New & Noteworthy

September 2, 2010

Violence and Activism at the Border: Gender, Fear, and Everyday Life in Ciudad Juárez by Kathleen Stuart, University of Texas Press, 2008, 184 pp., $24.95 (paperback)

In the decade between 1993 and 2003, 370 women and girls were slain in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and an average of 30 continue to be killed each year. How can we understand this violence? This work examines the problem of the Juárez “femicides” through a feminist lens, offering several explanatory frameworks—including globalization and the neoliberal economy; the “changing gender power relations, especially backlash in the border economic context”; and the “the obscene inequalities between the rich and the poor . . . [that] generates the conditions under which violence and lawlessness flourish.” The book also examines the “flaws in political and criminal justice institutions” in Mexico, which have failed for many years to put an end to the misogynist violence.

In this study the border, “normally considered the periphery, is at the center of the book, symbolizing struggles elsewhere: about democracy, violence, and impunity.” The author, Kathleen Staudt, also gives ample space to the voices of Juárez women. She emphasizes that although social movements have come about in response to the femicides, there has been only a “selective, minimal responsiveness from Mexican institutions and still no institutionalized binational approach that addresses the problem at the border.” The book, in turn, is a call to action.

The Wind Doesn’t Need a Passport: Stories From the U.S.- Mexico Borderland, by Tychy Hendricks, University of California Press, 2010, 246 pp., $27.50 (hardcover)

Quantitative analysis from political and social scientists can only go so far in explicating the U.S.-Mexico border, argues former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Tyche Hendricks. To get the real story, she says, you “have to talk to the people that live there.” In Hendricks’s book The Wind Doesn’t Need a Passport, she does just that. The author travels the entire span of the 2,000-mile border, from Matamoros to Tijuana, and investigates the border’s most pressing concerns, “from immigration to the environment, and from drug smuggling to manufacturing.” Hendricks finds not a line but a region, or a “third nation,” with its own logic and way of life. “Both [Mexico and the United States] have made a symbol of the border, often with overheated rhetoric,” Hendricks notes, “but for twelve million people, it is simply home.”

Instead of continuing to build a border wall that is unlikely to succeed in stopping immigration, as Hendricks notes, the U.S. government should instead listen to the wisdom of the borderlands’ residents, who “know from experience that the solutions to be found at the border are less about hardening the boundary between the two countries and more about increasing understanding and cooperation between them.”

Impacts of Border Enforcement on Mexican Migration, Wayne Cornelius and Jessa M. Lewis, eds., Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, 2007, 175 pp., $22 (paperback)

In 1993 the Clinton administration implemented a new, “zero tolerance” federal border strategy that included a significant increase of Border Patrol resources, manpower, and technology. The goal was to create the conditions to “deter” immigration. But are people in fact being deterred? What connections exist between changes in border enforcement policies and changes in migrants’ decision making? This collection of essays attempts to answer these questions, with attention to choice of destination, mode of entry, and participation temporary worker programs, gender differences, generational cohorts, and other factors.

The essays are unanimous in presenting evidence that the militarized, post-1993 border strategy “had not stopped, nor even discouraged, unauthorized migrants” from entering the United States, and that “economic and family-related incentives remain the principal determinants” of people’s decision to migrate. “In theory,” co-editor Wayne Cornelius writes, “potential migrants should be deterred by the additional costs and risks created by the U.S. border enforcement strategy, but with expected earnings in the United States often eight to ten times higher than in Mexico . . . [this] offset[s] the heightened risks and costs of clandestine border crossings.” New approaches, the authors demonstrate, are urgently needed.


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