The Militarized Border


The Militarized Border

Given that undocumented migrants have largely been constructed as criminal ‘illegal aliens’ who harm the well-being of American citizens and threaten the security of the nation, the measures employed to govern them have been extremely exclusionary and punitive. Put otherwise, undocumented migrants have largely come to be governed through crime.

The most notable form that governing immigration through crime has taken in the United States has undoubtedly taken is that of enhanced border policing. Since the early 1990s, the U.S. federal government has undertaken a major boundary control offensive, one that aims to shape the conduct of unauthorized immigrants in such a way as to deter them from entering the United States. Federal authorities have essentially determined that one of the best ways to deal with the ‘problem’ of undocumented immigration is through expanding border policing operations.

The expansion of the border policing as a way of governing unauthorized immigration has been most conspicuous along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is this border that has historically been seen as the primary source of the undocumented immigrant ‘problem’. This expansion actually dates back to the late 1970s. But it really burgeoned in the early 1990s. That’s when the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) put into effect a broad plan to gain control of the southwest border and reduce illicit immigration. This comprehensive border control scheme was based on a strategy of ‘prevention through deterrence’. The objective was to increase fencing, lighting, personnel, and surveillance equipment along the main gates of illegal entry—such as San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas—in order to raise the probability of apprehension to such a high level that unauthorized migrants would be deterred from crossing the border.

Now, in the post-9/11 context, the policing of the border as a way of managing unauthorized migration has only accelerated as the fight against immigrant illegality has become conflated with the ‘war on terror’. A primary solution to the undocumented immigration problem, then, has been to militarize the border and turn the United States into a fortified enclave of sorts. It has been to cast a wide net of control and surveillance over the border in order to discourage illegal incursions and thus keep troublesome individuals out of the body politic. As with the government of crime more generally, the rationale for managing undocumented migrants through crime is that the public must be protected from the would-be criminals who threaten their security and contentment.



U.S. Border Patrol agents looking for migrants along the Rio Grande River in Texas.
U.S. Border Patrol agent investigates potential landing area for undocumented migrants along the Rio Grande River in Texas.


The U.S. border fence/wall near El Paso, Texas.
The U.S. border fence/wall near El Paso, Texas.


A pair of unmanned aircraft in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
A pair of Customs and Border Protection unmanned aircraft in Sierra Vista, Arizona.


Two Black Hawk helicopters patrolling border.
Two Customs and Border Protection unit UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters patrol the southwest border region.

























[imagecaption]These four images are from the photo gallery of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website ( They are meant to highlight the work that CBP does to “secure” the nation from foreign threats.[/imagecaption]





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