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States of Exception on the Mexico–U.S. Border: Security, “Decisions,” and Civilian Border Patrols



Civilian border patrol groups, like the much publicized Minutemen, who engage in the unofficial and unauthorized patrolling of U.S. borders, have proliferated in recent years. They have received an overwhelming amount of press, both national and international, but have garnered very little scholarly attention. In this article, I explore this phenomenon with an eye toward addressing conceptual and theoretical issues raised by the existence and practices of these groups. Specifically, how do we conceptualize civilian border patrol groups in terms of their relationship to statecraft, identity, and security? Do they have implications for the ways in which sovereignty and the political can be understood? I argue that while Carl Schmitt's theory of the political and the Copenhagen School's securitization theory are useful in attempting to understand and theorize the practices of these groups, the case ultimately points to the need for a reexamination of some of Schmitt's concepts including sovereignty and the political. Evidence from this case suggests that we should not limit our understanding of decisions that result in contemporary manifestations of exceptionalism to those controlled by the state or elites. Rather, decisions can arise in numerous locales and can be made by seemingly insignificant agents. This has implications for how we understand the practices that can lead to exceptionalism as well as how we understand sovereignty and the political.