Thursday, September 23, 2021

Daddy, Where Do Border Patrols Come From?


Photo via Veterans Administration website We Are the Mighty.

I know now what unconscious process made me look up the official founding of the Border Patrol when I saw that tweet, not because I already knew about it, but because I didn't know about it and wondered why—I've often dipped into the history of immigration and immigration enforcement on the blog, and you'd think I would have heard of how the Border Patrol got started.

The main reason I hadn't heard about it, as it turns out, was that it happened at the same time as everything else, in 1924, during the Coolidge administration, when they passed the first general immigration law in the form of the National Origins Act; before that, the Mexican border was essentially open, Mexican and US citizens going back and forth across the border freely, unhindered except by customs agents collecting import duties on both sides. 

Trump would have said we "didn't have a country," and the Know Nothings or American Party did more or less say it back in the 1850s, and so did the marauders and cosplayers of the Second Klan, founded in the 1890s, who'd added Jews and Catholics—typical immigrants of the time—to Blacks in their list of enemies. But the US government didn't start policing for illegal migrants until there was such a thing, and there wasn't such a thing until after isolationist Republicans took over in the post-Wilson era and defined it with the 1924 legislation, and the official Border Patrol was a part of that development.

And before? That's the part I really should have remembered, because there was one kind of illegal migrant to the US before 1924, and I'm supposed to know all about them: Chinese immigrants, outlawed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. 

Chinese were deported on sight from the Pacific Coast ports, but eventually learned, like Central Americans and Haitians a century later, that they could make their way to Mexico instead and cross over the land border, or the shallow Rio Grande, and penetrate into the United States that way, and so they did, and in 1904 the Commerce and Labor Department instituted the Mounted Guards operating out of El Paso, a motley group that never expanded beyond 75 or so members, patrolling as far away as California hunting down the Yellow Peril. You bet they had horses, and probably whips too. They certainly had guns.

Dying in the desert. From Erika Lee, "Enforcing the Borders: Chinese Exclusion along the U.S. Borders with Canada and Mexico, 1882-1924" Journal of American History 89/1 (June 2002).

So that's the origin of the Border Patrol right there, and when my dude the furious veteran border agent defends the use of a whip-wielding cavalry against Haitian asylum applicants with an appeal to the glorious old tradition, that's the glorious old tradition he has in mind, whether he knows it or not, racist af, if possibly a lot more violent and cruel. CBP was founded as a racist institution and remains one, regardless of any individual's desires, because that's how it's designed. This has been another edition of "Critical Race Theory Is Actually True". 

Via Reason Magazine.

On the passage of the Exclusion Act, as reported in Reason:

On February 28, 1882, Sen. John F. Miller of California introduced a bill to exclude Chinese immigrant laborers from the country. For two hours, the former Union general presented his case. The Chinese, Miller said, posed an imminent danger, in part because they came from a "degraded and inferior race." Other senators jumped in, calling them "rats," "beasts," and "swine." Oriental civilization, they claimed, was incompatible with the United States and threatened to corrupt the nation.

Chinese immigrants also posed an economic danger to white workers, Miller said, through their "machine-like" ways and "muscles of iron." The U.S. laborer, whether on the farm, the shoe bench, or the factory floor, simply could not compete with these low-paid counterparts.

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