A Beating Worse Than Death: Imagining and Contesting Violence in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

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Joseph Nevins


Between 1995 and 2005, it is conservatively estimated that over 3,600
migrants died while trying to cross clandestinely into the United States
from Mexico. Unsanctioned crossings of the U.S.-Mexico boundary have long been dangerous. But the number of deaths has increased significantly over the last several years. Despite the large and rapidly growing death toll, these fatalities have received little critical public scrutiny--especially
when compared with other acts of violence involving unauthorized immigrants and state authorities. In trying to ascertain why, this paper compares and contrasts the reaction to two incidents in southern California in early April 1996: the beating of two migrants by police officers, and the deaths of several migrants killed while fleeing the U.S. Border Patrol. This paper argues that the reasons for the unevenness in terms of response relate to hegemonic and interrelated notions regarding national territory, the "illegal" immigrant, and violence. These assumptions reflect and reproduce particular notions of security and rights that conflict with those of
migrant, and thus make it difficult to perceive and challenge the factors
ultimately responsible for the deaths.

Article Details

How to Cite
Nevins, J. (2006). A Beating Worse Than Death: Imagining and Contesting Violence in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. AmeriQuests, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.15695/amqst.v2i1.64
Author Biography

Joseph Nevins, Vassar College, Geography

Joseph Nevins is an assistant professor of geography at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. He is the author of Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal Alien"and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2002), and A Not-so-distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor (Cornell University Press, 2005). He is currently working on a book on migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico boundary, and on a co-edited volume (with Dr. Nancy Peluso at University of California, Berkeley) on commodity production in Southeast Asia.