Mexicans and their progeny in the United States, who cut their teeth on Anglo skulduggery, know a thing or two about the border patrol, today part and parcel of life on the borderlands; on both sides of the international line, its agents and vehicles are seldom out of sight. Mexicans allude to the agency as la migra. For Mexicans, la migra is an unflattering reminder of how their Anglo neighbors look upon them. For some Mexican Americans, this federal agency is "public enemy number one," an unwelcome celebrity in the community, not merely because its agents round up ancestral kin but because that routine keeps alive memories of police harassment that they know firsthand, as well as for its historical notoriety. As J. T. Canales, a Mexican-American lawyer from Brownsville, testified in 1919, the killing of Mexicans by Texas Rangers, the forerunner of la migra, was rampant. They "had established a precedent," he complained, "that ... whenever a suspect was arrested they would unceremoniously execute him.... Frequently we would find dead bodies.... That condition existed until it was nauseating." The suspects Canales referred to were invariably Mexicans.
And so it follows, hardly astonishingly, that one border patrol agent, whose father arrived from Mexico and who lived in a Mexican-American community, had this prosaic comment to make about his neighbors: "They always had their rallies, saying, 'We have got to get la migra out of our neighborhood."' Given that sentiment, the agent never wore "his green ... uniform when traveling between work and home." It "could be dangerous." To quote a veteran border patrol supervisor in Douglas, Arizona, a heavily Mexican-American town: "Agents aren't necessarily the most popular people around here."