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Border Security in Risk Society

Jason Ackleson


This article examines contemporary migration and border controls in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands through the prism of 'risk society,' a theoretical approach that reconceptualizes security and social change. Specifically, it analyzes the interplay between undocumented migration flows, policy reform, and the new 'Smart Border' regulatory regime initiated by the United States to police its frontiers. The events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent focus on possible terrorism across U.S. borders, altered the political equation on migration and other bilateral issues in favor of technologically-oriented border control systems. These systems, along with a potential guest worker program, are seen as a response to the difficult to detect threats inherent in and complicated by risk society; they are designed to facilitate free trade but at the same time screen out terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, illicit drugs, and undocumented migrants. These risks are insecurities introduced, in part, by processes of modernization and globalization themselves. The article concludes by arguing for a cooperative transnational approach to deal with some of the challenges of maintaining border security in risk society.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229