To write Borderland, I drew heavily on the tortured relationship America has had and continues to have with Mexico.
Having survived our recent exhausting and sometimes repugnant presidential election, we all know that the current occupant of the White House used border security as one of the pillars of his campaign.
It’s a legitimate and very real concern, although the proposed solution is impractical.
When I researched my nonfiction book on the border, The Dangerous Divide, I accompanied Border Patrol agents on a night mission along the Arizona-Mexico border when a handful of agents captured and detained seventeen migrants who had crossed the border illegally.
The two men guiding the migrants, the coyotes, were most likely employees of the drug cartels, which now control the business of human trafficking, and escaped.
It was a dramatic night and included the use of fixed-wing aircraft, Blackhawk helicopters, truck-mounted lasers and infra-red cameras, and about six armed agents on the ground.
The event had the look and feel of a war, albeit a hopeless, winless war. No one really knows how many people cross the border illegally every day because most are not caught. At best, the Border Patrol grabs about one-third of them an d deports them. At worst, much less than that.
Border issues have burned between the U.S. and Mexico since the founding of both countries, and led to the Mexican American war fought from 1846 to 1848.
Few Americans realize that the U.S. not only invaded Mexico, but defeated the Mexican army and captured Mexico City.
It all started over a border dispute in Texas.
Mexico became independent in 1821, and at the time, its territory included all of what is now the American Southwest, from California to Texas. But few Mexicans want to go north to settle in places like Texas. So, Mexico allowed people such as Stephen Austin to sell vast tracks of land to American settlers, many of whom were recent European immigrants looking to start anew.
Expectedly, the newly minted Texans grew disenchanted with Mexico’s efforts to control and tax them. Hostilities broke out in 1835, resulting in the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, which included the legendary James Bowie, namesake of the Bowie knife, and David “Davy” Crockett.
Nine years later, the U.S. annexed what had become the Republic of Texas, much to the dismay of Mexico, which had never recognized Texas because it refused to accept the Rio Grande as the border.
War against Mexico was declared on May 13, 1846, and as U.S. forces drove into Mexico from El Paso as another force pushed west from Santa Fe, New Mexico, into California. Meanwhile, the U.S. navy took positions along Mexico’s Pacific coast and U.S. troops stormed ashore at Veracruz on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
Many famous Civil War figures were part of the invasion: Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant; and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
By September 1947, the war was all but over. The Treat of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on Feb. 2, 1848, and the U.S. territory expanded exponentially with the addition of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and most of Colorado and New Mexico.
So, it was all settled? Hardly. The border issue lingers across the Southwest because when the U.S. Senate approved the treaty, it struck a provision that recognized millions of acres of land that had been given to Mexican settlers in the form of land grants.
It is one of these grants that I fictionalized in Borderland and which became my fictional development set on the U.S.-Mexico border west of El Paso.
Even today, some 150 years after the border treaty was signed, descendants of these Mexican land grantees harbor resentments over the loss of their lands.
This background to America’s border wars with Mexico is one of the themes that will surface in the sequel to Borderland. Stay tuned!