Types of International Borders along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Ingolf Vogeler
Department of Geography and Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


Based on the review of the literature in political geography and international relations, and field work on international borders conducted over the last 40 years, I classified international borders into three major types as used by nation-states around the world: open, controlled, and fortified. In addition, fortified borders come in four sub-types: fenced, fenced and walled, walled, and militarized borders. The U.S.-Mexico border is used to illustrate how the changing geo-political circumstances between the U.S. and Mexico have resulted in the expression of each of the seven border types along this international border.

Keywords: political geography, international borders, U.S.-Mexico border

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differentiate places from each other, e.g., Roman Catholic areas from Lutheran ones in the United States; Alpine from Mediterranean climates in Europe; or cities from surrounding rural areas. Boundaries lack nation-state enforcements.

separate places from each other, creating  barriers between places, and are established and maintained by nation-state enforcements.  In their earliest forms, borders were the edges of highly organized political empires; later, they became the expressions of centrally-organized nation-states.  In all cases, the police power of states were/are critical to the creation and maintenance of borders. Throughout history, borders ranged from controlled but otherwise open to restricted to highly fortified and even militarized and, thus borders effectively close off areas in one way or another. Regardless of which types of borders, borders are exclusionary, whereas boundaries fundamentally only differentiate.

Acknowledgement: I want to thank the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) for awarding me a year-long sabbatical (Fall 2009-Spring 2010) and for the UWEC Office of Research and Sponsored Programs for a research travel grant to work on the topic of International Fortified Borders. All photos were taken by Ingolf Vogeler, unless indicated otherwise. An earlier and shorter version of this article was presented at the West Lakes meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Macomb, IL, on 22 October 2010.