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Capsule Review

Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal Alien" and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary

In This Review

Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal Alien" and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary
By Joseph Nevins
Routledge, 2002 256 pp. $90.00 Purchase

Politicians and bureaucrats often manufacture self-serving myths to promote their own narrow interests, and immigration policy is no exception. In an attempt to steal the immigration issue from the Republicans in the wake of California's notorious Proposition 187, Bill Clinton launched "Operation Gatekeeper" in 1994 with the objective of regaining "control" of the San Diego-Tijuana border, the busiest land crossing in the world. Clinton doubled the budget for law enforcement along the border and had miles of new fence constructed and hundreds of new agents trained. But in this dense analysis, Nevins demonstrates how this politically motivated policy failed to significantly reduce unauthorized border crossings. What it did do was shift these crossings away from the suburbs of San Diego and El Paso toward the deserts and the mountains. In the end, he believes, a law-enforcement approach to illegal immigration will fail because the ties between the United States and Mexico are too strong, migrants are too resourceful and creative, and Americans are too resistant to police measures. The paradox of free trade without free labor flows remains a Gordian knot that no U.S. administration has been able to untie and still please everybody. It is difficult to see any of this changing in the near future, all the more so because of September 11.

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