Academic journal article Social Justice

Opening Up Borderland Studies: A Review of U.S.-Mexico Border Militarization Discourse

Academic journal article Social Justice

Opening Up Borderland Studies: A Review of U.S.-Mexico Border Militarization Discourse

Article excerpt

Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter.

African proverb

Introduction: The Border Patrol's "Battle Plan" en la Frontera [1]

ON MAY 20, 1997, CLEMENTE BANUELOS, A U.S. MARINE ON AN ANTIDRUG operation, shot and killed 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., in Redford, Texas. Banuelos was a member of Joint Task Force-6 (JTF-6), a federal agency that coordinates antinarcotics operations between the Border Patrol and the military. Although Border Patrol and Marine officials claimed that Hernandez shot at the Marine surveillance team, an autopsy report suggests that Hernandez could not have done so. Banuelos' attorney stated that while Hernandez had no previous criminal history, he fit the profile of a drug trafficker that was given to the Marines in their training for missions on the border (Los Angeles Times, 1997). Meanwhile, government officials described the killing as an unfortunate, but justified act of self-defense. "This was in strict compliance with the rules of engagement," said Marine Col. Thomas R. Kelly, deputy commander of the military's antidrug task force (Katz, 1997: A19).

Three months after the shooting, a grand jury declined to bring charges against Banuelos, despite calls for an indictment by the Hernandez family. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon defended the decision, saying, "We think Corporal Banuelos was carrying out a lawful and authorized mission, one that was authorized by the Congress of the United States.... He was performing appropriately as a member of the Armed Services in defense of the national interest" (Verhovek, 1997: A8; see also Dunn, 1999a: 264-266).

Family and community members were outraged. "I think somebody should be held responsible for the death of my brother," said Margarito Herrnindez. "They made it look like it was his fault. The only mistake he did was to go pasture his goats on that day" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1997: A4). The Redford Citizens Committee for Justice, which included the Hernandez family and border human rights activists, charged that the grand jury included a number of people with strong ties to the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies.

Opening Up Borderland Studies: Asking the Epistemological Questions in U.S.-Mexico Border Discourse

The tragedy in Redford was just one example of the "militarization" of the U.S.-Mexico border, a project that began in earnest under President Ronald Reagan and picked up pace under the Clinton administration. To understand the more general militarization of American society, it is imperative to examine the build-up on the border. This article provides a brief overview of the main theoretical and cultural critiques of border militarization. The aim is to encourage writers and activists to examine the many ways in which U.S.-Mexico boundary enforcement and state repression affect the human rights of migrants.

Equally important in understanding the complexities of the militarization of the border as a social phenomenon is the way in which unauthorized migrants, and those living on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, attempt to make sense of border policing. I examine how border scholars interpret and (re)present the lives of those living in a militarized U.S.-Mexico border and attempt to answer the following questions: What does it mean to argue for the inclusion of narratives of unauthorized migrants whose voices are hardly present in the discourse of border militarization? Can subaltern undocumented immigrants speak in a way that contests and challenges prevailing views of them merely as victims running away from their usually "Third World" countries for political or economic reasons? How can the inclusion of migrants' narratives affect dehumanizing representations of them that previously were framed primarily by policymakers, Border Patrol spokespeople, or by other immigration and border scholars?

As indicated by David Spener and Kathleen Staudt, editors of The U. …

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