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Perpetual Illegality: Results of Border Enforcement and Policies for Mexican Undocumented Migrants in the United States


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Heidy Sarabia, University of California Berkeley, Department of Sociology, 410 Barrows Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720 [e-mail:].


In this paper, I will first discuss the historical development of the Mexican migrant as “illegal.” Second, I will discuss current border control and legalization policies and their effects on the undocumented population in the United States. Finally, reflecting on the effects of previous policies, I will discuss Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's proposed “three-legged stool” and its likely effects on the undocumented population in the United States. I will argue that the current immigration system, and any future proposals that include border enforcement as the primary mechanism to stop undocumented migrants from entering the United States will likely result in the continual perpetuation of an undocumented population of Mexican migrants in the United States. This paper is informed by the ethnographic data collected from July 2009 to August 2010 in the border city of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. During this time at the border, I talked to migrants deported from the United States.