo into U.S. territory, then through the border region of Texas to one of several cities—San Antonio, Houston, Austin, or Dallas-Fort Worth—in the Texas interior....

  10. CHAPTER 5 Trust, Distrust, and Power: The Social Embeddedness of Coyote-Assisted Border-Crossings
    (pp. 162-200)

    Although the U.S. government’s massive investment in border control in South Texas at the turn of the twenty-first century appeared to have done little to prevent clandestine migration through the region, it certainly raised the risks and costs that Mexican migrants had to bear as they attempted to cross the border. As discussed in earlier chapters, the increased risks included drowning, snakebite, dehydration, and death from exposure to the elements. These were symptomatic of the intensification by the U.S. government of apartheid as a system that inflicted ever-greater levels of structural violence against Mexican peasants and workers. The increased costs...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Passing Judgment: Coyotes in the Discourse of Clandestine Border-Crossing
    (pp. 201-229)

    In the previous chapters, I have described the process of coyotaje on the Northeast Mexico-South Texas border as a heterogeneous phenomenon, involving a range of participants who engaged in a multiplicity of social relations as they pursued a variety of clandestine border-crossing strategies. In so doing, I have tried to offer a more detailed and nuanced account of how clandestine border-crossing occurred on this stretch of the border than was typically offered by government officials and disseminated in media accounts. To the extent that space has permitted, I have used migrants’ and coyotes’ own descriptions of their experiences in order...

  12. CONCLUSION. Ending Apartheid at the Border
    (pp. 230-236)

    In these pages I have employed a framework for interpreting the dynamics of international migration and the border-crossing practices of Mexican migrants that offers a set of alternatives to the conceptual categories and terminology that characterize the mainstream discourse about these intertwined phenomena. Using the concepts of global apartheid, autonomous international migration, everyday resistance, and coyotaje I have tried to tell a different story about international migration and border-crossing than the usual one that focuses on the illegality and undesirability of the process and the people who are involved in it. The story I have told about border-crossing at the...

  13. Data Sources and Research Methods
    (pp. 237-250)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 251-270)
  15. References
    (pp. 271-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-298)