Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border

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Overview

Peter Laufer's explosive proposals for the U.S.-Mexican border go far beyond President Bush's initiative to ease restrictions on immigration. Mr. Laufer argues that the border with Mexico should be completely open, with a free flow of people between the two countries. He offers a step-by-step blueprint for making it happen. Wetback Nation is also the background to understanding the Bush proposals: the story of how the border has become a fraud, resulting in nothing more than the criminalization of Mexican and ...

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Overview

Peter Laufer's explosive proposals for the U.S.-Mexican border go far beyond President Bush's initiative to ease restrictions on immigration. Mr. Laufer argues that the border with Mexico should be completely open, with a free flow of people between the two countries. He offers a step-by-step blueprint for making it happen. Wetback Nation is also the background to understanding the Bush proposals: the story of how the border has become a fraud, resulting in nothing more than the criminalization of Mexican and other migrants, the bloating of the mismanaged Immigration and Naturalization Service, the deterioration of living standards along the frontier, and the enrichment of American employers. Placing the border in historical perspective, Mr. Laufer shows how circumstances have deteriorated to the present crisis, and why the region and the migration through it cannot be ignored. Over the last several years he has interviewed dozens of authorities as well as men and women in the street while reporting from Mexico, along the border, and in the United States. He demonstrates that the security of America's southern border is a fallacy; offers vivid examples to illustrate how the chain of misery and lawbreaking for migrants heading north is initiated by U.S. employers; traces many of the border problems to the Guatemalan-Mexican border; and explores the abuses of the Border Patrol and the growing presence of vigilantes on the American side. Wetback Nation is sure to provoke a lively debate over the future of Mexican immigration.

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Editorial Reviews

San Antonio Express-News
Sure to ignite debate over immigration policy, and Laufer deserves credit for confronting the issue in terms both honest and human.
Los Angeles Times
Laufer describes the realities of cross-border migration…citing the futility of current policies.
Midwest Book Review
One of the more unusual and important surveys of Mexican relations and immigration standards to appear in modern times.
San Francisco Chronicle
A captivating, informative read infused with a deep and genuine empathy for those who suffer the most under current immigration policy.
Rosental Calmon Alves
I love the book. Wetback Nation is an extraordinary journalistic contribution to the Mexican immigration debate.
ForeWord Reviews
A scathing critcism and systematic analysis of America's closed border policy with Mexico.
Austin American Statesman
Makes a strong case for simply opening the border....Fascinating.
Zavala County Sentinel (Texas)
Laufer makes a powerful personal argument for opening the border.
Ca Press-Democrat Santa Rosa
Probably [Laufer's] best book—a warm and humane treatment of a fascinating subject.…A pleasure to read.
The Steamboat Pilot, Steamboat, Springs, Co - Autumn Phillips
His book is not only informative but also engaging. He fills his pages with faces, not just facts.
New York Sun - Robert Rivard
Mr. Laufer writes with great empathy...He does succeed in putting a human face on Mexicans who risk everything...in pursuit of better opportunity.
Latin Trade - Santiago Fittipaldi
Laufer is willing to take a controversial stand and defend it.
Sanibel Captiva Islander - Nola Theiss
This is a fascinating book....This book doesn't hold back just to be politically correct.
Linda Yanez
Laufer’s journalistic approach to this issue makes a very compelling case that immigration is not strictly a law enforcement issue.
Sanford J. Ungar
Peter Laufer understands this issue better than most and...offers some outrageously simple—and quite possibly workable—solutions to a very old problem.
Luis Alberto Urrea
Fearlessly, Peter Laufer steps into the middle of the debate and states his case...making points that will leave people shaking their heads....A primary text.
ZAVALA COUNTY SENTINEL
Laufer makes a powerful personal argument for opening the border.
CRYSTAL CITY, TX
Autumn Phillips
His book is not only informative but also engaging. He fills his pages with faces, not just facts.
The Steamboat Pilot, Steamboat Springs, CO
Austin American-Statesman
...Makes a strong case for simply opening the border.... To bolster his argument, Laufer offers a fascinating series of vignettes.
San Francisco Chronicle
A captivating, informative read infused with a deep and genuine empathy for those who suffer the most under current immigration policy.
Midwest Book Review
One of the more unusual and important surveys of Mexican relations and immigration standards to appear in modern times.
CA Press-Democrat Santa Rosa, CA Press-Democrat
...Probably [Laufer's] best book--a warm and humane treatment of a fascinating subject.... Challenges readers.... A pleasure to read.
Rosental Calmon Alves
I love the book. Wetback Nation is an extraordinary journalistic contribution to the Mexican immigration debate.
PROFESSOR & KNIGHT CHAIR IN JOURNALISM, DIRECTOR, KNIGHT CENTER FOR JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Linda Yanez
Laufer's journalistic approach to this issue makes a very compelling case...that immigration...is...[not] strictly a law enforcement issue.
FORMER INSTRUCTOR, IMMIGRATION LAW CLINIC, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL; HEAD OF IMMIGRATION, CLINTON-GORE PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION TEAM
San Antonio Express-News
...Sure to ignite debate over immigration policy, and Laufer deserves credit for confronting the issue in terms both honest and human.
Los Angeles Times
...Laufer describes the realities of cross-border migration...citing the futility of current policies.
Foreword Magazine
A scathing critcism and systematic analysis of America's closed border policy with Mexico.
KLIATT - Nola Theiss
This book looks at the issue of immigration from Mexico from a startling perspective. Laufer makes the argument for open borders between Mexico and the US. Considering that most politicians, policy-makers, and vocal participants in the debate have either taken the opposite approach or have pussyfooted around the issue, this is a fascinating book. Laufer presents all side of the debate and looks at the current status of our immigration policy. He talked to the militia groups who are guarding the borders and to landowners on both sides of the border. He looks at the criminal aspect of smuggling and human trafficking, US and Mexican history and the changing borders and policies of immigration by both Mexico and the US, the debate over documenting workers with drivers' licenses, and arguments for tighter and looser border controls. Like any good debate, you will probably find yourself agreeing with some of the points and disagreeing with others, and that's the point. The book is well researched with notes and a complete index. Laufer admits that he is pro-immigration for two reasons: his father came through Ellis Island and he grew up in California and enjoys the culture Latino immigrants bring to his life. Like its title, this book doesn't hold back just to be politically correct, and it would be a good addition to any school library.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566636704
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 9/25/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Laufer has reported from Mexico and the Borderlands for more than twenty years, as an NBC News correspondent and as a freelance writer for a variety of publications. He has also served as chief researcher for an Internews investigation of Mexico funded by the Packard Foundation. Mr. Laufer's other books include Exodus to Berlin, Iron Curtain Rising, and Nightmare Abroad. He lives in Bodega Bay, California, near San Francisco.

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Read an Excerpt


WETBACK NATION

The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border

By PETER LAUFER IVAN R. DEE
Copyright © 2004
Peter Laufer
All right reserved.


ISBN: 978-1-56663-592-9


Chapter One ILLEGAL ALIEN OR CLEVER NEW AMERICAN?

* * *

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU to that friend of mine who crossed into the United States from Ciudad Juárez over to El Paso. Juana María is a bright and bubbly woman in her late thirties. Her toddler daughter is in the living room learning English from a television program when we sit down in her kitchen to talk about her trip across the border more than thirteen years ago. Her two boys are in school. She offers me a cup of tea.

"Do you have anything decaffeinated?" I ask.

She does. Her bicultural kitchen cupboards include mole, tortillas, and decaffeinated mint tea. I've heard Juana María's border-crossing story often, but in bits and pieces. Today she's taking time out of her schedule to recount it from start to finish.

It was 1990 when Juana María first came to the United States. She had waited patiently in line at the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara and applied for a tourist visa, which she received. Eight months earlier her husband had crossed into California, looking for work. A hardworking mechanic, he found a job easily-on a ranch where his pay included living quarters in atrailer.

She remembers all the dates precisely. "I came on May 27th in 1990, that's the first time I came to the United States." Juana María speaks English with a thick Mexican accent and only rarely drops a Spanish word into the conversation. Her English vocabulary is more than adequate for her story. She's spent the last several years studying English, working with a volunteer tutor, and her boys bring English home from school and into the household. "I flew from Guadalajara here to California." In addition to her three-month-old first son, she traveled north with her mother-in-law and her thirteen-year-old brother. She was twenty-three. Stamped into her Mexican passport was her prized tourist visa.

When she reached the immigration officer at the airport, she was asked a few key questions. "He asked, 'How much money do you have to spend in the United States?' I had only five hundred dollars. My mother-in-law didn't have anything. He said, 'That is not enough money for three people to visit the United States for two months.'" The Immigration and Naturalization Service officer asked the next crucial question, and she now knows that her honest answer doomed her trip. "He asked, 'Why are you coming here?' And I told the truth, 'I come to visit my husband. I want to stay with my husband, and I want my child to grow up with his father.'" Despite the valid visa, Juana María and her family were refused entry. It was obvious she was no tourist; she was an immigrant.

"We stayed all night, like we were arrested. We didn't go to jail because we had two little boys. But we stayed all night in one room in the airport."

The officer was Latino, she says, and told her, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I feel so bad about what I'm doing." She says she remembers the moment vividly when he took her cash. "He bought a ticket. The next day we flew back to Mexico on another airplane. One officer went with us into the airplane and made sure we were sitting down in the airplane. And he never gave me my money back. He bought that ticket with my money."

A month later Juana María was shopping for a coyote. "I didn't want to stay in Mexico. My husband was here." Her older brother convinced her to avoid the Tijuana crossing into San Diego, scaring her with stories of rape, robbery, abandonment, and murder in the hills along la frontera, the border. She decided on a crossing from Ciudad Juárez into El Paso. She bundled up her baby, and, once again accompanied by her mother-in-law, she flew from Guadalajara to Juárez. This time she didn't tell her husband of her travel plans. "I didn't tell him because if something happened he would have worried about me and my boy. I wanted to give him a surprise."

Her brother confirmed arrangements with the coyote and secured the address of a house for the rendezvous with the guide. Juana María took a cab at the Juárez airport, but when the three travelers arrived at the Juárez house, they were unable to find their contact. And they quickly realized that they had left a suitcase in the cab. "We were missing in the big city," she says. "In the suitcase we had diapers and the formula." They told their story to whomever they could find around the address that would listen. Luck was with the migrating trio. A mechanic knew their coyote by a different name but didn't know how to find him. The taxi company insisted on buying formula for the baby; when the company found the missing baggage, it delivered it to their hotel.

Juana María called her brother. He contacted the coyote and sent him to the hotel, and there they made their plans. "I was nervous, but he told me to relax." In those pre-September 11th days, Mexicans routinely crossed the bridge into El Paso to shop. The crowds were so great and the traffic so important to the local economy that immigration officers only spot-checked border crossers walking north. Juana María was told to dress like a typical Mexican housewife, carry a shopping bag, and act confident. "We looked like people from Mexico who were shopping and going back home." They agreed to make the crossing during the noon rush hour. The coyote figured inspectors would be eating lunch and that the throngs crossing the bridge would camouflage his clients.

The next morning a car came to the hotel for Juana María. She was dropped near the border and walked north. "We crossed, walking"-Juana María, the baby, her mother-in-law, and the coyote. "I was wearing a dress to look like a Mexican woman. We crossed at the border and walked for maybe ten or fifteen minutes into El Paso." As the migrants walked north, homeless persons living on the street kept the coyote informed that the street was free of Migra (Spanish slang for the INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service); they were tipped a dollar for the intelligence. "Finally we stopped at a McDonald's, because it was 104 degrees."

She ate her first American meal in the cool of the McDonald's-a hamburger, of course-and the coyote called a taxi. They drove to a house where a friend of her brother lived, and there they spent the night. The easy part of the journey was over. Now the job was to get Juana María out of the borderlands and up into the interior and on to her husband in California. A further masquerade was needed. She no longer had to look like a Mexican housewife; she had to look like a Mexican American. "That's when they made me look like a teenager. They put me in shorts with a lot of flowers. They put me in a blouse-phosphorescent orange. And they put my hair up, like a chola! They colored my eyes black, and red lipstick! Oh, my goodness." Juana María is a pretty woman, but she dresses conservatively and wears only minimal makeup. She was happy to play dress-up "because I needed to look like the girls from El Paso, Texas. The teenagers in El Paso look different from the teenagers in Mexico. That's why they changed my looks."

They flew to Dallas with no trouble, the baby disguised as an El Paso infant sporting a Hawaiian shirt. Her mother-in-law was still with them, not worried in "a dress like a North American girl" because her hair is blonde. "I felt nervous," Juana María admits, but more than just nervous. "I felt embarrassed to look like that. When I looked at myself in the mirror I said, 'Oh, my God. No!' But I needed to relax and look normal, like all the other people in the airport."

When they arrived at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport they waited for another brother to pick them up. "He passed me three times and didn't recognize me." Finally she said to him, "Hi, honey! I'm Juana María." He was shocked at her appearance. "Well, I looked like a chola! He told me, 'If your husband sees you looking like that, immediately he will divorce you.' We left the airport and went right to Sears to buy makeup and a dress, to wash my face and change clothes. We went to my brother's house, and then we called up my husband and I said, 'Honey, I'm here!' He said, 'No, you are joking.' I told him I was serious and that I had another surprise-I had his mother with me."

The mother-in-law had told her husband she would go only as far as Ciudad Juárez, but she went across into the United States, says Juana María, on a lark. "The coyote said, 'It's fun. You can cross. It's not dangerous.' So she crossed to have one more adventure in her life. My brother paid only $500 for all three people. Very cheap."

The date of her arrival in El Norte is fixed in her mind. "I crossed the border June 24, 1990." After a week visiting her brother, she flew to California for a reunion with her husband. It was July 1, just in time for the Fourth of July festivities at the ranch where he worked. "My husband told me I needed to buy clothes for the celebration. I got blue jeans and a red and white blouse, because those are the three colors of the American flag."

Juana María's parrot is chirping. Her daughter takes a break from the television to listen, eat some corn chips, and make a mess on the counter trying to pour some 7-Up into a glass. Outside cattle are feeding at the trough. Her dogs occasionally bark. Through her kitchen windows I see the bucolic California hills that surround her home. "I haven't been back to Mexico for thirteen years." She looks pensive when I ask her why. "Because I don't have a Green Card, and now I am worried about crossing the border. I hear a lot of bad stories. It costs $2,500 for each person."

Living without proper documentation for thirteen years has been nothing much more than an annoyance for Juana María. "I don't do anything illegal. I live a good life and take care of my kids. The only effect of not having a Green Card is that we cannot have a driver's license." Juana María does carry an official California identification card. Until 1996 these were available from the Department of Motor Vehicles with no questions asked, based only on a birth certificate. The law changed that year, and aliens without Green Cards were no longer eligible for driver's licenses or official identification cards. But immigration officers rarely show up in her rural neighborhood, and when they do patrol places that she frequents in the nearby urban district, she says she's warned and just avoids them. "When the INS is around here they say so on the radio station: don't go out to Wal-Mart or Sears or whatever shopping center because the INS is around. So I don't go there. After one or two days, they're gone."

I ask Juana María what she would do if an immigration agent approached her. "If he asks me for a Green Card, I can't do anything," she says about this perpetual threat to her domestic tranquility. "If you don't have the Green Card, they only arrest. They say, 'You have a right to call a relative, but you're going to jail.' If I don't have a Green Card, they'll deport me to my country, to Mexico. That's what they do. They don't ask for identification, they ask for a Green Card, or your permission to stay in the United States, like a passport. If I don't have anything with me, they'll arrest me, and they'll take me out to the border."

But life was more uncertain for her when Pete Wilson was governor of California and he rallied voters to pass Proposition 187, the referendum that limited the rights of undocumented migrants and was ultimately struck down by the courts. During the anti-immigrant climate of those years in the mid-1990s, just picking the kids up at school was cause for concern. "The INS came to the schools and arrested illegal parents. For more than a week we didn't send our boy to the school when I heard that the INS was here in my county."

Juana María figures that about 70 percent of her Latino friends in California are in the state illegally. She hopes to legalize her status in the United States. Perhaps there will be another amnesty for immigrants who entered without documentation. Perhaps when her second son, who was born in the United States and consequently is an American citizen, becomes an adult he will be able to establish legal residency for his parents and his older Mexican-citizen brother. Meanwhile she and her family thrive. She works hard at the local PTA, organizing fund-raising dinners of rich Mexican food to pay for the rehabilitation of the playground. Her daughter is christened at the local Catholic church in a Spanish-language ceremony, followed by a block party crowded with friends and relatives, food and music. Her husband goes off to work each day; she works part time. They pay their taxes. She is an American by every definition except for her paperwork.

A few days after we talked at her home, it was Mexican Lunch Day at the local elementary school. Juana María brought together a group of the Latino mothers to prepare burritos. The women were lined up in the kitchen, the first ladling out the rice, the next passing out a tortilla, the third the beans. The burritos were topped off with lettuce and sour cream and salsa. Juana María was proud of the healthy ingredients, far from her Mexican roots. "I didn't use lard in the beans," she told the other mothers. The money raised by the lunch was used to provide child care for Latino mothers at the school who were taking classes to earn a high school equivalency certificate.

In one important way Juana María suffers because of her illegal status in the United States. "I feel sad because I cannot go to Mexico and come back again. I cannot visit my relatives. My friends who have Green Cards, they do that every year or every other year. I want to go to Mexico. But how can I cross? Maybe I'd be lucky and not have any problems, like the first time. Or maybe I'd have a lot of problems." She has reason to worry; she's heard the horror stories. "I have friends who came here two months after I came to the United States. Two years later they went to Mexico." The return trip to the states was a disaster. "One of the ladies," she says with a combination of sadness and a matter-of-fact reporting of the news, "the coyote killed her. With a screwdriver. In Tijuana. I say no. I'm not going. I love my relatives. But I don't want to put my life in between. My life is first, and my kids too.

But when Juana María's father-in-law was dying, her husband decided to chance a trip back to Mexico. In just over ten years the price of a coyote had increased fivefold. He paid $2,500 for help crossing from Tijuana to San Diego. He crossed with a false Green Card-not counterfeit but stolen. Coyotes prowl border nightclubs, Juana María explains, looking for drunk Latinos with legitimate identification papers. They steal their Green Cards. Her husband sat down at a table with a coyote who displayed a stack of stolen Green Cards. Together they searched through the cards for a picture of a Mexican who looked enough like her husband to satisfy a border guard. He crossed the border with someone else's Green Card. The system isn't perfect: he crossed successfully three times, "but the last time," she tells me, "the officer said, 'You don't look like him!' They arrested him and sent him back to Mexico. He called me from Rosarita and said, 'I am here because they caught me and sent me back to Mexico.' I called the coyote and said, 'You promised me my husband would come back to California safely. If my husband is not here in my house, I will not pay you anything.' The coyote went to get my husband at Rosarita, and he crossed again at Tijuana with the same stolen Green Card! That day was lucky."

"Sometimes the coyotes have business with the immigration officer," she said, "and they give him money under the table. My husband flew home from San Diego. When he was on the airplane, I sent the money by Western Union to the coyote."

That's Juana María's theory, that the coyote bribed the guard. It's hard to imagine a U.S. immigration officer jeopardizing his career and pension-not to mention risking prison time-for a cut of a $2,500 coyote fee. Hard to imagine but certainly possible. U.S. officials along the border have been arrested for conspiring with smugglers. Corruption is not limited to the Mexican side of the border.

(Continues...)




Excerpted from WETBACK NATION by PETER LAUFER Copyright © 2004 by Peter Laufer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
<%TOC%>Contents Acknowledgments....................ix
Preface: Bienvenidos, Amigos....................xiii
1 Illegal Alien or Clever New American?....................3
2 Still Life on the Border....................13
3 On Guard....................18
4 Death Along for the Ride....................26
5 A Legal View....................33
6 What Is a Border?....................38
7 Failed Barriers....................44
8 Annexing Half of Mexico, Temporarily ....................56
9 Early Control of the Border....................71
10 Before the Border Control Got Tough....................79
11 An Unwelcoming Proposition....................90
12 Among the Vigilantes....................94
13 Two-way Traffic....................124
14 The Porous, Shifting Border....................132
15 Crossing the Border Through the Ether....................153
16 The Driver's License Debate....................159
17 Illegal Americans....................164
18 On the Kentucky Border....................172
19 Deportation Made Easier....................183
20 One Farmer Working by the Rules....................187
21 Who Wants the Border Closed?....................195
22 Burden or Benefit?....................202
23 The Road from Chiapas and Chihuahua....................212
24 Best Friends....................230
Epilogue: A Practical Blueprint for Normalizing the Border....................243
Notes....................247
Index....................255
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  • Posted March 5, 2013

    Peter Laufer's WETBACK NATION: The Case for Opening the Mexican-

    Peter Laufer's WETBACK NATION: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border is a good but flawed book which many times reads like a travel book and unnecessarily stretches from Tijuana, Mexico all the way to Cairo . . . Egypt! It contains solid information, but then it fails to follow through on this information and one is left wanting more.  For example, a sociologist and an economist (David Coffey of the University of Kentucky and James Smith of the RAND Corp.) point out studies they undertook which demolish the Nativist paranoia, but then the author fails to include where to find said studies--and that is crucial in order to offer rebuttals.
    The book contains comments from people who actually come in contact with the undocumented.   Among those included here are quotes from nativist militia types like Arizona's Simcox in all their absurdity and paranoia. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2006

    A hodgepodge of stories

    This book is completely disappointing (and I am only one fourth of the way through). I expected an intelligent insight into why the Mexico/US border should be open, instead what I have read so far is, it's not fair since we have an open border with Canada and all the Mexicans will just go back home after coming to the US. Far be it from me to say, but I think the issue might be a little more complex than that. Also, on the chapter titled What is a Border?, it talks about being in bed with someone and they take all the covers or you stay on your side and they stay on their side, c'mon, I am not reading a high school essay! Can we get a little more grown up in our explanation of the topic of land borders.

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