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> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-rev...@lists.h-net.org>
> Date: September 10, 2019 at 12:04:37 PM EDT
> To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-LatAm]:  Benton-Cohen on Kang, 'The INS on the Line: 
> Making Immigration Law on the US-Mexico Border, 1917-1954'
> Reply-To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> S. Deborah Kang.  The INS on the Line: Making Immigration Law on the 
> US-Mexico Border, 1917-1954.  New York  Oxford University Press, 
> 2017.  296 pp.  $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-975743-5.
> Reviewed by Katherine Benton-Cohen (Georgetown University)
> Published on H-LatAm (September, 2019)
> Commissioned by Casey M. Lurtz
> Blurring Legal Lines at the Border
> S. Deborah Kang, an associate professor of history at California 
> State University, San Marcos, understands that two (or more) things 
> can be true at the same time. In _The INS on the Line: Making 
> Immigration Law on the US-Mexico Border, 1917-1954_, Kang 
> demonstrates that the internal and oscillating contradictions of the 
> first half-century of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now 
> part of US Customs and Border Protection) continue to shape border 
> enforcement today. In a laudably brief 180 pages, Kang has created 
> "in the simplest terms ... an institutional history of the INS on the 
> US-Mexico border" (p. 5). Her two main points are, first, that the 
> INS, as an agency often underfunded and treated with profound 
> ambivalence both by the local objects of its rules as well as by the 
> federal bureaucrats who oversaw it, _made _law as well as enforced 
> it; and second, that the INS's mandates and programs were often 
> internally contradictory. By fruitlessly trying to appease both 
> "border hawks" and local employers, the INS simultaneously pursued 
> both border enforcement and leniency toward undocumented immigration. 
> Though these are not entirely new arguments, their rigorous backing 
> in the deep archives of the INS guarantee Kang's book a place on the 
> expanding bookshelf of essential reads on the complex history of the 
> US-Mexico border. Such a close reading reveals remarkable gems like 
> the epitaph with which Kang opens the book, a quotation from an INS 
> district director from 1928: "It was complained that the presence of 
> the Border Patrol in Nogales, Arizona had a discouraging effect upon 
> business and the patrol inspectors have been taken out of the town 
> with instructions to conduct their operations on the outside" (p. 1). 
> And so we see, time and again, the ways that underfunded and 
> overburdened regional bureaucrats responded to local exigencies by 
> making policy in the absence of legislative clarity. Kang's six 
> chapters offer compact case studies of the INS's early years. Chapter 
> 1 examines the World War I era's first guest worker programs and 
> suspension of new rules like the literacy test and passport 
> requirements "sustain[ing] the transnational character of the 
> borderlands for the benefit of local residents" (p. 12). Chapter 2 
> shows the first years of the Border Patrol, whose practices angered 
> reformers from all sides; chapter 3 examines a more aggressive 
> enforcement approach that prompted a reflective reform effort to 
> curtail what even internal critics saw as excessive. Chapter 4 shows 
> the INS in a period of weakness in the 1940s, and then as it sought 
> to gain control over the Bracero Program from other federal agencies, 
> one perverse consequence of which were calls from the Mexican 
> government for stronger enforcement. Chapter 5 explores the internal 
> administrative and cultural changes that resulted from the Bracero 
> Program, as well as its failure to curtail undocumented immigration. 
> Chapter 6 shows the sometimes ironic complexities of the debates and 
> precursors to Operation Wetback in 1954, including Truman-era 
> liberals' role in advocating for a stricter border and immigration 
> enforcement policy even as they tried to dismantle the racist 
> national-origins quotas. Kang's conclusion bravely connects this 
> history to our post-9/11 present, in which the INS is routinely 
> treated as a law-enforcement agency when in reality her book 
> "unsettles this notion" (p. 169) by showing it made law as well as 
> enforced it. 
> _The INS on the Line _complements a few other recent essential 
> volumes, among them works by Rachel St. John, Patrick Ettinger, 
> Julian Lim, and Kelly Lytle Hernández's history of the Border 
> Patrol, _Migra! _(2010). Indeed, Kang uses Lytle Hernández's 
> collection of primary sources housed in UCLA's Chicano Studies 
> Collection. Yet at times I wish Kang had expanded on how her argument 
> differs from and elaborates upon that in _Migra!_ Kang argues that 
> most works on the history of the INS have argued either that it was 
> "weak and ineffectual" or "strong and effective" (p. 3). Yet Lytle 
> Hernández shows the same regional variations and tensions between 
> Washington supervisors and local business leaders. Her_ _points about 
> the internal debates within the Border Patrol and the dissonance 
> between its local practices and federal mandates match in many ways 
> the story Kang tells. Kang focuses more on the sociolegal context and 
> the history of administrative law, but the two books work well 
> together. 
> The book is impeccably researched. It is a delight to find archival 
> documents in footnote after footnote. Kang's main source is, 
> unsurprisingly, the INS's internal files at the National Archives. 
> But to tell the story's local context, Kang plumbed a dozen regional 
> archives as well. The result is a deeply evidenced and convincing 
> story. Kang did the hard work so readers can benefit from her cogent 
> and impressive summary of a complex history. 
> Kang belongs to a remarkable and growing new generation of 
> immigration historians--most of them women--who are currently or 
> formerly engaged in policy debates and advocacy. Most are junior or 
> recently tenured, and some work outside the academy. Among these are 
> Mary Mendoza, Ana Raquel Minian, Maddalena Marinari, Ellen Wu, Anna 
> O. Law, Julia Rose Kraut, Julian Lim, Sarah Coleman, Yael Schacher, 
> Mireya Loza, Ana Elizabeth Rosas, Torrie Hester, and Beth 
> Lew-Williams. Like her peers, Kang's scholarship cannot be divorced 
> from her public work, in talks and social media, on the history and 
> abuses of the INS, as well as her activism, with special attention to 
> undocumented students and victims of sexual harassment in the 
> academy. Drawing on the precedents set by "foremothers" like Mae Ngai 
> and Donna Gabbacia, this generation defies stereotypes about the 
> ivory tower. Yet for some reason, the field of immigration history 
> seems to get little credit for its long history of policy work and 
> activism. I hope this book will reach a broad audience to demonstrate 
> the power of history to understand our maddening present. 
> Citation: Katherine Benton-Cohen. Review of Kang, S. Deborah, _The 
> INS on the Line: Making Immigration Law on the US-Mexico Border, 
> 1917-1954_. H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews. September, 2019.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53313
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.
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