Unauthorized immigration, securitization and the making of Operation Wetback

Avi Astor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


This paper integrates Agamben's concept of "bare life'' with the Copenhagen School's concept of "securitization'' to develop a framework for analyzing the elevation of immigration out of the realm of ordinary politics and into the realm of security during the 1950s. I argue that immigrants' extreme invisibility in daily life and visibility in security-obsessed media venues made them an easy outlet for fears about subversive activity. The success with which state and civil society actors deployed securitizing rhetoric constituted a key precondition for the implementation of Operation Wetback. This paper emphasizes the role of unions and Hispanic civic organizations in legitimating this rhetoric. In the concluding section, current developments brought about by the "War on Terror'' are compared with those that took place during the years preceding Operation Wetback.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-29
Number of pages25
JournalLatino Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


  • immigration
  • security
  • race
  • undocumented


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