Plus ça change: Smuggling migrants in 1949

I’m reading a lot of older noir fiction these days and noting references to informal migration, however it’s talked about. In the following exchange between detective Lew Archer and a cop, the market for smuggling is linked immediately with the victimisation of migrants. It’s from The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald, 1949:

‘They’ve been running an underground railway on a regular schedule between the Mexican border and the Bakersfield area. The southern end is probably at Calexico.’

‘Yeah,’ Spanner said. ‘That’s an easy place to cross the border. I took a trip down there with the border guard a couple of months ago. All they got to do is crawl through a wire fence from one road to the other.’

‘And Troy’s truck would be waiting to pick them up. They used the Temple in the Clouds as a receiving station for illegal immigrants. God knows how many have passed through there. There were twelve or more last night.’

‘Are they still there?’

‘They’re in Bakersfield by now, but they shouldn’t be hard to round up. If you get hold of Claude I’m pretty sure he’ll talk.’

‘Jesus!’ Spanner said. ‘If they brought over twelve a night, that’s three hundred and sixty a month. Do you know how much they pay to get smuggled in?’


‘A hundred bucks apiece. This Troy has been making big money.’

‘Dirty money,’ I said. ‘Trucking in a bunch of poor Indians, taking their savings away, and turning them loose to be migrant laborers.’

He looked at me a little queerly. ‘They’re breaking the law, too, don’t forget. We don’t prosecute, though, unless they got criminal records. We just ship them back to the border and let them go. But Troy and his gang are another matter. What they been doing is good for thirty years.’

‘That’s fine,’ I said. p 341-2 in a large-print edition

-Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.