Illicit inhabitants: Empire, immigration, race, and sexuality on the U.S.-Mexico border, 1891-1924

Irma Victoria Montelongo, University of Texas at El Paso


On any given day and at any given location, the residents of El Paso, Texas see Border Patrol agents, city police, sheriff's deputies, DEA agents, and FBI agents, ICE agents, DPS officers, and U.S. Marshalls, as well as a full display of military personnel. To understand how this location functions vis-à-vis the residents and law enforcement and social control we must think of the U.S.-Mexico border as a line of ingression heavily guarded from those considered dangerous, defective, and diseased. Immigrant bodies, seen as inferior and disposable, are often subjected to insidious levels of racist, classist, and sexist rhetoric and violence, a consequence of American empire building. In 1848 with the conquest of Mexico and continuing through the close of the century with intervention in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, people in these conquered spaces became the focus of racist medical and social procedures designed to subjugate bodies and control entire populations. On the U.S-Mexico border empire building consisted of a hyper masculine enterprise backed by state sanctioned violence at the hands of law enforcement agencies, medical authorities, immigration officials, and other institutions. It was an enterprise that began after 1848 with control of the Mexican man's body through laws and enforcement techniques that often culminated in his death, and continued throughout the twentieth century with strict social control over Mexican women's bodies. This study examines the creation of a complex web of surveillance and enforcement enacted by the Texas Rangers, public health officials, city officials, and immigration inspectors that produced knowledge about and power over Mexican bodies in the El Paso region. Through an interrogation of the constructed categories of whiteness, Mexican identity, masculinity, and class, this study illustrates the collaborative efforts that emerged between state and local officials in response to federal policies.

Subject Area

American history|Womens studies|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Montelongo, Irma Victoria, "Illicit inhabitants: Empire, immigration, race, and sexuality on the U.S.-Mexico border, 1891-1924" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3636288.