Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz, editors of the new book Border Policing: A History of Enforcement and Evasion in North America (University of Texas Press, 2020). Karibo is an assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University. She is the author of Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). Díaz is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is the author of Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande (University of Texas Press, 2015).
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
(Holly M. Karibo, left, and George T. Díaz, right)
The book is a series of essays on how efforts to police the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico border have often failed. We’d tell our bartender that all this talk in the news about securing the border is both misleading and misinformed. Neither the U.S.-Canada or U.S.-Mexican border have ever been effectively secured. The essays in the book show that border people have always found ways to subvert laws they didn’t like and the government’s best efforts often end up hurting innocent people. Women used to smuggle liquor up their skirts in order to get around border agents and today it is something else. The book shows the long history of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico trying numerous ways to police the border, and accomplishing some, but nowhere near all, the governments’ wanted.
What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
Since the regulation of drugs and alcohol have played a key role in ‘modern’ border policing practices, there’s really much in the volume that they may find relevant. In particular, our volume traces how the types of drugs that become the focus of both smuggling and enforcement change over time, and how this in turn reshapes policing practices. Several chapters focus on the both the politics and cultural developments that surrounded the movement of particular substances—including alcohol, peyote, tobacco, and heroin. This helps uncover how the smuggling cultures that emerge around particular drugs shape the policing tactics, and vice versa.
Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?
The chapters in our volume really emphasize the complex relationship between borderlands communities, and the intricate web of enforcement that impacts their lives on a daily basis. We really made an effort in choosing each chapter—and in the organization of the volume collectively—to highlight the impact of public policy on average people. Laws and policies written in Washington D.C., Ottawa, or Mexico City are often incredibly disconnected from realities on the ground in transnational regions. And those disconnections leave opportunity for local residents to find some flexibility with enforcement efforts. Yet, even if resistance is evident, there is also a growing sense of militarization throughout the volume. The first chapter begins during the War of 1812 and the volume ends in the early twenty-first century. What’s clear throughout these chapters is a steady march of militarization along the US-Canada and US-Mexico borders. In reading through the finished volume, it seems even more clear that this wasn’t an inevitability, but instead a result of deliberate policy decisions.
Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?
Regarding unturned stones, we really enjoyed Miguel Levario’s essay on vigilantism and would like to read more on militia groups and paramilitaries operating in the contemporary borderlands. Levario composed his work using records in state archives, which are accessible. Militia groups dressing up and playing soldier today are secretive and infiltrating these groups is dangerous to say the least. Jensen Branscombe’s superb essay mentions the Ku Klux Klan’s 1977 “Border Watch” program in which the KKK sought to aid the U.S. Border Patrol in ways comparable to contemporary right wing militias’ efforts. So while historians have done excellent work examining federal and state border policing, it is time to unmask these extralegal actors still at work today.
BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of the book, who should provide the narration?
Haha, we chatted about narration for an audio version. We agreed the book would have to have at least two narrators and since it was a comparative examination of the U.S.-Canada border and the U.S.-Mexico border, I (George) jokingly suggested that Frances McDormand voice the Canada border essays and Tommy Lee Jones read the U.S.-Mexico border essays. McDormand famously filled the role of police chief in Fargo and Jones played a sheriff in No Country for Old Men films the Coen brothers both directed.