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Lawyers in the Borderlands

“Surprisingly, the boundary that truly came to matter….was not the U.S.-Mexico borderline itself, but rather the divide of race and nationality within the county lines on the American side alone. Residents had far more difficulty crossing the latter than the former. Attorneys….were deeply involved in this boundary-drawing.” 

In Lawyers and Legal Borderlands, Allison Brownell Tirres argues that lawyers had a direct role in transforming “an isolated frontier community into a burgeoning border metropolis.” And she also demonstrates how local lawyers were deeply involved “not just in economic growth but also in racial and cultural boundary drawing.” 

As El Paso, the Borderlands community studied by Tirres, “became more connected with other metropolitan areas, to state and federal governments and to transnational commercial networks, it simultaneously became profoundly more stratified by race and national identity.” Tirres documented the absence of Latino lawyers in the community at that time. And she showed that not everyone shared the prosperity that followed this transformation summarizing how the Latino community lost much of what it had previously possessed. Lawyers played an essential role in erecting racial, cultural, and economic borders and barriers between communities that had shared the Borderlands for many years. 

Tirres concludes that  by studying the work that lawyers did “helps us see social transformation not as inevitable winds of change but rather as the product of individual choices and actions.” Given the dramatic rise in numbers of the Latino population in the Fort and the growing disparity in education and wealth between this community and the better educated and more affluent in the Fort, lawyers working in the Latino community will need to continue to work hard to advance the Latino community’s interests.   

Continue to work hard because this has been the case for many years. Attorneys like Ed Canas, Juan Tijerina, Albert Perez, JR Molina, Leticia Sanchez Vigil, Jesus Sauceda, Santiago Salinas, Eloy Sepulveda, and Armando Flores, to name just a few, have worked in the predominantly Latino community for many years. They have helped generations of unacculturated Latinos who do not speak English or understand the legal system to successfully reach across racial, cultural, and economic borders that have historically marginalized the Latino community. Younger generations of lawyers have followed, like Francisco Hernandez and his brother Daniel, Philip Hall, Rocio Martinez, and Erika Flores, again to mention only a few, eschew opportunities to work outside of the Latino community and provide passionate legal representation to this growing community.  

Lawyers working in the Latino community today can ameliorate the effect of historical marginalization and help lessen the deleterious racial and economic stratification occurring in the Fort today. Hopefully, their efforts, with those of others who support the Latino community, will prevent the extant racial and economic strata from permanently hardening and hold out the possibility that the Latino community may someday share in the prosperity created by the transformation of the Fort into a burgeoning Borderlands metropolis.