Porous Borders

Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

By Julian Lim

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 halftones, 1 maps, 3 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5914-5
    Published: February 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3549-1
    Published: December 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3550-7
    Published: October 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5242-7
    Published: October 2017

David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History

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Awards & distinctions

2019 Association for Asian American Studies Award for Best Book in History

2018 David J. Weber-William P. Clements Prize, Western History Association

Honorable Mention, Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award, Immigration and Ethnic History Society

With the railroad’s arrival in the late nineteenth century, immigrants of all colors rushed to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, transforming the region into a booming international hub of economic and human activity. Following the stream of Mexican, Chinese, and African American migration, Julian Lim presents a fresh study of the multiracial intersections of the borderlands, where diverse peoples crossed multiple boundaries in search of new economic opportunities and social relations. However, as these migrants came together in ways that blurred and confounded elite expectations of racial order, both the United States and Mexico resorted to increasingly exclusionary immigration policies in order to make the multiracial populations of the borderlands less visible within the body politic, and to remove them from the boundaries of national identity altogether.

Using a variety of English- and Spanish-language primary sources from both sides of the border, Lim reveals how a borderlands region that has traditionally been defined by Mexican-Anglo relations was in fact shaped by a diverse population that came together dynamically through work and play, in the streets and in homes, through war and marriage, and in the very act of crossing the border.

Published with support provided by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

About the Author

Julian Lim is assistant professor of history at Arizona State University.
For more information about Julian Lim, visit the Author Page.


“This book’s deft intersection of multiple ethnic and national histories makes Lim’s work indispensable to scholars in many fields, particularly borderlands and Asian American history, US-Mexico relations, and migration studies.”--Choice

“A significant contribution to the historiography of comparative immigration and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. It is well grounded in existing scholarship, interprets primary material adeptly, and, along with other recent works published in English, cites Mexican scholarship and sources to comprehend better the transnational subject and region.”--Journal of Southern History

“Explores how diversity at the U.S.-Mexico border in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries complicated notions of community and belonging . . . Makes an important contribution to borderlands studies.”--Journal of American History

“Provides an eminently readable analysis of mixing, passing, and crossing of all kinds. . . . Should inspire students and emerging scholars to future research on the multiracial nation as they see the complexities of their own lives, families, and communities in the porous boundaries of today’s borderlands.”--Hispanic American Historical Review

“Julian Lim’s Porous Borders is a delight to read. It is a model of superlative historical writing to which all ought to aspire. With enviable ease, it converses with the literature in several fields, including immigration, borderlands, legal, and urban history.”—Journal of Social History

“Julian Lim’s book offers a timely look at contemporary issues and helps readers understand the racial origins of border policing, immigration laws, and refugee policy. By incorporating copious documentation from Mexican archives, she offers a much more nuanced look at how border crossers contributed to the transformation of the US–Mexico border. Lim’s rich narrative and arguments make this book an important read for any historian of immigration or the US–Mexico border, as well as an excellent choice for undergraduate and graduate seminars.”--Journal of American Ethnic History