Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal Alien" and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary

Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal Alien" and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary

Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal Alien" and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary

Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal Alien" and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary

Synopsis

By 1994 American anti-immigration rhetoric had reached a fevered pitch, and throngs of migrants entered the U.S. nightly. In response, the INS launched "Operation Gatekeeper," the centerpiece of the Clinton administration's unprecedented effort to "regain control" of their borders. In Operation Gatekeeper , Joseph Nevins details the administration's dramatic overhaul of the San Diego - Tijauna border - the busiest land crossing in the world-adding miles of new fence and hundreds of trained agents.

Excerpt

First, there are ghosts.

Long ago, in my Cold War childhood, my father and I would regularly join the gypsy army of rock hounds who, with burlap water bags hanging from their fenders, scoured California’s deserts in search of uranium deposits and Lost Dutchman mines, as well as more modest treasures like geodes and petrified wood. Our favorite oasis was the gas station/cafe that constituted Ocotillo Wells, 90 miles east of San Diego. The proprietor was a jocular oldtimer who liked to brag that he would be reincarnated as a Gila Monster in his next life. While he and my father argued about baseball (this was the pre-Dodger golden age of the old Pacific Coast League), I would explore his collection of desert relics and cryptic detritus. In addition to ultra-violet medicine bottles, bullet-holed 1920s highway signs, and rusted mining gear, he also collected gruesome souvenirs.

On one bulletin board he had tacked up photographs of seven or eight cadavers: all of them young Mexican men he had discovered in the arroyos between Ocotillo Wells and the nearby Border. Like most eight-year-olds I was both horrified and mesmerized by the images, as well as embarrassed by my inability to stop staring at them. “It must be horrible to slowly die of thirst,” I ventured. “Oh, them wetbacks didn’t die of thirst,” the Gila Monster laughed. “They was all shot. In the back.” He pointed to unmistakable gore in several of the photos. He had some compelling reason to believe that, in fact, they had been executed by the Border Patrol.

These dead men, whom I now know to be compañeros, have haunted me for almost a lifetime. I don’t have the slightest idea, of course, whether they were actually victims of a Border Patrol death squad, although the mere possibility was an earthquake in my moral universe. Indisputably, however, they died in a singular, sinister place of which I had no previous inkling.

I refer, of course, not to the Borrego Desert but to the Border.

Tourists and politicians often equate the Border with the steel wall (formerly a fence) that guillotines so many communities and family ties between Brownsville/Matamoros and San Diego/Tijuana. But this is to confuse the synecdoche—what Mexican-Spanish more correctly identifies

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