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Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol

Kelly Lytle Hernández
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This is the untold history of the United States Border Patrol from its beginnings in 1924 as a small peripheral outfit to its emergence as a large professional police force. To tell this story, Kelly Lytle Hernández dug through a gold mine of lost and unseen records stored in garages, closets, an abandoned factory, and in U.S. and Mexican archives. Focusing on the daily challenges of policing the borderlands and bringing to light unexpected partners and forgotten dynamics,Migra!reveals how the U.S. Border Patrol translated the mandate for comprehensive migration control into a project of policing Mexicans in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94571-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. Map of the U.S.Mexico Border Region
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Toward the end of the Great Depression, DC Comics launched its fantastic tale of an orphaned infant alien who grew up to become an American hero named Superman. The Superman saga begins with the young superhero’s dramatic arrival on earth. Just moments before the destruction of his home planet, Krypton, Superman’s parents rocket their infant son toward salvation in Kansas. Adopted by a childless but moral and God-fearing couple, Superman spends his early years as nothing more than an average Anglo-American boy coming of age in rural America. But beneath his external appearance, he is different. Unlike his neighbors, superman...

  7. PART ONE: Formation

    • [PART ONE: Introduction]
      (pp. 17-18)

      ESTABLISHED IN MAY OF 1924, the United states Border Patrol’s broad police powers rested in its mandate to protect the national interest by enforcing federal immigration laws. Yet, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, poor national coordination effectively regionalized the development of U.S. immigration law enforcement. Part 1 of this book examines the complexity of the U.S. Border Patrol’s turn toward policing unsanctioned Mexican immigration in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. In the greater Texas-Mexico borderlands, defined by the two Texas-based Border Patrol districts with jurisdiction extending from the Gulf of Mexico to southeastern Arizona, the first officers were local boys who had...

    • 1 The Early Years
      (pp. 19-44)

      Hired in El Paso, Texas, in September 1924, Emmanuel Avant “Dogie” Wright was one of the first officers of the United States Border Patrol. Born and raised in the Texas-Mexico borderlands, Dogie had deep roots in the region where he worked for twenty-seven years as a U.S. Border Patrol officer. Dogie’s great-grandparents, Elizabeth and John Jackson Tumlinson, had joined Stephen Austin’s 1822 expedition into the northern Mexican province of Coahuila y Tejas (Texas).¹ Dogie’s great-grandparents were among the original Anglo-American colonists, commonly known as the “Old Three Hundred,” in Austin’s Texas project. Although many in the Austin expedition were southern...

    • 2 A Sanctuary of Violence
      (pp. 45-69)

      When they were kids, Jean Pyeatt and Fred D’Alibini would “gather up rocks and pile them up on the school grounds so that they’d fight the Mexicans during recess.”¹ They were children of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands who defended the inequities between whites and Mexicanos when the borderlands’ sometimes ambivalent system of racialization failed to clearly mark the difference. Years later, as officers of the United States Border Patrol, they traded their rocks for shotguns and converted their child’s play into police practice. As Border Patrol officers, their violence introduced a new way of marking the meaning of race in the...

    • 3 The California-Arizona Borderlands
      (pp. 70-82)

      When theU.S. Border Patrol archived its discontinued correspondence recordswith the National Archives in 1957, very few records were forwarded from the Los Angeles District, which stretched from the Pacific Ocean to east of Yuma, Arizona, and extended north in California to san Luis Obispo. The bulk of the records addressed Border Patrol activity in the Texas-based districts and the Canadian border region. But in records ranging from oral histories and press accounts to U.S. District Court records and annual statistical reports for Border Patrol activities, the story of the U.S. Border Patrol in the western U.S.-Mexico borderlands emerges and reveals...

    • 4 Mexico’s Labor Emigrants, America’s Illegal Immigrants
      (pp. 83-98)

      In 1910, a widespread uprising brought an end to Porfirio Díaz’s thirty-five year reign as the president of Mexico. Campesinos, exiles, anarchists, and middle-class malcontents all rebelled against the processes of land dispossession, capital accumulation, and political centralization that were embedded within Díaz’s vision of “order and progress.” Díaz’s ouster came quickly: it took just several months to send him into exile. But the fighting lasted seven years as the various factions and leaders of the revolution battled for dominance. By 1917, the fighting finally eased, and the promise of a new day glimmered at the edges of a society...

  8. PART TWO: Transformation

    • [PART TWO: Introduction]
      (pp. 101-102)

      BY THE END OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION, Border Patrol work in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands was almost entirely dedicated to the project of policing unsanctioned Mexican immigration. The project had a massive social impact, rescripting the story of race in America by binding Mexicanos to the caste of illegals. Still, in relationship to the broader matrix of federal law enforcement, the Border Patrol remained a tiny outfit, and its presence in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands was smaller than the distribution of Border Patrol personnel along the U.S.-Canadian border. Part two examines the shifts in U.S. immigration law enforcement during the early 1940s,...

    • 5 A New Beginning
      (pp. 103-124)

      When the United States entered World War II, the scope of Border Patrol responsibilities expanded. For example, during the war, Officer Bob Salinger was moved from his station along the Texas-Mexico border and assigned to guard against enemy submarines by patrolling along the Gulf of Mexico.¹ In California, Border Patrol officers transported Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants to internment camps operated by the Immigration and Naturalization service. Officers also served as guards at INS internment camps throughout the war.² In new york, Border Patrolmen interrogated German and Italian nationals regarding their sympathies for Hitler and fascism. The assignment of U.S....

    • 6 The Corridors of Migration Control
      (pp. 125-150)

      On January 17, 1948, funeral home owner M. K. Fritz sat down to read his morning paper in Chicago, Illinois. In it he read about a case of racial discrimination against a Mexican national. He was so enraged by the incident that he mailed the clipping to Miguel Alemán, the president of Mexico, to let him “get a look at the way people of color are treated here in this country of ours.”¹ Fritz did not understand racial discrimination as an aberration of life in America. “We the Negro people,” he wrote “have been subject to it for a many...

    • 7 Uprising: A Farmers’ Rebellion
      (pp. 151-166)

      In May of 1947, the remaining old-timers sat vigil. The U.S. Border Patrol they had built was gone, and the man they had idealized was dying. Jefferson Davis Milton had been with the Border Patrol since its first day on patrol on July 1, 1924, but after a long career as a patrolman, Milton had entered the last days of his life. For Milton, it had been a “long period of excruciating illness.”¹ The once powerful man was weakened by old age and debilitated by illness. His old-timer friends tried to visit as much as possible, but they were busier...

  9. PART THREE: Operation Wetback and Beyond

    • [PART THREE: Introduction]
      (pp. 169-170)

      BY THE EARLY 1950S, U.S. Border Patrol officials readily confessed to a crisis of control along the U.S.-Mexico border. A little more than two million Mexican men entered the United States as legal braceros, but many others, quite often the men, women, and family groups categorically excluded from the Bracero Program, entered the U.S. illegally. Amid the Border Patrol’s crisis of control, the south Texas rebellion represented a crisis of consent among influential growers who refused to concede to the new era of migration control. The recalcitrant farmers were few, but they leveled damaging indictments against the Border Patrol and...

    • 8 The Triumphs of ’54
      (pp. 171-195)

      In June of 1954, the U.S. Border Patrol announced that it would soon launch its most aggressive and innovative Operation Wetback campaign to date. The U.S. attorney general and the recently hired commissioner of the INS, retired general Joseph swing, chronicled the campaign as it unfolded. Beginning at dawn on June 10, 1954, hundreds of U.S. Border Patrol officers on detail from throughout the country set up roadblocks in California and western Arizona, where they nabbed almost eleven thousand unsanctioned Mexican immigrants in the next seven days. In the following three months, Border Patrol task forces swept through south Texas,...

    • 9 “The Day of the Wetback Is Over”
      (pp. 196-217)

      “The day of the wetback is over,” declared Commissioner Swing in January 1955. Swing’s proud victory rested on a broken Bracero Program, changes in U.S. Border Patrol practice, and a statistical sleight of hand, but his proclamations of triumph along the U.S.-Mexico border announced an end to the crises of consent and control that had consumed U.S. Border Patrol practice for a decade. For all the smoke and mirrors, Swing and the triumphs of 1954 closed a chapter in the history of the Border Patrol and opened a series of questions regarding the future of migration control in the United...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 218-234)

    On May 28, 1974, the U.S. Border Patrol celebrated its golden anniversary. Established fifty years earlier as a small outfit of officers, the patrol had seen many changes since those early days. Amid the chaos of the wetback’s return and the constant escalation of America’s war on drugs, Border Patrol officials paused to revel in a commemorative understanding of their past. In countless speeches, presentations, and publications, Border Patrol officials told epic tales of rising from obscurity to defend the nation by aggressively enforcing U.S. immigration laws. Except for a brief moment during World War II, national security was a...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 235-284)
    (pp. 285-298)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 299-312)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-315)