Arizona Everywhere: Immigration Policing and the United States’ Expanding Borderlands

by: Geoffrey Boyce

In Sodus, New York, the Border Patrol stakes out the “Mi Ranchito” market, a Mexican-American owned store that caters to migrant farm-workers. Photo by Dr. Lory Ghertner.

In 2010 the controversy over Arizona’s SB 1070 shined a light on the proliferation of policies that attack and criminalize undocumented immigrants (and their loved ones) in the United States. Yet in the debate surrounding the Arizona law there was strikingly little discussion of the ways that SB 1070 merely extended – rather than departed from – the broader thrust of federal policy directed toward the policing and criminalization of immigrants.

This was important, for in cities like Tucson SB 1070 made little difference to the daily, lived realities of immigration policing. As Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupniki told Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales in May 2010: “If we were to start enforcing [SB 1070] instead of turning them over to the Border Patrol like we do now, we would have to put them in the Pima County Jail. We would put the jail into a crisis overnight. We would have to overwhelm the rest of the criminal justice system locally here and send the taxpayers a huge bill, which is just nonsense, in my opinion.” ii What Dupnik’s statement indicates is that rather than introduce a novel practice, SB 1070 would merely formalize – and thus render more cumbersome and bureaucratic – a practice that was already commonplace. In Tucson and other border cities, this practice goes by the name of “police discretion.” Police discretion gives local authorities and individual officers broad discretion to enforce federal immigration laws whenever and wherever they deem appropriate – even and including against victims and witnesses of crime, although often through routine practices like traffic stops.

The mechanism that enables police discretion is the U.S. Border Patrol’s legal jurisdiction and authority in proximity to all U.S. land and sea borders. It is the purpose of this chapter to discuss how federal policy, through the expansion of border policing, has come to replicate 1070-like law enforcement practices across the country – practices that have grown alongside the expansion of the Border Patrol itself. In cities as diverse and geographically disparate as San Diego, California; Buffalo, New York; Forks, Washington; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, the expansion of border policing has come to impact migrants, immigrants and citizens alikeiii, albeit to varying degrees. This development raises several important questions, including the following:

Where exactly is the “border” in U.S. border policing?

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Activ grants the U.S. Border Patrol broad legal authority “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.” The Attorney General of the United States has defined “reasonable distance” to include all areas within 100 miles of U.S. land and sea borders.

Within their 100-mile jurisdiction the Border Patrol has extraordinary powers. Through a series of laws and court decisions federal agents may stop and search individuals at will, under conditions that would be considered unconstitutional in the interior of the country. These powers include the ability to enter private property without a warrant; the ability to establish interior checkpoints where agents may stop, question and search all individuals and vehicles who pass through; the ability to commit random stops and searches through roving patrols; and the ability to treat individuals stopped in proximity to the border as though they are legally outside U.S. territory, for purposes of immigration and inspection.v Under the law, the border therefore operates less as a rigid territorial divide between sovereign nation-states, than as a free-floating signifier capable of being invoked by federal agents anywhere within 100-miles of its territorial referent.

Lest we be prematurely comforted by the idea that such powers only obtain at the margins of the nation (and thus may affect only a tiny minority), we should consider that many of the areas of greatest population density in the United States are located along its land and sea borders. Close to six million people live near the U.S. / Mexico border alone, while urban conglomerations along the nation’s east and west coasts represent the largest population corridors in the United States. In total, were one to map out the entirety of the U.S. Border Patrol’s 100-mile jurisdiction, it would cover close to two-thirds of the nation’s population, and the entirety of the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, Florida, Hawaii, and the country’s island territories (including Puerto Rico) – along with substantial portions of California, New York, Michigan, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Vermont. Although, historically, U.S. border enforcement has been concentrated along the country’s southwest border, it is rapidly expanding into areas of the country where the Border Patrol in the past had only nominal presence.

So how have things gotten this way?

Over the past twenty years the Border Patrol has enjoyed an astonishing expansion. Prior to 1994 the size of the agency fluctuated – between periods of gradual, long-term growth and periodic, short-term contraction. This changed with the launch of Operation Gatekeeper and the simultaneous explosion of right-wing nativist activism (resulting, for example, in the passage of California’s infamous Proposition 187).vi Between 1993 and 2012 the size of the Border Patrol grew more than five-fold, from 3,965 agents to more than 22,000 todayvii – making the U.S. Border Patrol the largest federal law enforcement agency (and second-largest overall police agency) in the United States.viii

Graph showing the growth in numbers of Border Patrol Agents–from the Washington Post.

The Border Patrol’s growth was accelerated in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, at which point the priority mission of the agency shifted from drug and immigration enforcement to terrorist interdiction and prevention.ix To enable its rapid expansion, the Border Patrol has engaged in a massive hiring spree, adding a total of 13,500 new agents between 2004 and the present. To expedite this hiring, the Border Patrol streamlined and reduced screening and training requirements for new recruits, leading to allegations of widespread misconduct and corruption.x Many agents also joined the force immediately after having served in combat theaters in Iraq or Afghanistan, helping to further militarize the agency’s institutional culture.

As an outcome of the 2008 economic crisis, there have been, simultaneously, historic reductions in the rates of unauthorized entry into the United States – to levels not seen since the 1970s.xi Along the southwest border, agents are thus concentrated in regions where there is little law enforcement justification for their presence. For example, in the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector the number of agents tripled from 2005 to 2011, while in fiscal year 2010 the average agent made a total of only eight arrests.xii

With the southwest border saturated, the deployment of new agents has moved disproportionately toward the United States’ northern land border. Between 2001 and 2012 the number of agents along the northern border grew more than six-fold, from 340 agents to more than 2,200 today.xiii “Security” along the northern border has been defined as an agency priority in various government documents, including the Border Patrol’s 2012 national strategic plan and the Department of Homeland Security’s first-ever comprehensive northern border strategy.xiv Typical justification for this expansion are assertions to the effect that only 69 miles (or less than 2%) of the 3,918-mile long northern border are “operationally secure,” although what, exactly, security might look like in this context remains largely undefined.xv

Along the U.S. / Canada border much of the Border Patrol’s growth has been concentrated in only a handful of enforcement sectors. For example, during this same period (2001-2012) the Detroit sector grew 16-fold, from 26 agents to more than 400.xvi In many of these locales there is little unauthorized cross-border traffic to speak of – or what illegal activity there is consists of small-scale cigarette, alcohol or marijuana smuggling. Similar to the pattern in Tucson (and elsewhere along the southwest border), enforcement has expanded from rural areas or the border itself to neighborhoods, agricultural areas, transportation hubs, city streets and commercial areas. Combined with the policy of police discretion, this results in a substantial number of U.S. residents and citizens being surveilled, detained and arrested.xvii

Geographer Alison Mountz has written: “the border increasingly crops up in unlikely places—the laundromat, the grocery store, the bus station–places not traditionally conceived of as the border, but where U.S. Border Patrol operates nonetheless.xviii

This has considerable implications for everyday life in border-area communities. Let’s consider a couple of cases, first from:

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit is famous for the poverty and population decline that have accompanied residential segregation,

de-industrialization, and capital flight since the mid-1960s. Less well known is that the city has become home to a burgeoning Latino immigrant community, concentrated in the city’s southwestern corner. Latino residents today represent the only demographic group in Detroit that is growing, increasing from approximately 2% of the city’s total population in 2000 to more than 15% today. Along with the repopulation of southwest neighborhoods, this diaspora community has brought economic stability and social vitality. It also happens to lie proximate to the Ambassador Bridge, the major trade link between southeast Michigan and southern Ontario. As the number of Border Patrol agents has grown in the Detroit Sector, the agency has concentrated enforcement efforts in this pocket of the city, targeting Latino residents in their neighborhoods and as they commute back and forth to the suburbs for work.

In their eagerness to enforce immigration law, federal agents have targeted community centers and other places where families and individuals congregate. In April 2011 agents in Detroit began to stake out Latino Family Services, questioning people about their immigration status as they stood in line for the service agency’s food pantry, among other services. Six individuals total were detained for questioning; five turned out to be U.S. citizens, while one undocumented individual was taken into custody. In the aftermath of these enforcement actions, Latino Family Services saw a dramatic decline in their clientele – for example, according to director Lidia Reyes, attendance in English as a Second Language classes dropped by 50%. Said Reyes at the time: “It’s caused fear in the community. It feels like we’re under siege.”xix In a separate incident, Reyes herself was detained and questioned by the Border Patrol as she arrived for work.

In another 2011 incident, Raúl Echevarriaxx, a 22 year-old immigrant from Mexico, had his car impounded by Lincoln Park police (a suburb immediately southwest of Detroit), after he was cited for driving with an expired license.xxi When Raúl went to the impound lot to recover his vehicle, the employees asked for his ID and told him he’d get his car back, but that he’d have to wait while they processed his request. After waiting for close to an hour, Border Patrol agents arrived. Raúl was cuffed, taken into custody, and subsequently deported, his car seized and sold at auction – a process that has repeated itself hundreds of times across the region.

Although unlike its many suburbs the City of Detroit has an official “sanctuary” policy prohibiting its officers from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, it has been a common practice for officers to call the Border Patrol to ask for translation when they have detained somebody who does not speak fluent English. This practice is a back-door form of police discretion, wherein immigration arrests often take place in lieu of criminal or traffic citation, thus allowing the practice to remain largely informal and off the books. Let’s now consider another case, from:

Sodus, New York

Sodus is located in a rural area about half an hour east of Rochester. Located in the heart of Wayne County, New

US Border Patrol and New York State Police stake out another local market. Photo by Dr. Lory Ghertner.

York, Sodus is surrounded by one of the most important apple-growing regions in the United States. Not surprisingly, many of the seasonal workers in the orchards are immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Similarly to Detroit, along with the growth of the Latino population came an expansion of economic and cultural facilities oriented to providing services to this community, from grocers to churches to dancehalls and restaurants – leading to an economic rebirth of sorts.

In the late 2000s this all began to unravel, when the U.S. Border Patrol opened a new station in Rochester to manage a cross-border ferry service (that has since closed), and simultaneously began to expand their station in nearby Oswego. In Sodus, agents started staking out the local Latino-owned grocery store, questioning and detaining those who entered. One evening, the Border Patrol raided a firehall dance party, using busses to transport those arrested inside, while others fled into the surrounding woods. A local Catholic parish, the Church of the Epiphany, closed its doors permanently, after agents arrested parishioners in the church’s entryway, and whole families stopped showing up for mass.

More menacing than the Border Patrol, however, are the New York State Police, who work hand-in-glove with Border Patrol and I.C.E. through traffic stops, “D.U.I.” checkpoints, and by actually patrolling together in the same vehicles. Things have gotten so bad that many workers refuse to go out, either staying hidden on the farm, or remaining shut-in their homes together with their children, blinds drawn or blankets covering the windows. The brief economic renaissance in Sodus is no more. Instead, many in the community express anxiety and fear, mixed with anguish and sadness for those loved ones who have been torn away.xxii

Having now reviewed the expanding and shifting geographies of “border” enforcement in the United States – along with its devastating consequences for some communities – it’s now worth briefly reviewing some:

Lessons Learned

The expansion of “border” policing, and the practices that correspond to it, have raised alarms from human rights and civil liberties groups. Since 2011 three major non-governmental reports have been released detailing concerns with Border Patrol practices on the northern border, including sweeps on trains and busses; monitoring and responding to local emergency 911 calls; racial and religious profiling; providing translation services to local police; and record numbers of deportations from northern border communities, which generate fear, economic insecurity, and family separation, as well as increasing the burden on local social service providers.xxiii

As many of these concerns should remind us, it is not only migrants and immigrants who are affected by border policing. Broad cross-sections of ethnic minority populations are subject to enhanced scrutiny and harassment, as suggested by the allegations of racial profiling and routine detention and questioning described above. Many U.S. citizens have immigrant family members; a recent investigation by the Applied Research Center, for example, found that immigration authorities removed 204,810 parents of U.S. citizen children between July 1, 2010, and Sept. 31, 2012 – leading to thousands of children placed in foster care and permanently separated from their families.xxiv

Others, too, are caught up in the policing apparatus. Several recent high-profile cases are exemplary: on September 20, 2012 U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested singer Fiona Apple after they discovered hashish on her tour bus at a checkpoint in Texas.xxv In similar incidents, country singer Willie Nelson and rapper Lil Wayne were arrested at Border Patrol checkpoints in Texas and Arizona, respectively.xxvi On June 12, 2012, former Arizona governor Raúl Castro was detained at a checkpoint in southern Arizona, and subject to a radiation screening while standing for close to an hour in the desert heat – all on his 96th birthday.xxvii This was in fact the third time that Castro – the only Latino governor in Arizona’s history – had been stopped by Border Patrol and asked to prove his citizenship.

These events garner media attention because of the profile of those involved. But such harassment, detention and enhanced scrutiny are routine for residents of the borderlands. Rather than oriented primarily toward protecting the “nation” against threats originating from somewhere beyond, border enforcement infrastructure is, in practice, deployed toward policing the entire domestic population – with important, albeit varying consequences for everyday life, security, and community wellbeing. When policy reform and debates broach the topic of “border security,” we must bear this in mind.

Before concluding, it is finally worth taking pause to consider the fiscal dimensions of the recent, rapid expansion of border policing. Between fiscal years 2004 and 2013 the annual budget for U.S. Customs and Border Protection more than doubled, to a total of $11.97 billion.xxviii This ongoing expansion of border enforcement infrastructure, along with its Homeland Security context, have led to a burgeoning Security Industrial Complex, reflected in semi-annual trade fairs like Phoenix’s Border Security Expo, where military and security contractors (and sub-contractors) show off their proprietary technology and position themselves for a cut of the various multi-billion dollar DHS contracts doled out to support border security operations.xxix

The excitement around this market feeds the expansion of border policing operations – while both, in turn, feed off of popular anxieties involving xenophobia, terrorism and national security. Not only is the Border Patrol rapidly expanding along the United States’ northern border, it is making moves toward a similar expansion along the U.S. gulf coast. Already, Border Patrol sectors in Puerto Rico, Louisiana and Florida have seen their agents double over the past ten Although these sectors remain comparatively small, as long as the larger policy thrust remains unchallenged stories and rhetoric of – for example – smugglers moving people and drugs up the California coast by boat are only likely to fuel further expansion.xxxi

This is not to suggest that such outcomes are a foregone conclusion. Advocates and activists have had substantial success pushing-back against particularly objectionable practices. For example, since releasing a 2011 report criticizing Border Patrol activities on trains and busses, activists in New York state have seen a dramatic decline in these practices; and on December 10, 2012 a combination of lawsuits and public pressure led Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to announce a new directive to Border Patrol agents prohibiting them from providing translation services to local police.xxxii

In southern Arizona, advocates continue to pressure local police to rein-in their everyday cooperation with the Border Patrol – a move complicated by SB 1070, but in some ways aided by the law, since it’s provided a controversial face to what had already been a widespread practice. Yet simultaneously the Border Patrol have expanded their presence in urban areas, including traffic stops and searches initiated directly by agents – indicating that police discretion is only one part of the equation.

Efforts to evaluate and rein-in border policing should combine with broader conversations about the effects of the United States’ post-September 11 Homeland Security-craze, and its permeation of everyday life with anxieties that justify and normalize increased surveillance, detention and violence.xxxiii Border communities across the United States have untold problems and crises that could benefit from federal intervention, including those related to poverty, public health, industrial disinvestment, and unemployment – issues that unite such disparate places as Buffalo, Detroit, El Paso and Nogales, Arizona. Unfortunately, these issues also have little to do with immigration or terrorism, the phantom targets of the current Homeland Security build-up.

In southern Arizona, “border security” infrastructure is at its most concentrated.xxxiv While the state has been cast by many as an outlier, it has been the purpose of this chapter to argue that it should, rather, be viewed as a harbinger of things to come, especially if the expansion of enforcement infrastructure across the United States continues unchecked. For this reason, among others, a critical conversation about the United States’ expanding border enforcement operations, along with their consequences, is long overdue.


Geoff Boyce is a PhD candidate in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona. He researches, writes and blogs on issues related to Homeland Security and immigration enforcement.

i Pima County is the southern Arizona county that contains the City of Tucson and its surrounding exurbs.

ii González, J. and Goodman, A. (2010) Pima County Sheriff Refuses to Enforce “Unconstitutional” Controversial AZ Anti-Immigrant Law Democracy Now!May 6, 2010

iii For purposes of this chapter I will distinguish between migrants, immigrants and citizens as follows: migrants are individuals actively seeking to cross an international border to enter the United States; immigrants are U.S. residents who may or may not be undocumented, but who lack formal citizenship status; citizens are residents who were either born in the United States or who naturalized at some later point. Of course, technically speaking, citizens may also be immigrants, and both immigrants and citizens may (and are indeed likely to, at some point) migrate. But for purposes of clarity I operate using the definitions delineated above.

iv I.N.A. 287 (a)(3); 8 U.S.C. § 1357 (a)(3)

v Relevant cases include Almeida-Sanchez v. United States (1973); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte (1976); United States v. Montoya de Hernandez (1985); Bond v. United States (2000); United States v. Angulo-Guerrero (2003); and Arizona v. Johnson (2009). In addition to these powers, through the Real ID Act of 2005 the Secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to waive all environmental and cultural laws and regulations that might impede the expeditious construction of “border security”-related infrastructure.

vi see Nevins, J. (2010) Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War On “Illegals” And the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary. New York: Routledge

vii U.S. Customs and Border Protection (2011) US Border Patrol fiscal year staffing statistics

viii The New York Police Department, with 34,500 uniformed officers, is the nation’s largest police agency, by personnel.

ix Despite their priority mission there is no evidence to suggest that the Border Patrol has ever interdicted a “terrorist” attempting to surreptitiously enter the United States.

x National Immigration Forum (2012) “Misbehavior at the Border: Are Those Who Control Immigration Out of Control Themselves?” November, 2012

xi U.S. Customs and Border Protection (2011) “U.S. Border Patrol Fiscal Year Apprehension Statistics” December 12, 2011

xii Marosi, R. (2011) “Plunge in border crossings leaves agents fighting boredom.” Los Angeles Times April 21, 2011

xiii Department of Homeland Security (2012) “Northern Border Strategy” Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security

xiv see U.S. Customs and Border Protection (2012) “2012-2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan” Washington, D.C.: Department of Homeland Security; see also “Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness” December 2011

xv Government Accountability Office (2011) “Border Security: DHS Progress and Challenges in Securing the U.S. Southwest and Northern Borders” Washington, D.C., March 2011. It is worth noting that the definition of “operational security” was long criticized for lacking any metric for evaluating progress or success, resulting in the agency abandoning this policy framework in 2011. Yet it still has not been replaced by any other framework or concrete objectives by which “security” might be evaluated. See Government Accountability Office (2012) “Border Patrol Strategy: Progress and Challenges in Implementation and Assessment Efforts” Washington, D.C., May 2012

xviABC News / WXYZ Detroit (2011) “Since 9/11 the Number of Agents Protecting Detroit Area Has Grown Exponentially” published September 10, 2011

xvii The cooperation between Border Patrol and local police exacerbates the impacts that U.S. “border” enforcement alone would have on affected communities. Through initiatives like “Operation Stonegarden,” the Border Patrol has actively worked to foster such cooperative relationships, funneling $46 million of funding and equipment, annually, into 38 separate local police jurisdictions along the southern and northern borders. In exchange for receiving funds through Operation Stonegarden the Border Patrol asks departments to actively cooperate in their efforts. However, very little oversight or accountability has been attached to the distribution of these funds, rendering highly questionable how much is ultimately devoted toward border-related enforcement operations. See National Immigration Forum (2010) “Operation Stonegarden Factsheet”; see also McCombs, B. and S. Caesar (2009) “Border program has vague goals, little oversight” Arizona Daily Star November 15, 2009

xviiiMountz, A. (2011) “Border Politics: Spatial Provision and Geographical Precision.” Political Geography30: 65-66

xix “Detroit Area Latinos Protest Immigration Agencies” (, 2011); “Latinos Accuse Border Patrol and ICE of Racial Profiling” (Detroit Free Press, July 2011)

xx Raúl Echevarria’s name has been altered to protect his identity. This story was related by an acquaintance who was present during Raúl’s arrest. After being taken into custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the housing complex where Raúl had been a tenant, leading to several of his neighbors also being taken into immigration custody.

xxi In 2008 Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land revised state policy in order to deny driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Similar policies in other states create a back-door mechanism to criminalize undocumented immigrants, who often must use a motor vehicle for work and for everyday survival, but are denied any legal avenue for doing so.

xxii For more on border and immigration policing in Sodus, see Miller, T. (2012) “Post-9/11 Sodus: The U.S.-Canadian Border on Display” NACLA “Border Wars” blog July 25, 2012; see also

xxiii See NYCLU (2011) “Justice Derailed: What Raids on Trains and Buses Reveal about Border Patrol’s Interior Enforcement Practices”; One America (2012) “The Growing Human Rights Crisis Along the Northern Border”; American Immigration Council, Immigration Policy Center (2012) “Border Patrol Agents as Interpreters Along the Northern Border: Unwise Policy, Illegal Practice”

xxiv See Wessler, S. F. (2012) “Nearly 205K Deportations of Parents of U.S. Citizens in Just Over Two Years” Colorlines December 17, 2012

xxv “Texas Sheriff: Fiona Apple Arrested After Hashish Found on Tour Bus” September 20, 2012

xxvi Galindez, S. (2010) “Dangerous Outlaw Willie Nelson Detained by Border Patrol” Reader Supported News November 27, 2010; Reid, S. (2008) “Lil Wayne Arrested For Drug Possession Following Arizona Traffic Stop” January 23, 2008

xxvii Stellar, T. (2012) “Border Patrol detains former Arizona Gov. Castro after radiation alarm is tripped” Arizona Daily Star June 23, 2012

xxviii This figure does not include the cost of infrastructure development, such as the Secure Border Initiative. For example, the Department of Homeland Security spent at least $4.4 billion on contracts for this initiative between 2006 and 2010, before the project was ultimately abandoned. For a breakdown of related contracts and expenses, see Government Accountability Office (2010) “Secure Border Initiative: DHS Needs to Reconsider Its Proposed Investment in Key Technology Program” Washington, D.C., May 2010

xxix See Miller, T. (2012) “Bringing the Battlefield to the Border: The Wild World of Border Security and Boundary Building in Arizona” Tom Dispatch June 7, 2012; see also Borderlands Autonomist Collective (2012) “Resisting the Security-Industrial Complex: Operation Streamline and the Militarization of the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands” in Lloyd, J. M. Mitchelson and A. Burridge (eds.) Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders and Global Crisis Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press

xxx US Customs and Border Protection (2011) US Border Patrol fiscal year staffing statistics

xxxi Lovett, I. (2012) “Land Routes Blocked, Smuggling Rises Sharply on California Coast” New York Times December 8, 2012

xxxii Valdes, M. (2012) “Border Patrol To Stop Interpreting For Local Law Agencies Needing Language Assistance” The Huffington Post December 13, 2012

xxxiii For example, consider the 21 individuals shot to death by Border Patrol agents since 2010, many of them border area residents. See Boyce, G. and J. Williams (2012) “Intervention – Homeland Security and the Precarity of Life in the Borderlands” Antipode December 10, 2012

xxxiv The Tucson Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol has at least 4,200 agents.