From Operation Wetback to Operation Gatekeeper: Borders, the Border Patrol, and the Making of the California Landscape

10/08/2013 - 12:00
Social Sciences, Room 109

“Operation Wetback” in 1954 is a pivotal moment in U.S. border history.  It exposes the fact that the primary role of the Border Patrol is not policing the border, but instead in conditioning labor.  The border – and the Border Patrol – is, in this sense, a fundamental force in structuring the U.S. political economy, especially agriculture.  Operation Wetback was a politically complex, but basically cynical attempt to diminish Mexican state power vis-à-vis the U.S. at a moment when the bracero “guest worker” program was up for grabs, appease nativist interests in the U.S., disempower and further indenture migrant farm workers, and provide a significant subsidy to U.S., and especially California, growers. 

In this lecture Don Mitchell, Distinguished Professor of Geography from Syracuse University, will delve deeply into Operation Wetback – just what happened and why – and then trace a line, through Operation Gatekeeper, towards the present.  The result will be two-fold: to expose how the border, and border enforcement, has been vital in structuring the California agricultural landscape (and by extension other places and other segments of the political economy) and to expose the structural basis for the hypocrisy that marks contemporary calls for “securing the border” with a new “guest worker” program.

Refreshments will be served. To RSVP for this lecture click here.