Political Science Politics of the US-Mexico Border
by
Kathleen Staudt
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0245

Introduction

It is perhaps not surprising that a pioneering review essay on border politics should focus on the US-Mexico border and by extension, the borderlands of this near-2,000 mile territorial line seemingly fixed in 1848 (Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo) but then adjusted several times thereafter. With a population of approximately 14 million people in US counties and Mexican municipios (80 million in the ten border states: six in Mexico and four in the United States), and an annual half-trillion-dollar trade across the border between both countries, the significance of the US-Mexico borderlands can hardly be overstated. In the United States, people of Mexican heritage comprise the largest of the fast-growing census-counted Hispanic population of 18 percent, and significant numbers either migrated across the border or the border crossed their ancestors when Mexico lost half its territory to the United States in the mid-19th century under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In the mid-1970s, the interdisciplinary border studies discipline was born with a focus on the politics of the US-Mexico borderlands and the creation of the Association for Borderlands Studies (ABS). Many of the pioneering scholars of border studies lived, taught, and researched in the US-Mexico borderlands, illuminated in sections below. Because both the research and the scholars initially concentrated on the US-Mexico border, many border concepts emerged from richly contextualized studies in the multiple border regions and later in North America but struggled to expand toward a comparative and global approach while still exercising attentiveness to the politics of power in borderlands spaces. This essay provides an overview of key US-Mexico border political studies, with the term “political” used broadly to include both Political Processes and Institutions within borderlands, power disparities in everyday life, and public policies that impinge upon borderlands from afar, generally from the capital cities of Washington, DC, and Mexico City.

General Overviews

Border studies focus on the politics of power in space, especially space at or near international territorial lines, thus drawing interest from political geographers, political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, and historians. Historical books provide foundations for understanding how US-Mexico politics and public policies have been shaped over time, including the ways Mexico lost half of its land to the United States (Martínez 2006). Volume editors introduce readers to scholars based in both Mexico and the United States for the conceptual language of border studies and the ways they frame the binational region and its variations from the tropical climates of the Gulf of Mexico through the desert regions and to the Pacific Ocean (Spener and Staudt 1998). In the overview, bibliographic items reveal multiple research options, studies, and challenges: first, comparing Mexico and the US politics and society numerically at their borders (Anderson and Gerber 2008); second, examining how one country influences the other; third, taking a state-centric approach to examining how national policies and bureaucracies impact borderlands (Payan 2016); fourth, choosing a bottom-up perspective with the politics of power in borderlands space as the unit of analysis (Martínez 1994, Ganster and Lorey 2017). A tension exists between developing and using specific border concepts versus applying political science or other disciplinary concepts to border studies, though overview studies often reflect a mix of both. Most scholars highlighted in this general section live, teach, and research in the US-Mexico borderlands with immersion in and accumulated experiences from their everyday lives.

  • Anderson, Joan, and James Gerber. Fifty Years of Change on the US-Mexico Border: Growth, Development and Quality of Life. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

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    Although dated, this collection of ten descriptive chapters each begins with a narrative and then goes on with charts, graphs, statistical data, and pictures on topics that range from population growth to trade, the environment, and living standards. A unique aspect of the book is the authors’ use of the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index (HDI) in the multiple borderlands. One challenge of comparative analysis is that Mexico and the US censuses measure data with different units and definitions.

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  • Border Battles: The U.S. Immigration Debates.” Social Science Research Council (SSRC), 2018.

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    Issued originally in 2006, this collection of short articles features leading scholars of border policy issues such as trade, Latino politics, and Immigration policies; it contains several essays added thereafter. Despite the title, the collection focuses on more than immigration. These essays provide useful, albeit dated introductions and can be freely accessed on the SSRC website, so it is thus a useful supplement in courses. Only available online.

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  • Ganster, Paul, and David E. Lorey. The U.S.-Mexico Border: Conflict and Cooperation in Historical Perspective. 3d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

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    After six historical chapters that synthesize a general overview of diverse borderlands, Ganster and Lorey offer Chapters 7 and 8 on border issues with policy implications (environment, NAFTA, migration, drugs, culture, and security) in US-Mexico relations. Their analysis moves readers beyond stereotypes to show how the borderlands, drawing from both Mexican and US cultures, provide a distinctive society (what others have called a hybridized society).

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  • Martínez, Oscar. Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994.

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    In this influential book, historian Martínez proposes a fourfold typology of borders across time and space (alienated, coexistent, interdependent, and integrated), followed by an analysis of the types of borderlanders (known in Spanish as fronterizos and fronterizas)—national and binational—with variations within each. The typology spawned many studies in the now-interdependent US-Mexico borderlands and elsewhere in the world.

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  • Martínez, Oscar. Troublesome Border. Revised ed. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2006.

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    Using conflict as a conceptual theme, Martίnez traces the roots of North American boundary construction born in colonial (English, French, Spanish) competition and continuous US challenges after war, negotiation, and purchase resulted in the current territorial lines that severed Mexico from half its territory after 1848 and 1853. With in-depth detail and maps, the author analyzes historical sources of seminal policy differences such as free trade (zona libre through 1905, NAFTA); migration; transportation; water, air and sewage issues; land dispossession (including indigenous peoples); and violence along with micro-violence in the US southwest.

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  • Payan, Tony. The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration, and Homeland Security. 2d ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016.

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    After an historical chapter periodizing the borderlands, Payan offers a critical assessment of both Mexican and US policies and their implementation, using three logics: economic, political, and bureaucratic. Payan is one of the rare scholars to analyze bureaucratic competition, budget-seeking behavior, and expansionism in highly readable language.

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  • Spener, David, and Kathleen Staudt, eds. The U.S.-Mexico Border: Transcending Divisions, Contesting Identities. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998.

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    Providing one of the first syntheses of border theories and concepts through the 1990s in the introduction, the editors differentiate border lenses as materialist and metaphoric, then go on to explain concepts such as bordering, debordering, and rebordering as related to nationalism, state-society relations, and identity politics. Mexican and US scholars wrote nine chapters covering topics ranging from small business and cultural practices in border crossing to federalism in both countries where residents lack access to public utilities in unplanned settlements (colonias).

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  • Staudt, Kathleen, and Irasema Coronado. Fronteras no Más: Toward Social Justice at the U.S.-Mexico Border. New York: Palgrave USA, 2002.

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    This book examines nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the borderlands and the extent to which they counter or reinforce the binational elite. These political scientists develop a framework about limited democracy in the borderlands and the extent to which the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its side agreements provide a legitimacy shroud for cross-border nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in three core chapters devoted to key policies: environment, business and labor, and human rights.

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Historic Perspectives: Migration and Health

Researchers offer extensive details on continuously changing US Immigration policies and the government agencies that implemented those policies (Calavita 1992) in the southwestern United States, an area that was once northwestern and north-central Mexico before 1848. Romo 2005 is particularly fascinating for how border leaders interacted in the build-up to and beginnings of the 1910 Mexican revolution, as his analytic narrative combined with pictures, postcards, and telegram reprints graphically reveal. Historic studies show how bureaucratic enforcement waxed and waned depending on the demand for labor in the US economy and US perceptions of health threats from Mexico (Collins-Dogrul 2013, Romo 2005). The migrant journeys toward and across the US-Mexico border are fraught with dangers, best understood with a gendered perspective that distinguishes women’s and men’s experiences (Ruiz Marrujo 2009).

  • Calavita, Kitty. Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the I.N.S. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

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    The Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor co-managed the demand for Mexican agricultural laborers from 1942 and though 1964. Calavita uses archival material (the access to which is poignantly described) to analyze the contradictions between economic and political demands: cheap labor versus controlling the border. Calavita offers insights for contemporary calls for temporary “guest workers” and the exploitation that may incur.

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  • Collins-Dogrul, Julie. “Disease Knows No Borders: The Emergence and Institutionalization of Public Health Transnationalism on the US-Mexico Border.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 28.1 (2013): 61–73.

    DOI: 10.1080/08865655.2012.751730Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In the borderlands of two sovereign countries, the lack of public health cooperation can be life-threatening. Collins-Dogrul historicizes the founding of the first transnational organizations in the central borderlands, 1942, in efforts to control syphilis and other communicable diseases that continue today.

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  • Romo, David Dorado. Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juárez, 1893–1923. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2005.

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    A large book with historic images of buildings, ports of entry, and leaders, including the famous, like revolutionary Francisco (“Pancho”) Villa and the anarchist Magonist brothers, and the less well known, like Teresita Urrea and Carmelita Torres, the latter of whom is sometimes compared to Rosa Parks. Romo focuses on an era of considerable border crossing before and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920. The most shocking pictures and narrative involve the humiliating fumigation of Mexican workers with dangerous pesticides from 1917 to decades thereafter in the name of public health.

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  • Ruiz Marrujo, Olivia. “Women, Migration, and Sexual Violence: Lessons from Mexico’s Borders.” In Human Rights along the U.S.-Mexico Border: Gendered Violence and Insecurity. Edited by Kathleen Staudt, Tony Payan, and Z. Anthony Kruszewski, 31–47. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009.

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    Social anthropologist Ruiz provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the systemic and multiple dimensions of sexual violence that not only propels migration but that occurs during the migratory process. She compares her field research at Mexico’s northern border with the US and southern border with Guatemala.

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Historic Trade

Transnational trade has been studied to include both the legal and (the state-defined) illegal along with illicit criminal varieties of trade that damage people and places (Carey and Marak 2011). While some state-defined illegal trade harms people, traders and consumers often view the exchange as licit and thus, with cynicism about state-defined illegal goods designed mainly to generate revenue through tariffs and taxes and to protect national industries. Phrases like “free trade” and advocacy for it can be understood more fully with historical perspectives (Martínez 2018) about which country promoted such policies initially and the consequences it faced therefrom.

  • Carey, Elaine, and Andrae Marak, eds. Smugglers, Brothels, and Twine: Historical Perspectives on Contraband and Vice in North America’s Borderlands. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011.

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    Chapter authors in this volume analyze transnational trade across the northern and southwestern US borders as entrepreneurs and criminals found ways to supply goods and services to meet the demands of growing populations before, during, and after the US prohibition era. To meet the demand for tequila, chapter author George Díaz analyzes how tequileros used back roads to get their goods to market. Indigenous peoples often challenged US-drawn borderlines that divided them and their economic spaces on which they once freely moved.

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  • Martínez, Oscar. Ciudad Juárez: Saga of a Legendary Border City. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2018.

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    Historian Martínez traces the development of one of Mexico’s largest cities, Ciudad Juárez, on its north-central border, from 1848 (initial year of the international boundary creation) to the current era with a population of nearly two million people. This urban Mexican history is woven with that of the United States in the long-term asymmetrical power relations between both countries. Originally published as Border Boom Town: Ciudad Juarez since 1848 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975).

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Political Processes

Participation

The borders of territory, language, and identity combine to create borderland societies that differ from their mainstreams in Mexico and the United States, according to most scholars and public opinion polls (Bilker 2015). Anzaldúa 1987 pioneered the use of cultural and linguistic “hybridity” in the borderlands, although Vila 2005 challenged the use of such concepts in the central borderlands. Yet the distant capital cities of Mexico City and Washington, DC impose national policies on border people, their identities, values, attitudes, movement, and political behavior. Despite the obstacles of organizing across the international borderline of two sovereign countries, border people still forge and sustain a sense of shared community, resilience, and transnational nongovernment organizations (NGOs) (Wilder, et al. 2010; Staudt and Coronado 2002 [cited under General Overviews]; Brooks and Fox 2002). Payan 2010 advanced the use of typologies for conceptualizing how border people’s own voices might transcend and reconstruct the imposition of national policies in dialogue that moves from coordination to genuine collaboration representing multiple local binational interests. Unlike mainstream analysis, a specific focus on women allows less visible leaders and issues—such as abortion, family matters, and femicide—to emerge for more comprehensive understanding (Mattingly and Hansen 2006, Staudt and Méndez 2015).

  • Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute Press, 1987.

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    This iconic literary semipoetic feminist narrative has become heavily cited in research on the borders of identity for the way the author eloquently describes the multicultural, multilingual societies creating a new hybridized society and code-switching linguistic forms in the US-Mexico borderlands. Written before the September 11, 2001 (9/11) tragedy on the US east coast, the book predates the heavily controlled borderline and political fearmongering from politicians.

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  • Bilker, Molly. “New Poll by Cronkite News, Univision News and The Dallas Morning News Shows Strong Sense of Community on Both Sides of the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, 17 July 2015.

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    A poll of 1,427 borderlands residents in fourteen cities and towns on both sides of the US-Mexico border reflects a shared sense of borderland community. Seven of ten respondents on each side of these economically and socially interdependent urban areas do not favor the construction of a border wall. The only big difference in responses was found in trust in law enforcement. While the overwhelming majority on the US side (82 percent) trusts their police, three-fourths of respondents on the Mexico side do not trust their police.

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  • Brooks, David, and Jonathan Fox, eds. Cross-Border Dialogues: U.S.-Mexico Social Movement Networking. San Diego: Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego, 2002.

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    The edited volume contains fifteen chapters focused mainly on labor, human rights, and environmental movements. Authors focus especially on the western US-Mexico borderlands, although chapters also contain attention to indigenous peoples, rural areas, and cross-border solidarity movements with the Zapatistas (who rebelled against the central government over the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] in 1994) in Chiapas, southern Mexico.

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  • Mattingly, Doreen J., and Ellen R. Hansen, eds. Women and Change at the U.S.-Mexico Border: Mobility, Labor, and Activism. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2006.

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    The eleven chapters in this volume provide a comprehensive overview of indigenous, Mexican, and US women who cross or who live on either side of the border, attending to their work as domestics, on factory (maquiladora) assembly lines, and in politics. Irasema Coronado analyzes women’s political leadership, strategies, and issues in the borderlands. Norma Ojeda’s chapter covers the rare topic of abortion in a transborder context.

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  • Payan, Tony. “Crossborder Governance in a Tristate, Binational Region.” In Cities and Citizenship at the US-Mexico Border: The Paso del Norte Metropolitan Region. Edited by Kathleen Staudt, César Fuentes, and Julia Estela Monárrez Fragoso, 217–244. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230112919_10Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Payan advances earlier typologies of borders with clarification of the kinds of connection that can occur in interdependent and integrated borderlands where residents share common problems and visions with informal, fledgling, or developed binational Institutions. He gives special attention to the interdependent central Paso del Norte region of the US-Mexico borderlands. The typology, in tabular and hypothesis-generating form, consists of coordination, cooperation, and collaboration.

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  • Staudt, Kathleen, and Zulma Méndez. Courage, Resistance, and Women in Ciudad Juárez: Challenges to Militarization. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.

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    Using political anthropologist James C. Scott’s theoretical framework, the authors analyze how risk-taking social movement activists challenged the official narrative of state security with first hidden then counternarratives during Mexico’s militarized strategy against transnational crime organizations. Three chapters focus on key leaders of women’s social movements experienced in the antiviolence struggles against feminicidio (murders of women) and how they formed tentative alliances with other groups that challenged border militarization within and across the border.

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  • Vila, Pablo. Border Identifications: Narratives of Religion, Gender, and Class on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

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    Unlike most border scholars, sociologist Pablo Vila challenges metaphorical notions about hybridity and border crossing on both sides of the international territorial line in the central borderlands. He finds multiple sources of identity, based on a creative methodological use of pictures from both sides of the border and focus-group discussions thereof.

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  • Wilder, Margaret, Christopher A. Scott, Nicolas Pineda Pablos, Robert G. Varady, Gregg M. Garfin, and Jamie McEvoy. “Adapting across Boundaries: Climate Change, Social Learning, and Resilience in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100.4 (2010): 917–928.

    DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2010.500235Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    With special focus on the arid and vulnerable Arizona-Sonora borderlands, where a climate simulation map projects severe declines in precipitation, the authors compare three cases for whether heretofore narrow binational institutions that shape social learning can be strengthened and thereby provide resilience for better water, emergency, and coastal management. From the least to the most adaptive potential, they discuss water desalinization, data and information sharing, and the coproduction of science and policy. Also freely available online.

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Institutions

The construction of binational institutions in the border regions of two sovereign countries is difficult, even or perhaps especially in federal systems of government involving federal, state, and local institutions such as cities; municipios (municipalities, the local jurisdictional unit in Mexico); and counties. Yet residents share common interests, including air sheds, vector control, and groundwater. Many residents cross legally, even daily, in congested ports of entry. Legal northbound crossings number more than a half million daily. Several binational institutions focus on health, water, waste infrastructure, and the environment, often with posted agendas before meetings and invitations for the public to participate (see selections in Herzog 2014; Lara-Valencia and Giner 2013; Varady, et al. 1996). Binational security cooperation exists, probably the best funded of any binational institutions; however, security operations and the voices therein are less transparent, even secretive. Besides the challenges, legal formalities, and sovereignty-related political sensitivities, binational institutions tap few voices beyond government and business to engage multiple border people or represent their interests. Albeit limited, the few studies on binational institutions have further developed border concepts, shown in Herzog and Sohn 2017. Given the paucity of studies on high-profile binational institutions, agency websites with their reports and policy decisions would be worth consultation, including the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the International Boundary and Water Commission (and its Mexico counterpart on the same website), the North American Development Bank, and the US-Mexico Border Health Commission.

  • Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

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    An institutional result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), three countries fund and rotate leadership in this trinational North American institution based in Montreal. The website features over six hundred grants and projects, more than four hundred publications, and almost one hundred public submissions, some of which relate to protecting the border environment.

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  • Herzog, Lawrence. “Introduction: Globalisation, Place, and Twenty-First Century International Border Regions.” In Special Issue: Globalisation and 21st Century International Borders. Edited by Lawrence Herzog. Global Societies: Journal of Interdisciplinary International Relations 28.4 (2014): 391–397.

    DOI: 10.1080/13600826.2014.948542Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Herzog, author of Where North meets South: Cities, Space and Politics on the U.S.-Mexico Border (Austin: University of Texas Center for Mexican American Studies, 1990, now out of print) brought together several authors for a thematic issue with special focus on the US-Mexico border and large metropolitan regions with populations that transcend the international borderline. Key contributions include those of pioneering political scientist Stephen Mumme on environmental and health institutions and Keith Pezzoli, et al. on trade and the environment in their chapter “One Bioregion/One Health.”

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  • Herzog, Lawrence, and Christophe Sohn. “The Co-mingling of Border Dynamics in the San Diego-Tijuana Cross-Border Metropolis..” Territory, Politics, and Governance, 2017.

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    Drawing on border theoretical concepts, the authors develop the concept of “comingling” using the shifting experiences of the interdependent institutions in the Tijuana-San Diego region. In this large metropolitan region through which an international borderline runs through, undergoing bordering and debordering (from verbs to signify hardening-or-increasing or softening-and-decreasing controls), comingling occurs when political players conflict or collide. Their aim, to generate hypotheses, could be applied to other border cities.

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  • International Boundary and Water Commission/Comisión Internacional de Limites y Aguas.

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    Located in the Paso del Norte metropolitan region of the central borderlands (El Paso and Ciudad Juárez), the IBWC/CILA is the oldest, best funded, and most enduring binational organization, with a relatively narrow mission and policy decisions that emerge in the form of “Minutes.” The federal governments of both countries appoint directors. The binational website, offering entry into the Mexico and into the US sections, provides many reports, treaties, maps, and other resources.

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  • Lara-Valencia, Francisco, and Maria Elena Giner. “Local Responses to Climate Change Vulnerability along the Western Reach of the US-Mexico Border.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 28.2 (2013): 191–204.

    DOI: 10.1080/08865655.2013.854656Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lara-Valencia and Giner compare how binational cities in four regions of the US-Mexico respond to climate change, water shortage, and rapid industrialization affecting air quality. Ambos Nogales, both the bigger city in Sonora and the smaller town in Arizona, are situated in a valley with flooding problems. Interviews show that most officials see this as a problem, but challenges exist for solutions, including resource shortages (especially in Mexico municipalities) and deficiencies in collaboration, including federal policies that pull the cities in different national directions.

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  • North American Development Bank/Banco de Desarrollo de América del Norte.

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    In negotiation over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), side agreements emerged, the most impactful consisting of two institutions, NADBank and BECC (Border Environment Cooperation Commission) to develop, technically certify, and locate funding for border water, sewage, and sustainable energy projects in the borderlands. In 2017, the San Antonio-located NADBank incorporated the BECC, formerly located in Ciudad Juárez, but the latter’s functions continue. The websites contain annual reports, project descriptions, and funding statements.

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  • U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission.

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    Created in 2000, the commission is led by the political appointees responsible for health in Mexico and the United States: its commission members consist of state secretaries of health and various other professionals that facilitate partnerships at the state levels. The USMBHC produced a useful forty-four-page report: Healthy Border 2020: A Prevention & Health Promotion Initiative, available online. It contains goals, strategies, and measures to monitor and evaluate impact.

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  • Varady, Robert G., David Colnic, Robert Merideth, and Terry Sprouse. “The U.S.-Mexican Border Environment Cooperation Commission: Collected Perspectives on the First Two Years.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 11.2 (1996): 89–119.

    DOI: 10.1080/08865655.1996.9695492Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of NAFTA’s two side agreements focused on the environment, giving rise to three institutions: the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC), NADBank (North American Development Bank), and the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC), based in Montreal. The BECC, a binational institution based in Ciudad Juárez, certifies environmental infrastructure projects and provides technical assistance for NADBank-funded water, sewer, and energy projects. This rare study focuses on public Participation in open public meetings averaging one hundred to two hundred participants and thus the potential to democratize the borderlands. However, BECC developed no proactive outreach. (BECC and NADBank merged in 2017.)

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Public Policies and their Implementation

Although policies emitted in rhetoric, public announcements, laws, and agency decisions seem firm, their effects are made or broken based on budgetary resources, public reception or challenges, and staffing and leadership choices. Several policy and issue areas hold significance for border people and everyday life in the borderlands, as covered in subsections below: Immigration Policies, trade, the shared environment, and security—the latter defined in multiple ways that range from national territorial control due to the unauthorized entry of people and goods to human security, food and shelter needs. Both Mexico and the United States, seemingly bound by international United Nations protocols on asylum and human rights, practice or undermine adherence in mixed ways.

Immigration Policies

Despite the existence of freer trade in goods, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the movement of people is restricted, congested, and complex at and around ports of entry along the US-Mexico border. Moreover, ‘civil’ offenses related to immigration have now become ‘criminal’ offenses, with dire consequences for migrants’ subsequent abilities to apply for citizenship (see Heyman 2013 and Ngai 2004 for historical perspectives). Because of several Border Patrol blockades at the border in the early 1990s, migrant movements were channeled around official ports into hot arid desert regions, where many travelers succumbed to the elements and died, with hundreds of remains found annually and others never found. Nevins 2010 criticized this harsh “apartheid”-like reality, using language to evoke the racist segregation of predemocratic South Africa. Though increasingly expensive and dangerous, migrants hire what are called coyotes to guide them into the United States; Spener 2009 is one of the in-depth studies of coyotaje in depth. Though difficult to estimate, the current numbers and long-term trends related to undocumented people inside the United States are best understood through reading studies based on data from the Pew Research Center; Jeffrey Passel has frequently been the lead author (see Passel, et al. 2012 for an oft-cited study). Under current and previous presidential administrations, undocumented immigrants have been deported in large numbers, creating new challenges for Mexico’s ability to absorb them and their children in the economy and public schools (Escobar Latapí 2016).

  • Escobar Latapí, Agustín. “Mexican Social Policy and Return Migration, Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond.” In Mexican Migration to the United States: Perspectives from Both Sides of the Border. Edited by Harriett Romo and Olivia Mogollon-López, 219–247. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016.

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    With repatriation and deportation rates at their heights during the Obama and Trump presidential administrations, Escobar examines Mexican policy and databases to analyze the scope of ‘return migration’ with charts and graphs on trends from 2000–2013 along with the reception system of nongovernment organizations in northern border cities and public programs and schools in Mexico’s interior. Escobar identifies seven ways in which US authorities have not complied with the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) on the Program for Human Repatriation.

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  • Heyman, Josiah McC. “‘Illegality’ at the U.S.-Mexico Border: How it is Produced and Resisted.” In Constructing Immigrant “Illegality”: Critiques, Experiences, and Responses. Edited by Cecilia Menjivar and Daniel Kanstroom, 111–136. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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    Heyman, an anthropologist and prolific writer on immigration, examines not only the ways that changing policies and practices criminalize immigrants but also the agency that immigrants exercise in response. In 1999, he edited a pioneering volume in this vein entitled States and Illegal Practices.

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  • Nevins, Joseph. Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary. New York: Routledge, 2010.

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    Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, like Operation Hold the Line in El Paso, positioned Border Patrol agents along the line to harden the border against unauthorized entry. This is the most recent of several books in which political scientist Nevins critiques US policies and hateful rhetoric against immigrants in the apartheid-like separation at the border. The focus is on the Pacific borderlands.

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  • Ngai, Mae. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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    Ngai offers a foundational historical and contemporary analysis of immigration into the United States, a must-read for anyone beginning research on immigration. Insights on the historically changing standards and laws about admission into the United States should be essential to readers who look at immigration through the contemporary lens only.

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  • Passel, Jeffrey, D’Vera Cohn, and Ana González Barrera. Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2012.

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    Demographer Jeffrey Passel and colleagues use quantitative data from Mexican and US censuses and databases to illustrate trends since the 1990s. Graphs illustrate that migration from Mexico peaked in the year 2000. This and other fine studies from the Pew Research Center have implications for the politics of immigration policy and the Department of Homeland Security.

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  • Spener, David. Clandestine Crossings: Migrants and Coyotes on the Texas-Mexico Border. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009.

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    Based on years of ethnographic and in-depth interviews in South Texas, sociologist Spener analyzes what he conceptualizes as the resistance of working-class Mexicans to the apartheid-like immigration and border regime. He categorizes different types of coyotes, from the small-scale guides to the exploitative traffickers, the latter demonized in US political rhetoric. As crossing becomes more difficult, the prices migrants pay rise, with prices no doubt much higher than the amounts cited in this book.

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Immigration Enforcement and Research with Vulnerable People

In the official view, government control of the border languished with insufficient technology and staff numbers until the blockades in San Diego and El Paso of the early 1990s, the freer trade instigated by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and, after the tragedies of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the consolidation of over twenty agencies in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003. Even before these milestone events, Andreas 2000 argued that futile bureaucratic “border games” resulted from US political efforts to reassure the public that the region was under control. Several factors make immigration law enforcement problematic. After the turning points of NAFTA and 9/11, the number of border agents quadrupled, perhaps without adequate socialization and training for this mixed pool of recruits. The American Immigration Council 2016 analyzed complaint data from a DHS agency (Customs and Border Protection) and critiqued the organization culture that protected rogue agents, while Maril 2006 presents a much more sympathetic picture of complex situations that field agents face on the ground. Moreover, immigration law is complex and continuously changing, as are political directions from Washington, DC. Finally, just as in domestic law enforcement, fear, hatred, and racial profiling all burden persons of color, whether people of Mexican heritage in the US borderlands or crossing from countries to the south. The many studies of vulnerable people affected by border bureaucrats in Ochoa O’Leary, et al. 2013 reveal the extreme vulnerability of mostly impoverished people situated in between countries and families—a vulnerability that ethically mandates higher standards of human-subjects protection than most universities require in their IRB (Institutional Review Board) rules.

  • American Immigration Council. No Action Taken: Lack of CBP Accountability in Responding to Complaints of Abuse. Washington, DC: American Immigration Council, 2016.

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    As students of bureaucracy have long analyzed, street-level bureaucrats operate with discretion and do not necessarily comply with policy edicts or laws. Using a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to obtain data from Customs and Border Protection, researchers analyzed over eight hundred abuse complaints and found that in 97 percent of the cases, no action was taken. The highest number of complaints came from the Tucson sector.

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  • Andreas, Peter. Border Games: Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.

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    From global and international relations perspectives on smuggling, Andreas asks why border policing controls have increased through the 1990s. Through interviews with federal officials, official documents, and journalist accounts, he answers the question with the confluence of border openings under NAFTA and the need to package the image of control to the US public. The book predates the 9/11 (September 11, 2001) crisis, a turning point that strengthened border security controls and fearful rhetoric, with consequences for border residents.

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  • Maril, Robert Lee. Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2006.

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    Using ethnographic methods, sociologist Maril engaged in observation of Border Patrol agents in the McAllen sector, just north of the Rio Grande and Reynosa in Mexico. Although somewhat dated given the pre-9/11 era time period of his two years of fieldwork, Maril analyzes the dangers and dilemmas for field agents who are responsible for enforcing laws against unauthorized entry of people and drugs.

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  • Ochoa O’Leary, Anna, Colin M. Deeds, and Scott Whiteford, eds. Uncharted Terrains: New Directions in Border Research Methodology, Ethics, and Practice. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013.

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    Between introductory and concluding chapters, the editors offer fourteen chapters on the ethical and practical challenges of research with vulnerable populations, plus an appended Code of Personal Ethics. While useful for courses on research design, many chapter authors also provide findings about immigrants, health, and small business people, with a special focus on the Arizona-Sonora borderlands.

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Economic “Development” and Poverty Policies

The US-Mexico border region is one of the most unequal in the world, measured in terms of legal minimum wage and Gross Domestic Product per capita. While some applaud “global competitiveness” and the “comparative advantage” of low-cost labor, workers in these mostly export-processing factories (maquiladoras, maquilas) have long earned stagnant daily wages (equivalent to US$4–5 per day) and live in ramshackle conditions. Foreign corporations in northern Mexico employ over a million workers, many of them migrants from Mexico’s interior. Fernández-Kelly 1983 is the pioneering study of the female-majority workforce in assembly-line factories at an early stage of border industrialization for export markets. Lugo 2008 used ethnographic methods to analyze gendered behavior of men and women in production and Young 2015 used large quantitative samples. Whatever the time period, working conditions remain grim and underpaid, given the value that workers produce for owners, consumers, and investors; Gaspar de Alba and Guzmán 2010 underlines this reality with an interdisciplinary variety of chapters. Fuentes and Peña 2010 graphically illustrates the contrasting living conditions on both sides of the border with Geographic Information System (GIS) maps. Yet Vélez-Ibáñez and Heyman 2017 shows problematic living conditions in the US southwest and transborder region as well.

  • Fernández-Kelly, María Patricia. For We Are Sold, I and My People: Women and Industry in Mexico’s Frontier. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

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    Fernández-Kelly wrote the first, most comprehensive book about women workers in the maquiladoras in the pre-NAFTA era, when both countries encouraged low-cost tariffs on assembly production for export. At that time, factories recruited an 80 percent female labor force. The author uses mixed methods (surveys, interviews, documents) in this baseline study.

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  • Fuentes, César, and Sergio Peña. “Globalization and its Effects on the Urban Socio-Spatial Structure of a Transfrontier Metropolis: El Paso, TX-Ciudad Juárez, Chih-Sunland-Park, NM.” In Cities and Citizenship at the US-Mexico Border: The Paso del Norte Metropolitan Region. Edited by Kathleen Staudt, César Fuentes, and Julia Estela Monárrez Fragoso, 93–118. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230112919_5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Both authors, who are urban planners, use data on formal employment and Geographic Information System (GIS) maps to show startling spatial contrasts in this urban region of two million on the central US-Mexico borderlands. They offer GIS maps on percent employed in manufacturing, dependency ratios, and percent of households with plumbing.

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  • Gaspar de Alba, Alicia, and Georgina Guzmán, eds. Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.

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    Literary scholar Gaspar de Alba brings together multidisciplinary authors of twelve chapters who focus on what feminists, human rights activists, and mothers of disappeared and murdered daughters have named feminicidio (women-killing) in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Municipal and state police hardly prioritized women-killing, but instead operated with impunity. Authors contextualize the northern Mexico borderlands as one of exploitation against “disposable labor” in export-processing factories about which geographer and contributor Melissa Wright has written.

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  • Lugo, Alejandro. Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts: Culture, Capitalism, and Conquest at the US-Mexico Border. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

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    After historical analysis of the invention of border geography, anthropologist Lugo joins other scholars who have studied export-assembly factories (maquiladoras), drawing on his participant observation and comparative analysis of three maquiladoras in which he worked as part of his study design. Unique for his theoretical innovations, he also analyzes gendered work (i.e., the social construction of both male and female behavior).

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  • Vélez-Ibáñez, Carlos, and Josiah Heyman, eds. The U.S.-Mexico Transborder Region: Cultural Dynamics and Historical Interactions. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2017.

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    The coeditors, who call the region “Southwest North America,” amass eighteen chapters which address a range of political topics from water shortage and food insecurity to environmental health and budgetary changes in Arizona’s conservative legislature. They use the word “transborder” as does the largest critical mass of border studies scholars at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, founded by the first coeditor.

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  • Young, Gay. Gendering Globalization on the Ground: The Limits of Feminized Work for Mexican Women’s Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2015.

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    Sociologist Young, using quantitative methods, compares a large sample of women maquiladora workers to a matched sample of women service workers, following up with qualitative material about how women survive in still-male-dominated work and family environments. Maquiladora workers earn less than service workers.

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Legal, Illegal, Formal, and Informal Trade Policies

US-Mexico trade volume is huge, growing since Mexico’s Border Industrialization Program of the 1960s, Mexico’s entry into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in the 1980s, and especially since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Many economists and Washington, DC scholars lauded and continue to celebrate NAFTA for its effects on growth rates and increases in the gross domestic product, but downplay the increase in inequalities between both countries and the still-high poverty rates, using the poverty standard that is set in Mexico, of half the population. The free-trade boosters below included Lee and Wilson 2015, Pastor 2011, and Weintraub 2004, while Villarreal and Ferguson 2017 provide a balanced data-rich description of free-trade winners and losers. However, to focus only on formal trade and its statistics is to ignore the undercounted informal economic activities which can generate more earnings for Mexican workers than Mexico’s artificially low legal minimum wage (Pisani 2014, Staudt 1998). US consumer demand for drugs continues, with ruthless criminal suppliers, despite or because of the relatively ineffective US border interdiction strategies as Mexican and US scholars in chapters in Payan, et al. 2013 attest.

  • Lee, Eric, and Christopher Wilson, eds. The U.S.-Mexico Border Economy in Transition. Washington, DC: Wilson Center, 2015.

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    The partially congressionally subsidized Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, home to a Mexico Center, offers reports, seminars, webinars, and visiting scholar opportunities. Just a year before the 2016 US presidential election with a vocal candidate that demonized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Wilson Center issued a report applauding the border “regional economic competitiveness” with a focus on business and consumers rather than working people in Mexico.

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  • Pastor, Robert. The North American Idea: Visions of a Continental Future. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199782413.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The late Robert Pastor long advocated economic integration, but argued that the idea has declined in the last decades, despite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trade agreement which stopped short of more open, integrated borders.

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  • Payan, Tony, Kathleen Staudt, and Z. Anthony Kruszewski, eds. A War That Can’t Be Won: Binational Perspectives on the War on Drugs. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013.

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    Mexican and US scholars offer eleven chapters plus an introduction and conclusion on the more than forty-year-old US policy of border interdiction. Chapter authors present different perspectives, most of which challenge the effectiveness of the drug war. Payan asks readers to examine the ineffectiveness of drug war policies with a “border lens,” a place which has borne the brunt of conflict over suppliers meeting US consumer demands.

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  • Pisani, Michael J. “Utilizing Informal Household-Work Substitutes along the US-Mexico Border: Evidence from South Texas.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 29.3 (2014): 303–317.

    DOI: 10.1080/08865655.2014.938970Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An international business specialist and long-time participant in The Borderlife Project—a longitudinal data base in the lower Rio Grande Valley that begins with ethnographic research and follows up with purposive surveys—Pisani examines data from 357 consumers of informal (“off the books”) maid and gardening services. Using statistical analysis of demographic variables, he finds extensive use of such services, including cross-border workers, particularly among affluent households seeking to save time on domestic chores at lower prices. These practices go relatively untouched by government regulation.

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  • Staudt, Kathleen. Free Trade? Informal Economies at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

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    With a theoretical framing that draws on a Gramscian dominant global hegemony coupled with petty counterhegemonies at the border, the National Science Foundation-funded research compares border people’s self-sufficient income-generating strategies outside of the regulated economy. Informal work generates more earnings than maquiladora assembly labor, especially if Mexican informal workers cross the borderline. Using a geographic peripheral-core perspective, several chapters also focus on the people’s efforts to gain public services in colonias, the unplanned settlements outside U.S. border cities and at the periphery in Mexico.

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  • Villarreal, M. Angeles, and Ian F. Ferguson. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). R42965. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2017.

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    Both international trade and finance specialists and authors of previous NAFTA reports for the Congressional Research Service, the authors of this monograph provides descriptive analysis of NAFTA’s provisions, data from 1994–2016, and charts for policymakers and others interested in the political process and debates on the eve of NAFTA’s renegotiation. While touted as successful for stimulating growth and creating “global competitiveness” in, for example the development of integrated supply chains (especially in auto production), NAFTA, as the report discusses, has failed to address inequalities and has had a devastating effect on Mexico’s small-scale agricultural sector.

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  • Weintraub, Sidney, ed. NAFTA’s Impact on North America: The First Decade. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2004.

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    Scholars and policymakers from Mexico, the United States, and Canada give qualified endorsements to the mixed successes of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although somewhat dated, the controversies over the 2017–2018 NAFTA renegotiation process make a quick read worth the time.

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Security, the Environment, and Human Rights Policies

Although the term ‘security’ is often viewed as protecting and controlling national borders, the United Nations Development Program conceptualized the phrase ‘human security’ more broadly to refer to people’s everyday safety, shelter, and food—among other basic needs such as healthy air to breathe and safe water to drink. The US-Mexico border, with its two sovereign countries and heavy industrial manufacturing in major Mexican cities, has become a magnet for pollution, poverty, and periodic spurts of violence on the Mexico side, due to its problematic law enforcement compared to the US side, which is home to the safest big cities (San Diego, El Paso) in the country. Research on border security ranges from attention to national territorial controls (Ackleson 2005, Seelke and Finklea 2017) to human security (Dunn 2009, Lorentzen 2014, Simmons and Mueller 2014) to threatening policy-relevant problems in health (Homedes and Ugalde 2003), the environment (Ingram and Laney 1995; Morales, et al. 2012; Mumme and Collins 2014), and public safety (Shirk 2014, Staudt 2008). Other scholars analyze the folly of walling up the border (Dear 2013) and failing to realize the complexity of transnational criminal organizations like Los Zetas that use similar tactics to global big business (Correa-Cabrera 2017).

  • Ackleson, Jason. “Constructing Security on the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Political Geography 24.2 (2005): 165–184.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2004.09.017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Political scientist Ackleson examines the way border security is constructed in risk and threat terms, focusing on policy solutions for undocumented immigration, terrorism, and drugs. He examines the rhetoric of identity, order, and symbols in the pre- and post-9/11 periods (the September 11, 2001 attack on the US east coast, transformative for the border region). Ackleson now directs strategy for the Department of Homeland Security.

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  • Correa-Cabrera, Guadalupe. Los Zetas Inc.: Criminal Corporations, Energy, and Civil War in Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

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    Political scientist Correa-Cabrera analyzes the rise of the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, both of which have transformed into transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) with a complex business model. Based on semistructured interviews with forty-three individuals in Texas and Tamaulipas (Mexico’s border state with eighteen ports of entry into the United States) and 103 interviews with others including on social media, this book traces the rise and expansion of TCOs not only in trafficking and drugs but also in the newly opened energy fields of Mexico. Primary beneficiaries of such economic activity include criminal businesses and government collaborators, the international banking system, the oil and gas industries, and the border security-industrial complex in what she calls a “modern” civil war. Contains many maps.

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  • Dear, Michael. Why Walls Won’t Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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    Based on travels all along and on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border from west to east, Dear’s work argues that the borderlands are a ‘third nation’ with its own unique history, culture, and society of transnational citizens. He makes provocative arguments about the folly of closing and walling up the border, of a border industrial complex, and of increasing litigation over privately owned land with more wall construction.

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  • Dunn, Timothy. Blockading the Border and Human Rights: The El Paso Operation that Remade Immigration Enforcement. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

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    Drawing on two competing rights-oriented frameworks, national-citizenship-based versus transnational-human rights-based, sociologist Dunn provides an in-depth case analysis of the 1993 border blockade renamed Operation Hold the Line. The blockade positioned growing numbers of Border Patrol agents along the line to enforce the policy of “prevention through deterrence” and channeled undocumented crossers into desert regions where hundreds perish annually. Dunn interviewed Border Patrol Sector Chief Silvestre Reyes who successfully ran for the U.S. Congress and served multiple terms as the border became more militarized.

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  • Homedes, Núria, and Antonio Ugalde. “Globalization and Health at the United States-Mexico Border.” American Journal of Public Health 93.12 (2003): 2016–2022.

    DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.93.12.2016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on in-depth interviews with scholars and health policymakers in US and Mexican border states, the authors sought to answer their question about neoliberal globalization’s effects on overcoming barriers to binational cooperation to improve health, in ways that are enriched with quotes from their interviews. They identified numerous barriers that ranged from political and professional to administrative, legal, and cultural despite the shared ethnic and bilingual characteristics of people on both sides of the border. Also available online.

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  • Ingram, Helen, and Nancy Laney. Divided Waters: Bridging the U.S.-Mexico Border. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995.

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    The Rio Grande/Río Bravo flows along more than half of the near-2,000-mile US-Mexico border. Seemingly dated, this book is nevertheless a foundational text for understanding water rights, water agreements, and shared water usage, with a special focus on the Arizona-Sonora border region.

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  • Lorentzen, Lois Ann, ed. Hidden Lives and Human Rights in the United States: Understanding the Controversies and Tragedies of Undocumented Immigration. 3 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014.

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    In this three-volume comprehensive series, theology and religious studies scholar Lorentzen assembles a dozen chapters each from well-known researchers in immigration, human rights, and border studies. Volume 1 focuses on history, theories, and legislation; Volume 2 on human rights, gender and sexualities, health, and Education; and Volume 3 on economics, politics, and morality. Her major theme through the volumes is that the “crisis” in immigration is a human rights crisis. Excellent bibliographies can be found for all the approximate forty chapters.

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  • Morales, Oscar, Jr., Sara E. Grineski, and Timothy W. Collins. “Structural Violence and Environmental Injustice: The Case of a US-Mexico Border Chemical Plant.” Local Environment 17.1 (2012): 1–21.

    DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2011.627321Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Framing the research in terms of environmental racism and injustice, Morales and coauthors conducted interviews of workers, residents, and public officials in and near a large Belgian-owned chemical plant in Ciudad Juárez in the central borderlands. The combination of proximity to neighborhoods, lax environmental law implementation, and limited firefighter capability makes potential explosion (such as what occurred in Bhopal, India, 1984) dangerous not only for Juarenses but also for its spillover effects into El Paso, a combined metropolitan area of over two million people.

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  • Mumme, Stephen, and Kimberly Collins. “The La Paz Agreement 30 Years On.” The Journal of Environment & Development 23.2 (2014): 1–28.

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    The authors praise the detailed vision and lasting agreement signed in 1983 by both countries, defining the border as one hundred kilometers north and one hundred kilometers south of the territorial line. The agreement was supposed to provide leverage to governments and nongovernment organizations to prohibit environmental pollution and waste practices dangerous to health within the border region. Like many bilateral agreements, however, the agreement lacks teeth and requires extraordinary public will to maintain human safety and security in the borderlands.

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  • Seelke, Clare, and Kristin M. Finklea. U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2017.

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    Continually updated and well-documented, this thirty-nine-page report to Congress describes problematic criminal justice in Mexico and the security partnership launched in 2007 (with $2.8 billion appropriated and $1.6 delivered to Mexico). In recent years, the partnership has focused on four “pillars of reform”: to promote the rule of law; to go after organized crime (and high-profile drug kingpins, like Joachín “El Chapo” Guzmán); to secure Mexico’s southern borders (with Guatemala and Belize) to deter Central American migrants moving northward; and to create a “21st-century border”—meaning managing risk without extreme trade-disrupting congestion at ports of entry. Yet Mexico’s murder rate continues to be high, and it is one of the world’s least-safe countries for journalists.

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  • Shirk, David A. “A Tale of Two Mexican Border Cities: The Rise and Decline of Drug Violence in Juárez and Tijuana.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 29.4 (2014): 482–502.

    DOI: 10.1080/08865655.2014.982470Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on many years of border crime research and his leadership in and analysis of the over-4,000-victim database in the Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego, political scientist Shirk looks at reasons for the rise and fall of what he calls ordinary homicides and drug killings. Notably, no spillover effects occurred in San Diego and El Paso, among the consistently rated safest big cities as measured annually by CQ Press (a division of Sage Publications).

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  • Simmons, William Paul, and Carol Mueller, eds. Binational Human Rights: The U.S.-Mexico Experience. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.

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    With one editor who specializes in international law and the other a comparative sociologist, contributors pursue the relatively underresearched human rights topic in depth. Editors frame the volume in terms of structural shortcomings in Mexico’s economy and polity, US immigration policies, US border states (especially Arizona), and drug wars. Several chapters draw on international relations theories about transnational advocacy networks as they interact with local organizations yet remain unable to surmount the structural obstacles posed by rights abuse.

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  • Staudt, Kathleen. Violence and Activism at the Border: Gender, Fear, and Everyday Life in Ciudad Juárez. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

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    In the now-infamous feminicidio (women killing in Mexico’s central borderlands and elsewhere), political scientist Staudt differentiates stranger- and domestic-violence murders of women, both of which police ignored. She analyzes the agency of social movement activists on both sides of the border and their spread worldwide. She also draws on a survey of over four hundred women aged 15–39, most of whom do not trust or call the police, but lacking resources, remain in dangerous households.

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Education

Despite the fact that many US-border-based K-12 and higher-education students and their parents attended schools in Mexico, few studies exist on the comparative or transnational experience and implications for policy and best practices in teaching and learning (but see Rippberger and Staudt 2003). US-based students with parents who migrated from Mexico, often bilingual, undergo required standardized testing in English and little academic content on Mexico or the borderlands (Noboa 2013). Moreover, harsh immigration enforcement, witnessing violence in home countries, or the migration journey all bear heavily on students who may have been taken across the border as children without documents; yet some students exude resilience (Araujo and de la Piedra 2013) or civic capacity (Dunn 2009) along with their parents in community organizations (Shirley 2002). Furthermore, with mass deportations, US-schooled children are increasingly deported to Mexico where they may struggle with Spanish and other obstacles (see Immigration Policies). Little research exists that taps the widespread idea of hybridized borderlands and the people therein yet provides any other box to tick on surveys other than “nationality: US or Mexican?”: people who cross regularly, attend schools in both countries, and exercise dual citizenship could become another intriguing analytic category in future research, for none now utilizes these insights.

  • Araujo, Blanca, and María Teresa de la Piedra. “Violence at the U.S.-Mexico Border and the Capital Students Use in Response.” In Special Issue: Transnationalism at the Border: Students’ Experiences in Border Schools. Edited by Zulma Y. Méndez & Kathleen Staudt. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 26.3 (2013): 263–278.

    DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2012.762475Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using ethnography in an elementary school, language education specialists analyze the resilience of elementary school children in a bilingual class citing evocative quotes of their narratives and experiences. Parents crossed their children to El Paso during the time when Ciudad Juárez was named the “world’s murder capital city,” 2008–2011. Young students, hoping to validate their parents’ decision to leave, worked hard to achieve successes in schooling.

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  • Dunn, Timothy. Blockading the Border and Human Rights: The El Paso Operation that Remade Immigration Enforcement. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

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    Dunn’s in-depth case study of the 1993 border blockade includes a chapter on the lawsuit against the Border Patrol by Bowie High School students and staff who challenged the everyday harassment of people in south-central El Paso within sight of the territorial border. This 1992 prelude to the blockade also generated a subsequent lengthy and lively documentary, The Time has Come, about harassment and human agency in response through alliances and lawsuits.

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  • Noboa, Julio. “Teaching History on the Border: Teachers Voice Their Views.” Special Issue: Transnationalism at the Border: Students’ Experiences in Border Schools. Edited by Zulma Y. Méndez & Kathleen Staudt. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 26.3 (2013): 324–345.

    DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2012.762477Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    After spending hours of observation in each of the teachers’ classrooms, curriculum specialist Noboa interviewed sixteen middle and high school educators about culturally relevant pedagogy which would affirm and provide content on the Mexican heritage of the more than 85 percent of El Paso’s Mexican American students. Teachers face obstacles in such inclusion given the state-mandated standardized testing from the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) with a Texas-centric view of history which reflects the state’s much-celebrated status of itself as an independent republic prior to the US civil war.

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  • Rippberger, Susan, and Kathleen Staudt. Pledging Allegiance: Learning Nationalism in El Paso-Juarez. New York: Falmer Routledge, 2003.

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    Drawing on more than twenty hours of videotape from everyday classroom dramas in elementary schools, including multiple classrooms (monolingual and bilingual) in two El Paso and three Juárez public schools, the authors analyze teacher-learner practices, social atmospheres, and hybridized border lessons. Authors showed the video (not available with the book), edited and reduced to nearly an hour, to students, teachers, and administrators on each side of the border to verify interpretation and to solicit reactions in verbal and survey forms.

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  • Shirley, Dennis. Valley Interfaith and School Reform: Organizing for Power in South Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

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    Shirley analyzes the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) community organizing strategy to empower mostly Mexican American parents to work with teachers to strengthen students’ education. Valley Interfaith, a coalition of faith-based organizations in the border region of the Rio Grande Valley, is connected to the Texas IAF and its affiliates in a dozen other parts of Texas to pursue social justice reforms. Shirley provides more in-depth coverage of the author’s 1997 book of multiple case studies around Texas titled Community Organizing and Urban School Reform, (Austin: University of Texas Press) including an El Paso border case. IAF does not organize in Mexico, but many of its Texas-based leaders share Mexican heritage.

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The Comparative Turn in Border Politics

With the growth of border studies in many parts of the world, especially in Europe with support from generous EU (European Union) research funds, scholars have turned to comparative border politics and policy analysis. Scholarly production sometimes includes chapters on the politics of the US-Mexico border. In several edited volumes with a state-centric policy approach, scholars compare differences in the three countries of North America: Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Closely linked but including Europe, Brunet-Jailly 2007, Jones 2012, and Longo 2016 have compared US and North American approaches to territorial security with those of Europe, while Albert and Brock 1998 compare their different approaches to binational cooperation and Naples and Mendez 2014 to cross-border nongovernmental organizations. In recent years, more edited volumes and two comprehensive tomes (called “companions”), Donnan and Wilson 2012 and Wastl-Walter 2011, have been published to include other borderland regions with chapters on the US-Mexico border. Analytic challenges remain in the incorporation of borderlands studies based in all world regions to include the more populated and territorially complicated global south, although the comparative border inequality ratios that Moré Martinez 2011 and Staudt 2017 provide are illuminating, showing that the US-Mexico borderlands fall near the bottom of the most unequal borderlands in the world.

  • Albert, Mathias, and Lothar Brock. “New Relationships Between Territory and State: The U.S.-Mexico Border in Perspective.” In The U.S.-Mexico Border: Transcending Divisions, Contesting Identities. Edited by Kathleen Staudt and David Spener, 215–232. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Press, 1998.

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    International Relations (IR) scholars Albert and Brock reflect on bordering and debordering, drawing briefly on various border regions in Europe and North America. They find the Cascadia Region in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada to be more advanced in debordering than the US-Mexico borderlands.

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  • Brunet-Jailly, Emmanuel, ed. Borderlands: Comparing Border Security in North America and Europe. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press, 2007.

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    Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, security measures have tightened on the borders of the United States. Like in Europe, the combination of freer trade and increased security measures in borderlands creates potential policy contradictions between the facilitation of speedier freer trade and national security, as well as between capital cities and the borderlands. A perusal of various chapters shows readers that security measures are tighter and costlier in the US-driven North American policy area compared to Europe (specifically the Schengen area of European Union member countries).

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  • Donnan, Hastings, and Thomas M. Wilson, eds. A Companion to Border Studies. London: Wiley Blackwell, 2012.

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    In this the larger border studies tome, the anthropologist editors argue for a comparative turn in border studies. The volume contains thirty-three chapters, two of which focus on the US-Mexico border: Chapter 3 by Josiah McC. Heyman, “Culture Theory and the US-Mexico Border” and Chapter 31 by Robert R. Alvarez, Jr., “Reconceptualizing the Space of the Mexico–US Borderline.”

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  • Joenniemi, Pertti, and Jaroslaw Jańczak, eds. Special Issue: Theorizing Town Twinning: Towards a Global Perspective. Journal of Borderlands Studies 32.4 (2017).

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    The editors and authors build on the town-twinning idea (alternatively called town pairs, couples) conceptualized in a Geopolitics 2001 issue to elevate analysis. In Europe the concept works well, joining the local and international, ahead of nation-state connections in some cases. However useful city twinning might be for residents and urban planning, Paul Ganster and Kimberly Collins, examining in their chapter the cities of San Diego and Tijuana, show the challenges faced at the US-Mexico border, not ‘twinned’ because both the Mexican and US federal systems make that difficult.

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  • Jones, Reece. Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India, and Israel. London: Zed Books, 2012.

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    Political scientist Jones compares three borderlands cases where the more powerful state built walls to exclude the less powerful state and its citizens, who were similarly demonized to maintain economic inequalities with the stereotyped ‘others’ with the use of similar security rhetoric (once translated) despite the different languages across all three powerful states.

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  • Longo, Matthew. “A ‘21st Century Border’? Cooperative Border Controls in the U.S. and EU after 9/11.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 31.2 (2016): 187–202.

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    Longo argues that neighbor countries are increasingly cooperating with one another after the September 11, 2001 tragedy in the United States. He also makes a case that the United States and European Union policies are becoming more similar.

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  • Moré Martinez, Iñigo. The Borders of Inequality: Where Wealth and Poverty Collide. Translated by Lynn Domίnguez. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011.

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    The author uses a 2004 data base of two hundred countries to identify borders from the most unequal to the most equal. He compares three cases: Germany-Poland, Spain-Morocco (including the rich Spanish enclave on the North African continent), and the United States and Mexico. The data base analysis shows that the US-Mexico borderlands area falls into the bottom twenty of the most unequal borderlands in the world.

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  • Naples, Nancy, and Jennifer Bickham Mendez, eds. Border Politics: Social Movements, Collective Identities, and Globalization. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

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    Besides their opening and closing chapters, sociologists Naples and Mendez edited eleven chapters from various international scholars who analyze the intersections of gender, class, race and ethnicity, religion, and nationality in many borderlands of the world. Two chapters focus on the US-Mexico border: one by Michelle Téllez and Cristina Sanidad on binational activism and workers’ rights struggles in San Diego and Tijuana, and another by Jennifer Johnson on sexual assault against migrants and aging white women’s involvement in civilian Minutemen patrols.

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  • Staudt, Kathleen. Border Politics in a Global Era: Comparative Perspectives. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

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    Advancing border theories to include the global south, this book compares four borderlands regions (US-Mexico; South Asia, especially India and Bangladesh; the European Union; and the maritime borders of the South China Sea) and three policy areas (Immigration Policies, trade, security) as well as includes a chapter on border films. Staudt’s framework builds on a 300-unit data base with updated and expanded 2004 figures (compared to Moré Martinez) of land border pairs and “Border Inequality Ratios” from 1975–2014. The US-Mexico inequalities fall into the bottom sixth most unequal in the world.

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  • Wastl-Walter, Doris, ed. The Ashgate Research Companion to Border Studies. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    This edited volume, a tome on border studies, contains nineteen chapters. One chapter that addresses the US-Mexico border is by Jason Ackleson, “Building Borders the Hard Way: Enforcing North American Security Post-9/11.”

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