La Migra in the Mirror: Immigration Enforcement, Racial Profiling, and the Psychology of One Mexican Chasing after Another

Article excerpt

Good morning, it is a pleasure to be here. I would like to thank Professor Anthony Farley, the editors of the Albany Law Review, and the Albany Law Journal of Science & Technology for inviting me in, and for all of you for being here this morning.

I would like to spend my time this morning talking about racial profiling. Specifically, I plan to discuss one area of the law where racial profiling remains firmly embedded explicitly in several decades of U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence. In the area of immigration law enforcement, racial profiling remains alive and well. I plan to address the implications, specifically, of race-based immigration policing in South Texas, where the vast majority of the population is of Mexican ancestry and where the Border Patrol heavily relies on agents of Mexican ancestry to enforce its race-based immigration policing calculus. I argue that in South Texas, the Border Patrol's reliance on Mexican-Americans to police the border creates a dichotomized intragroup racial divide that is destructive of the people who are charged with doing the policing, that is destructive of the people who are being targeted, and that is destructive of the very social fabric that has held the communities along the border together for generations.

In the early and mid-1800s--to give a brief historical overview of this region--the Rio Grande River served as a unifying force for communities in this region. It was a source of commerce for the early communities that sprang up along both sides of the river. Back then, obviously, both sides of the river were part of the same country. After a lot of bloodshed, by the turn of the twentieth century, the Rio Grande had become firmly established as a political boundary between Mexico and the United States of America. (1) Nonetheless, it remained a largely porous border.

Into this scene entered the Border Patrol. From its origins in the 1920s and the immediate aftermath of the Mexican Revolution-when unprecedented numbers of Mexican refugees entered what was, by then, the southwest of the United States of America--the Border Patrol's purpose has been to interfere with immigrants' endeavors to enter into this country. The agency's focus then was on the nation's southern border, and the focus has not changed since then. By the early 1930s, the Border Patrol was apprehending nearly five times as many suspected, undocumented people along the nation's southern border, as it was along the nation's Canadian border. (2) In those early years, the Border Patrol in Texas was comprised mainly of young gun slingers. (3) These were individuals who had been recruited from the Texas Rangers, the state police force, which, to say the least, did not have a very peaceable relationship with the Mexican population of South Texas. (4) The Border Patrol's charge, then, was to enforce immigration laws (5)--laws that from a very early period had embraced racism and by the turn of the twentieth century, were beginning to be imbued with a criminal aspect as well. In 1919, for example, Congress for the first time enacted a law requiring that everyone seeking to enter the country go through a formal admissions process, the predecessor of the admissions process that we all go through today anytime we want to enter into the country. (6) Ten years later, in 1929, Congress added another component to this, which was that failure to seek and acquire admission through the formal admissions process constituted a crime--it constituted a criminal misdemeanor--punishable by imprisonment. (7)

These changes had a significant impact on the Texas border region, where generations of residents had gone back and forth across the river without regard to government regulation. The free flow of people across the river continued, only now their travels were either lawful or unlawful, depending on whether they complied with the government regulations. (8)

Today, the Border Patrol maintains a constant presence in the Texas border region. …