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The Prison and the Border: An Ethnography of Shifting Border Security Logics

Abstract

This study examines the ways in which border controls have taken on aspects of crime control. To understand this transformation, I draw on the methods of historical anthropologists who blend ethnographic and historical tools of analysis. The historical research shows that the shift occurred in 1990s, when New Democrats adopted crime politics of the New Right and supported bipartisan policies that restructured detention, deportation, and criminal prosecution. The ethnography documents the ways in which border controls have taken on aspects of internal security and domestic policing, shifts seldom captured in contemporary border security debates.

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Notes

  1. Drugs were 32% of all offenses followed by immigration offenses at 30%. See Figure A, “Offenders in Each Primary Offense Category,” U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2016 Datafile, USSCFY16 in U. S. Sentencing Commission’s 2016 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/annual-reports-and-sourcebooks/2016/FigureA.pdf

  2. The author wishes to thank the sociologist Atef Said for conversations on historically grounded ethnography and for sharing these sources.

  3. For an earlier monograph analyzing street-level approaches to immigration processing, see Coutin 2003.

  4. For a discussion on “consequence-delivery” approaches to immigration enforcement, see Meissner et al. 2013 and Rosenblum 2012.

  5. Criminal Aliens Incarceration Act of 1993, H.R. 2438, 103rd Congress, 1993.

  6. Criminal Alien and Prison Overcrowding Act, H.R. 4440, 102nd Congress, 1992.

  7. Criminal Alien Deportation and Enhanced Transfer Act of 1993, S. 1571, 103rd Congress, 1993.

  8. Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009, 1996.

  9. Oral history with retired Border Patrol agent (1945-1984), February 19, 2003. Bracero History Archive, http://braceroarchive.org/items/show/80

  10. Oral history with retired Border Patrol agent, 2003. See also (Lytle Hernández 2010).

  11. On file with the author. Operation Safeguard: The Administration’s FY1995 Immigration Initiative for Arizona. Washington, D.C.: Department of Homeland Security

  12. Since 2004 Arizona Daily Star has been compiling and reporting on border deaths in the Tucson Border Sector.

  13. For a brief overview of measures to incarcerate foreign-born offenders in their country of origin see Aleinikoff and Taylor, Deportation of Criminal Aliens: A Geopolitical Perspective.

  14. In Padilla v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court ruled that criminal defense lawyers must inform their clients about how “deportation is an integral part—indeed, sometimes the most important part—of the penalty that may be imposed on noncitizen defendants who plead guilty to specified crimes.”

  15. On file with the author. Agenda: Discussion and Possible Direction regarding Cochise County Jail Expansion/Remodel (Bisbee), Board of Supervisors, July 8, 2014. http://agenda.cochise.az.gov/agenda_publish.cfm?id=&mt=WKS&get_month=7&get_year=2014&dsp=agm&seq=1860&rev=0&ag=711&ln=30518&nseq=0&nrev=0&pseq=&prev=#ReturnTo30518.

  16. TRAC Immigration, Federal Prosecutors along Southwest Border Overwhelmed by Soaring Arizona Drug Cases, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse: Immigration, Syracuse University, April 19, 2010. http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/230/.

  17. On file with the author. Federal Courts Hit Hard by Increased Law Enforcement on Border: Defendants Charged in the Border District Courts and Courts Affected, Third Branch, July 2008. http://www.uscourts.gov/news/TheThirdBranch/08–07–01/Federal_Courts_Hit_Hard_by_Increased_Law_Enforcement_on_Border.aspx.

  18. On file with the author, internal memo, November 22, 2005.

  19. See also Federal Courts Hit Hard by Increased Law Enforcement on Border: Defendants Charged in the Border District Courts and Courts Affected, Third Branch, July 2008. http://www.uscourts.gov/news/TheThirdBranch/08–07–, 01/Federal_Courts_Hit_Hard_by_Increased_Law_Enforcement_on_Border.aspx. On file with the author.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Joseph Nevins, Atef Said, and John O’Malley for conversations about this manuscript. I am also grateful to Rebecca Hanson and the anonymous reviewers for insightful feedback throughout the editorial process.

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Correspondence to Patrisia Macías-Rojas.

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Macías-Rojas, P. The Prison and the Border: An Ethnography of Shifting Border Security Logics. Qual Sociol 41, 221–242 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-018-9382-2

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Keywords

  • Migration
  • Border policing
  • Internal security
  • Crime politics
  • U.S.-Mexico boundary