Constructing the Criminal Alien: A Historical Framework for Analyzing Border Vigilantes at the Turn of the 21st Century (Working Paper #83)

Kelly Lytle, University of California-San Diego

Abstract: What I want to contribute to this conversation today is to provide a historical framework for the eruption of anti-immigrant vigilante activity along the US-Mexico border at the turn of the 21st-century. Beginning with the South Carolina Regulator Movement of 1767-1769, there have been at least 500 vigilante movements throughout the United States. Like all other vigilante movements, including what’s going on in Arizona today, the South Carolina Regulators were organized in response to a sense among elite community members that there was of a lack of adequate law enforcement. Like the American Border Patrol, Ranch Rescue and the Civilian Homeland Defense, the South Carolina Regulators believed that social order was under attack by crime and chaos. The regulators, therefore, took the law into their own hands to control a very specific criminal threat and disbanded when that criminal threat had been extinguished. This is a pattern that has been played and replayed throughout US history. The border vigilantes are just the newest incarnation of an old theme.

Working Paper #83»