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Managed Migrations

Managed Migrations
Growers, Farmworkers, and Border Enforcement in the Twentieth Century

Managed Migrations examines the concurrent development of a border agricultural industry and changing methods of border enforcement in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas during the past century.

Series: Historia USA

November 2018
Active (available)
286 pages | 6 x 9 | 8 b&w photos |

Needed at one moment, scorned at others, Mexican agricultural workers have moved back and forth across the US–Mexico border for the past century. In South Texas, Anglo growers’ dreams of creating a modern agricultural empire depended on continuous access to Mexican workers. While this access was officially regulated by immigration laws and policy promulgated in Washington, DC, in practice the migration of Mexican labor involved daily, on-the-ground negotiations among growers, workers, and the US Border Patrol. In a very real sense, these groups set the parameters of border enforcement policy.

Managed Migrations examines the relationship between immigration laws and policy and the agricultural labor relations of growers and workers in South Texas and El Paso during the 1940s and 1950s. Cristina Salinas argues that immigration law was mainly enacted not in embassies or the halls of Congress but on the ground, as a result of daily decisions by the Border Patrol that growers and workers negotiated and contested. She describes how the INS devised techniques to facilitate high-volume yearly deportations and shows how the agency used these enforcement practices to manage the seasonal agricultural labor migration across the border. Her pioneering research reveals the great extent to which immigration policy was made at the local level, as well as the agency of Mexican farmworkers who managed to maintain their mobility and kinship networks despite the constraints of grower paternalism and enforcement actions by the Border Patrol.


Finalist, 2019 Ramirez Family Award for Most Significant Scholarly Book, Texas Institute of Letters

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. “Where Uncle Sam Meets Mexico”: Narratives of Frontier and Progress in Early Twentieth-Century South Texas
  • Chapter 2. The Social Space of Agriculture
  • Chapter 3. The Flexible Border: Mobility within Restriction in US Immigration Laws and Enforcement
  • Chapter 4. Exploitative Villain or Community Leader? Agricultural Labor Contractors, the State, and Control over Worker Mobility
  • Chapter 5. El Paso/The Passage: The 1948 El Paso Incident and the Politics of Mobility
  • Chapter 6. The High Price of Immigration Politics during the 1950s
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Arlington, Texas

Salinas is an assistant professor of history and a faculty affiliate of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington.


“Cristina Salinas offers an analysis of immigration policy from a bottom-up and granular perspective. This is unique in the field of immigration, in which many studies derive from a top-down dissection of institutions or laws. Her atomization of immigration policy and demolition of easy, universal assumptions about immigration policy are very compelling. They are also much needed in the current political context where misinformation and ignorance of historical fact continue to animate immigration policy.”
Carlos Kevin Blanton, Texas A&M University, author of A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History