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Vehicle Theft Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Michael V. Miller


An international boundary potentially contributes to criminal activity across a border region in at least two important ways. Where a boundary divides a market by restricting the exchange of goods and people, it can generate illicit crossborder traffic. For example, smuggling and blackmarket networks typically arise when commodities available in one nation are greatly desired, but prohibited or heavily taxed in the other. A boundary also sets jurisdictional authority, and consequently may constrain police responses to local crime by limiting essential investigation or by providing refuge in the other nation for lawbreakers. This is especially true where cultures, laws, and enforcement practices are divergent and intergovernment cooperation is tenuous. Thus, border communities frequently become both contraband staging centers and special havens for not only smugglers, but other criminal offenders.

Although students of the U.S.-Mexico border are well aware of these observations, they have devoted little research attention to the organization of binational crime (Carter 1983). Notable exceptions include Lupsha's (1985) seminal conceptualization of the border underworld, and several studies concerning the smuggling of consumer goods (Miller, T. 1981), illegal Drugs (Craig 1978, 1980), and undocumented workers (Samora 1971, Stoddard 1976). However, the binational context of predatory crimes (violent or property offenses) has been ignored. This article addresses this neglected area by examining the problem of motor vehicle theft in Texas cities adjacent to Mexico.

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