From the Field: Research Examines Legal Border Crossings


Map of the United States/Mexico border
While most of the debate about U.S.-Mexico border security has centered on unauthorized crossings, new UT Dallas research focuses on the experiences of young people who have entered the country legally.
The recent study, which was published online in the academic journal Deviant Behavior, examines narratives of individuals at border ports of entry.
Dr. Alex Piquero, Ashbel Smith Professor of Criminology, and co-authors from Sam Houston State University analyzed responses from 191 college students to open-ended questions about whether they had been treated differently or witnessed others being treated differently at a U.S.-Mexico border checkpoint.
Nearly one-third reported that they had witnessed or personally experienced discrimination based on physical appearance. Other findings included:

  • 14 percent experienced or witnessed discrimination based on language differences.
  • 29 percent experienced or witnessed discrimination based on nationality.
  • 33 percent experienced or witnessed heightened scrutiny, vehicle searches, or being detained or arrested.
  • 38 percent experienced or witnessed rude behavior, harassment, lack of empathy, theft/loss of property or victimization.

The data came from a 2017 random sample of students, 85 percent of whom were Latino, from two Texas public universities. The students said they had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at least once in their lives.
One respondent wrote: “[Officers] looked at every White person’s drivers’ license for a few seconds and gave it back, but to the Mexicans’ they had to take out their passports, their luggage and be searched head to toe.”
The study also documents experiences with secondary inspections.
“There have been several occasions in which my family and I have been taken to a back room [secondary inspection] for additional questioning while crossing the border. The backroom I am referring to has chairs with handcuffs attached, and although I have never personally been handcuffed, I have been made to wait for at least an hour while my documents are checked each time I’ve been taken there,” another student wrote.
Piquero said: “These findings are important because they indicate that some individuals who cross the U.S.-Mexico border at ports of entry witness or experience what they perceive to be discrimination or abuses of power from border officials,” Piquero said. “Efforts to curtail such behaviors would go a long way to building mutual trust and respect between border agents and the people they interact with.”
–Kim Horner

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