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enemy invaders Arrow vol 6 no 3 contents
About borderlands volume 6 number 3, 2007


Enemy Invaders! Mexican Immigrants and U.S. Wars Against Them

Kathleen Arnold
University of Texas


American stereotypes about poorer Mexican immigrants have historically been biologizing in nature, whether the stereotypes were positive (they are a model minority) or negative (they are shiftless, hyper-sexual, or present-thinking). They have also betrayed racist and sexist norms that further biologize these individuals. In the context of the War on Terror and a more global economy, these stereotypes are being redeployed as a form of bio-power and these immigrants are increasingly being viewed as enemies, invaders, or terrorists. The growing anxiety about Mexican immigrants "stealing jobs" and usurping welfare, education and healthcare benefits is being tied to sovereign concerns, treating them as a silent threat that must be stopped. That is, this article argues, they are often treated as bare life, subject to the suspension of the law politically and economically. The result is a workforce whose economic utility increases proportionate to its political immobility and powerlessness.



1. In this article, I investigate how poorer Mexican immigrant workers have been increasingly (if not absolutely) constructed as threats to American national sovereignty and thus as 'terrorists' by linking older discourses and stereotypes about Mexican immigrants to more recent national security concerns. These discourses articulate with the sovereign decision making found in U.S. border patrols, BCIS (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services) investigation of workplaces, and the meshing of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs through the surveillance of 'narco-terrorism' on the southern border. Older stereotypes, labels, and conventional perspectives, like the gendered and racial meanings that underpin them, are often contradictory - for example, the Mexican immigrant as hard-working and lazy; as a paradigm of family values and yet the cause of overpopulation; as the exemplar of religious faith but viewed as backward due to his or her religious zeal; or as the ideal worker to support the U.S. economy but also responsible for lowering wages and the degradation of work conditions. Often divided along gender lines, these oppositions function as binary modes of operation that simultaneously justify hiring preferences for Mexicans in certain industries and their treatment beyond the law - as always potentially criminal (see, for example, O'Sullivan, 2004). However, more recently, the dynamics of this criminality waver between true criminality - in the sense that one is subject to laws of a state and treated as a citizen with rights and privileges - and a foreign enemy - someone who can be deported, barred from re-entry, and/or held in a detention cell indefinitely and without legal representation. Today, Mexican immigrants are increasingly viewed as inherently suspect (see, for example, Derbyshire, 2001) and therefore, as the justifiable objects of prerogative power (see Wolin, 1989).

2. It is important to note that the U.S. War on Terror was not inaugurated in September 2001, but in 1996, with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, making Mexicans the most deported group of any immigrants (Haitians would be at the top of this list, also, if they were not usually intercepted in the water). This act has included deporting naturalized citizens for non-violent offenses dating back to the 1970s. The PATRIOT Act has also affected Mexicans in terms of surveillance, more rapid deportation, and fewer rights during detainment. Significantly, concerns about 9/11 have recently been combined with the perception that the border is being invaded so that illegal crossings are now viewed as potential terrorist threats. This is particularly true as drug-related violence has increased in Nuevo Laredo (a border town) and the war on narco-terrorism has been stepped up. In this way, policies and discourse tie ordinary Mexican workers to terrorism and narco-terrorism. At the same time that a border wall is being constructed between the U.S. and Mexico and citizens' watch groups harass 'illegals', female maquiladora workers have been murdered or have disappeared in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. In comparison to the drug related murders, these murders have not been investigated adequately and women workers are still threatened. In the mainland United States, reports of abuses of Latina domestic workers are also surfacing. What is apparent in all cases is that these individuals are systematically being treated beyond the limits of democratic citizenship - through the over-policing of their legal status or their neglect by the law when they are subjected to economically exploitative conditions, abuse, or violence (with gender divisions reinforcing these dynamics). That is, they are treated as individuals who are outside the normal boundaries (or borders) of citizenship and, therefore, beyond everyday legal understanding and rights. Indeed, the space they occupy is one of bare life, Giorgio Agamben's term, which means that certain individuals whose status is viewed in biological terms are subjected to the suspension of law. This space of bare life allows for their construction as potential terrorists or denigration to the point that attacks and murders remain unsolved and, therefore, they are not treated as legitimate citizens of either Mexico or the United States.

3. The notion of bare life is appropriate for this subject because it captures the dynamics of economic globalization, the increasing emphasis on material well-being in making sovereign decisions, and the status of those who are subject to prerogative power. Agamben's concept of bare life is biological life that is not abandoned by the state but which serves as a negative identity against which citizenship is formulated. The notion is an extension of Foucault's concept of bio-power, the increasing politicization of biological matters in the modern state. Bare life is more appropriate than the term enemy alone when analyzing the low tier labor force subjected to harsh working conditions and policed through the Wars on Drugs and Terror. This term captures the power dynamics of these 'wars' that are waged domestically against individuals who are criminalized due to their status rather than conduct.

4. These recent policy changes, domestic wartime provisions in the context of a war that has never been formally declared, and civilian activity (from watch groups to those attacking maquiladora workers) create a situation in the U.S. analogous to what Foucault argued about a disciplinary society: a war ostensibly aimed at a very narrow group is in fact affecting a far wider group of people and not just internationally (what is accepted as the proper sphere of war) but also domestically. Further, this war is waged not only formally (i.e. institutionally) but also informally (e.g. in economic practices, popular discourse and civic activity). The dynamics of the War on Terror - the simultaneous opening of the border (because the war is without borders) and its closing against security threats - is reinforced by the imperatives of global capital in which the border is both increasingly fortified (against potential immigrant workers) and concurrently more open to international business. From another perspective, the opening of the border that globalization has effected engenders an often unrecognized counter-reaction in the form of prerogative power - the legitimate suspension of the law during times of crisis. The articulation of interests of global capital with those of the war on terror then explain how wartime measures can affect a workforce that has hitherto been denigrated but not treated as enemies. Consequently, the power deployed in the war on terror serves a far broader function than perhaps originally intended. Moreover, these dynamics underscore the relevance of Agamben's work on bare life, life subjected to prerogative power.

5. These trends are not absolute but highlight how the opening of the border to global capital and the greater surveillance and control of it with regard to workers strengthen the war dynamic. Hence, although Mexicans and Mexican Americans historically have had an ambivalent status in the U.S. with regard to domestic policies and border crossing, what is new is the increasing tendency to configure them as potential enemies and justify the use of prerogative power against them. Thus, while it has been recognized that the political status of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay creates a class of people who are subject to political decision-making outside of the law, it is important to note how the largest group of immigrants to this country is also affected by this legally ambiguous area of U.S. politics. This should not be surprising - in fact, it is precisely the very ambivalent status of poor Mexicans workers that make them the logical object of today's new power dynamics. In turn, these circumstances are dependent on the blurring of territorial boundaries, which occurs on many different levels: the intertwining of economic policies with the aims of war, the linking of economic status with that of terrorist, and even the blurring of the exercise of prerogative as the border is not only fortified by the military, border agents and police but also citizens' watch groups.

6. What makes these workers' political status ambivalent and thus precarious is the transnational character of their lives. The status of Mexican immigrants today is transnational in at least three ways; first, there is a great deal of crossing the southern border as well as mixed allegiances. Second, the border area is truly transnational because of the agreement that established the Border Industrialization Program (BIP). This program was established in 1964, creating a free zone on the Mexican border, allowing 'foreign manufacturers to assemble goods without having to abide by existing import-export duties and regulations' (Adler, 2001, 215). Significantly, employment and factory regulations are lax in this area. Third, the United States' historical ambivalence about Mexicans places them in a paradoxical position - valued and degraded, crucial to the U.S. economy and yet waging a war on it, upholding family values and yet destroying social welfare institutions and producing too many babies and so on. These ambivalent spaces allow for hybrid identities (for example chicano/a identity; see Anzaldúa, 1999) and some financial gains but also a precarious political space that is increasingly marked by a war mentality and violence.

7. As suggested above, this analysis joins together Foucault's notion of disciplinary power with his idea of bio-power to both expand and contract Agamben's concept of bare life (Agamben, 1998, 3, 119, 120; Foucault, 1980, 139). The case of Mexican workers in the United States and on the border show how the intersection of disciplinary power and bio-power can occur to produce a subject that is both economically necessary and yet, often treated as an enemy rather than a criminal. Hence, it is not just a question of Mexican immigrants falling into a politically undecidable zone, but also the economic conditions to which many of these workers are subjected which position them as bare or biological life, in Agamben's terms. Examples include: treating guest-workers, domestic workers, and maquiladora workers as outside normal labor regulations - they are abandoned by the law but also subject to excessive surveillance; the indefinite detainment of illegal entrants; the treatment of the southern border as a military zone; and the rapid deportation of naturalized citizens as a result of the 1996 anti-terror laws. In all of these examples, the rule of law is used to suspend domestic law. This does not mean that individuals cannot resist - the blurring of national identities, power matrices, and boundaries opens the political terrain for grassroots activism just as much as it can lead to domination. Nonetheless, my examination is aimed at showing how prerogative power is increasingly deployed beyond the boundaries once conceived for it and thus this investigation will largely be negative.

Sovereign Concerns and the Work Ethic

8. In the context of a more global economy, Mexican immigrants are often lauded for their work ethic, their willingness to take jobs most Americans will not, and even their high birthrates, which are evidence of their family values as well as insurance that future generations will also take low-tier jobs (see for example, Fukuyama in Mills, 1994). Echoing figures all over the political spectrum, including Vicente Fox, Frances Fukuyama, Mario Vargas Llosa and Richard Rodriguez, Tamar Jacoby remarks, 'The problem isn't just that Americans don't want to work out in the fields or up on roofs in the hot sun; employers can't pay them enough to make that kind of job worthwhile for most people' (Jacoby, 2005, 26-27). In this way, Mexicans are posited as ideal workers who happily labour for long hours in physically intensive conditions for low pay without complaining. Bonnie Honig calls this a strain of xenophilia, which is the positive pair of xenophobia in the binary modes of operation found in conventional views of immigrants (Honig, 2001). Mexican immigrants are also criticized for being lazy, having no work ethic, stealing jobs from citizens, and for their high birthrates, which will strain educational systems, pollute the environment, and generally overpopulate the country.

9. Samuel Huntington's article, 'The Hispanic Challenge' synthesizes all of these arguments (Huntington, 2004; also see Huntington, 2000). Huntington charges that Mexicans have 'mañana syndrome', which includes: 'mistrust of people outside the family; lack of initiative, self-reliance, and ambition; little use for education; and acceptance of poverty as a virtue necessary for entrance into heaven' (Huntington, 2004, 12). Although he purports to make a cultural argument, his contention that these values are irreconcilable with American values and second, that Mexican immigration should thus be limited, suggest that Mexicans cannot change. Culture is tacitly linked to fixed characteristics and this racializes Mexicans' ethnicity, as discussed below (Miles and Brown, 2003, 99). These associations, in turn, are connected to Huntington's contention that Mexicans are staging a purposeful invasion as they reclaim their former homeland (Aztlán), which evidences that his cultural concerns are tied to sovereign ones: worries about the integrity of the United States' southern border and worries about a takeover. Huntington's xenophobic views are shared by popular right wing pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs, conservative politicians like Tancredo (R-CO), Sensenbrenner (R-WI), and King (R-IO), AM radio shows and a significant number of average Americans (Preston, 2007, 1).

10. As Honig's binary of xenophilia and xenophobia suggests, these views appear contradictory but work together because they are premised on the same ideational foundations. Synthesizing the views of 'liberals' and conservatives on immigration: Mexicans are ideal workers and stealing jobs; their acceptance of low wage positions without benefits or security serves as a reproach to native born workers who complain about wages, want to unionize, and rebel against poor job conditions, but this willingness to work is also taken as evidence that Mexicans lack ambition and are culturally 'stagnant' (see Fraga, Segura, 2006); their work ethic is ideal but they have 'mañana syndrome'; their family values are admirable but they are overpopulating the country; and they are planning on 'colonizing' the Southwest, although they are faulted for being lazy and lacking in ambition. These contradictory views are echoed in magazines like The National Review, U.S. News & World Report, American Enterprise, and more subtly in Newsweek. In all of these perspectives, economic concerns are closely linked to sovereign ones, including the permeability of the border and the possibility of an invasion.

11. Indeed, many grassroots activists feel that a war is simultaneously being waged on U.S. sovereignty and its economy by Mexican immigrants and particularly unauthorized entrants. These organizations range from lobbying groups like FAIR to vigilante groups like Ranch Rescue, American Patrol, the Civil Homeland Defense Group, and the Minutemen. Although vigilante groups are not new, nor the stereotypes they draw upon, what is a more recent development are the perceptions that illegal entry is akin to an act of terrorism, taking jobs is not merely working but constitutes an invasion, and incursions on the border justify warlike measures. As the Minuteman website states, the rule of law is being destroyed 'by the whims of mobs of ILLEGAL aliens who endlessly stream across U.S. borders ... the result: political, economic and social mayhem' (Minuteman). The act of 'stealing jobs' is joined to the act of illegally crossing the border to portray a war waged on the United States by 'unassimilated' hordes of Mexicans. Hence, economic and sovereign concerns are joined together (see Krikorian, 2006; Chavez, 2004).

12. The recent debates on immigration and resultant policy proposals are evidence that these two strains of concerns - economic and those of national security - are increasingly being linked. Indeed, the proposal for a new guest-worker program with more extensive background checks for potential workers, higher levels of surveillance, and the continued denial of basic political rights, workplace safety, employer accountability and wage bargaining ensure a workforce whose economic utility seemingly increases proportionate to its political immobility and powerlessness. Alternatively, these worries are manifest in calls to build an 'Israeli style fence' (Mark Krikorian in Jacoby, 2005, 25-27) between Mexico and the United States and ending immigration as well as merging the War on Terror and the War on Drugs to police the border and fight 'Narco-Terrorism'. Evoking Israel in describing the construction of the fence suggests that the United States is similarly facing open violence and territorial claims. Thus, Mexicans are posited as ideal workers who will labour cheaply, do jobs no one else will, and work harder than most Americans at the same time that they are 'terrorists' who stealthily destroy U.S. sovereignty and the economy. Here we see the intersection of disciplinary concerns (see Foucault, 1979) - the desire to form individuals into hard workers who internalize societal norms such that they uphold rather than challenge authority - and biopolitical ones (see Foucault, 1980; Agamben, 1998) that treat Mexicans and Mexican Americans as a pollutant to the social body and as enemies rather than criminals.

13. In fact, it could be argued that it is precisely the contradictory nature of this rhetoric that allows the United States to treat Mexicans as exemplary workers while also policing them and treating them as inherently criminal and thus, as enemies. What I would like to suggest is that gender divisions in these discourses further enable this mass of contradictions to appear meaningful or coherent on some level thus allowing these conflicting tendencies to work together. Although gender discourse and identities are highly flexible and fragmented, a certain trend is worth noticing. Since the 1980s, this contradictory set of discourses has often been split along gender lines in hiring for low tier positions: women are more responsible workers, men are lazy and too easily angered; women have a work ethic because of their dedication to their children while men do not (see Wilson, 1997; Jones, 1998; Salzinger, 1997).

14. Low tier work in the U.S. as well as work on the border (including the BIP) have relied on these gendered assumptions that produce and reinforce splits, valuing women's work and devaluing men's work (even as both groups are marginalized together in a variety of ways) (see Lugo, 1990, 180-182). This discourse reflects participation in a general consensus that women are perfect employees for the new types and conditions of low tier work in an increasingly international economy (see Maher, 2003). Leslie Salzinger notes that broadly this meant that

In recent decades, young, Third World women have emerged as transnational capital's paradigmatic workers. Managerial manifestos recast women's 'natural' affinity for the home as a transferable set of skills and dispositions. These then crystallize into 'docility' and 'dexterity' - terms that go on to have autonomous effects as 'labor force requirements for assembly workers internationally. In this process, men have been redefined as nonworkers - lazy, demanding, and unreliable (Salzinger, 1997, 549).

For these reasons, companies participating in the BIP from 1965 on actively recruited women workers even though the program was designed for former male guest-workers in the U.S. Within the U.S., preferences for women workers are evident in the garment industry, domestic work, social services, and nursing (see Sassen, 1998; Shah, 1997). Patricia Fernandez-Kelly similarly notes that the feminization of labor has been a 'double-edged sword' - women's dependent status 'enables the preservation of an exploitable labor pool within the domestic realm, but it also serves to control men, especially those in the working classes' (Fernandez-Kelly, 2000, 1110). In a broader context, William Julius Wilson also remarks that the feminization of labor is accompanied by the degradation of male labor in the low tier sector (Wilson, 1997). Gender stereotyping maps onto the more general stereotypes of Mexican workers, unifying seeming opposites.

15. These trends continue today despite the wave of protests initiated by the 'docile' maquila workers from the 1980s on. The result has been a fragmenting of actual hiring practices (for example hiring more men but insisting that women are still the best workers) and gendered meanings (lauding women's work and disparaging men's work) that vary from factory to factory. Similar trends have occurred in other areas, remote from the border. For example, Paul Apostolidis' work demonstrates the significance of Mexican women immigrants in attempts to unionize the meat-packing industry in the Northwest (see Apostolidis, 2005), thus challenging the idea that these workers are passive.

16. The consequences of this resistance do not seem to have decreased actual hiring preferences for Mexican women as ideal workers but rather to fragment gendered discourses and confuse common assumptions. Alternatively, it could be hypothesized that with the feminization of labor in certain industries, not to mention the difficulty in obtaining mainstream or formal work for some migrants, male immigrants increasingly resort to day labourer jobs and other types of casual employment. This in turn could reinforce the view that they are shiftless, undependable, and/or unpredictable in ways that women are not (see Valenzuela, 2000). Hence the binary modes of operation praising Mexican work and contending that it is essential to the U.S. economy at the same time that Mexicans are posited as inherently criminal (or enemy) can be explained by these hiring practices. Gender splits clarify how prerogative power is deployed in two ways towards these political others: it can abandon women workers (by not investigating abuses of and violence towards women) while over-policing Mexican men. However, both groups can be harassed by vigilante groups, exploited by employers, and subject to labour conditions that would not be acceptable for native born citizens. The close relationship between the needs of global capital and the War on Terror are thus manifested differently for men and women, but in mutually reinforcing ways that position them as bare life.

17. Fears about Mexicans' high fertility further reinforce splits between good and bad, contributor and criminal, and man and woman, which, as I argue below, serve to create an ambivalent politico-economic space in which Mexicans operate. This ambiguous space then allows for 'criminality' to become an object of sovereign concern. In this way, bio-power cuts across disciplinary power to formulate a potential enemy rather than citizen. The end result is to justify surveillance and treatment of above the law of a group that is also, in many ways, treated as a 'model minority'.

Production and Reproduction

18. Gendered stereotypes about Mexican reproduction illustrate the linkage between denigrating views of a minority other and concerns about national security. In this case, high birth rates are tied to the notion that Mexicans want to 'reconquer' the Southwest. This fear has become increasingly popular; once an idea discussed by Mexican American intellectuals and chicano/a activists, the American right has begun to appropriate it in everyday language and discourse. This claim not only constructs a hyper-sexualized subject 'colonizing' the country but betrays how Mexican immigrants are viewed as beings that cannot transcend their biology or their biological urges. This perspective in turn demonstrates how Mexican subjects are viewed as bare life rather than citizens.

19. The perception that Mexican couples have numerous babies appears to be directed at Mexicans in general (Señor Ruth, n.d., 4). However, a tacit assumption can be discerned that first looks to immigrant women as being primarily responsible for family and assimilation and second, promotes a sexualized view of immigrant men, practically reiterating verbatim historical arguments about African American men (as well as other denigrated men throughout history). Both views posit immigrant men and women as 'present thinking' (see Fukuyama, 1994, 153, on this subject), consuming resources thoughtlessly, and ultimately define each subject in terms of biology. For example, in Huntington's article 'The Hispanic Challenge', his persistent references to the high fertility rates of Mexicans manifest his fear that 'they' will soon outnumber 'us' (Huntington, 2004, 3-4). Other authors and notably some environmental groups have echoed this worry (see Ervin, 1994; Mann, 2005/2006; Chavez, 2004). This anxiety can further be tied to the broader concern that poor Mexican women are having too many children and are burdening the welfare system as well as hospitals and educational systems. These notions place the onus of reproductive decisions, maintaining cultural values, and the overburdening of U.S. resources on women. Hence, women and women's bodies are bearers of the responsibility of assimilation, family values, and traditional gender roles (see Honig, 2001, 64-66).

20. Further, Leo Chavez argues that 'Latina reproduction and fertility, especially that of Mexican immigrant women, became ground zero in a political war not just of words but also of public policies and laws in post-1965 America ... Indeed, anti-immigrant sentiment, especially during the 1980s and 1990s, focused specifically on the reproductive capacities of Mexican immigrant and Mexican-origin (U.S.-born) women' (Chavez, 2004, 2). Chavez's research shows that fears ranging from Mexican women having too many children to the overburdening of medical, social and educational resources are tied to the construction of Latina - and particularly Mexican - reproduction as pathological and threatening (see McDaniel, 1996, 134-150). Ultimately, these concerns are manifested in policies as issues of national security, an area that goes beyond policing to the exercise of sovereignty. In this way, women are not mere economic usurpers but invaders, enemies or terrorists (i.e. they are discursively constructed as bare life).

21. As Bonnie Honig notes, it is precisely the values that immigrants are praised for (traditional values, a nuclear family, the reluctance to have an abortion) that are also used against them. Moreover, it is often women who are viewed as the vehicles of assimilation - that is, policies and social disciplining of immigrant women are not aimed at women only but their more irresponsible or wild counterparts (as with the chador issue in France: the target may be Muslim males but the object of legislation is female). She asks why it is that individuals who are perhaps doubly or triply subject to oppression are simultaneously held responsible for what is broadly conceived of as assimilation? (Honig, 2001, 65). In fact, binary modes of operation can be discerned in the treatment of women. On the one hand, immigrant women are positioned as not criminal, morally responsible, and given traditional gender roles, precisely the group that can reinvigorate American family values. Alternatively, they can be viewed as less educated, less cultured, and too entrenched in Catholic beliefs, exemplified by the fact that they have too many children. This second set of stereotypes is then connected to notions of pathology that threaten U.S. borders, culture, and economic wellbeing. As Chavez comments, this leads to concerns with sovereignty: 'the popular discourse of Latina reproduction is decidedly alarmist in that it becomes part of a discourse of threat and danger to U.S. society and even national security, which is underscored in a post-911 world' (Chavez, 2004, 1). That is, historical gender stereotypes are being redeployed today to suggest a national security threat - an invasion - rather than a mere social problem.

22. With regard to men, these arguments suggest the continued representation of Latino men as hyper-sexualized, predatory, and lacking in self-control (see Bordo's discussion of minority men, 1993, 9, 11, 283, 287). This portrayal of minority men is only alluded to in Frances Fukuyama and, separately, Samuel Huntington's work on immigration but is evident in the eugenically oriented texts that emerged in the 1990s (e.g. The Bell Curve ), public concerns about immigrants' fertility rates, and mainstream reactions to male immigrants, for example. Their sexuality is threatening - when it is not contained, they will overtake or invade 'us'. As neo-conservatives point to immigrant women as models of traditional gender roles and true family values, they also criticize poorer immigrant women for their lack of restraint. Their alleged excess will inevitably burden the health and welfare systems. Not only is attention deflected from U.S. consumption patterns and sexual relations, but Mexican women are discursively figured as inevitable burdens on public welfare. Accordingly, problems endemic to capitalism - overconsumption, overproduction, sweatshop labor and underground economies - are viewed as deviant and related to 'backwards' cultures (see Wooldridge, 2006). This global paradigm is clearly reflected in the mainstream treatment of poor immigrant women of color, thus justifying their subordination and attempting to monitor their fertility rates in aid and welfare programs. To put it differently, these charges discursively posit Mexican women as inextricably bound to their biology and uncontrollable sexuality; in the post-9/11 era, these older dynamics are now viewed as evidence of attempts to colonize or invade the United States through stealth.

23. Reactions to Mexican and Central American immigrant men are simply the other side of the same coin (see Salzinger, 1997). For example, in the documentary POV: Farmingville (Sandoval, Tambini, 2004), the citizens of a Long Island town charge the mostly male immigrant group that has recently 'invaded' their town with stealing jobs, overcrowding housing, driving down property values, and corrupting mainstream values. Beyond their economic and cultural degradation, the fact that these day labourers wait on a street corner for work, is interpreted as a gross display of public occupancy, an inability to privately apply for work as others have done. Their visibility in key public places is viewed as rapacious, a violation that will threaten the women and children of the town. If they watch women walk or drive by, their glances are regarded as lascivious in intent and these men as over-sexualized. The fact that they have traveled to the town without women is even more suspect and they are accused of being peeping toms. Over and over in this documentary, concern is expressed for the girls and women of the town. Nevertheless, the same townspeople ensure that overcrowded conditions are maintained as they refuse to rent rooms to any of these workers, they strike down a proposal to have a hiring hall so that workers can get off the street corner, and they throw up obstacles for immigrants' organizations (such as a soccer league whose practices are restricted more than any other group's) thus ensuring that their main activities remain economic, deracinated, and public. As each speaker denies his or her racism ('I'm not racist but ...'), s/he subscribes to biological notions of inferiority, present-thinking, and hyper-sexuality. It is perhaps for these reasons, that the organizers against the labourers accepted funding and support from white supremacist groups. It would appear that their economic fears were only one part of the story. The panic that these groups feel about Mexican day-labourers' presence in their town mirrors the panic about women's high fertility rates. An invasion is happening on all levels.

24. The attempted murder of two workers by white supremacists in Farmingville is paralleled by the hundreds of unsolved murders of maquiladora workers and the systematic abuse of domestic workers throughout the United States. Regular abuses are possible when a group is viewed as beyond the law (that is, abandoned by the law); alternatively, systematic violence is evidence that a group's political status is one of bare life. These discourses and policies make their subjects immediately - rather than proximately or secondarily - biological and pose them as threats to American material and demographic well-being. That is, their biological status reflects their potential treatment as bare life and thus as enemies. That authors like Samuel Huntington and Frances Fukuyama claim to focus on culture, or the townspeople of Farmingville assert that their concerns are economic and cultural, obfuscates how these individuals' status is viewed in biological terms (see Miles & Brown, 2003, 65-66; McDaniel, 1996; Chavez, 2004).

25. Again, these examples are not anomalous but point to a more general trend in viewing poorer immigrants of color as pollutants to the political body. The binary modes of operation function along the lines of gender, linking economic policy to immigration norms, expectations and policies. That is, economic concerns are connected to concerns about national security and territorial sovereignty through the medium of gender (and race, as I discuss below). Alternatively, these discourses and policy trends reveal the relationship between biopolitical concerns and sovereign ones. In the past, gender and racial typing served other purposes - indentured servitude, slavery, and exploitative labor under other conditions - but today the construction of the political identity of these immigrants in terms of gender and race lead to a political status approaching that of enemy (or, in Agamben's terms, bare life). Inextricably linked to gender, racial norms are significant to the power dynamics of bare life - a subject of prerogative power.


26. In many respects, racist norms cannot be isolated from gendered ones. In turn, in the context of a war, these dynamics shore up the construction of Mexicans as invaders or threats to sovereignty. Despite claims to the contrary, popular, institutional and academic discourse racialize Mexican Americans' identity (see Miles & Brown, 2003; Skerry, 1993; Seligman, 2004). To ignore the racial aspects of how Mexicans and Mexican Americans are constructed in popular discourse, the media and law can be dangerous, as Kimberlé Crenshaw has shown. Gender and even ethnicity alone do not accurately capture the consequences of the intersection of gender and racialized identity - particularly combined with working class status - in the experiences of immigrants of colour (Crenshaw, 1991; see Hancock, 2007). Even as the notion of race has been scientifically discredited since the 1930s, it remains in the popular imagination as well as in pseudo-scientific discourse on 'race' today (which argues that DNA and chromosomes show that intelligence is hereditary rather than the product of social circumstances) (see Miles & Brown, 2003, 88). However, the status of those of Mexican, Central American or Latin American descent is complex because race in the United States has often referred to African Americans and thus, it is believed that there is only one race (because 'whites' do not see themselves as a race) (see Guillaumin, 1995). Because Mexicans and Mexican Americans have historically been treated as a race and continue to be treated racially today - this in spite of a much more ambivalent racial status than African Americans - referring to race and racism is not inappropriate (Miles & Brown, 2003, 9, 19, 87-99; Padín, 2005, 54).

27. For this reason, interlocutors - from the anti-immigration activists in Farmingville and other areas of the country to elite writers like Huntington or Dinesh D'Souza - who claim they are making cultural and economic claims rather than racial ones must consider the following (see McInnes, 2006). First, their arguments are not made in a vacuum but in a complex historical, economic, and political context in which their ideas certainly resonate with more openly racist dialogue of the past. This is particularly true when immigrants' characteristics are viewed as static (or stagnant) and/or their identities are viewed in biological rather than in ethnic or cultural terms. Second, while it may be true that these discourses are not only racial but also nationalist and class based, this does not take away from the racial elements of each argument. Rather what happens is a process of racial signification in which cultural and 'ethnic' qualities are analyzed in static terms. Indeed, many of the reactions to Huntington's arguments were that his description of the 'mañana syndrome' and his contention that there are 'irreconcilable differences' (my emphasis, Huntington, 2004, 11) between Mexicans and Americans were racist (see Llosa, 2005/2006, among others). Thus, not only is culture taken to be rigid or static, but so are these groups, leading us from simple racial thinking to racism in the case of groups deemed incapable of integration. It is in this sense that an implicit racial hierarchy is affixed to the more openly expressed cultural hierarchy.

28. Alternatively, when authors or activists rely on a biological notion of ethnicity, this is no different than race. Or, as Miles and Brown argue, racialization and ethnicization correlate in the following way: 'we define ethnicisation as a dialectical process by which meaning is attributed to socio-cultural signifiers of human beings, as a result of which individuals may be assigned to a general category of persons which reproduces itself biologically, culturally, and economically. Where biological and/or somatic features (real or imagined) are signified, we speak of racialisation as a specific modality of ethnicisation' (Miles & Brown, 2003, 99). This dialectical interaction fits the status of many immigrants of colour today and the racial element of Mexicans' status is confirmed in racial profiling, unequal prison sentences, de facto residential segregation, and employment discrimination. The involvement of white supremacist groups in anti-immigration movements is further evidence of the 'racial' status of Mexican Americans. The War on Terror exacerbates these racist dynamics.

29. Added to 'cultural' arguments is the (re)emergence of pseudo-scientific racism that aims at holding certain 'racial' groups responsible for their failures through faulty DNA and at the same time, arguing that these failures are biologically inevitable. Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's book The Bell Curve tried to prove that minorities' poverty and inequality were hereditary and thus not a result of racism; their research was also meant to influence the immigration debate of the 1990s. For example, the authors assert that Latinos have a mean IQ of 91, although there is no data or proof given for this fact at all (furthermore, the information they do rely on does not account for language proficiency) (Naureckas, 1995, 8, 9). Nevertheless, they conclude that 'fifty seven percent of legal immigrants in the 1980s came from ethnic groups with average IQs less than that of American whites, and therefore the mean for all immigrants is probably below that of all native-born Americans' (Naureckas, 1995, 8). Their recommendation is a 'more eugenically minded - and, hence, restrictive - U.S. immigration policy' (Naureckas, 1995, 9; see Miller, 1994; Lane, 1994).

30. These pseudo-scientific arguments have been used to reinforce the panicked discourses about Mexicans and Mexican Americans depressing wages, their alleged inability to speak English, and their hyper-sexuality, not to mention legitimizing the racial profiling of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs. Hence, they are not merely racially oriented but justify the greater deployment of sovereignty domestically. Moreover, there are economic benefits to sustaining racial hierarchy. In fact, it could be argued that racial rhetoric is entirely gratuitous if it had not validated policing immigrants, denigrating their labor contributions, and justifying the wars on terror and drugs. To put it differently, this form of biologism relies on old stereotypes that are increasingly used today to position Mexican immigrants as bare life.


Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures with no common bond to hold them together, and a certain guarantee of the death of this nation as a harmonious 'melting pot'.

The result: political, economic, and social mayhem.

Historians will write about how a lax America let its unique and coveted form of government and society sink into a quagmire of mutual acrimony among the various sub-nations that will comprise the new self-destructing America. (Minuteman Project Welcome Statement).

31. As Saskia Sassen has pointed out, U.S. immigration policies are so narrowly focused on the border that immigrants fall under a legal/illegal binary that doesn't adequately portray the many grey areas of immigration and foreign residence; nor does this binary account for immigrants' significant contributions to the global economy (see Sassen, 1998, chapter 3). This problem is magnified in the case of immigrants who are viewed as racial others, given the United States' history of racial bias in making immigration law. Gendered stereotypes articulate with racial thinking to foster fears of hyper-sexuality, overburdening of welfare and healthcare, and overpopulation. Further, because the status and identity of many Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans is transnational (see Boehm, 2004), their political status is even more ambivalent. The recent U.S. domestic wars - the War on Drugs and the War on Terror - tip the scale toward treating any Mexican entrant, but particularly someone who crosses illegally, as an enemy rather than a mere criminal. In this way, the political status of Mexican immigrants is often one of bare life. That is, civil law can be suspended and sovereignty can be exerted against this group of people.

32. As stated above, recent events in Nuevo Laredo (where several murders have occurred, ostensibly due to illegal drug activity) have intensified the application of the War on Drugs and the war against 'narco-terrorism' ensuring that all Mexican immigrants are now treated as terror suspects. The construction of the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, the training of some police officers to deal with illegal immigration, the proposal to send troops to the southern border, and heightened surveillance all blur the boundaries between worker and terrorist, criminal and national security threat. Alternatively, the War on Terror has ensured that Mexicans are more easily deported and that even those with citizenship papers can be deported if they committed non-violent offenses, including those dating back to the 1970s (see Branigin & Escobar, 1999; Budris, 1999; Gertner & Kanstroom, 2000; Marcus, 1998; McDonnell, 1999; Mears, 1999; Mears, 2000; 'Secret Trials', 1999; 'U.S. Deportations', 1997). The confluence of these policies turns the ordinary worker into someone who is viewed as a potential terrorist rather than a one-time law breaker.

33. And just as Alexis de Tocqueville and Emile Durkheim argued that civic groups mediate between individuals and government, thus enacting and protecting democracy, citizens' groups and individual activity also contribute to the treatment of Mexican immigrants as bare life. Individual and group activity on the border, including the area that makes up the Border Industrial Program, and within the U.S., reinforces Mexican and Mexican Americans' status as bare life. First, murders of maquiladora workers in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua City, starkly position women as bare life in a space that is already transnational and subject to the suspension of regular law (in terms of employment and factory regulations). Although the Chihuahuan police have portrayed the approximately three hundred seventy five murders and disappearances in Juárez as the work of a serial killer or killers, most interpreters - from academics to political activists - construe them as the maquiladora murders, acts committed specifically against young, single, poor women workers (see Simmons, 2006; Alpízar, 2006; UCLA conference announcement). These individuals argue that the murders discipline women who do not follow 'proper' codes of femininity (e.g. snubbing a man who acts interested in them) on the street and in the factories. They also contend that the neglect of the Mexican police to investigate the murders in a timely fashion or to their fullest extent reflects the denigrated status of women - not only in Mexico but also by their American employers. In turn, it demonstrates their abandonment by the law on several levels. Accordingly, 'civil society' can be a support for prerogative power and acts of international sovereignty (war) just as much as they support and enact democracy.

34. A similar example is the harassment of Mexican workers by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups beginning in the 1980s (Jones, 1998, 376). More recently, vigilante groups like the Minutemen claim that they are waging a war against Mexicans due to their high fertility rates, their inherent criminality, their desire to reclaim the southwest portion of the United States (see Huntington, 2004; Auster, 2006), their exportation of criminal and backwards ways to 'our' country and because they are conducting an economic war against 'us' (by stealing 'our' jobs). Although groups like the Minutemen argue that they are merely a watch group, they have also been charged with racism, kidnapping, and intimidation of citizens. Other groups are less careful about hiding their tactics (see 'Vigilante Watch', 2003; Baum, 2003; Gonzalez, n.d.). Finally, although these groups argue that they are filling in the gaps of sovereignty that the U.S. government has left open, there is official tolerance of them, demonstrating that the relationship is perhaps more symbiotic, less antagonistic, than rhetoric would suggest (see 'Vigilante Watch').

35. Public policy, vigilante activism, and public discourse serve to make the political status of Mexicans and Mexican Americans highly precarious and reinforce their gendered and racialized status. To vigilante groups, even cultural incursions become enemy invasions. Indeed, government policies and grassroots activism mutually reinforce each other. Oliver Cromwell Cox noted a similar synthesis of powers in Jim Crow America, in his analysis of lynching (Cox, 2000). White supremacist and immigrant watch groups' acts show that democracy and the logic of the nation-state are often at odds and sovereign acts are possible when an individual's political status is ambivalent.

36. However, perhaps because of the ambivalence of an increasingly transnational - that is, politically undecidable space - workers who are essentially stripped of rights - whether temporarily or for a longer period of time - still resist. This is important to note for at least two reasons. First, in discussing late modern deployments of prerogative power, the impression is often that prerogative power is absolute, to the point of precluding agency. Second, examples of resistance challenge the notion that Mexican workers are subservient, apolitical, or 'stagnant' in some other way. Nevertheless, although there are numerous cases of resistance - from acts of 'microresistance' (Foucault's term) to unionization to the mass demonstrations of Spring 2006 - this does not lead to a broad overturning of power asymmetries. Further, just because people can resist and sometimes succeed is not proof that they are being treated democratically or according to any rule of law. As Patchen Markell has recently remarked, what may be at stake in this sort of situation is 'the erosion of the contexts in which events call for responses and, thus, in which it makes sense to act all' (Markell, 2006, 2).


37. Although a conventional view might hold that immigrants workers do jobs no one else will, don't complain, and eventually 'succeed' by means of assimilation, accumulation of wealth, and naturalization, this trajectory is less likely as bio-political concerns become more dominant through the predominance of neo-liberal policies. Older stereotypes about Mexican men and women, combined with the legally grey area in which many poorer Mexican workers occupy, are being redeployed in the War on Terror to create a subject that is highly exploitable and legally vulnerable. Gendered and racial discourse and policies, combined with the 'grassroots activism' of vigilante groups and systematic violence on the border, reinforce binary modes of operation and allow for the contradictory situation in which these workers both sustain the low-tier workforce and yet are treated as potential threats to national security. We must question any 'war' that punishes status more than criminal acts and that serves to exploit a subject, gaining something, even as the subject is denigrated. The combination of low tier work conditions in a more global economy with the War on Drugs and the War on Terror only lead to more ambivalence and the strengthening of sovereignty over and above democratic activity.

38. Mexican immigrants' construction as potential terrorists illuminates the inadequacy of U.S. conceptions of citizenship and current immigration policy. Rather than viewing those caught in legally grey areas as pathological or anomalous, Agamben urges us to view 'statelessness' as the model for a new citizenship that is without borders and which challenges the logic of bio-power (see Agamben, 1994). If 'we' begin to treat individuals who occupy politically ambivalent spaces not as deviants or criminals but as the norm, we may begin to envision a post-national citizenship. However, there are gains to be made from the odd partnership of a free market and war and so the incentives for change among elites are sadly too few.


Kathleen Arnold is an assistant professor in political theory at the University of Texas, San Antonio.   Her research interests include homelessness, statelessness, and immigration.


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