Academic journal article Social Justice

Searching for Security: Boundary and Immigration Enforcement in an Age of Intensifying Globalization

Academic journal article Social Justice

Searching for Security: Boundary and Immigration Enforcement in an Age of Intensifying Globalization

Article excerpt

We called for workers, and there came human beings. -- Max Frisch, Swiss playwright, referring to the "guest worker" system in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s (in Calavita, 1992: 6).

Even if we take [unjust social arrangements] as givens for purposes of immediate action in a particular context, we should not forget about our assessment of their fundamental character. Otherwise, we wind up legitimating what should only be endured (Carens, 2000: 636).

SIMILAR BOUNDARY-RELATED CONTROVERSIES MARKED THE BEGINNINGS OF THE George W. Bush and Bill Clinton presidential eras. Both concerned female nominees to cabinet positions and their relationships to "illegal" immigrant women. In the case of Bill Clinton, it came to light that his first nominee for attorney general, Zoe Baird, employed two unauthorized immigrants from Peru as domestic servants -- a common "crime" among two-career, professional couples (see Chang, 2000). Ultimately, public and official pressures forced Baird to withdraw her nomination.

A little less than eight years later, George W. Bush's original nominee for secretary of labor, conservative columnist Linda Chavez, felt compelled to withdraw her nomination after it became known that she had provided housing and money to Marta Mercado. At the time, Mercado was an unauthorized immigrant from Guatemala who, in return for what the nominee characterized as acts of charity, performed a variety of household tasks for Chavez. Ironically, Chavez had been highly critical of Zoe Baird in 1993 for employing an "illegal" (Holmes and Greenhouse, 2001).

The controversies surrounding these cabinet-level nominations are merely two of the more high-profile examples of the power of the territorial and social boundaries that divide and bring together the United States, Mexico, and the rest of the world, illustrating their blurry and simultaneously "real" nature. The ongoing efforts by the federal government to enhance the effectiveness of U.S.-Mexico boundary enforcement are a manifestation and producer of the power of these boundaries.

This article provides an overview and critique of different explanations for the dramatic increase of such efforts beginning in the 1990s. It examines how these developments form part of an age of globalization that is supposedly making national boundaries phenomena of the past. To the extent that the forces of globalization engender increasing movement of peoples and give rise to the perception of growing sociocultural and economic insecurity on the part of many in countries that are relatively wealthy, they can actually serve to strengthen territorial boundaries. This is especially true along the divides between the relatively rich and poor.

The Origins of the Border War

According to representatives of the federal government and their defenders, the buildup along the U.S.-Mexico border is part of a long-overdue response to a boundary "out of control" and a crisis of lawlessness in the border region (see, e.g., U.S. INS, 1997, and Bersin, 1996). This is, of course, too simple. Fortunately, recent work by a number of scholars sheds much-needed light on the origins of these developments.

Christian Parenti (1999), for example, contends in Lockdown America that "La Migra's War" is part of a larger nationwide, law-and-order crackdown that is reflected in the boom in the U.S. prison population, the growth of militarized policing, and the federalization of the wars on crime and drugs. (1) He convincingly argues that these developments have their origins in the 1960s and early 1970s, when conservative politicians began waging a law-and-order campaign in response to the Civil Rights Movement and growing political dissent. (2) It was also a response by U.S. elites to a larger socioeconomic crisis that involved falling profit rates, increasing economic competition from abroad, and deindustrialization, as well as growing labor unrest as indicated by a rise in strikes by U. …

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