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Transcript - Shifting Borders: The Many Sides of U.S.-Mexican Relations

border wall

Long before the recent initiatives to strengthen the border wall with Mexico and contentious debates surrounding immigration and deportation, the U.S. and Mexico have had a tangled history of both animosity and cooperation. From the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War to the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, what can history tell us about the current state of affairs and prospects for the future between the U.S. and Mexico? Join us as hosts Brenna Miller and Jessica Blissit discuss U.S.-Mexican relations with three experts: Dr. Elena Albarran, Dr. Mathew Coleman, and Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

[Listen to the podcast here.]

Transcript Begins Here:

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Welcome to History Talk, the podcast that brings together a panel of experts to discuss current events in historical perspective. I'm your host, Jessica Viñas-Nelson.

Brenna Miller 
And I'm your other host, Brenna Miller. One of the most famous platforms of the 2016 presidential campaign was then-candidate Donald Trump's promise that he would build a border wall with Mexico, and that Mexico would pay for it. Since taking office, President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto have very publicly debated the proposed wall and U.S.-Mexican relations seem at historic lows as anti-immigrant and particularly anti-Mexican rhetoric, and increased detentions and deportations of undocumented immigrants have intensified in recent months.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
At the same time, the U.S. and Mexico are relying on one another more than ever before for trade, security and counter-terrorism cooperation. The two nations share an extensive border. Over a million Americans live in Mexico and Mexicans constitute the U.S.' largest source of legal and illegal immigrants. But how do the two nations' current areas of cooperation and disagreement compare to their longer history together?

Brenna Miller 
From the Texas Revolution and the Mexican American War to the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. and Mexico have a unique and complex relationship with one another. What can history tell us about the current state of affairs and prospects for the future between the U.S. and Mexico? Today on History Talk, we speak to three experts on the history of U.S.-Mexican relations.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
From Miami University, we have Dr. Elena Albarrán, an associate professor in the history department and global and intercultural studies department, specializing in revolution and social movements in Latin America, popular culture in modern Mexican history.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Hi, it's nice to be here. Thanks.

Brenna Miller 
And in the studio, we have with us Dr. Mathew Coleman, an associate professor in the geography department of the Ohio State University, specializing in immigration law and politics.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
Hi, thanks for having me.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
And finally, we also have Dr. Lilia Fernandez, an associate professor in the Department of Latino and Caribbean studies and history department at Rutgers University, and specializing in twentieth century Latino history, immigration, urban, and women's history.

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
Thank you for having me.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Thanks for joining us. The animosity today between the U.S. and Mexico seems pretty high. When did this animosity between the U.S. and Mexico begin and how did it emerge? Does cooperation or animosity better define our overall relationship?

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
The United States from its early years always had territorial ambitions on the land that had been Spain's colonies, and which became the independent nation of Mexico after 1821. And this, of course, is what led up to the war. Well, first, the annexation of Texas, and then the war between the U.S. and Mexico in 1846. And so, I would say that politically, there's been some tension and conflict between the two nations going back over a century and a half. Now, some scholars will argue that nineteenth century history is really not terribly relevant in contemporary dynamics and relations between the two countries. But I would suggest that there does seem to be some residual ideas about the border, about what kinds of relations the people of the two countries can have, and certainly about population movement, or immigration specifically.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Indeed, there has always been animosity that frames discourse and often policy that takes place on the border, especially since the nation-states as we know them were consolidated in the middle of the nineteenth century. But it's crucial to also look at a couple of other factors. One is that policy and discourse doesn't always reflect the attitudes of the people living in the borderlands. And so the relationships between those actually living on the border are fluid and often collaborative, and don't reflect the discourse and the language that we hear reflecting, kind of on both sides, of language and policy coming out of the center, both in Mexico and in the U.S. and around the world. So I think it's important for us to keep that at the forefront. I also recognize that the tensions on the border predate the geographic border as we recognize it today. But certainly, a lot of historical comparisons and fears, that were right at the center of conversations in the middle of the nineteenth century, are coming right back almost intact since the latest administration.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
Well, I think that the question of animosity is very, very important. But I do think, at least in terms of the contemporary relationship between the Mexican and American/U.S. administrations, that animosity does not actually explain everything that's going on. And in fact, I think that to some extent, we have to consider that the trope of animosity can sometimes cloud what is otherwise substantial levels of cooperation between Mexico and the United States in terms of security. But I think, you know, it's important for us to keep focused on the ways in which to some extent, Mexico is reproducing some of the most problematic aspects of U.S. border enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border at their border with Guatemala with U.S. funds in particular. So I think as Lilia started to say at the beginning, it's a sort of a complex sort of relationship of antagonism and cooperation, the two things sort of coexisting together.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Can you go into a little bit more what you mean by reproducing American tactics at Mexico's southern border?

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
Well, this is a more recent development in the late 1990s. And just immediately after 9/11, there were various sort of experimental things that the United States pursued in the Caribbean and Central America and in Mexico with respect to the movement of people, so mostly a migration issue, but then increasingly around narcotics, and those tactics there...there's a bunch of different things that were basically deployed. There were, for example, these sort of preemptive immigration raids on parties that were going to cross the U.S.-Mexico border into the United States before they did, so sort of with the climate of the future "undocumented entry crime," in inverted commas, of course. But then there was, you know, under the second Bush and in the second administration of Bush 41, in 2008, the Mérida Initiative was started. That's funneled about two and a half billion dollars to Mexico in the time since. And that initiative has been about transferring intelligence to Mexican security forces, various forms of equipment, hardware, and training, mostly focused on things like narcotics, but also inadvertently on gang member traffic, but increasingly as a sort of knock-on effect on people who are fleeing violence, actually.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
That's a great point to bring up for comparative perspective, because the U.S.-Mexico border is unique in the world as being the only place where a "first world" and "third world" country share a physical border. And so as a result of that, a lot of tensions seem to converge in this space that don't just have to do with the relationship between the United States and Mexico, but rather hemispheric and global politics. And especially, we see U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere playing out on the U.S.-Mexico border in real intensified ways. For example, when the United States really began to ramp up its War on Drug at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with an emphasis on Colombia, that pushed the drug corridor from Colombia into Central and North America. And so that immediately made Honduras, El Salvador, and then Mexico real hotspots for the flow of drug trafficking. And so that pushed migration into unprecedented...from Central and South America. And crime that followed those drug cartels up through those corridors and led to that southern migration through the Mexican borders. The militarization of the U.S. border with Mexico gets pushed down one level further to the Mexican border with Guatemala. And a lot of that is a reaction to the way that the War on Drugs was carried out in the hemisphere. So it is important, I think, to take a longer look at how things have come into play.

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
You know, one of the points I wanted to pick up on, that both Dr. Coleman and Dr. Albarrán have pointed out, is that as Americans, we tend to kind of automatically assume that when we think about immigration, we should be talking about enforcement and regulation and keeping people out or, you know, monitoring who is coming in and out of the country, in large part because of the way that it's been linked to other kinds of criminal activities like the drug trade, et cetera. And that I think, helps to explain why Mexico now has also developed very strict policies towards Central Americans and South Americans coming to its southern borders, because it's replicating what the U.S. has done and what it's encouraging Mexico to do as a kind of the first gateway to prevent migrants from making their way all the way northward to the U.S.-Mexico border. But I think in terms of historicizing this, we have to keep in mind that American concerns over the border and over its regulation are really a twentieth century phenomenon and really began only after 1924 with the establishment of the Border Patrol and restrictive immigration policies that essentially have created our modern-day immigration enforcement regime.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Were international disputes like the Zimmermann Telegram during World War One significant for U.S.-Mexican relations? Or what about the U.S. and Mexico during the Cold War?

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
I would say that again, I think that there have been a number of moments of cooperation between the two countries and, to pick up on what Dr. Albarrán said, also that we have to make a distinction between what government officials and national governments...the rhetoric they use between one another and the rhetoric they use with their own populations and the attitudes and the idea that the people themselves, you know, express towards one another. So, in the case of the Cold War and World War Two, I would say, you know, the U.S. government was very much interested in having amicable and cooperative relations with not only Mexico, but Latin America more generally, through its Good Neighbor Policy. And essentially, the United States foreign relations and foreign policy throughout the region was really dictated by the concerns over the Cold War and communist Soviet infiltration into the region. So in that regard, Mexico and the U.S. did have cooperative relations to the extent that the U.S. could convince the Mexican government officials that they needed to work with the Americans to keep communists out.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
I think one of the things that often we forget about during the Cold War is actually the foreign economic context of relations between Mexico and the United States. And that's an interesting thing to think about, actually in the late Cold War, you know, so in the 1980s, things like the peso crisis in Mexico really generated a North Americanization of Mexican foreign economic policy, which really wasn't voluntary. I mean, it well definitely wasn't voluntary, it was more or less forced. I mean the United States "bailed out" Mexico after the peso crisis in the early '80s, and essentially forced wholesale change in the way that Mexico was doing economic development away from something called an import substitution industrialization or ISI, which was basically about some level of autonomy from world manufacturing markets, based in manufacturing your own goods for the domestic market towards something that looked a lot more like the maquiladora economy. In fact, there was a massive sort of growth in the maquiladora economy after 1982. And that's...I think 1982 is a very important year in which Mexico turns northwards and a different sort of relationship was cultivated with the United States.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
If I may jump back on the timeline a little bit, back into the nineteenth century, sorry, but I think one of the important conflicts, international conflicts that framed everything that we're seeing today is obviously the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846 to 1848. And that was kind of something that followed the independence of Texas, which hurt Mexico deeply, and it was at the age of U.S. westward expansion and the growth of U.S. imperialism, and some of the events and the shaping of national identity that took place during this short conflict, not to mention the territorial shift, it frames politics but it also frames popular culture, which is what I pay most attention to, and is poignantly felt on not just the border, but throughout the respective nation states-involved. And I see references to the U.S.-Mexico War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which are the terms on which that conflict was terminated, regularly, every time I look at a new source or read a comment thread on a YouTube video, Mexicans in particular, are very attendant to what happened in 1846 and 1848 and it looms large in the collective memory. And it's something that it seems almost like possible that some of those patterns could be repeated.

Brenna Miller 
So to turn now to economic international relationships, when did an important economic relationship between the two nations emerge? And how have those evolved over time, Lilia?

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
Sure. So to pick up on what Elena was saying, the economic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico of course developed from the very beginning of the two nation-states. And so one of the first things that I think we need to recognize, or not take for granted, is that the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico historically has been an unequal one. You know, if we consider, for example, the fact that the United States became an economic and military colossus in the hemisphere, precisely because of its ongoing territorial expansion, its imperial projects, its search for mineral resources, for petroleum, for raw materials throughout the region, that put the United States in a dominant position in relation to all of its neighbors to the south. And in fact, some historians make the point that the United States' economic might was, in large part, the result of the successful exploitation of resources that it extracted from Mexico, including that land that it acquired after 1848 that Dr. Albarrán was explaining. So given that the relations between the two countries began on equal footing, then it's no surprise that the relations throughout the twentieth century, throughout the second half of the nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, have remained one...relations in which the United States has dominated. Mexico has often willingly partnered with the U.S. for a variety of different interests and reasons. But one in which the United States has been able to exert its power and its own interests, not only with Mexico, but with the region more generally.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Yeah, there are political machinations that were certainly in place in the negotiation of the territory that led to certain economic fortunes, but also historical serendipity or the opposite of that, if you will, because if you look at the time that the United States acquired California in 1848, it had previously sent John Slidell down to Mexico to try to negotiate the sale of four ports from California only, not the land of the state of California, but just four ports for $15 million, and Mexico flatly refused and was insulted. A decade later, Mexico loses all of California and a few short months later, as we all know, gold is discovered in California. And so had the timing been different, how would the national economies have evolved in very different ways? Would the United States have intervened anyway, and found a way to get a handle on some of the gold? We can't speculate about things that would have happened, but there is a certain sense in Mexico...there's certainly a sense of of tragedy about the way that some of those things happened to unfold that we can only work with moving forward.

Brenna Miller 
So thinking about today then, how deep do the economic relationships between the two countries really run?

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
Well, they're massive.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Inextricable.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
Yeah, its a very, very important relationship. And, you know, in part to tell the story, I can recall being at the border shortly after 9/11, because I was living in Los Angeles at the time. And of course, there was a real shutdown in cross-border traffic, Tijuana-San Diego, and in a matter of days, there was a multi-100 mile traffic jam that has, you know, going south from Tijuana, because of the number of trucks that pass daily back and forth across the border. And there were crazy stories about Ford executives traveling by plane with suitcases full of little electronic chips that were getting put in, I think, at the time it was Ford Taurus engines, because they couldn't get them across the border by truck. And so they were just filling up suitcases and getting on airplanes with them. I mean, that's a sort of a trite and a small example. But I mean, the volume of traffic, of truck traffic across the U.S.-Mexico border, you know, bringing these two economies together is massive. And it gets back to what Lilia referred to as the border industrialization program, which was this sort of experimental thing that was tried out in 1965, whereas effectively, Mexico City had to find a sort of employment solution for the northern states. And that's the border industrialization program, which then gets sort of generalized across Mexico after 1982 and which then gets a sort of a shot in the arm in 1994 through NAFTA, and which then sort of constitutes Mexican foreign economic policy with respect to the United States in total, by the time that 9/11 comes around.

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
Yeah, I would add to that, that Matt's absolutely right that the United States and Mexico are incredibly interdependent in terms of their economy, you know, as trading partners, in terms of manufactured goods and agricultural products. But also, from the Mexican perspective, I think that Mexicans see the immigrant labor as being very integral to the U.S. economy and make the case that many sectors of United States economy, particularly agriculture, would not be as profitable and doing as well as it does, as it's done, were it not for the influx of Mexican immigrant labor. At the same time, of course, Mexico has benefited from U.S. investment in the country, and as well as from the remittances, hundreds of millions of dollars, billions, I believe even, in remittances from immigrants who are in the U.S., working and sending wages back home. So I think that's one of the things that gets lost when there's all of this very aggressive and hostile talk about, you know, building walls and about deporting undocumented immigrants who by and large we know are...that's meant to be aimed at Mexican immigrants. But I think what gets lost in that kind of rhetoric is the fact that the United States and Mexico are incredibly dependent upon one another for their economies on both sides of the border.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Definitely. And, as I think we've kind of highlighted before, the border really is a place for global interactions to kind of come to bear, but the border's a really very intensely local community, even more so than a site of global exchange and politics. And so I lived in Tucson, about 45-50 minutes north of Nogales, on both Nogales, Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico, for about a decade. And on any given Saturday, the parking lot of the Tucson mall is filled with Sonora license plates, the state that borders Arizona to the south, because that's where middle-class Mexicans come to do their shopping, and border citizens have enjoyed a kind of fluid experience with crossing the border and can get a day pass to go within a certain radius without having to worry about their status being checked at the checkpoints that exist north and south of the actual border and have spent millions and billions of dollars at the malls, at the horse races, at the local restaurants. And likewise, if you cross the border into Nogales, Mexico, you'll see a thriving business of pharmacies as you expect to see on any border town, but dentists, health care, even educational and nonprofit sites where people from north of the border go and shop and spend their money and get access to services that might be cheaper, but might also be better. And so this kind of fluidity and hybrid zone is something that further militarization and further restrictions really does damage to in terms of community life.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
So historically, what has been the role of Mexican laborers in the U.S.? And how has the American reception to Mexican immigrants changed over time, and how have Mexico and Mexicans viewed immigration to the U.S. over time?

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
You know, again, as I mentioned earlier immigration from Mexico to the U.S. has become a very important part of both the U.S. and the Mexican economies, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century, and now into the twenty-first. But American attitudes towards that migration really have varied, and they tend to fluctuate based on how the U.S. economy is doing. So in the earlier part of the twentieth century, as I mentioned before, the border was relatively unregulated. In fact, in the big Dillingham Commission congressional report study done in 1908, I believe, the primary focus of the Congress's concern with immigrants was not on Mexicans or the U.S.-Mexico border, but it was really focused on Southern and Eastern European immigrants. Mexicans were not even counted, I think, until after 1908. But it was really during moments of economic downturns in the US, when Americans have expressed nativism and xenophobia against Mexican immigrants and have called for deportations or repatriations during the Great Depression, for example, during the 1950s, and later in the 1970s and subsequently. Mexican dependence on migration as an important source of employment for the population really began, however, in the post-war period with the Bracero Programs, which really conditioned Mexican immigrant men to participate in this kind of circular migration where they would come and work for wages for an extended period of time in the U.S., return home, and then come back to the U.S. when they needed to replenish their savings or their earnings. So what we've found, I think, since then, since the end of the Bracero Program, is that Mexican workers have relied increasingly on that migration and the wages that they provide to support family members back home, to sustain households, to invest in the buildings of homes and small businesses and the like.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
It's a very complex question. And I think one of the important things to note about the relationship that America has with respect to Mexican labor is that it's contradicted and it's not...you know, I would hesitate to say that it's something cyclical, where we go through periods of sort of overt and celebratory dependence on Mexican labor and then sort of periods of revanchist, xenophobic reaction to that labor pool, but it's more like the two things existing at the same time and in the same spaces and sometimes over the very same policies, and we see that throughout the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, when we're talking about undocumented labor in this country and lawmakers are trying to pass laws to restrict it. But more recently, we just need to look at state-level actions. For instance, in Georgia and Alabama, which really sought to criminalize, for example, undocumented life, just undocumented residents. And at the same time, lawmakers were trying to make it hard for undocumented immigrants to do things like get driver's licenses, or rent, or simply move about cities in a particular way. Farmers, for example, onion farmers in Georgia have their hands up in the air, because people are not coming out to their jobs to pick to pick onions, farmers in Alabama are doing the same thing, farmers in Colorado who were also upset. I mean, it was at the same time, the same place, you have these very different sort of reactions to undocumented Mexican labor and other labor also in this country. And so it's not a cyclical periodic thing, just to tangle. It's a mess of things.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Something that has been inconsistent in our policy towards labor, since the implementation of NAFTA, has been that the liberalization of the flow of goods between U.S., Mexico, and Canada has not been accompanied by the liberalization of the human labor that needs to accompany the production of that agriculture, right. And so yes, a lot of the agriculture has been industrialized, and you don't need hardly any people at all to harvest corn anymore. Here in Ohio, a lot of that can be done mechanically. But you still do need people to pick grapes and tomatoes and strawberries and asparagus, and those crops are allowed to follow the market, but the people needed to work them are not. And so that has led to backlogs and criminalization of activities that are also very necessary to the sustaining of our food economies, of our food security. And so it really leads to some devastating human consequences.

Brenna Miller 
So when exactly did the U.S. start policing its border with Mexico? And what was the impetus to do so, and has that enforcement evolved and changed over time?

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
So the United States really began to regulate Mexican migration across the U.S.-Mexico border after 1924 when it established the Border Patrol. And increasingly over the twentieth century, the policies at the border and the control of migration at the border have become more and more restrictive. Many folks will point to this and say that this is, in fact, what has created what we as Americans see as an immigration crisis, or this population of undocumented immigrants that have grown so dramatically in the last two decades. One of the things that we tend to overlook, however, in thinking about the border as the point at which we regulate migration, and particularly try to keep out unauthorized immigrants, is that the U.S.-Mexico border actually only produces one segment of the undocumented in the U.S. Many more people overstay tourist or student visas, or other kinds of work permits, etc. And so while we've been focusing specifically on the border, as one scholar has called it, as a "site of spectacle," right, as a place that we've militarized, and where essentially, we're waging war against all sorts of different kinds of people that we've criminalized then, as well as real criminal activity. That, in fact, really is not the only source of unauthorized migration, and it does not make a comprehensive immigration policy by any means.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
We should probably talk about some of the non-border enforcement tactics that are happening in this country. But just to follow up on Lilia's point, it's very important that although there was a sort of increasing focus on the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1960s and '70s and '80s, for example, it really wasn't until the signing of NAFTA, in 1994, that there was anything even closely approximating the border that now exists between the U.S. and Mexico, which is a very robust and very militarized border. It's a lethal landscape. And in fact, there's plenty of mortality data along the border, where you can use death to sort of track the militarization of the border. I mean, in a way, it's fascinating. I mean, the totality shift from drownings that are basically on the eastern regions of the border to things like dehydration and death from exposure on western sides of the border. And for me, what's so, so, so interesting about a border, which is so predictably lethal, is that it comes about in sort of fits and starts and in ways which are basically unanticipated. So for example, in 1993, we have Border Patrol station chiefs who are trying to spend access monies, spend down their budgets, and are experimenting with this thing called "line watch hours," where they basically hired Border Patrol agents to stand at the border within eyesight of one another, and to spend down the budgets, and this gets picked up. This gets actually initially criticized by the Clinton administration and then there's a reversal, and the Clinton administration celebrates the line watch thing, which then turns into the Operation Hold the Line and Operation Gatekeeper where U.S. immigration policy really fundamentally shifts around the time of NAFTA, where there's a sort of massing of Border Patrol bodies and infrastructures at the border to stop people from crossing in the first place. And just prior to that, in the early 1990s, it was not like that. U.S. immigration enforcement was very much about mobile checkpoints in the interior of the United States on major highways linking the border to major U.S. cities. For instance, in the early 1990s, there really was not a fence between, or a wall between Mexico and the United States, and most Border Patrol activities would have been vehicular activities where people would have been pulled over in sort of both fixed and mobile checkpoint things. And that really shifts by 1994 and certainly by 2005. The border is now really built up, there's a large number of different kinds of infrastructures that are at the border. And really, I guess it's really only in 2005 that we see extensive amounts of bordering that stretch from the west to the east. So it's a really recent phenomenon.

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
As I've heard an anthropologist describe it, we already have a border wall, and that is the Sonoran Desert, right, which, as Matt Coleman explained, has been very deadly and essentially was intentionally and explicitly anticipated to be a deterrent, and a site of collateral damage, essentially. The Border Patrol, according to its reports, when it was initiating these different operations in the early '90s, Operation Gatekeeper, Operation "Hold the Line," et cetera, the Border Patrol expected that people would be crossing through more remote regions, and that it would be deadly, that there would be death happening, essentially. But I wanted to go back to a point that Dr. Albarrán had made as well about recognizing the difference between official border policy between nations, or you know, in terms of immigration enforcement regimes, and the actual people who live on the border. Because as we know, the U.S.-Mexico border has been incredibly fluid, especially for the native people, going back centuries. And so despite the fact that we have over the last several decades become more invested in fortifying that geographical line and militarizing it and building fences, etc., there are people who trace back their ancestry to both sides of the region generations, and whose lives really continued to be, as much as possible, cross-border transporter experiences.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
How has the enforcement within the U.S. changed over time?

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
Well, this is one of the, I think, one of the most fundamental changes to U.S. immigration policy over the past couple of decades, which rivals in every way, the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border in the mid-1990s and the late 1990s. And this is not to say that the border has become less important because I do think that there has been a tendency to overlook the U.S.-Mexico border, especially in relatively recent research that's been done on U.S. immigration enforcement. And so it's important to say outright that the U.S.-Mexico border is an important and primary site where a lot of U.S. money is spent actually on immigration deterrence. But what's happened, in addition to spending on that border, is basically a devolution of immigration enforcement to authorities who previously didn't have the ability to ask for papers, for example, and this is something that happens almost immediately after 9/11 in a sort of ad hoc fashion. It can actually be traced to aspects of the 1996 immigration law. After 9/11, various local police forces started getting involved in, as official sort of delegates of federal immigration law, getting involved in asking questions. Initially in a strictly sort of national security setting in airports, actually, but then it quickly sort of spun out of control, and it became a general sort of policing operation. And now in this country, well, let's say up until about 2012 in this country, the bulk of people who are getting deported were actually getting deported by virtue of coming into contact with a police officer or a sheriff, for example, in a major metro area or actually in a sort of a rural setting too, for any number of reasons and then getting turned over to the feds and getting deported by somebody like a group like ICE, for example. Now, of course, we know that starting in 2012, the Obama administration put a lot of these programs on the shelf because of civil rights concerns, particularly around racial profiling. And these programs are things that probably many listeners have heard of: the 287(g) program, the Criminal Alien Program, the Secure Communities Program. And what's most interesting, actually, as someone who studies these things, is that those have recently been taken back off the shelf by the Trump administration and sort of put back into practice as somehow unproblematic, somehow sort of legally unassailable programs, and those civil rights concerns have sort of evaporated at the highest levels of the U.S. government. And so, 287(g) and Secure Communities, and especially the Criminal Alien Program, are very, very, very important ways now in which people are identified as undocumented and potentially at least deported as a result. So just to be clear, what I'm talking about is routine interactions with police officers, which results in people getting identified as undocumented. And I think the misconception here is that we're talking about people who are committing crimes, and who are getting deported by virtue of their criminality. And yes, there are some people who commit crimes and who do get deported because they pull a trigger or they commit some sort of felonious act. But the bulk of people that we're talking about, you know, we're talking about minor infractions and misdemeanor offenders, and a lot of stuff around driving and driving without licenses or driving with a taillight out or driving without proper registration or driving without insurance, which results in people being taken into custody and then in custody being asked if they are in the country illegally or not, and then basically being put into removal proceedings as a result.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
How do  these recent efforts compare with historical efforts? I'm thinking here of Operation Wetback.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
You know, Operation Wetback was a very significant program in which more than a million people were effectively removed from this country in the 1950s. And interestingly done with significant support from local law enforcement, for instance, like sheriffs. If you look, however, at the stats for deportations during the twentieth century, the Operation Wetback numbers are missing, in fact, and so the 1950s don't look like it was a big decade for deportations, so you see the steady increase in the '40s through '50s and up through the '90s and 2000s. '50s were really a big period. So what's happening now is not without historical precedent. But I would say that the intensity of interior enforcement today, quite remarkable, there's a certain sort of precarity that one faces with doing basic labor and social reproduction related activities, you know, going to the workplace, but then you know, going shopping after work to get groceries, or perhaps going to church on Sunday, or going to the park to throw a frisbee around, or going to a barbecue, whatever. Getting out in sort of public space, walking on sidewalks, driving a car, in particular, these are highly risky activities, at least in some parts of this country, and have sort of intensified this looming threat of deportability for many undocumented families and individuals in this country, and I think that the level of that threat is unprecedented actually.

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
I recently read an essay that explained that, in fact, Operation Wetback is misunderstood, that it really does not specify a particular campaign that rounded up and deported one million people, but in fact, was used as a kind of public relations event by immigration officials at that time to quell American public hysteria over unauthorized immigration. And that what, in fact, Operation Wetback did was continue its ongoing immigration deportation policies that were already happening prior to 1954. But certainly to bring that to the present and what's been happening in more recent years, I think one of the things that the history underscores, that we see today, is the way in which Mexican labor has been in this...we've had this kind of schizophrenic attitude towards it. What Matt suggested earlier, that on the one hand, we depend on Mexican immigrant labor enormously in so many sectors nowadays, in agriculture and particularly in our meat processing, food processing industries. But at the same time, we seem to have a lot of cultural and social and racial anxieties about the presence of Mexican immigrants in the country, and what results then is that this condition of having a deportable labor force, which keeps consumer prices down, a labor force that's extremely vulnerable, that's deportable at any moment, and that does not have the same kinds of protection that American citizens or even permanent resident workers have in the U.S. labor market.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
The argument about the schizophrenia is very, very important because it should be said that despite the increase in interior enforcement recently, this is not something that happens at workplaces. Workplace raids are basically nonexistent in this country. There are occasional raids, which make the front pages of the newspaper, and those raids will have very important consequences, certainly on local undocumented communities. But the majority of the raids or immigration actions occur in spaces of social reproduction, not in spaces of laboring. And, you know, I think we should think about the sort of state immigration apparatus not coming into direct conflict with capital in the workplace, but the state pursuing its immigration policies on the train of labor when labor is trying to socially reproduce outside official hours of work. And so people are much more likely to get asked for their papers exiting a church parking lot, or while shopping or while driving and passing through a checkpoint, than they are while trying to get into the place that they work at.

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
Right, in the 1970s and 1980s, workplace raids were much more common but I think that immigration services, perhaps in cooperation with employers, have become much more savvy and realize that when you raid a factory, or when you raid some kind of workplace where you round up dozens or even hundreds of people, it disrupts production. And so economically, for the employer, it's much less disruptive if you arrest people at home, in parks, in churches, dropping off their kids at school, etc. And that, as Dr. Coleman pointed out, is really a much more recent phenomenon.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
I believe the high point was in 1999, where there, if I'm not mistaken, there were about 18,000 workplace-related operations in this country.

Brenna Miller 
Alright, so for our last question, we'd like to ask really about internal developments in Mexico. So what is the political climate in Mexico like now? And what domestic issues is it facing that may feed into the relationship between the United States and Mexico, so kind of looking at this from the other side?

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Mexico currently has a president who is at the end of his term. They'll be starting campaigning and holding elections next year. And Enrique Peña Nieto is, by most historians' count, the most unpopular president on record. His approval rate waivers somewhere between eight and eleven percent, despite his pretty obvious attempts at flat populism, but he has tried to galvanize support by at times adopting what looks like a strong stance against Trump's border politics. But the Mexican populace is really savvy and can see through that kind of politicking. Mexico is confronting a series of its own internal crises, not the least of which, and probably the driving force of which, is the incredible strength of the drug cartels, which have more power and more extra official jurisdiction than any state agency. And so all of the secondary and tertiary effects of the power of the cartel culture has really put Mexico in a social position of some strife. But Mexicans have dealt with this latest affront of the border policies with enormous grace and humor. And actually, Mexicans are nothing if not self-reflective and humorous in the face of a lot of things that might otherwise be quite devastating. So while there have been serious marches against U.S. foreign policy towards Mexico, there have been marches against their own presidents, dealing with the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, with the oil reform that has taken Mexico's economy on a completely different turn. There's also a lot of energy expended toward reminding Americans that this isn't going...a border wall isn't going to change anything. And if it does change anything, it might actually be to the US as detriment.

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
Yeah, I would just add to that, that I think that Mexico is experiencing as much popular protests as any other nation given the assault on the Mexican working class in recent years, and the fact that Mexican citizens have been feeling the weight of the drug wars and living through all of its horrors in recent years. And while, as I mentioned earlier, Mexicans recognize how interdependent the nation's economy is to that of the United States, I think most recently with outrageously offensive statements that Donald Trump made on the campaign trail and his ongoing claims that the wall's going to be built, I think some people see through that as just a lot of nonsense and do take it humorously. But we have to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes, imagine ourselves as being attacked, and as a nation, and being told that someone's going to build a wall to keep us out, and that we're going to pay for it. So that kind of rhetoric coming from the nation's leader, I don't think has made Mexicans feel very optimistic about the United States government. But again, I would distinguish between how people feel about the citizens of a nation and the elites who rule it.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
Yeah, I agree with everything that's been said. But I would just say that the current Mexican administration finds itself in a very cramped spot and a very tight spot, because on the one hand, obviously Peña Nieto is going to use the specter of Trump to his political advantage in the country. But the political/economic realities are such that...I mean, even actually this month, the Central American Regional Security Initiative is getting renegotiated between both administrations. And we see, at Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, many of the same sorts of immigration practices that occurred at the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1990s. So on the one hand, the Mexican administration has...well, it's got to juggle two things. It's got to juggle essentially the repetition of the U.S. immigration policy at its own southern border, as well an implicit if not explicit critique of current U.S. immigration policy towards Mexico right now. It's got to keep both those balls in the air and it doesn't strike me that's going to be very easy.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Exactly. And any kind of economic sanctions that the U.S. might put on Mexico or that Mexico might put on the U.S. in a retaliatory or responsive kind of way, the next economic force that's looking to take advantage of any gaps that the U.S. might leave in the Mexican economy is China. And so allowing that kind of antagonism to enter back into, or not that it's completely been gone, but to enter into U.S.-Mexican immigration and economic policies could result in contributing to more of a global economic power shift that might not at all be in the U.S.' best interest. So alienating Mexico strategically for global economic purposes is something that is of concern to economic analysts who are looking at what Mexico's alternatives might be if it becomes harder to sell products in the U.S., if it becomes harder to engage in binational relations as we have in various historical points.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
We'll wrap it up on that note. Thank you to our three panelists, Dr. Elena Albarrán, an associate professor at Miami University, Dr. Matthew Coleman, an associate professor at Ohio State University, and Dr. Lilia Fernandez, an associate professor at Rutgers University.

Brenna Miller 
Th anks, everyone.

Dr. Lilia Fernandez 
Thank you for having me.

Dr. Mathew Coleman 
Thank you.

Dr. Elena Jackson Albarrán 
Thanks very much, it's been a great conversation.

Brenna Miller 
This episode of History Talk podcast was brought to you by Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the Public History Initiative and the Goldberg Center in the history department at The Ohio State University in Columbus and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Our main editors are Steven Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle. Our executive producer is David Staley. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer. Our audio producers and hosts are Brenna Miller and Jessica Viñas-Nelson. Song and band information can be found on our website. You can find our podcasts and more on our website, origins.osu.edu, on iTunes and on SoundCloud. As always, find us on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for listening.