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Immigration and Techniques of Governance in Mexico and the United States: Recalibrating National Narratives through Comparative Immigration Histories


Immigration histories typically endeavor to describe and hold a nation–state accountable not only for the laws and policies by which it admits some immigrants, but also for those by which it refuses, excludes, or deports other immigrants. This article explores immigration to Mexico and to the United States with attention to its implications for the status of persons, and also for the conventional historical narratives in each country. The article focuses on three techniques of governance that each country has engaged in regard to immigration. These techniques include: 1) the assignment of nationality as a singular attribute of personhood; 2) the use of demonstrable and documentable characteristics as criteria of admission; and 3) centralized registration procedures to monitor and control the immigrant population. The techniques are analyzed together because of their concurrent emergence in each country during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The techniques are also complementary. They form a set that, although not unique to the United States and Mexico, nevertheless illustrates parallels and an interplay between the two countries, and, more broadly, illustrates how immigration presents a common predicament across different times, places, and forms of government.

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Samuel Truett and Elliott Young , eds., Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 123

Donna Gabaccia , “Is Everywhere Nowhere? Nomads, Nations, and the Immigrant Paradigm of the United States History,” The Journal of American History 86 (1999): 1116

Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller , “Methodological nationalism and beyond: nation-building, migration, and the social sciences,” Global Networks 2 (2002): 301

Martha C. Nussbaum , “Kant and Stoic Cosmopolitanism,” Journal of Political Philosophy 5 (1997): 125

Steven C. Topik , “When Mexico Had the Blues: A Transatlantic Tale of Bonds, Bankers, and Nationalists, 1862–1910,” The American Historical Review 105 (2000): 714–38

Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp Immigrant Positioning in Twentieth-Century Mexico: Middle Easterners, Foreign Citizens, and Multiculturalism,” Hispanic American Historical Review 86 (2006): 6191

Julia Rodriguez , “South Atlantic Crossings: Fingerprints, Science and the State of the Turn-of-the-Century Argentina,” American Historical Review 109 (2004): 387416, 411

John Mason Hart , Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico since the Civil War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 504

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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