On the morning of June 15, 1976, the computers and card readers at the El Paso, Texas, port of entry were turned on. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) personnel, previously trained by MITRE Corporation staff, checked that systems were working properly and quickly began inspecting border crossers during the early morning commuter rush. INS inspectors, for example, used a magnetic stripe reader to determine if the I-X51 cards used by border-crossing applicants were indeed valid ones. As all this unfolded, INS Commissioner Leonard F. Chapman Jr. and MITRE Technical Director James J. Croke observed the operation.1 Despite the high volume of border crossers—the El Paso port of entry was, after all, the second-busiest land-border crossing in the United States—this was not a normal morning.2 The port of entry was in the midst of an experiment in the automation of immigration enforcement through the use of a system comprising new resident alien and border crossing cards, computers, databases, communication networks, and human actors.
Testing of the Alien Documentation, Identification and Telecommunication (ADIT) system was the product of an elaborate assemblage of institutions, actors, practices, and artifacts working to produce regimes of connectivity. As a regime, these entities fabricated a specific technological style programmed to govern the boundaries of the US nation. Files, identity documents, and subsequently the automation of immigration control operations instituted a network of connections that sought to administer individuals as data bodies. These regimes of connectivity, first anchored in papers, folders, and data, soon enrolled computing and electronic technologies to manage and administer the boundaries of inclusion/exclusion to the United States. Designed for national use in ports of entry, I argue that the ADIT system was part of a technopolitical assemblage in the exercise of racial and labor control in the borderlands. I detail this assemblage through discourse analysis and an archaeology of media that relies on technical reports, governmental reports, congressional hearings, and newspaper coverage.
This article showcases how the border technopolitical regime of the 1970s emerged through the influence of cybernetic ideas and entanglements between civil, military, academic, and industrial actors. First, I recount the history of alien files and identity documents in the United States, especially INS Forms I-151 (green card) and I-186 (Mexican border crossing card). This history opens the door to an understanding of how actors perpetuated the racial and class politics embedded in these identity documents through the fabrication of ADIT cards. These identity documents highlight how efforts to articulate boundaries of belonging necessarily run against processes that exceed the limits of the national; identity documents are technologies meant to police the international mobility of transnational subjects. This is what Camilla Hawthorne and Jennifer Lynn Kelly call, in their introduction to this special issue, “the transnationalism of bordering.” These documents also set the conditions of possibility for the construction of subjects such as the “undocumented alien.” After discussing the racial technopolitics of identity documents, the article examines how ADIT intensified the association between computational technologies, the management and administration of populations, and data bodies. More fundamentally, it charts how the system was shaped by the growing influence of the “closed world” of cybernetics.3 This relation was not unidirectional but multidirectional and comprised frictions.
ADIT was not just shaped by political imaginaries. It also shaped the horizon of possibility for computing technologies themselves and their associated politics. The ingenuity of Mexican migrants, perhaps better understood as resistances, challenged the effectiveness of US border and immigration agents. The system attempted to order the messiness of immigration control and govern Mexicans imagined as unreliable, “malafide” subjects. Government officials positioned ADIT as capable of removing human error. They thought the system instituted a mode of soft power organized through the cool logics of computing and its processing of data bodies. In other words, ADIT was shaped by a regime of connectivity while it also instituted a regime of connectivity that turned migrants into abstract data assemblages. An analysis of these entangled entities reveals the operationalization of border technopolitics and the place of Latina/o/x bodies in the intensification of surveillance, automation, and algorithmic sovereignty. US borders, then, are not naturally occurring phenomena but infrastructural arrangements with specific political objectives and distinct histories of racist violence.
Drawing Things Together Differently: Critical Ethnic Studies and STS
Racial thinking has informed the US immigration system, drawing boundaries around citizen and noncitizen subjects. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted access to naturalization to “free white persons,” even if public understandings of whiteness were unstable. The Fourteenth Amendment expanded naturalization to include peoples with African ancestry and consequently redrew the racial contours of citizenship.4 Citizenship was, after all, intricately entangled to a white settler national imaginary that divided the population into “white” and “nonwhite” groups. In Nayan Shah’s formulation, “Serving as the political fusion of privilege and identity, national citizenship became a gateway for the distribution of state resources, access to material benefits, and the privileges of political participation.”5 As a result, redefining citizenship was a strategic struggle for many “nonwhite” populations, while for the federal government the onus was on maintaining the boundaries of separation.
As Mae M. Ngai argues, the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924 was the first comprehensive immigration restriction law that “drew a new ethnic and racial map based on new categories and hierarchies of difference” that sought to protect the imagined whiteness of the US nation.6 The emergence of the green card, the subsequent product of a wartime effort to differentiate between seemingly loyal and disloyal noncitizens, shows how the presence of noncitizen populations in public spaces could be monitored. This was especially true for those nonwhite bodies and populations that, regardless of their citizenship status, were imagined as unassimilable foreigners—irremediably presumed to be foreign in the public imaginary. Just like with the inclusion of race in driver’s licenses, the registration of migrants and the subsequent production of the green card helped control migrant mobility. It also regulated their access to labor markets and to resources.
Migrant identity documents in the United States must be understood in relation to the history of another identification document, the driver’s license, and its role in regulating racial mobility. The inclusion of racial and gendered data on driver’s licenses went beyond the identification of individuals and their verification as certified vehicle operators. Cassius Adair shows how, by 1939, it was clear to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that “racial and gendered data collection on identification documents [wa]s not an inherent aspect of regulating individual driver safety but a technique that expand[ed] states’ capacity to determine which types of people [we]re permitted to move through public space.”7 Driver’s licenses were used to control the types of bodies allowed to move in public, especially those bodies that could exert some degree of autonomy and technological mobility. These documents, in conjunction to passports, are examples of what John Torpey identifies as the state’s “monopolization of the legitimate means of movement.”8 State and imperial formations work to regulate the mobility across space of individuals and populations. These formations render people dependent on them for authorization to move even as they afford specific identities with varying degrees of movement.
Scholars have shed light on the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in immigration policy and law, yet there is room to examine the role of artifacts in the co-construction of these domains.9 The works of Alexandra Minna Stern, Celeste Menchaca, and C. J. Alvarez are among a growing body of scholarship tackling how public health, mapping, prisons, and infrastructures impact immigration enforcement.10 An infrastructural and media studies approach to immigration history can help us understand the myriad ways that political objectives were coded into artifacts and how those artifacts shaped human action. While it is true that “the law” is the discourse that governs citizenship and US national culture shapes who is the citizen, as Lisa Lowe argues, the law and culture rely on a material infrastructure to embody them.11 A critical analysis of immigration policy and law requires an engagement with those artifacts that set the conditions of possibility to implement the law.12 Technological artifacts were not inevitable solutions to the problems confronted by actors in policy making and in enforcement. We have to think of these artifacts as co-constituting the same conditions that led to their development. They are not mere addenda but integral entities implicated in delimiting avenues for political action and enframing the world in specific ways.
Meanwhile, there is room in science and technology studies to address how US imperial formations emerged within the United States as a way to manage populations at “home” and “abroad.”13 Of interest to the field is how cybernetics, as a technopolitical formation, and its concomitant artifacts were mobilized to tackle this political goal. Evidence of the transnational qualities of border enforcement, the installation of an “electronic fence” along the US-Mexico border in the 1970s, for instance, forms part of a relatively unknown history of cybernetics in the United States. Though the “fence” was initially designed to police the Vietnamese borderlands, INS and Department of Defense officials identified the US southern borderlands as a propitious site for continued testing and development.14 Technicians and government and military officials imagined Vietnamese combatants and Mexican migrants through the language of “intrusion.” Techniques monitored a targetable subject, the “intruder,” and consequently renamed these combatants and migrants as such. Construed as “intruders” of empire, these populations were vectors of a vast administrative apparatus concerned with drawing boundaries between acceptable/unacceptable subjects. This administrative apparatus was also concerned with the physical management of bodies and the production of a national territory. In this way, US imperial practices moved back and forth across the boundaries of foreignness and the domestic. They did so by carefully targeting an enemy through an expansive technological assemblage.
The ADIT system must be understood in relation to what I call the border technopolitical regime. This concept calls attention to the historical entities involved in governing the material and imaginary boundaries of the US nation. I draw inspiration from Gabrielle Hecht’s “technopolitical regimes”: those associated entities—peoples, ideas, institutions, ways of acting, technological devices, and political goals—that promote a certain style of technological development.15 They are regimes in the sense that, as Hecht says, they are made of people who govern and are informed by ideas that orient how they and the artifacts they produce act upon the world. Regimes also prescribe the kinds of subjects and objects—such as peoples, ideas, artifacts—that can be included in their midst or that should be excluded from them. Central to the border technopolitical regime is the fact that it is an imperial formation. Ann Laura Stoler’s work on imperial formations has taught us they are not bordered nor bounded polities but an assemblage of practices, concepts, and bodies demarcating ambiguous rules and zones of membership. The border technopolitical regime prodigiously produced “specialized lexicons of legal, social, and political terms, concepts, and enduring vocabularies that both innocuously and tenaciously cling[ed] to people, places, and things.”16 The “border” in the technopolitical regime underscores its orientation to produce regularities and exceptions of belonging and expulsion coded in a vast assemblage of artifacts. Said regime spatializes imperial formations as territorialized zones of rule.
Some readers might draw parallels between the border technopolitical regime and the homeland security-industrial complex (HSIC).17 Michael Welch defined the HSIC as a partnership between government and military officials, and private interests in the United States. Together they set the course for state policy around issues of national security and public safety. The complex emerged in “response to growing concern and anxiety over the threat of terrorism” after 9/11/2001.18 Those involved in the operations of the complex include border wall contractors, surveillance contractors, private detention center operators, and the Border Patrol.19
I argue that the HSIC can actually be understood as the product of the border technopolitical regime—while the HSIC is a post-9/11/2001 political formation, the border technopolitical regime helps us understand the longer historical processes associated with border making in the United States. Engagement with the metaphor of a “regime” also releases the concept from privileging the political economy, a major methodological impulse and limitation in studies of the HSIC. Consequently, the border technopolitical regime elucidates how government and military officials, technicians, and the broader public engage ideas, technological artifacts, and institutions. The association between these different entities brought forth the making of subjects and objects of knowledge, of sociopolitical visions, and of infrastructural and economic arrangements for the defense of the US nation.
Alien Files and Identifications
As war wreaked havoc across the cities of Europe in the summer of 1940, the US federal government underwent a plan to register all aliens within its national territories. The plan emerged, the New York Times stated in an editorial, “after fear of fifth columns spread throughout the world.” It would help “ferret out spies and saboteurs—few in numbers, it is thought, but important—among the nation’s aliens.”20 The Alien Registration Act of 1940 was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on June 28, 1940, and the registration program was set to take place from September to December 1940.21 Every noncitizen within US territory had to go to a post office to register, answer a series of questions, and submit their fingerprints. Subsequently, every noncitizen entering the country would also register as part of the immigration inspection process.22 The registration form contained fifteen primary and twenty-seven secondary questions that were simple enough to be translated into foreign languages. The goal, according to Donald R. Perry, director of the Alien Registration Division for the US Department of Justice, was “to know as much as possible about each alien in the country.” Some of the information provided by noncitizens included their name, age, sex, date and place of birth, occupation, marital status, date, place and manner of entry into the United States, military experience, and affiliations, among other data.23 In the end, close to five million noncitizens submitted to the registration regime of the US government.
The Alien Registration Act of 1940 was the foundation for producing and ensuring the proliferation of “alien files,” subsequently called A-files. These were the records for each person who had registered since 1940. They contained the person’s name, alien registration number, and other data. A-files were used by immigration inspectors during their enforcement efforts at ports of entry or in deportation procedures. These files generated a type of law in which the inscription of things and beings were bound together in the exercise of sovereignty.24 Alien subjects were produced through the inscription, storage, and transmission of data bodies. Initially, people were not monitored as individuals but as series of preconfigured classificatory criteria that could be assembled subsequently for their targeting. Alien data bodies came forth with the production of A-files, and A-files made it possible to treat specific alien bodies as objectives. The existence of these bodies, then, was brought further into the fold of immigration enforcement efforts designed to control their differential inclusion.
The history of A-files is associated with the construction and management of an enemy of the nation or, at the very least, a prospective enemy. Legislation for registering aliens in the United States came to fruition in the context of a global war against fascism. Japanese, German, and Italian populations in the United States were stigmatized during the course of the war, though the Japanese suffered the brunt of the government’s violence when President Roosevelt, in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, signed the order to remove Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese descent from their West Coast homes to intern them in concentration camps across the country.25 President Roosevelt explained the registration effort as “a program designed not only for the protection of the country but also for the protection of the loyal aliens who are its guests.”26 Similar language was used by Francis Biddle, the US solicitor general, who proclaimed his support for the law on the grounds that it was “designed to protect loyal noncitizens and combat disloyalty.”27 Biddle promised to apprehend those “foreigners who are disloyal to America, who do not wish to accept our ways and who use our freedom of speech and of the press to foment disunity and sedition.” “Loyal American aliens,” a concept developed to talk about some noncitizens, ought not to be “unjustly condemned for the disloyal behavior of a few. Registration,” Biddle concluded, “will be their protection from prosecution.” Ngai has shown how, during this period, Japanese and Japanese Americans held in internment camps were submitted to rehabilitative activities that included loyalty questionnaires, segregation, and renunciation of citizenship as measures of trustworthiness.28 To prove their fealty to the United States, noncitizens had to submit to the piercing and disciplining gaze of the state. Not doing so was grounds for being characterized as “enemy aliens” or “fifth-columns” fomenting disunity.29 The administration of Japanese and Japanese Americans highlights the tight relationship between racial imaginaries, immigration, and the boundaries between citizens/noncitizens. Said differently, when scrutinizing imperial formations, the national was clearly traversed by the transnational.
One of the lasting impacts of the Alien Registration Act of 1940 was in the production of identification cards. In subsequent years, INS began issuing alien registration cards to differentiate between admission statuses. Examples of these new cards are Form I-94c for nonimmigrant visitors and Form I-100a for temporary laborers. Taken together, all these cards were issued as measures to document the lawful claims of noncitizens to be in US territory. But perhaps the most widely recognized alien registration document spurred by the Act was Form I-151, also known as the green card or Alien Registration Receipt Card. Form I-151 was a visa residence permit, and it also allowed migrants to travel abroad for less than a year. Aliens applied for permanent residence by submitting Form 256a, which was assessed by INS. If approved, admission data collected in 256a were transferred into a new identification, the green card, which included a photograph of the applicant. The original form was sent to INS Central Office as part of the alien’s permanent record and as a way to validate the circulation of the newly issued green card.30 The card included the cardholder’s name, sex, age, their “A” number (which linked the card to its A-file in INS Central Office), the date and place of entry, and a photograph. The green card was thus an instrument within a larger system that recorded, stored, and circulated biographical and biometric data.
As a state document, the green card purported to assign validity to the right of some foreign nationals to move across borders, and live and work within US national territory. The card was also evidence that its holder had dutifully registered with the government as required by the 1940 law.31 Requirements for admission for permanent residency varied according to existing immigration legislation and policies. An applicant had to obtain a labor certification stating that their “presence would not adversely affect U.S. workers’ wages.”32 And after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965, family members could bypass the labor certification through the family preference system and gain access to permanent residence status. Via Form I-151, cardholders demonstrated they were to be trusted—that they were reliable foreign subjects of the nation-state and did not pose a threat to “American” workers.33 After a period fluctuating from three to five years, cardholders were also eligible for naturalization or US citizenship. The green card, then, legitimated the physical presence and mobility of its holder even as it worked as a threshold to further social integration—it policed the symbolic movement from being an alien citizen to becoming a citizen.
Another identification document that helped demonstrate the holder’s trustworthiness was Form I-186, or the Mexican border crossing card. Mexican nationals applied to INS for Form I-186 so that they could be admitted to the United States from a contiguous territory without the need for a passport or visa. Holders of the Mexican border crossing card were allowed to enter the United States for a period of no more than seventy-two hours and to travel within twenty-five miles of the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas. The cards were issued for life, and the idea behind them was to afford Mexican nonimmigrant visitors access to businesses to buy goods or to family and friends. It was critical that Mexicans with Form I-186 were not allowed to work—the card stated: “bearer may not be employed in the U.S.”34 Other information on the card included the holder’s name, date of birth, sex, address, place and date of issue, card number, a photograph, and sometimes an expiration date. A similar border crossing card existed for Canadian citizens and British citizens residing in Canada (Form I-185) wishing to travel to the United States from contiguous territory. Striking differences between Forms I-186 and I-185 were that, in the late 1970s, the latter had no time restriction and its holders were not territorially tethered to 25 miles from the international border.35 In fact, an INS manual published in 1961 for law enforcement agents in the United States stated, “most Canadian visitors . . . are admitted without documents.”36 While both cards stressed that their holders were not authorized to work in US territory, their differences betray a keen interest in tightening the racialized and classed transnational control of Mexican bodies.
Forms I-151 and I-186 were issued to generate the means to control the movements of individuals and regulate their participation in US markets. They were racialized techniques of class governance. On one hand, holders of the green card were identified as legitimate sources of labor and loyal resident aliens. Any resident alien attempting to work without an I-151 or some other work authorization would be in violation of the law. Despite multiple failed congressional attempts to hold employers equally responsible for hiring unauthorized migrants, responsibility in the 1970s was exclusively the domain of migrants.37 And valid or false green cards were among the few vehicles for aliens to gain access to the US labor market. On the other hand, Form I-186 was meant as a technique to monitor Mexican border crossers, guarantee their role as consumers of US retail and goods, and prohibit their unauthorized labor. The card also allowed its holders to establish or maintain social relations with people in US territory.
Writing about economic and community practices in the borderlands, Julian Samora noted in 1971 how “a rather large population exists in the Mexican twin city [of Mexicali] and the U.S. border city [of Calexico] is generally dependent on the Mexican twin city for its economic existence, based on retail sales to Mexican nationals.”38 The Mexican border crossing card granted Mexicans access to commodity markets on the US side of the border while, hypothetically, tethering them to the international boundary through its mileage limitations. They were, as the inscription on the card stipulated, prohibited from working in the United States. Yet, as historian Michael D. Aguirre has shown, Mexican laborers creatively mobilized I-186 to venture well beyond its strict mileage limits, avoid capture by the Border Patrol, and secure temporary agricultural work.39
Control, in the case of both of these cards, rose from linking specific people to their identification documents, which were simultaneously bound to a migration database. INS inspectors could corroborate an applicant’s identity by matching it to the data on the card and in their system. Rather than relying on an ocular assessment of border applicants, an individual’s identity was embedded in a plastic card that pulled together biographic and biometric data. Yet problems persisted in successfully controlling migrant populations.
Among the problems with the green card was that every time a card design was compromised by forgers, a new security feature was added but old versions continued to circulate. By the 1970s, seventeen versions of the card were in circulation. According to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report, it was during this period that INS began to consider issuing a new card to substitute all previous ones. Their reasoning was that cards were produced at over 250 different ports of entry and district offices, which led to a lack of consistency in and reliability on their security features.40 The circulation of different versions of the green card made it harder for INS officials to accurately verify their validity. In its guide for immigration inspectors (see figure 1), INS included a diagram to orient how green cards had to be assessed. For each entry there were visual checkpoints that inspectors could identify as valid ones. In a version from 1946, the card had an “elliptical background (generally printed vertically)” with a “border line [that] meets at all corners on both sides [and a] vertical line between photo area and legend [that] does not touch border lines.”41 Inspectors were required to memorize these different visual checkpoints and they had to identify them quickly to keep the inspection line moving speedily. The propensity toward technological failure and human error—made plain by the sheer messiness of seventeen green cards with different security features—reveals how the federal government struggled to produce and govern the border. GAO concluded that, for INS, standardizing the design, production, and issuance of green cards would minimize the falsification of the cards. The Service contracted the MITRE Corporation in late 1973 to “define the conceptual requirements for equipment and procedures that could prevent the use of altered and counterfeit entry documents and to detect impostors.”42 In 1974, MITRE, the offshoot of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory that was devoted to Air Force research, began to develop such a system.
These attempts to standardize systems of documentation were complicated by the elimination of the guest worker Bracero Program after twenty years (1942–64) and passage of the INA in 1965. Throughout its existence, the Bracero Program had facilitated periodical and circular Mexican migrations determined in large part by agricultural and industrial needs in the United States. Nearly two million workers participated in the program during its existence.43 And yet, as De Genova argues, “the Bracero years were distinguished not only by expanded legal migration through contract labor, but also the federal facilitation of undocumented migration and the provision of ample opportunities for legalization, simultaneously coupled with considerable repression and mass deportations.”44 The migrant worker program afforded the creation of enormous, circular population flows that were governed through varied conceptual categories—the legal/illegal alien, the documented/undocumented migrant.
These conditions were further complicated when the INA expanded the quota system to include the American hemisphere. Mexico was only allocated twenty thousand slots for permanent resident alien applications—twenty thousand prospective green card holders for a Mexican migrant population that far exceeded those numbers. As Aguirre explains, “During the last year of the Bracero Program (1964), there were 177,736 participants, with at least 62,000 braceros in California alone.”45 The numerical restriction imposed on Mexican migration helped produce Mexican/migrant “illegality.”46 This is the context for the green card’s importance in the technopolitical creation of the documented/undocumented migrant and INS efforts to tackle falsified documents.
“Malafides” and Controversies over Documentation
The way that INS addressed the problem of falsified documents was through attention to information. Edgar Niebuhr, assistant chief of the Border Patrol in 1960, held that INS officials struggled to scrutinize citizen/noncitizen entries and exits across its ports of entry. Niebuhr thought that information, especially accurate information, was “the best possible weapon” to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate claims to US citizenship.47 Information for Niebuhr meant data, such as name and date of birth, tethered to a variety of government records like Mexican birth or baptismal certificates. The connection between data elements and documents helped immigration officials gain a better understanding of the border-crossing subject. Their judgment was of consequence because entrants claiming US citizenship could avoid the tougher scrutiny saved for foreign visitors.48 According to Niebuhr, Mexicans constituted the chief menace in false claims to US citizenship with the INS detecting over 1,100 cases per year. These “false claims” were based on either verbal declarations without documentation or verbal statements with false documentation. Citizenship in this instance was bound to the media materiality afforded by birth certificates or driver’s licenses. The problem, in other words, was not just of falsified documents but also of how these could be depended upon for reliable identification. And so, Niebuhr told his readers, INS became interested in developing methods for identifying valid and invalid documents, and for providing information to investigators.
The Fraudulent Document Laboratory in El Paso, Texas, created in 1958, was the testing ground where “false claims to American citizenship by Mexican aliens” were gauged by compiling and indexing their fraudulent documents.49 Exclusively targeting Mexicans meant that, as a population, they were marked as inherently untrustworthy, bent on falsely gaining entry to the nation. Zeroing on Mexicans was also a recognition, by actors of the border technopolitical regime, that these migrants had found ways to avoid detection or capture, and therefore resisted the operations of said regime. To work against their practices of obfuscation, according to the Office of Planning and Evaluation, INS produced an “illegal alien” profile: a single, male or female subject between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five who came from a “developing” country—particularly from South and Central America, though Mexico was the main target country—with exceptions made for the “obviously affluent, professional, [or] student.”50 The border was treated as a space where an information struggle unfolded between unreliable, illegal actors and their obfuscation of the feedback mechanisms of the nation. Those control instruments that regulated and ordered the inputs and outputs of the national territory were confused by false messages (embedded in documents). Standardizing information inputs and management became two of the technopolitical goals of INS officials throughout the 1960s and 1970s.51 They thought that by determining media conditions—the type of material documentation required from foreign subjects—they would be afforded a higher degree of control. Seamlessly connecting information across identifications, immigration records, and alien files came to stand as the objective of a modern INS operation. In the words of the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Enforcement, “effective law enforcement requires a rapid, accurate, and smooth-flowing communications system for transmitting information and messages to the office responsible for taking action.”52 This is how automation, through the use of computers, databases, and electronic devices, became a key technique in the security of the nation.
And yet INS lacked a coherent national strategy for the integration of automation and computer technologies throughout the 1960s. Attempts at controlling the media conditions for citizenship and for being within the United States, such as the Fraudulent Document Laboratory in El Paso, were responses to local or regional problems instead of being part of a national policy or institutional program.53 During an oral history interview devoted to his work at INS, former New York District Director Charles C. Sava spoke about how local practices were not integrated into a national strategy and policy. He highlighted how management practices in the Service tended to be made “without as much study” before the arrival of General Leonard F. Chapman Jr. as INS Commissioner in 1973.54 According to Sava, for example, Chapman wanted INS projects to be “fully staffed”—coordinated across departmental programs—so as to make sure all possible angles for action and collaboration were covered. This became feasible, in part, after a complete reorganization of INS programs, offices, and personnel, among which was the creation of the Office of Planning and Evaluation (P&E) in January 1974. Immigration historians such as Daniel Tichenor have come to understand Chapman as someone who “worked hard to create a sense of urgency about illegal immigration” by encouraging a media narrative about “illegal immigrants” constituting a “vast and silent invasion.”55 Chapman, Tichenor argues, did this so that he could justify big increases to the INS budget. I contend, however, that his xenophobic discourse should be understood in relation to his role as a so-called modernizer of the Service. According to the INS Reporter and the US press, Chapman was brought to head INS for his experience in overseeing the development and integration of computers and other information-processing machines in the US Marines. Consequently, as INS Commissioner, he was supposed to hold the reins in the automation of immigration control.
One of the first major projects of Chapman’s newly created Office of P&E was to conduct a study of fraudulent entrants to the United States. Conducted from September 1975 to February 1976, the Fraudulent Entrants Study (FES) comprised four teams of immigration inspectors that executed inspection operations in ten major international airports and at twelve of the largest ports of entry along the southern land border. They only took part in primary inspection, which meant that they questioned individuals upon arrival as to their origin and intentions. Inspectors also examined the documents visitors carried. Though the study was conducted at airports and southern land ports of entry, the major impetus at INS was to control Mexican border crossers. The FES defined malafide entrants as those who attempted to use counterfeit and altered I-151 and I-186 cards, or those who falsely claimed US citizenship.
Because INS officials conducted the study mainly at southern ports of entry, there were no examples of malafide uses of Canadian border crossing cards. These officials perpetuated a skewed vision of the southern border as a site of criminality.56 Similar to the “electronic fence” experiments of the early 1970s, which were conducted mostly along the southern border, the FES excluded Canadians as malafide entrants and zeroed in on Mexicans and other Latina/o/xs. The study produced a profile of malafide entrants based on data analysis: men were more likely to use counterfeit or altered documents or document false claims to US citizenship; women were more likely to be impostors by offering false verbal claims to US citizenship or to misuse a valid document—like entering the United States with a border crossing card with the intent to work. And 52 percent of identified malafide applicants were between the ages of twenty and thirty-five.57 In summary, the results of the study seemed to corroborate INS’s “illegal alien” profile. It helped create a geographical and demographic association between malafide entrants and the predominantly Mexican populations along the southern border.
In his idea paper on the ADIT program, David North proposed that, because I-186 was “the most abused U.S.-government-issued identification document encountered by INS in the Southwest,” INS had to better understand how this identification was used—by whom and for what purposes. “Clearly,” he concluded, “the new border crossing cards should be issued only to those who appear to be qualified for them and unlikely to abuse them.”58 Immigration officials would have to execute judgment decisions as to who “appear[ed] to be qualified,” who seemed reasonably reliable. The INS “illegal alien” and “malafide” profiles offered ways to make such judgments.
The Fraudulent Entrants Study was hyperfocused on the US southern borderlands, treating it as a space of impending criminality. Through either the insistent public interventions of INS Commissioner Chapman calling for the control of the “silent [alien] invasion” or newspaper coverage using the coded language of criminality and unfair labor competition to construe unauthorized migration as a Mexican “problem,” the people attempting to cross the southern border were singled out as deviant.59 Southern border crossers, mostly Mexican, were imagined as untrustworthy, malafide subjects for their supposed propensity to commit fraud. Therefore, INS, and later on, the MITRE Corporation, argued there ought to be a concerted effort to police their behavior. One way to do so was through the centralized production of so-called fraud-proof identification documents. What Simone Browne calls racializing surveillance materialized here in the ways that identification documents sought to organize the practices, policies, and performances of border crossing. These documents produced norms that reified, as Browne argues, “boundaries, borders, and bodies along racial lines, and where the outcome [wa]s often discriminatory treatment of those who [we]re negatively racialized by such surveillance.”60 Surely, green cards affected a broad immigrant resident population but the targets of the new identification documents were those Latina/o/x populations of the southern borderlands imagined as transgressive.
Controversies over documentation and the trustworthiness of Latina/o/xs suggest that citizenship was a contested technopolitical domain. By placing the green card and the I-186 in relation to the history of alien files and identity documents in the United States, we can begin to understand how political objectives were produced and reproduced over time. We can also grasp the concrete practices through which the border technopolitical regime sought to manage racialized populations. The green card in particular was a bureaucratic instrument that indexed the boundaries of enmity, which were the result of the card’s association to the Alien Registration Act and its concomitant A-files. The green card and the Mexican border crossing card need to be understood by scholars in ethnic studies and STS as operationalizing the management and administration of racial and national identities to be excluded/included. In documenting the national origins of aliens, these cards simultaneously included those populations imagined to be loyal to the US nation and excluded those supposedly prone to disloyalty, those capable of being “malafide” subjects. The former were rewarded with the right to live and work, while the latter merited suspicion and removal. Taking their “illegal alien” profile and their “malafide” targets into account, INS chose the city of El Paso, Texas to test their new identification system.
Regimes of Connectivity: An Experiment on (Alien) Data Bodies
El Paso has historically been a fundamental site for experiments in immigration and border enforcement. The city was the home of the Border Patrol Academy—established in 1934 to train recruits. The city was also the founding site of the Fraudulent Document Laboratory in 1958. In 1970, El Paso was used as an experimental area with the installation of ground sensors for the “electronic fence” along its Mexican border. And in 1974, the city saw the creation of an intelligence center led by the Drug Enforcement Agency (known as the El Paso Intelligence Center, or EPIC).61 Toward the end of fiscal year 1974, two years prior to the interim operational capability (IOC) tests, the four different ports of entry in El Paso witnessed over forty-one million citizen and noncitizen border crossings. The Bridge of the Americas and the Paso del Norte Bridge alone accounted for more than thirty-eight million of these.62 The city of El Paso was primed as an experimental zone for modes of governance built through regimes of connectivity that differentially defined the boundaries of exclusion/inclusion to the nation.
When INS Commissioner Chapman visited one of El Paso’s ports of entry, he participated in the whole identification system by getting his very own identity documents: an I-X51 and an I-178. The former was read by an optical character recognition (OCR) wand and the latter was processed by a magnetic stripe reader. According to Ramon Alan, a MITRE official, the demonstration overseen by Chapman was a success because it showed that “machine reading” the new identification cards was possible and that INS field personnel could handle the equipment. Card criteria established in December 1974 dictated that INS pursue the production of a card that would be counterfeit proof, impostor proof, different from the last nineteen designs, have a ten-year usage life, and be the size of a bank card.63 Among the biggest challenges for the mass production of the new card were requirements that it combine fingerprint, signature, and portrait of the cardholder. It also had to integrate substantial improvements in anticounterfeit/impostor characteristics independent of validating equipment.
The ADIT system comprised a variety of technologies that, together, would eradicate the problem of fraudulent identification cards. The identification card was linked to an immigrant’s A-file. Information on the file was accessed when the migrant applied for the card but also when the card was used at a port of entry. A-file data were stored on databases at the port of entry and at the INS main office, and the data were accessed through computer networks that helped legitimize the card and, by extension, the border crossing migrant. The system relied on materials, hardware, and expert knowledge from a variety of companies that, in addition to MITRE, included IBM, Data General, Polaroid, Dek/Elektro, Idata, and Laminex.
Similar to some of its peer nonprofit institutions, like the RAND Corporation and the Institute for Defense Analyses, the MITRE Corporation came out of the growing synergy between the military, academic, and industrial sectors in the mid-twentieth-century United States. Founded as a federally funded research center in 1958, MITRE sought to help clients, especially the US Air Force, to acquire new systems. Most of its workers initially worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, where they conducted cutting-edge research on cybernetics and systems under the stewardship of Jay W. Forrester.64 As the Vietnam War agitated public opposition to military ventures, public funding from the Department of Defense began to dwindle in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This led MITRE to diversify and pursue activities in the civilian sector.65 Collaborations between MITRE and INS signaled a shift in how the Service integrated technology by pulling together actors from the military, industry, and the academy. Relations between these different sectors, with varied national and transnational commitments, is further evidence that border enforcement, as this special issue illustrates, needs to be considered globally. These collaborations were pivotal for the US border technopolitical regime and its deliberate focus on alien bodies.
A description of the application process for the new ADIT card shows its tight connection to managing the alien body. For the experimental test in El Paso, INS preselected those migrants who crossed the border more than six times every ten days and consistently between seven o’clock and nine o’clock in the morning—reflecting a clear intent to monitor transboundary workers. Chosen applicants had an immigration inspector check their A-file, and after information was corroborated, a so-called data-capture process began (see figure 2). This included collecting biographical data of the applicant on a form, capturing the applicant’s fingerprint and signature on the form and on the card’s insert, recording the applicant’s height, and having a MITRE photographer take a picture of the applicant.66 As the applicant moved from station to station, their bodies and identity were transformed into categorizable data. The card itself contained the picture taken by the photographer, with camera, photo paper, lighting, and subject-camera distance strictly controlled. It also contained the migrant’s name, date of birth, date of admission, card number, and A-number. However, data were not clearly named on the card and required an automated technology that could verify it. Standardization was further achieved by centralizing the manufacture of the alien identification card to a single government facility in El Paso that would supply all ports of entry and INS offices. The rationalizing maneuvers of biopolitics were embodied by the careful process through which bodies were made legible and artifacts came to embody the inclusion/exclusion dynamics of borders.
The ADIT system was a technology of connectivity grounded in the sovereign order instituted by files. According to Cornelia Vismann, there is a tight coshaping between files and the law. Files, she argues, “are the basis for legal work. Their validity resides in their truth value and their everyday operations.” No amount of legal work and legislative effort can arise out of thin air. Files, particularly in the project of Western modernity, function as reservoirs of sovereign power. “They lay the groundwork for the validity of the law” by making what, “historically speaking, stands before the law.”67 Green cards, Form I-186, and ADIT identifications connected data points associated with particular migrant bodies to immigration forms in alien files. They were, in other words, components in an infrastructure of communication flows. In tying together these different components, this body-data-identification-form-file infrastructure established relationships of power. And these relationships sought to make each constitutive component legible only in reference to the other. The whole system operated through chains of referentiality whose authority stemmed from its capacity to point, to index. In automating this system of referentiality or connectivity, INS and MITRE started to transform how sovereign power was executed.
To bring human error under control, MITRE proposed the use of magnetic stripes and OCR technology to automate card validation. The mag stripe would be encoded with data from the front of the card, which it corroborated. Any discrepancies between the two meant the card was fraudulent. But because INS could not install mag stripe readers in all of its ports of entry, the stripe was eliminated from subsequent card designs. OCR technology, on the other hand, was kept. Lisa Gitelman defines OCR as the process by which “‘the algorithmic eyes of’ scanning technology effectively identify the shapes of characters, ‘seeing’ them as patterns of yes/no variables that can together be ‘recognized’ (that is, processed) as alphanumeric characters.”68 In the context of the ADIT system cards, the use of OCR technology sought to turn opaque border crossers into categorizable subjects. Data from a migrant’s registration forms were reconfigured numerically to obfuscate their meaning (see figure 3). OCR technology revealed the card’s hidden data, thereby validating its reliability and, by extension, the trustworthiness of its holder. Augmenting the discernable qualities of the immigration inspector, the ADIT system promised the cool, soft power of computing. Human error was imagined to be eradicated through the operation of a machine assemblage that determined if a border crosser could be trusted or, in the language of the Alien Registration Act, could be deemed a loyal noncitizen.
Similarly, the OCR process of identifying “the shapes of characters,” of “‘seeing’ them as patterns” resonated with the ways that INS had established a profile of the “illegal immigrant.” INS produced the profile by identifying data patterns that marked Latina/o/xs as the government’s primary targets. Data patterns speak to the aim of articulating objective descriptions or, in this instance, what Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison call mechanical objectivity. The ADIT system sought “to eliminate the mediating presence of the observer” by privileging machines and their freedom from will—“from the willful interventions that had come to be seen as the most dangerous aspects of subjectivity.”69 Though human labor was embedded in the automatic nonhuman operation of OCR, the more-than-human propensity for error was imagined to be eradicated by the encoding of human bodies into data patterns and the supposedly flawless operation of standardized identifications and electronic technology. However, these techniques were traversed by the same issues confronted by other biometric technologies. Even when actors imagined them as stable, these technologies are in fact dependent upon practices of inscription that are inherently complex, contingent, and tenuous at best.70
Standardizing identifications in the United States has a long history, one linked to the bureaucratic impetus to produce an identity that can be documented and policed. US government officials saw identity documents as affording them the capacity to objectively identify individuals and remove their own fallibility. When reading the body and personal appearance were understood as dubious tasks, encumbered by duplicitous actors, identity documents aided government officials in producing an objective identification. Tracing the history of the US passport, Craig Robertson demonstrates that identification practices were imagined to produce identity as an objective set of information. The passport, as identity document or method of identification, served “the purpose of enforcing and policing new policies and laws intended to secure and protect the nation.”71 Green cards, Form I-186, and the identity cards in the ADIT system participated in this history. Identity was articulated through what Robertson calls “a documentary regime of verification,” a set of practices, discourses, and artifacts that produced identities.72 In the case of ADIT, this regime was also bound to technologies of connectivity that could remove or at least diminish the human labor involved in validating data inputs and in producing data outputs. Technologies of connectivity attempted to turn the border crossing process into an almost nonhuman, discreet one (see figure 4), thereby accelerating data validation. Is this identity card and its associated alien body reliable? Yes or no. Should they be barred from entry? Yes or no. US immigration inspectors armed with computing systems confronted the racialized “malafide” threat armed with information-processing systems.
A shift unfolded in the mid-twentieth century around what kinds of data would be imagined as legitimate in a growing field of data points. How to make sense of abundant data, Orit Halpern contends, became a critical concern for planners, social scientists, and designers. Officials at INS were equally concerned—by the proliferation of files, records, and alien bodies.73 “Information was redefined as apprehension; a measure not of content but of the way the observer would process data.”74 The method of examination was key here. As Niebuhr told readers of I and N Reporter, when it came to Mexican false claims to US citizenship, “information about the correct identity or alien age of a well-established false claimant must be supported by documentary evidence of alienage.”75 Claims to objectivity in the production of knowledge began being framed by computer code. Data on computer screens, connected to files elsewhere, were slowly positioned as the foundations for reliable knowledge. By scanning the I-X51 with the OCR wand, data input led to data output portrayed on a small screen. It communicated the validation or invalidation of the identity document and, by extension, of the alien body standing in front of the immigration inspector. Paper files stored on far removed databases slowed immigration processing at ports of entry. Fraudulent identity documents, detached from corroborating files, fooled some inspectors. But a regime of connectivity—of OCR technology, identity documents automatically validated by machines, data stored in remote archives accessed by computers—brought the illusion of control and mastery to expanding data environments and so-called alien silent invasions. The automation of the documentation verification regime—a vast system of interconnected media—brought forth the vision that those attempting surreptitious or duplicitous entry would be exposed and captured.
INS embarked on a project to automate its alien identification system long before digital platforms like Google, Twitter, and Facebook captured, sorted, and stored data from its users. It did so even longer than Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sought to collaborate with the likes of Palantir, IBM, Thomson Reuters, LexisNexis, and others in using said data to identify deportable subjects.76 Today’s automated systems of identification were made possible by INS’s regimes of connectivity. The 1970s ADIT system was designed to mobilize computers, magnetic stripes, biometric data, and immigration inspectors in its effort to automate immigration control. Bodies and data were to be linked in an effortless system to remove human error from determining who was meant for inclusion or exclusion from the US nation. Of main concern was controlling Latina/o/xs migrating across the southern borderlands. In policing transborder racialized data bodies, ADIT was an experiment in the development of what now are common technologies of control—of growing transnational, digital imperial formations.
There is much we can learn from examining the co-construction of technologies, politics, and agency. The emergence of a particular border technopolitical regime in the mid-twentieth century highlights how current racialized and classed exclusions cannot be reduced to products of individual insidious actors. Instead, such exclusions are embedded in sociotechnical systems historically developed to produce the border and consequently to demarcate the boundaries of the nation. These systems are not operating transparently, merely channeling the will of actors. They are the products of a wide array of actors, desires, and techniques. They are shaping human behavior by leading actors down certain pathways of action and instituting specific relations—from treating border crossers as “malafides” and data patterns to imagining the neat elimination of human fallibility through automation. The regimes of connectivity instituted by files, alien data, and automated technologies transformed human bodies and their histories into quantifiable, abstract entities to be administered and controlled. Border crossers were no longer just a who but a what, an indexical figure, a target, and a threat. This is not the history of invisible media; this is the material history of migration infrastructures made up of bodies, wires, circuit boards, techniques, detention facilities, and imaginaries. This is the scrutiny of the border technopolitical regime.
Contemporary debates about migration in the United States are often informed by the media infrastructures that produce the “border.” From Donald Trump’s and his followers’ fetish of a border “wall” to public conversations around “undocumented” migration, it seems impossible to hail the nation without reference to border-making artifacts. These artifacts materialize migration law and as a result are their embodiment. Interrogating their functions, designs, and uses helps make plain how migrant media are embedded with specific political imaginaries and investments in regulating the boundaries between citizen and noncitizen, which are entangled with raced and classed projects. Identity documents, linked to files and immigration records, are technologies designed to verify the reliability of their holders. As a result, these technologies produce governable subjects—both the documented alien and the undocumented alien. The green card and the Mexican border crossing card were attempts to make certain kinds of laboring bodies legible to capital and the state. Those with the ability to acquire a green card were read as desirable labor, while those limited to crossing the international boundary line to reconnect with kin or to consume were read as transient, undesirable labor. Their participation in the consumer market was their only saving grace.
In attempting to institute a regime of connectivity linking alien bodies, biographic and biometric data, identity documents, and immigration records and files, INS helped prop up a border technopolitical regime. The legacy of the ADIT system cannot be measured only through the adoption of automated techniques in the validation of identity documents today. It must also account for the ways that ADIT helped perpetuate the unjust and systematic targeting of racialized populations to be excluded from the nation. This is the kind of racist state violence Hawthorne and Kelly invite us to interrogate across a range of contexts. The study of the border technopolitical regime as an imperial formation producing subjects of governance and ungovernable subjects—those imagined as “malafides”—opens lines of contestation that allow us to challenge the vast assemblage of economic interests and political imaginaries, as well as their materialities. The regime of connectivity instituted by the ADIT system endures today, buttressed by a network of prisons and research and development partners. But most importantly, it perpetuates an imperial ethos in the production of exceptions meant to govern against the most precarious. These exceptions reproduce the precarity that is bound to the condition of being treated as an enemy of the nation.
Iván Chaar López is an assistant professor of digital studies in the Department of American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. There he leads the Border Tech Lab, which studies a variety of knowledge communities involved in the fabrication of digital artifacts, politics, and forms of living. He is especially interested in the place of Latina/o/xs as targets, users, and developers of digital lifeworlds. Chaar López is currently working on a book about the intersecting histories of electronic technology, unmanned aerial systems, and boundary making along the US-Mexico border.
Ramon Alan, Alien Documentation Identification and Telecommunication (ADIT), vol. 2, MITRE Technical Report, MTR-3343 (Bedford, MA: MITRE Corp., 1976), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) History Reference Library.
Immigration and Naturalization Service, Office of Planning and Evaluation, Fraudulent Entrants Study: A Study of Malafide Applicants for Admission at Selected Airports and Southwest Land Border Ports (Washington, DC, 1976), USCIS History Reference Library.
Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).
See Eric Foner, “Race and Citizenship,” Socialism and Democracy 17, no. 1 (2003): 161–73; Martha S. Jones, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Natalia Molina, How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014); Mae Ngai, “Birthright Citizenship and the Alien Citizen,” Fordham Law Review 75 (2007): 2521–30; and Kunal M. Parker, Making Foreigners: Immigration and Citizenship Law in America, 1600–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Nayan Shah, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 191.
Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (2004; repr., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 3.
Cassius Adair, “Licensing Citizenship: Anti-Blackness, Identification Documents, and Transgender Studies,” American Quarterly 71, no. 2 (2019): 572.
John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
See Kelly Lytle Hernández, Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Eithne Luibhéid, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); Natalia Molina, Fit to Be Citizens? Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879–1939 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); and Ngai, Impossible Subjects.
Alexandra Minna Stern, “Buildings, Boundaries, and Blood: Medicalization and Nation-Building on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1910–1930,” Hispanic American Historical Review 79, no. 1 (February 1999): 41–81; Alexandra Minna Stern, Eugenic Nation: Fault and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), chap. 2; Rachel St. John, Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), chap. 1; Celeste Menchaca, “Crossing the Line: A History of Medical Inspection at the Border,” KCET, June 24, 2014, https://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/crossing-the-line-a-history-of-medical-inspection-at-the-border; C. J. Alvarez, “Inventing the U.S.-Mexico Border,” in Boundaries of the State in U.S. History, ed. James T. Sparrow, William J. Novak, and Stephen W. Sawyer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 79–100; Kelly Lytle Hernández, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).
Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 2.
See also Sarah B. Horton and Josiah Heyman, eds., Paper Trails: Migrants, Documents, and Legal Security (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020); and Benjamin N. Lawrance and Jacqueline Stevens, eds., Citizenship in Question: Evidentiary Birthright and Statelessness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017).
On the history of cybernetics and its politics, see Geoffrey C. Bowker, “How to Be Universal: Some Cybernetic Strategies, 1943–70,” Social Studies of Science 23, no. 1 (1993), 107–27; Edwards, Closed World; Peter Galison, “The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision,” Critical Inquiry 21, no. 1 (Autumn 1994): 228–66; Orit Halpern, Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014); Steve Joshua Heims, Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America: The Cybernetics Group, 1946–1953 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993); Jennifer S. Light, From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003); and Eden Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011).
Iván Chaar-López, “Sensing Intruders: Race and the Automation of Border Control,” American Quarterly 71, no. 2 (June 2019): 495–518.
Gabrielle Hecht, The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II (1998; repr., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 16.
Ann Laura Stoler, Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 177, 20.
See Josiah Heyman, “Capitalism and U.S. Policy at the Mexican Border,” Dialectical Anthropology 36, nos. 3–4 (December 2012): 263–77; Junaid Rana, “The Racial Infrastructure of the Terror-Industrial Complex,” Social Text 34, no. 4 (December 2016): 111–38; James Risen, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), xiv–xvi; Louis Uchitelle and John Markoff, “Terrorbusters, Inc.,” New York Times, October 17, 2004; and Michael Welch, “Seeking a Safer Society: America’s Anxiety in the War on Terror,” Security Journal 19, no. 2 (2006): 93–109.
Welch, “Seeking a Safer Society,” 102–3.
Heyman, “Capitalism and U.S. Policy,” 268.
“The Nation: No Pushover This Time,” New York Times, September 1, 1940, E2.
The Alien Registration Act of 1940 preceded the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. Conscription of foreign nationals such as Mexican-born residents became another way of testing their loyalty to the United States. Over the course of the war, Mexicans did not occupy the role of “enemy aliens”—instead, they were a much-needed source of wartime labor as soldiers or Braceros. See Emilio Zamora, “Mexican Nationals in the U.S. Military: Diplomacy and Battlefield Sacrifice,” in Beyond the Latino World War II Hero: The Social and Political Legacy of a Generation, ed. Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez and Emilio Zamora (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 90–109.
Alien Registration Act, 54 Stat. 670 (1940).
Donald L. Perry, “Aliens in the United States,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, no. 223 (September 1942): 4; Eugene F. Kessler, “Service Files—a Planned System,” I and N Reporter 11, no. 1 (July 1962): 5–8.
Cornelia Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).
Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003). The discriminate treatment of peoples of Japanese descent is evident by the fact that of the more than 600,000 Italians registered in the United States, only 210 were interned. Attorney General Biddle removed Italians from the category of “enemy aliens” altogether on October 12, 1942, due to “their demonstrated loyalty to [the United States].” Robert Cushman, “Civil Liberties in Wartime,” Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 29, no. 3 (June 1943): 404.
“Roosevelt Signs Bill to List Aliens,” New York Times, June 30, 1940, 5.
Francis Biddle, “American-Aliens and the Registration Act of 1940: New Law Designed to Protect Loyal Non-citizens and Combat Disloyalty,” State Government 13 (August 1940): 143.
Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 179.
Cushman, “Civil Liberties,” 403.
US Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Immigration and Nationality Laws and Regulations: Supplement III January 1, 1946 through December 31, 1946 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1947), 71.
“Alien Registration,” New York Times, November 26, 1940, 22.
Michael D. Aguirre, “The Wages of Borders: Political Economy, Labor Activism, and Racial Formation in the Imperial-Mexicali Borderlands, 1937–1979” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2019), 128.
The green card has had a long cultural life in, among others, songs like “Vivan los mojados” (1977), by Los Tigres del Norte; films like the romantic comedy Green Card (1990), directed by Peter Weir; and literature like Sara Saedi’s memoir Americanized: Rebel without a Green Card (2018). Mexican labor leaders mobilized xenophobic understandings of temporary and commuter workers through epithets such as “green carders.” See also Aguirre, “Wages of Borders,” 128.
David S. North, Securing Maximum Benefits from ADIT Testing Program (Washington, DC: New Transcentury Foundation, 1976), 1; INS, Guide for the Inspection and Processing of Citizens and Aliens by Officers Designated as Immigration Inspectors (Washington, DC: INS, 1974).
General Accounting Office, Comptroller General of the United States, “New Alien Identification System—Little Help in Stopping Illegal Aliens,” GGD-79-44 (Washington, DC, May 30, 1979), 8.
Department of Justice, INS, Documentary Requirements for Aliens in the United States (Washington, DC, 1961), 8.
An example of this was the bill sponsored by Representative Peter J. Rodino Jr. during the 1970s and was widely known as the Rodino Bill. For more, see Ronald Bonaparte, “The Rodino Bill: An Example of Prejudice towards Mexican Immigration to the United States,” Chicano Law Review 2 (1975): 40–50; and Daniel J. Tichenor, Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), chap. 8.
Julian Samora, Los Mojados: The Wetback Story (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1971), 24.
Aguirre, “Wages of Borders,” 115–18. See also Michael D. Aguirre, “Identities, Quandaries, and Emotions: Labor in the Imperial-Mexicali Borderlands,” Southern California 102, no. 3 (Fall 2020): 222–49.
General Accounting Office, “New Alien Identification System.”
See INS, Guide for the Inspection, appendix 18.
Alan, Alien Documentation Identification, 3.
Deborah Cohen, Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 2.
Nicholas De Genova, “The Legal Production of Mexican/Migrant ‘Illegality,’” Latino Studies 2, no. 2 (July 2004): 165.
Aguirre, “Wages of Borders,” 119.
Aguirre, 119; De Genova, “Legal Production,” 167–75; Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 261.
Edgar C. Niebuhr, “False Claims to United States Citizenship by Mexican Aliens,” I and N Reporter 9, no. 1 (July 1960): 2.
Travel across land and sea borders for US citizens did not require the use of a passport until passage of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative Act of 2007.
The laboratory moved to Yuma, Arizona, in June 1968. See Niebuhr, “False Claims,” 2; “The First Fifty Years,” I and N Reporter 23, no. 1 (Summer 1974): 16; and “Recognizing the U.S. Border Patrol’s Seventy-Five Years of Service (H. Con. Res. 122),” 145 Cong. Rec. H11922 (daily ed., November 10, 1999). The laboratory is also referred to as the Fraudulent Document Center.
INS, Office of Planning and Evaluation, “Prevention System: Section II. Part I. Inspection Subsystem,” 1974, folder 2, vertical file: “United States, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Office of Planning and Evaluation,” USCIS History Reference Library.
Charles Yeager, “Retirement of Service Records,” I and N Reporter 9, no. 2 (October 1960), 19–22; Kessler, “Service Files,” 5–8; Charles Gordon, “The I. and N. Service and the Public Information Act,” I and N Reporter 16, no. 1 (July 1967): 1–5; David V. Vandersall, “Steps to a Better Records System,” I and N Reporter 20, no. 4 (April 1972): 51–54; Lisa Smith Roney, “The Fraudulent Entrants Study,” INS Reporter 25, no. 2 (Fall 1976): 19–23; Louis C. Ferris, “Task Force on Vendors of Counterfeit Documents,” INS Reporter 26, no. 1 (Summer 1977): 7–10.
George F. Klemcke, “Role of the Communications Operator,” I and N Reporter 15, no. 3 (January 1967): 29.
In terms of automation and computer projects, only the Service’s automated-data processing efforts had a somewhat clear plan and strategy. Automation in this case only dealt with how documents, records, and files were stored, accessed, and transmitted. The Service’s plan was in large part coproduced through Department of Justice requirements and federal statutes like the Public Information Act of 1966 (Public Law 89-487, or 5 U.S.C. 552). It was not until the 1970s that the place of computers grew in the everyday operations across INS through the automation of the Master Index, the design of the Master Index Remote Access (MIRAC) and its terminals, and the ADIT system.
“INS Oral History Interview: Charles C. Sava,” interview by Marian Smith and Beth Berrio, May 16, 1989, USCIS History Reference Library. A testament to the close collaboration between civil and military branches of government, Chapman first occupied various roles at the Marine Corp Headquarters, starting with assistant to the chief of staff (1961–64) and ending as commandant of the Marine Corps (1968–72), before becoming INS commissioner. More importantly, as an administrator, Chapman oversaw the development and integration of computers and other information-processing machines in the marines.
Daniel J. Tichenor, Dividing Lines, 229; and Leonard F. Chapman Jr., “Illegal Aliens: Time to Call a Halt!,” Reader’s Digest, October 1976, 188.
MITRE Corporation conducted a different three-month study of the “illegal entrant problem” from December 1973 to February 1974. Similar to the way FES prioritized Mexicans and other Latina/o/xs as its targets, MITRE studied problems faced by both the US visa office and INS along the Mexican border. They sought to “define the conceptual requirements for equipment and procedures that could prevent the use of altered and counterfeit entry documents and to detect impostors.” Alan, Alien Documentation Identification.
INS, Office of Planning and Evaluation, Fraudulent Entrants Study: A Study of Malafide Applicants for Admission at Selected Airports and Southwest Land Border Ports (Washington, DC, 1976), USCIS History Reference Library.
North, Securing Maximum Benefits, 4.
See Chapman, “Illegal Aliens”; James Strong, “Stop ‘Silent Invasion’ of Aliens: U.S. Aide,” Chicago Tribune, March 27, 1975, W6; James Reston, “‘The Silent Invasion,’” New York Times, May 4, 1977, 23; and Bob Williams, “Illegal Aliens Win a Beachhead for the Third World,” Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1978, SG1.
Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 16.
Frank R. Royal, “In-Service Training Programs,” I and N Reporter 9, no. 2 (October 1960): 17–18; “First Fifty Years,” 16. The Fraudulent Document Laboratory was moved from Yuma, Arizona, with other INS intelligence efforts, to the El Paso Intelligence Center in 1976. Oversight of INS Programs and Activities: Hearings Before the Subcomm. on Immigration, Citizenship, and International Law of the Comm. on the Judiciary, 95th Cong. (1977–78).
INS, 1974 Annual Report: Immigration and Naturalization Service (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1975), 79.
INS, Alien Documentation Identification and Telecommunication (ADIT) System: Card Design Report, December 31, 1975, USCIS History Reference Library.
For more on Lincoln Laboratory, see Eva C. Freeman, ed., MIT Lincoln Laboratory: Technology in the National Interest (Lexington, MA: MIT Lincoln Laboratory, 1995).
MITRE Corporation, MITRE, the First Twenty Years: A History of the MITRE Corporation (1958–1978) (Bedford, MA: MITRE Corporation, 1979), 86.
Alan, Alien Documentation Identification, 21–34.
Vismann, Files, 11, 13.
Lisa Gitelman, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 134.
Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, “The Image of Objectivity,” Representations 40 (Autumn 1992): 83.
For more on biometric technology, see Shoshana Magnet, When Biometrics Fail: Gender, Race, and the Technology of Identity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).
Craig Robertson, The Passport in America: The History of a Document (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 7, 11.
Attorney General Griffin B. Bell said in the late 1970s that INS was drowning by the growing numbers of migrants and by the vast bureaucratic paper trail. Ronald J. Ostrow, “Bell Says Immigration Service Is ‘Drowning’ in Paper, Plans Effort to Systematize It,” Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1979, B16.
Halpern, Beautiful Data, 83.
Niebuhr, “False Claims,” 2.
McKenzie Funk, “How ICE Picks Its Targets in the Surveillance Age,” New York Times, October 2, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/magazine/ice-surveillance-deportation.html.
I am grateful to colleagues in SSRG and the Media Studies Colloquium at Cornell University, and the New Voices in Science & Technology Studies Symposium at Williams College for critically engaging draft versions of this article. I also appreciate Michael Aguirre’s thoughtful comments on the manuscript. Lastly, I want to thank the peer reviewers and editors of this special issue, Camilla Hawthorne and Jennifer Lynn Kelly, for their careful, rigorous, and generative comments. Research and writing for this article were supported by the Rackham Merit Fellowship at the University of Michigan, the Digital Studies Fellowship from the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, and the Mellon Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cornell.