Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Crime and Punishment at the Border

Most news coverage of unauthorized border crossing operates on the assumption that the act is obviously a crime and always has been. Actually, it didn’t become a crime until 1929. UCLA history professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez explains how the law came about and the role of racism in its creation. Technically the maximum punishment for a first-time crossing “without inspection” is six months in jail; a New York Times feature reminds us that for thousands of people the attempt to cross the border has resulted in a death sentence.—TPOI editor

How crossing the US-Mexico border became a crime

By Kelly Lytle Hernandez, The Conversation
April 30, 2017
It was not always a crime to enter the United States without authorization.

In fact, for most of American history, immigrants could enter the United States without official permission and not fear criminal prosecution by the federal government.

That changed in 1929. On its surface, Congress’ new prohibitions on informal border crossings simply modernized the U.S. immigration system by compelling all immigrants to apply for entry. However, in my new book “City of Inmates,” I detail how Congress outlawed border crossings with the specific intent of criminalizing, prosecuting and imprisoning Mexican immigrants.[…]

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A Path to America, Marked by More and More Bodies

By Manny Fernandez, New York Times
May 4, 2017
SAN MARCOS, TEX. — Case 0435 died more than a mile from the nearest road, with an unscuffed MacGregor baseball in his backpack. Case 0469 was found with a bracelet, a simple green ribbon tied in a knot. Case 0519 carried Psalms and Revelation, torn from a Spanish Bible. Case 0377 kept a single grain of rice inside a hollow cross. One side of the grain read Sara, and the other read Rigo.

The belongings are part of a border-crossers’ morgue at a Texas State University lab here — an inventoried collection of more than 2,000 objects and 212 bodies, the vast majority unidentified.

All 212 were undocumented immigrants who died in Texas trying to evade Border Patrol checkpoints by walking across the rugged terrain. Most died from dehydration, heatstroke or hypothermia. Even as the number of people caught trying to illegally enter the United States from Mexico has dropped in recent months, the bodies remain a constant, grim backdrop to the national debate over immigration.[...]

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Photo: George Etheredge/New York Times


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