Border Patrols: Policing Immigration in America

Episode#0184: Border Patrols: Policing Immigration in America

Series: BackStory

Release Date: 11/2/2018

Hosts: Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly, Joanne Freeman


Episode and Transcript Link:

Tags: Policing, Racism, Border Patrol, Immigration, Border, Citizenship, US History, History, America, Race, Law, Legal History


Discussion/Mini Lecture: In response to President Trump deploying thousands of border patrol agents to respond to a wave of Central American migration across the US/Mexico border in the fall of 2018, this multi-part episode provides quick views into three different aspects of immigration history at the US/Mexico border. In particular, the episode focuses on changing views of so-called “illegal” immigration and “bad” immigrants, and traces the expansion of the government’s deportation powers.

Notes: Kera Lovell: BackStory is always great to use in the classroom because it is hosted by historians who seek to find connections between contemporary political and social issues with overshadowed narratives from the past. The website link for each episode features easily assignable segments in case you want a more targeted reading.

Mexican apricot pickers. June 22, 1935. Dorothea Lange, photographer. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Paul S. Taylor:

Assignment Ideas:

1) Digital History, Critical Analysis Paper: This digital history project by students and Professor Andrew Gomez at the University of Puget Sound chronicles how one town – Tacoma – purged the Chinese in 1885 by mob violence. Have students peruse every page, before writing a paper putting the assigned podcast in conversation with this website. While the podcast is pretty broad in terms of general racism, the website offers a microstudy

2) Critical Analysis Paper: The organization Reimagining Migration has created a lesson plan on the repatriation of Mexican Americans during the 1930s, including a short clip from PBS’ Latino Americans, two short audio clips (one with historian Francisco Balderrama), and a series of reflection questions that could be used for a discussion or a critical analysis paper:

3) Object Narratives: For those interested in more of a material culture/creative writing approach to the topic, a great place to start is Susan Harbage Page’s art projects over the past decade create the Anti-Archive, with more than 800 objects found at the US/Mexico Border. Have students peruse the different aspects of the Anti-Archive. Students could respond to the questions: What is one object in the Anti-Archive that stood out to you and why? Using The Documented Border’s photography series on the US/Mexico Border, what might be an object left along the US/Mexico Border in the 1950s at one of these locations? Describe the landscape, what the object means to you, and how it was lost or left at that location. (see below for an expansion)

4) Podcast Comparison: Radiolab released a trilogy on the border and episode 1 features the work of a historical anthropologist who researches the objects migrants leave at the US/Mexico Border. Students can be assigned both episodes and can be asked to put them in conversation with one another and respond critically in a written paper.

Anti-Archive Object No. 240, found at the US/Mexico border, as part of Susan Harbage Page’s Anti-Archive.

Potential Reflection Questions:

1) What were arguments against the Chinese Immigrants in the 1880s?

2) How does immigration policy influence self-segregation of Asian immigrants?

3) What are three types of punishment for immigration as explained in the episode?

4) How does the economic context shape how immigrants have been treated (for example, Mexicans during the Great Depression)?

5) According to the episode, what were the arguments for Mexican repatriation and what were the problems with it?

6) What is one similarity and one difference between past tactics to regulate immigration and during the Trump presidency?

7) The hosts argue that the “theater of fear” has been a key player in the history of immigration policing – what does this mean?

8) What is nativism and how is that connected with the role of white supremacy in the policing of immigration?

9) What do the expulsion of the Chinese in the 1880s and the purging of Mexicans and Mexican Americans during the 1930s have in common as reflecting the larger context in US history at that time?

(You could begin by easily asking students to define terms like: Chinese
Exclusion Act, repatriation, nativism, etc.)

Here is a screenshot from the Tacoma Method digital history project produced by students and Professor Andrew Gomez at the University of Puget Sound.

Other Relevant Sources:

Wiki overview: US Border Patrol:

Essay: This brief essay is a good quick starting point but
also cites several key texts on Chinese expulsion: Michael Luo, “The
Forgotten History of the Purging of Chinese from America,” New Yorker

Work by historians featured in the episode:

Erika Lee: In addition to their full texts, Lee has a wealth of short publications that would be excellent when paired with this episode:

Adam Goodman: In addition to Goodman’s book The Deportation Machine on this topic, Goodman also helped create the #ImmigrationSyllabus which has a plethora of readings on the topic.

Francisco Balderrama: Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s

Digital Archives: There are a wealth of digital archives on the topic of immigration that include oral histories, digitized letters, and more. For ideas on digitized sources on immigrants from Asia, see UC Berkeley here; for immigrants from Europe, see the University of Minnesota here.

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