Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas

Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas

Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas

Patrolling Chaos: The U.S. Border Patrol in Deep South Texas


"[A] fine ethnographic study of a rigid, militaristic, masculinist bureaucracy, the Border Patrol.... Using vivid prose, Maril weaves the complex history of south Texas, with its race and class injustices, into the text and makes deft critiques of the ways the bureaucracy and its chaotic environment shape the agents' behavior and language.... Highly recommended."- Choice

"[Explores] the deeper, darker, and less obvious parts of [Texas] history and culture.... To the book's great benefit, it addresses the history behind the many intriguing tales of the border patrol."- Austin Chronicle

"Entertaining... Maril has done a great service in delivering a very readable book about what really goes on at America's most porous border."- San Antonio Express-News

"Engaging and enlightening... An uncensored look at a branch of the U. S. government that rarely lets in outsiders."- McAllen Monitor

As the 110,000 residents of McAllen, Texas, sleep soundly, a small number of U. S. Border Patrol agents wait in dark shadows on the northern bank of the Rio Grande. Those thinly spread watchers are the first line of defense against a chaotic tide of undocumented workers struggling to cross the river to El Norte and small, fiercely determined groups of drug smugglers with huge sums of money at stake. Patrolling Chaos is based on extensive ethnographic field work focusing on one station of three hundred agents over a two-year period. It follows twelve typical agents, men and women, as they go about their regular ten-hour patrols along the border. It describes the daily challenges and risks they face and the perspectives and insights they hold as a result of their extensive, first-hand experience with the hard realities of immigration policy, the war on drugs, and the threat of terrorist infiltration. Robert Lee Maril writes about the surveillance and apprehension of thousands of undocumented workers, drug interdictions involving huge quantities of marijuana and cocaine, the deaths of illegal immigrants by drowning and as a result of high-speed chases, corruption among law enforcers, and other events that shape the work lives of agents. The book also describes the impact of the 9/11 attacks on border security and on the personal lives of the agents and their families. This account of the world of U. S. Border Patrol agents will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of our border with Mexico, the people and the resources of the borderlands, the constant flow of illegal immigrants and drugs, and new challenges confronting the enforcement of laws and policy in light of international terrorism.


Hanging by one lone hinge, the door of the '85 Econoline van creaks forlornly in the soft, tropical breeze of Deep South Texas, the January air a crazy blend of paloverde, mesquite, and huisache crossed with acrid toxicity from the putrid waters of the Rio Grande running just below the twenty-foot bluff. Jack Spurrier, supervisor for the United States Border Patrol based at the McAllen Station on Old Military Highway, brakes his brand-new Ford Expedition before warily approaching the vehicle sitting on the northern bank of the river. The carcass of the van is covered with mud, its Mexican plates barely visible; beneath, faded gray paint peels in swatches from the van's exterior. Hammered back into form countless times, the sheet metal is a terrain of minute hills and dales punctuated with mesas of vestal Detroit steel, while the windows, the work of an unskilled painter in a big hurry, are the color of Texas crude. Although it is impossible to see through the glass, the open double doors at the rear reveal a ratty scarlet carpet hugging a floor covered by a large piece of dirty cardboard. Skinned to the puffy yellow foam revealing the naked wire of the springs, only the front two seats remain.

Smugglers abandoned this Econoline the night before, left it on the low bluff above the river that now forms a visual oddity amid the carrizo cane, the scorched, brittle brush, crumbled buffalo grass, retama, and proud native sabal . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.