chapter  16
14 Pages

Policing bodies and borders: Women, prostitution, and the differential regulation of U.S. immigration policy


One of the most compelling areas of concern among women’s rights activists and scholars during the past decade has been that of global human trafficking, especially the practice of sexual exploitation of girls and young women, who have few educational or economic opportunities in their rural towns and villages in poor regions, including those in Russia, other parts of the former Soviet Union, and in Asia. Those women migrate to wealthier regions in search of employment, often through the influence or coercive actions of recruiters from organized networks who mislead them. But while the details differ, this concern is far from new. Government agencies and nonprofit groups in Europe and in the United States mobilized around global trafficking issues at the beginning of the twentieth century, when migration increased in response to economic shifts in both the countries of origin and destination points. A major contemporary issue that concerns human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, has been the murder and disappearance of over 400 young Mexican women along the Cuidad Juárez/El Paso border since 1993, where maquiladoras bring many women who work for U.S.-based manufacturers. Human rights groups have documented the inadequate response of government officials from the U.S. or Mexico to protect these women and solve these cases. As this chapter details, the lack of adequate response to widespread violence against Mexican women along this vital border region also has parallels to the early twentieth century. My research has found that in the first decade of the twentieth century police and immigration officials in Texas border towns had evidence that young Mexican women were being raped after crossing the border and failed to intervene to investigate or prosecute these crimes.1