In April of 1936, Governor Edwin “Big Ed” Johnson of Colorado declared martial law in a one-mile strip along the state’s southern border with New Mexico, claiming that an invasion of “aliens and indigents” threatened the well-being of Colorado and its citizens. In addition to literally placing a militarized boundary between the more Anglo state of Colorado and the heavily Hispanic state of New Mexico, Johnson’s blockade also heightened contestations over the social boundary between who belonged and who fell outside of citizenship and belonging. Those crossing the New Mexico-Colorado border for work included Mexican immigrants as well as New Mexican Hispanics who were long-time US citizens, most of whom were racialized as undesirable foreigners by many Anglo residents. Interestingly, during the blockade, many native-born Hispanics in New Mexico and Colorado also characterized Mexican immigrants in a negative light, while simultaneously and vigorously asserting their belonging as Spanish American citizens of the United States. The scholarly literature on the racialization of Hispanics has generally approached Mexican-origin people as a unitary group, explored their racial identity in contrast to Anglos, and, less often, taken into account tensions over racialization as they played out between different Hispanic groups. In response, this article details how Johnson’s blockade contributed to the racialization—by both Anglos and Hispanics—of Mexican immigrants and Hispanics in the Southwest during the New Deal Era. This case study also offers a rare example of a state’s attempt to usurp the federal government’s plenary power over immigration during the twentieth century, a time when the federal government’s control over immigration was relatively unquestioned.

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