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Run for the Border

Run for the Border: Vice and Virtue in U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings

Steven W. Bender
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 233
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  • Book Info
    Run for the Border
    Book Description:

    Mexico and the United States exist in a symbiotic relationship: Mexico frequently provides the United States with cheap labor, illegal goods, and, for criminal offenders, a refuge from the law. In turn, the U.S. offers Mexican laborers the American dream: the possibility of a better livelihood through hard work. To supply each other's demands, Americans and Mexicans have to cross their shared border from both sides. Despite this relationship, U.S. immigration reform debates tend to be security-focused and center on the idea of menacing Mexicans heading north to steal abundant American resources. Further, Congress tends to approach reform unilaterally, without engaging with Mexico or other feeder countries, and, disturbingly, without acknowledging problematic southern crossings that Americans routinely make into Mexico. In Run for the Border, Steven W. Bender offers a framework for a more comprehensive border policy through a historical analysis of border crossings, both Mexico to U.S. and U.S. to Mexico. In contrast to recent reform proposals, this book urges reform as the product of negotiation and implementation by cross-border accord; reform that honors the shared economic and cultural legacy of the U.S. and Mexico. Covering everything from the history of Anglo crossings into Mexico to escape law authorities, to vice tourism and retirement in Mexico, to today's focus on Mexican border-crossing immigrants and drug traffickers, Bender takes lessons from the past 150 years to argue for more explicit and compassionate cross-border cooperation. Steeped in several disciplines, Run for the Border is a blend of historical, cultural, and legal perspectives, as well as those from literature and cinema, that reflect Bender's cultural background and legal expertise.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8953-7
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    For years, Congress has been debating so-called comprehensive immigration reform proposals. Especially since the September 11 attacks, these proposals are grounded in U.S.-Mexico border security measures that include using walls, technology, and expanded border patrol fleets to exclude undocumented entrants and drug traffickers and to block terrorists who might someday enter through our southern border, along with increased internal enforcement to detect undocumented immigrants within the United States and deport them. Some of the more compassionate proposals address the fate of millions of undocumented immigrants already toiling in U.S. jobs by offering them a chance to legalize their status. Some...

  5. PART I. Running for the Border to Escape Justice

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 9-10)

      The phrase “run for the border” originated long before its use in Taco Bell fast food advertising. As examined herein, it represents the familiar image of the treacherous Mexican outlaw running south for the Mexican border to escape justice in the United States. In the last few decades, the phrase also came to connote border passages in the opposite direction—undocumented immigrant Mexicans headed for the United States to work in jobs across the lower-income spectrum in fields, factories, and at fast food restaurants that ironically include Taco Bell. Although U.S. residents tend to associate running for the border, in...

    • 1 El Fugitivo
      (pp. 11-26)

      Taco Bell’s “Run for the Border” slogan tapped into a rich and longstanding vein of bandido imagery in U.S. media. The cinematic Mexican bandido dates to the silent “greaser” films of the early 1900s, depicting Mexicans as dirty, oily, and gap-toothed in appearance, and as treacherous and soulless in character.¹ They slung guns, swilled tequila, and terrorized gringo men, women, and children while prowling the borderlands terrain. As one writer put it, Mexican bandits “robbed, murdered, plundered, raped, cheated, gambled, lied, and displayed virtually every vice that could be shown on screen.”³ In the silentCowboy’s Baby(1910), for example, a...

  6. PART II. Economic Motivations for Southbound Border Runs

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 27-30)

      U.S. citizens retiring in Mexico or purchasing a vacation residence on its sandy beaches, and U.S. corporations headed south of the border, tend to share the economic motivation of maximizing wealth or profit. Yet even more striking economic imperatives propel most Mexican immigrants headed north. The Mexican immigrant often has lived hand to mouth in Mexico and aims to make a better life for his or her family, and in many cases simply to survive. By contrast, retirees, second-home owners, and U.S. companies intend to enhance wealth, not grasp a chance at survival.

      Mexican immigration north defines the relationship today...

    • 2 Gringos in Paradise
      (pp. 31-39)

      Addressed in chapter 4 is the lure of Mexico as a tourist destination. Related to that impetus for transitory south-of-the-border runs is Mexico’s more permanent attraction to retirees and second-home buyers, as well as telecommuters and others with the flexibility to conduct their business in the United States from Mexican turf. In 2005, theDallas MorningNews reported that more than one million U.S. citizens were living in Mexico at least part of the time, a fivefold increase over the decade.² The largest group of this migration is retirees. Published byInternational Livingmagazine, albeit before drug violence gripped the...

    • 3 A Giant Sucking Sound
      (pp. 40-52)

      Just as U.S. retirees and second-home owners have journeyed south of the border for economic advantage, so too have U.S. entrepreneurs and corporations run for the Mexican border for decades to profit from Mexican business and labor markets. Around the start of the twentieth century, U.S. entrepreneurs amassed controlling stakes in crucial Mexican economic sectors such as railroads, mining, and petroleum that could serve U.S. markets by extracting Mexican resources. More recently, U.S. entrepreneurs entered Mexico by means of the maquiladora structure (from the Spanish word maquilar, meaning to perform a task for another) to produce goods in Mexico meant...

  7. PART III. Illicit Motivations for Southbound Border Runs

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 53-56)

      For at least a century, U.S. residents have crossed the border into Mexico to engage in activities otherwise illicit¹ in the United States. In contrast, in Mexico these pursuits were legal or, if not, at least more readily available. This history demonstrates that differences in law can prompt border crossings, particularly transitory crossings, whether for lust, addiction, or other aims. Although additional factors spur border crossings, especially economic advantage, there is no question about the role of law as a motivation of the first order.

      Prohibition best illustrates this assertion. Starting with the ban of alcohol in Texas in 1918...

    • 4 Margaritaville: The Lure of Alcohol
      (pp. 57-69)

      Before Prohibition, Mexico’s border region had already begun to draw vice tourists based on differences in laws. For example, the state of California, like many U.S. cities, forced out prostitution in the early 1900s.¹ California banned betting on horse racing in 1915, and two years later banned professional boxing.² In Tijuana, horse racing and organized boxing dated to the late nineteenth century, attracting some tourists,³ and Baja California authorized gambling more broadly in 1908.⁴ Similarly, reform efforts against vice in El Paso on the threshold of Prohibition led gamblers, and johns seeking prostitutes, to travel south of the border and...

    • 5 Losin’ It: Prostitution and the Child Sex Trade
      (pp. 70-78)

      Eclectic international rocker Manu Chao’s signature ode to Tijuana—“Welcome to Tijuana”—includes in its chorus the three vices U.S. residents tend to associate with the Mexican border town—tequila, sex, and marijuana. Constituting a wide range of indulgences, the south-of-the-border sex industry prompts border crossings to view sex shows and strippers, as well as to solicit prostitutes, including abhorrent child sex tourism. Over the years, the availability in Mexico of sex for sale and sex shows for voyeurs has drawn mostly men across the border to quench their sexual thirsts and in some cases their depravity.

      Our unflattering attitudes...

    • 6 Going Southbound: Mexican Divorces and Medical Border Runs
      (pp. 79-84)

      Differences in laws throughout history have drawn U.S. residents south of the border. As with travel southward for illicit entertainment and the pleasures of drinking, gambling, and sex described in earlier chapters, U.S. and Mexican residents crossed the border in both directions for a variety of other aims that took advantage of permissiveness in one country, or at least the more ready availability of goods and services. As laws change from time to time between the two bordering countries, border crossings are reshaped too. The following examples of mostly southbound crossings demonstrate the connectedness between Mexican and U.S. law, and...

  8. PART IV. Economic Motivations for Northbound Border Runs

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 85-90)

      The variety of border crossings by U.S. residents into Mexico, some of them detailed above, run into the many millions annually. Border politics today nevertheless are shaped by the numerically much smaller reverse flow from Mexico of undocumented immigrants and drug runners annually into the United States. For example, during the recession years of 2007 through 2009, only about 150,000 undocumented immigrants came to the United States annually from Mexico.¹ Despite the smaller numbers of these northbound entrants, this policy influence warrants the detailed emphasis below on the history of these controversial northbound crossings.

      In the minds of many U.S....

    • 7 Rum-Running for the Border
      (pp. 91-94)

      Graham’sBorder Townadventure novel outlined the mechanics of Prohibition-era trafficking using specially modified cars to carry a heavy cargo of booze across the border into Los Angeles. The two partners in trafficking each agreed to purchase a couple of cars, paying Los Angeles “punks” $50 a trip to drive each load, and splitting the profits. In a modified car carrying 100 cases of liquor, at a profit of $10–$20 a case, the appeal was obvious: “Johnny [Ramirez] stood on the Mexican side and watched the taillights of the [whiskey-laden] automobiles disappear [into the United States] around a bend...

    • 8 Acapulco Gold
      (pp. 95-113)

      Before switching to the equally lucrative practice of Prohibition-era rum-running,Border Town’sfictional Johnny Ramirez carried drugs across the Mexican border to Southern California, earning a substantial payment for each trip given its risks. By the time of the novel’s 1920s setting, the United States prohibited trafficking in the opiate drugs Johnny delivered. The lengthy history of drug trafficking from Mexico into the United States might surprise many who regard the drug trade as dating only to the 1960s era of hippie experimentation. Rather, the U.S.-Mexico drug trade dates to at least the late nineteenth century and reflects the willingness of...

    • 9 Coming to America
      (pp. 114-138)

      Reviewing the history of border crossings into the United States by immigrants—documented and undocumented—confirms two fundamental points. First, immigrants are lured by compelling economic forces sourced in el Norte, namely employment opportunities and wages in the United States that far surpass those available in Mexico. Second, no means of border enforcement ever undertaken will deter immigrants driven to improve their life and especially their families’ futures.

      As with the U.S. drug interdiction campaign, undocumented immigration enforcement tends to concentrate on intercepting the undocumented crosser at the border, as well as within U.S. territory.¹ Quelling the demand side of...

  9. PART V. A Framework for Comprehensive Border Reform

    • [PART V Introduction]
      (pp. 139-140)

      Comprehensive border reform requires a framework that goes beyond the border-security-centric proposals of late that assume higher walls, more border officers, and advanced technology implemented through unilateral action by the United States will snuff undocumented immigration and drug trafficking. Rather, the framework below abandons the failed U.S. obsession with interdiction strategies and instead relies on legalization in areas where the underlying justifications for impeding border flows are misinformed by stereotypes and even, in the case of marijuana criminalization, racially rooted. Still, legalization as a strategy has its limits when applied to border crossings, as some potential crossings, such as those...

    • 10 Lessons from 150 Years of Border Crossings
      (pp. 141-157)

      Comprehensive immigration reform proposals are too often dictated by biases and prerogatives of the moment that are blind to history. The history of border crossings, detailed above, supplies perspective on the shape of reform that reaches beyond just migration northward, and which situates those northbound migrants arriving to labor in the United States as deserving our appreciation rather than our resentment. Whether sourced in socioeconomic factors or in vices and addictions, border crossings in both directions must be considered first as a whole, as this chapter undertakes, before passing judgment on virtuous crossings that should be encouraged and those that...

    • 11 Good Neighbor Immigration Policy
      (pp. 158-162)

      U.S.-Mexico border history suggests that laborers will follow economic opportunity across borders if necessary, and that no barriers or other enforcement strategies will impede migrant flows driven by such economic necessity. In the compelling words of a Tucson artist: “How far would you walk to feed your children?”¹ As NAFTA did for goods, the best approach for immigration reform would place migrants at least on equal footing with trade and allow their free passage across borders toward sources of labor demand. Below is one possible framework for a labor model of immigration that relies on freedom of markets as well...

    • 12 Reefer Madness
      (pp. 163-171)

      The last 100 years of U.S.-Mexico border history reveal the futility of the war on drugs. The Prohibition-era experience of the 1920s demonstrated convincingly that legal restrictions fail to curb U.S. demand for an illicit product. Instead of quelling demand, Prohibition launched organized crime deep into the U.S. heartland and proved to be “the supreme error of our political history.”¹ As with alcohol, the U.S. habit for mind-altering substances stretches across the socioeconomic spectrum and is relatively unswayed by legal restrictions. Replicating the experience of liquor trafficking during Prohibition, the drug smuggling networks through Mexico are undeterred by enforcement strategies,...

    • 13 A Framework for Southbound Crossings
      (pp. 172-176)

      Focusing nearly obsessively on northbound crossings they find threatening, whether by undocumented immigrants or drug couriers, most every U.S. politician contends that these crossings must be halted. In response they offer simplistic and narrow solutions of enhanced border enforcement that, as shown above, will fail to deter these entries. These policymakers give little thought to reverse traffic from the United States into Mexico, as border policy from a U.S. perspective emphasizes northbound entries, and lately their suppression. Yet north-and southbound crossings are historically and inexorably connected, as the northbound migratory response to NAFTA’s decimation of Mexican agriculture revealed.

      Assuming the...

    • 14 Laws the Border Leaves Behind
      (pp. 177-182)

      Addressed previously are a variety of cross-border differences in law that have affected border crossings. Some are very subtle, such as the lower property tax rate structures in Mexico, in relation to most U.S. jurisdictions, that add to the appeal of a Mexican retirement or second home. Others are more substantial, such as Mexico’s lower drinking age and its abolition of the death penalty, the latter in contrast to its resilience in most U.S. jurisdictions. Almost across the board Mexico offers less strict regulation on the issues engaged in this text. Examples include capital punishment, drug possession, the minimum drinking...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 183-184)

    Predicting the future of border crossing is risky business, but demographics and history seem to point to several trends. In the southbound direction, as the U.S. Anglo population grows older,¹ and as the U.S. economy swings wildly as it has in the last decade, no doubt U.S. retirees will continue to flock to the border seeking a cheaper retirement on the warm shores of some Mexican beach.² The escalating drug war in Mexico may imperil this migration, but if violence crosses the border north, economics may nonetheless hold sway in the choice of locale for retirement. Moreover, regardless of location,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 185-220)
  12. Index
    (pp. 221-223)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 224-224)