Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Steven W. Bender's "Run for the Border"

Steven W. Bender is Professor of Law at Seattle University School of Law. He is the author of Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination and One Night in America: Robert Kennedy, César Chávez, and the Dream of Dignity.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Run for the Border: Vice and Virtue in U. S.-Mexico Border Crossings, and reported the following:
Run for the Border examines the last 150 years of border crossings in both directions—by immigrant laborers and drug runners headed north, and by fugitives from justice, retirees, tourists, and U.S. corporations headed south. In separating the virtuous motivations for crossing from less compelling and even contemptuous motivations (such as traffickers of methamphetamine headed north and child sex tourists in Mexico), my book argues that Mexican migrant laborers headed north, whether documented or not, are the most meritorious of border crossers given their motivation of survival for themselves and their families. Despite the obsession of U.S. border policy of late with excluding undocumented migrant laborers, the book looks to the rich history of border crossings to argue for a more comprehensive border policy through cross-border cooperation that recognizes our growing addictions to cheap labor and narcotics. As Mexican President Felipe Calderon lamented in 2010, “It’s as if our neighbor were the biggest drug addict in the world.” Page 99 of my book recounts how marijuana and cocaine use became fashionable over recent decades, as drug use became embedded in U.S. culture.

Run for the Border suggests that U.S. policymakers in many instances must accept the reality that whatever is needed or desired by one country will be supplied by the other, despite costly government efforts to the contrary. Most prominent today is the staggering cost in dollars and human lives of the War on Drugs and in restricting immigration from Mexico to numbers below the U.S. demand for cheap, grueling labor in U.S. fields and factories.

Page 99 affirms this fundamental point from the perspective of drug trafficking:
Over time, Mexico’s role in feeding the U.S. drug habit has accelerated due to factors including proximity and the desperation of poverty that breeds illicit economies. Despite the longstanding U.S. war on drugs, it is abundantly clear that the drug trade is gaining or at least holding ground and that government efforts to combat the drug trade are essentially fruitless. The fatal flaw in the U.S. drug enforcement policy is the same for its strategy to regulate immigration—a focus on the Mexican supply side of the border flow rather than on U.S. demand.
Rejecting Mexico’s bloody government crackdown on drug cartels as a colossal misstep that has plunged that country into wrenching violence costing hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives along with cartel members, the book argues for a comprehensive border policy that reduces the bloodshed. Recognizing the value of our reliance on Mexican labor, the book suggests immigration policies consistent with our ongoing labor needs. For illicit drugs, I suggest how a framework of selective decriminalization and strategies to reduce U.S. demand will succeed in contrast to the failed interdiction policies that leave Mexico tormented by drug cartel violence.
Learn more about Run for the Border at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue