Defining America at the Border: The Line Riders of the Mexican Border District, 1892-1924 is the title of my dissertation, a title that historian David Wrobel had a strong hand in developing. I can’t use the same title for my book (rules is rules), but it is a title that perfectly sums up the overall theme of not just my book, but my research. It would be a shame if something were to happen to that title so it is now the title of this blog.
Immigration law is the micro level attempt by the U.S. government to define the American empire by determining what each individual component of the citizenry looks like. It is a ground level attempt to define American identity by determining, one immigrant at a time, who has access to the “American Dream.” If focusing on immigrants seems like a waste of resources, consider that according to the Pew Research Center, in 1960, immigrants in the United States accounted for 5.4 percent of the population (9.7 million) and by 2018 “[t]he foreign-born population residing in the U.S. reached a record 44.8 million, or 13.7% of the U.S. population.” That number is projected to double by 2065. Add that to the yearly increase in the nonwhite populations while the white population stagnates and the historical focus on keeping the country white is in danger. The government cannot, of course, control the rate at which its citizens have children ( although the war on drugs and mass incarceration are certainly attempts to do so with people of color) but immigrants are controllable. Outside of the war on drugs and mass incarceration, federal white supremacy is at its most active, its most virulent along the border. This focus on the whitening of America is consistent but it is by no means new.
In 1879 Senator James Blaine (R-ME) claimed that the United States should not allow the entry of any people “whom we ourselves declare are utterly unfit to become citizens.” He was referring to Chinese immigrants, but it could very well be adopted as the official United States immigration slogan except that the shoulder patches would be too big. This is why Donald Trump, in 2016, claimed “[Mexican immigrants] are not our friend[s], believe me. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” This was no dog whistle. It was a loud, out of tune piccolo that signaled his commitment to not only continuing the “whites only” goal of immigration policy, but doubling down on it. For Trump, and many like him, nonwhite immigrants are not only “unfit to become citizens,” they are literal dangers to the safety of American citizens.
This seems to be a good time to explain how the blog will progress. The book will not exactly be chronological. It is more conceptual so to a small degree it will jump around a bit in time (I limit that. I’m no Foucault) but it makes sense in the book. For the blog, since my primary goal is to teach the history of U.S. enforcement of the border with Mexico, the intention is for it to be fairly straightforward chronologically. This means it will be helpful to read the blog in order, but not essential. I will tag the key points of each post in case you need to find something. I will also list references at the end of the blog ( no footnotes and probably no actual page numbers. I can’t do all the heavy lifting). I will begin with Texas independence and the Texas Rangers. In a way the Texas Rangers bookend the story. Their imprint is all over the Border Patrol.
So, coming soon, Texas independence and not for the last time in immigration history, race and slavery.
And the posts will be relatively short. We all got stuff to do.