Latino Studies

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 501–522 | Cite as

“Traitors” to race, “traitors” to nation: Latina/o immigration enforcement agents, identification and the racial state

  • Greg Prieto
Original Article


Latina/o immigration enforcement agents, who represent 52 per cent of all US Border Patrol agents, are often confronted with the accusation “traitor.” Drawing on ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews, I argue that this term reinscribes the boundaries of a normative Latina/o identity constituted, in part, by a transnational racial solidarity. At the level of identification, “traitor” draws at least two responses from Latina/o agents. Some assert that their “connection” to the migrants they police leads them to engage their work more humanely than their fellow agents. Other Latina/o agents, by contrast, profess a primary commitment to the inviolability of US national boundaries. Both approaches, however, buttress the hegemonic racial state. The racial and ethnic diversity of the ranks of US immigration enforcement, combined with the adoption of a more humane approach by some agents, underpins the racial project of immigration enforcement. This study illuminates the multiplicity of Latina/o racial identities and the functioning of the contemporary racial state in a supposedly “post-racial” era of diversity and nominal inclusion.


immigration race identity border patrol US–Mexico border Latinas/os 



This research was supported by the University of California Diversity Initiative for Graduate Study in the Social Sciences (UC DIGSSS). With sincere gratitude, the author would like to thank Professors John Mohr and John Park, and especially Josiah Heyman, Lee Maril, Jennifer Earl and Howard Winant whose feedback shaped this article. Thanks are due to Carly Rush for her research assistance and to Katrina Kimport and Michelle Emery for their very useful comments. Finally, I extend my deep appreciation to the respondents who participated in this research; their contributions made this work possible.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Greg Prieto
    • 1
  1. 1.University of San Diego

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