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The Queer Politics of Migration: Reflections on “Illegality” and Incorrigibility



The most resounding expression of the truly unprecedented mobilizations of migrants throughout the United States in 2006 was a mass proclamation of collective defiance: ¡Aquí Estamos, y No Nos Vamos! [Here we are, and we're not leaving!]. This same slogan was commonly accompanied by a still more forcefully incorrigible rejoinder: ¡Y Si Nos Sacan, Nos Regresamos! [... and if they throw us out, we'll come right back!]. It is quite striking and, as this essay contends, not merely provocative but genuinely productive to note the affinity between the crucial articulation of this radically open-ended politics of migrant presence with the similarly abject and profoundly destabilizing politics of queer presence. In a manner remarkably analogous to the slogan, "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!", the dynamic enunciation of these phrases in the context of the mass mobilizations of migrants asserted an irreducible spirit of irreverence and disaffection for state power. Both gestures unreservedly and unapologetically assert not only their irreversible presence, furthermore, but also uphold the intractable challenge of their own intrinsic incorrigibility.
Studies in Social Justice
Volume 4, Issue 2, 101-126, 2010
Correspondence Address: Nicholas De Genova, Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture;
University of Chicago, 5733 S. University Ave. Chicago, IL 60637 USA. Tel: +1 773 702-8063; Email:
ISSN: 1911-4788
The Queer Politics of Migration:
Reflections on “Illegality” and Incorrigibility
The most resoundingand indeed, for me, the most resplendentexpression of the
truly unprecedented mobilizations of migrants throughout the United States in 2006
was a mass proclamation of collective defiance: ¡Aquí Estamos, y No Nos Vamos!
[Here we are, and we’re not leaving!]. This same slogan was commonly
accompanied by a still more forcefully incorrigible rejoinder: ¡Y Si Nos Sacan, Nos
Regresamos! [… and if they throw us out, we’ll come right back!]. The chant itself
was not new; it has been a potent and enduring articulation of migrant struggles in
the United States for many years.
Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, University of Chicago
ABSTRACT The most resounding expression of the truly unprecedented mobilizations of
migrants throughout the United States in 2006 was a mass proclamation of collective
defiance: ¡Aquí Estamos, y No Nos Vamos! [Here we are, and we're not leaving!]. This same
slogan was commonly accompanied by a still more forcefully incorrigible rejoinder: ¡Y Si
Nos Sacan, Nos Regresamos! [... and if they throw us out, we'll come right back!]. It is quite
striking and, as this essay contends, not merely provocative but genuinely productive to note
the affinity between the crucial articulation of this radically open-ended politics of migrant
presence with the similarly abject and profoundly destabilizing politics of queer presence. In a
manner remarkably analogous to the slogan, "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!", the
dynamic enunciation of these phrases in the context of the mass mobilizations of migrants
asserted an irreducible spirit of irreverence and disaffection for state power. Both gestures
unreservedly and unapologetically assert not only their irreversible presence, furthermore, but
also uphold the intractable challenge of their own intrinsic incorrigibility.
¡Aquí Estamos, y No Nos Vamos! [Here we are, and we’re not leaving!].
Migrant mobilization slogan
We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It!
Queer mobilization slogan
“This is an anti-assimilationist narrative about an anti-assimilationist movement.”
Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth Freeman, “Queer Nationality” (1992, p. 154)
But the dynamic enunciation of these phrases in
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Studies in Social Justice, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2010
the context of the mass mobilizations reinvigorated their irreducible spirit of
irreverence and disaffection for state power.
It is well-known, and needs no rehearsing here, that the 2006 mobilizations were
instigated by the passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of the now-infamous
Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act (HR4437,
passed on December 16, 2005, also known as the Sensenbrenner bill), which would
unquestionably have been the most punitive immigration legislation in U.S. history.
This particularly repressive attempted legislative ambush explicitly conjoined its
proposed criminalization of “illegal immigration” with the dominant metaphysics of
antiterrorism, and overtly signalled its own condition of possibility under the aegis of
what I have designated the Homeland Security State (De Genova, 2007a). In
response, millions of migrants (“illegal” and “legal” alike), along with their often
U.S.-citizen children, rallied and marched in protests across the United States, taking
the country by storm repeatedly over a period of nearly two months (Baker-Cristales,
2009; Bloemraad & Trost, 2008; De Genova, 2009; Gonzales, 2009; Heiskanen,
2009; Hincapié, 2009; Johnson and Hing, 2007; Pulido, 2007; Robinson, 2006;
Lazos Vargas, 2007; Voss & Bloemraad, n.d.).
An utterly unforeseen insurgency
It is not the claim of this essay that the politics of the 2006 mobilizations in the
United States were in any sense a “pure” or “pristine” outburst of counter-hegemonic
energies and radical critiqueuncontaminated, as it were, by the hegemonic
assimilationist compulsions and nationalist conceits of dominant U.S. immigration
discourse (De Genova, 2005, pp. 56-94). On the contrary, what is at stake in this essay
is precisely to deepen and clarify the critique of those epistemological and
methodological dilemmas and political conundrums. Nor is it the pretence of this essay
to superimpose any semblance of ready-made dogmatic coherence upon a mass
movement which was plainly heterogeneous and riddled with its own contradictions.
Such efforts would seem to be fanciful in the extreme, naively romanticizing a socio-
political field that deserves rather more sober and exacting scrutiny. But the
tremendous extent to which the “aquí estamos” chant has been acknowledged as the
preeminent crystallization of a persistent and urgent collective sensibility of the
protests is undeniable and noteworthy (see, e.g., Hincapié, 2009; Robinson, 2006).
Inasmuch as this slogan, arguably more than any other, evidently had a profound
resonance on an immense scale for migrants engaged in this struggle, it is imperative
that we take its substance to be an organic expression of one of the determinate
overwhelmingly working-class (or working poor), racially subordinate (non-white),
and often legally vulnerable (deportable) people created a political crisis for the U.S.
statedestabilizing the antiterrorist complacencies and nativist commonsense of the
dominant discourse, disorienting and paralyzing the political establishment’s official
“immigration reform” debate, and finally de-railing the proposed law. Indeed, in this
regard, one need not quibble about whether these mobilizations truly constituted a
“movement,” as such, or merely a kind of “event” which seemed to evaporate as
abruptly as it had appeared: unlike many other more prolonged and entrenched social
or political movements, this one actually exerted so much force that it very quickly
achieved its premier and defining goalit summarily defeated the menacing and
abhorrent legislation. The sovereign power of the national state and its asphyxiating
politics of citizenship were abruptly short-circuited by the abject agency of global
capital’s transnational denizens (De Genova, 2009; cf. 2010b).
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Studies in Social Justice, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2010
impulseswhich, of course, is not to say the only onethat animated the
mobilizations and energized their political imagination.
Thus, if the movement had a clear and concise immediate task (the defeat of
HR4437), which it achieved with stunning rapidity, it also articulated itself in a
variety of broader terms. Here we are, and we’re not leaving! So rang out the
movement’s most elementary message, its most elemental expression of political
prerogative. Notably, this was not a “demand”: it petitioned no legislators, pleaded
no legal case, pandered to no politicians, deferred to no law enforcement authorities.
Instead, this recurrent chant exuberantly affirmed the theme of presencethe
profound and inextricable presence of migrants, and especially that of the
undocumented, within the U.S. social formation and within the space of the state.
Indeed, the question of migrants’ “unlawful presence” (precisely the target
objectified for criminalization by the proposed law) signalled a crucial flashpoint for
both sides in the political struggle over immigration in the United States. As will be
seen, this assertion of migrant presence as a “political” fact, enunciated in relation to
the state, was simultaneously and inseparably an “economic” fact based upon the
inextricable presence of the (labour-)power of migrants, as workers. For many of the
migrants who thus engaged in the so-called “immigration debate” through their
participation in these mass mobilizations, their “unauthorized” presence ultimately
figured as the definitive social and political “objective” fact: its audacious
affirmationits reinscription as sheer insubordinationseemed to signify an end in
itself (De Genova, 2009).
The bold and fearless character of this posture, furthermore, was only surpassed by
its uncompromising intransigence and incorrigibility: this was a profoundly anti-
assimilationist gesture. We are here, they proclaimed, and by implication, they
insisted: We are who we are, and what we are. The millions who literally put their
deportable bodies on the line in this struggleat least, when they chanted this
sloganwere not begging anyone for their putative civil or human “rights,” were not
asking any authorities for permission or pardon, and did not seek anyone’s approval or
It is quite striking and, as I contend in this essay, not merely provocative but
genuinely productive to note the affinity between the crucial articulation of this
radically open-ended politics of migrant presence with the similarly abject and
profoundly destabilizing politics of queer presence.
Through the insolent promise that even in spite of deportation, they would
inexorably return, moreover, these migrants likewise taunted the smug and
sanctimonious superintendents of the deportation regime: There’s nothing you can do
about ityour repressive power is nothing compared to the power of our vitality and
our indomitable will to persevere and prevail.
The two slogans, juxtaposed as
epigraphs to this essay, in effect, make exactly the same declaration: We are here, we
refuse to leave, and we cannot be excised. In a manner remarkably analogous to the
slogan, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”originally associated with the
militants of Queer Nation
(especially gay men with AIDS and their allies)the
“aquí estamos” chant of the migrant mobilizations “stages the shift from silent
absence into present speech, from nothingness to collectivity, from a politics of
embodiment to one of space, whose power erupts from the ambiguity of ‘here’
(Berlant & Freeman, 1992, p. 156). Both gestures unreservedly and unapologetically
assert not only their irreversible presence, therefore, but also uphold the intractable
challenge of their own intrinsic incorrigibility.
104 Nicholas De Genova
Studies in Social Justice, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2010
Migrant Abjection / Queer Politics
As the objects of an unprecedented and escalating climate of securitization, migrants
have been increasingly depicted over the last several years as possessing a dubious
agency that is unsavoury at best, if not plainly dangerous (De Genova, 2007a).
Abjection is an especially apt interpretive frame through which to appreciate the
complexities of the migrant condition, precisely because migrants are always-already
within the space of the state and can never really be entirely expelled. Julia Kristeva
has memorably depicted the specificity of the concept of the abject as “something
rejected from which one does not part.” Although she depicts it in terms ofthe
jettisoned object,” the abject is not in fact a properly external object. It becomes
difficult to fully differentiate the self from the abject which it seeks to expunge.
Thus, because it cannot ever be truly extricated, the abject “from its place of
banishment … does not cease challenging its master,” and its ostensible “exclusion”
only draws the subject “toward the place where meaning collapses.” The distinctly
disruptive force of the abject involves that which “disturbs identity, system, order.
What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the
composite” (1980/1982, pp. 1-4; cf. Chow 2001; De Genova 2008). The political
mobilization of migrants in 2006 entailed the sort of abject irruption to which
Kristeva refersexposing an abject subjectivity that, as Peter Nyers (2003) has
insightfully suggested, presents “a troubling anomaly to the sovereign order” (p.
1090). By articulating political demands and making claims, and thereby producing
or reconfiguring the spaces of the political (pp. 1070-1071), migrant protesters
moved “the question of the speaking subject front and centre” to “provoke
fundamental questions about politics [and] … who can be political” (p. 1089). Such
critical ruptures confront (and affront) political regimes premised upon the supposed
“impossibility” that officially rightless non-citizens could assume the mantle of
quasi-citizenship, authorizing themselves to speak, reconfiguring the space of the
public, and making claims of entitlement (McNevin, 2006, 2009; Varsanyi, 2006).
We have been witnessing an unprecedented proliferation of these sorts of new, as-
yet “unnamed,” and fundamentally “inarticulable” figures of political agency. As
Engin Isin (2009) suggests, these figures may be variously described as “migrants,”
“refugees,” “foreigners,” etc., but they fundamentally resist categorization because
they unsettle the very attempt to fix that agency within such given categories, and in
so doing, also unsettle the very premises of citizenship (pp. 367-68). Isin seeks to
discern “a new vocabulary of citizenship” in these figures of “activist citizenship”
and the corresponding “emergence of new ‘sites’, ‘scales’ and ‘acts’ through which
‘actors’ claim to transform themselves (and others) from subjects into citizens as
claimants of rights” (pp. 368). By emphasizing the constituent character of
“citizenship understood as political subjectivity” and “acts of citizenship” as the acts
by which such subjects make themselves (pp. 383; cf. Isin, 2008), Isin posits a notion
of citizenship which is always incipient, a kind of citizenship-to-come, which might
serve indeed to describe some of the stakes of the migrant activism with which I am
concerned. Yet, it is equally crucial to recognize, at least in the potent example of
these “illegal” migrants’ mobilizations in 2006, that this particular explosion of
activist energies was unapologetically premised nonetheless upon the hard juridical
fact of these migrants’ statutory non-citizenship and the consequent social fact of
their more general abjection within the spaces of “the political” as sanctioned by the
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state. There was, in short, a question of politics at stake in the 2006 movement which
exceeded the purview of the political as designated by the U.S. state. The putatively
“national” territory of the United States was transposed into a mere site where the
global social relation of labour and capital revealed its inherently transnational
spatial scale and scope. Although the U.S. state’s regime of migrant “illegality” was
the immediate referent and supplied the material and practical occasion for the
struggle, this was a politics that extravagantly parochialized the U.S. “national” state
as such. By destabilizing the “national” space of the U.S. state’s jurisdiction and
coaxing state power into a confrontation on a terrain that was differently configured
through the migrant mobilizations of 2006, therefore, even citizenship itself was
arguably dispensed with. Indeed, I would submit that these mobilizations have much
to teach us about a politics that refuses to be a politics of citizenship (“alien,”
“illegal,” “activist,” “insurgent,” or otherwise).
The state’s abjection of migrants was met with a politics of incorrigibility that
truly rendered unintelligible the state’s very categories of distinction and
discrimination. Thus, at least temporarily, within the context of these mass
mobilizations, migrant “illegality” and even deportability were likewise nullified.
This of course is not to pretend that the authorities of the state could not have
assailed one or another individual on these grounds. Nor is it to suggest that any of
the migrants engaged in the struggle ever imagined, even for a moment, that the
brute consequentiality of their immigration statuses could be so wistfully
transcended. Rather, it is to say that the serial insurgencies of tens and hundreds of
thousands, and finally, of literally millions, abruptly altered the balance of forces,
and migrants emerged as a force that could assert: We are herein spite of our
“illegality”; We are here, we do not apologize, and we do not plead for clemency;
We are here, we do not hidein spite of our deportability; You can try to deport
usbut you will never get rid of us! This politics of incorrigibility, I want to insist,
articulated a queer politics of migration. That is to say, it was a politics that defied
and rejected all of the normative categories of state sovereignty and its immigration
regime: We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!
Here, it is useful to clarify and specify what epistemological and political work the
analytical category queer is intended to do in the argument of this essay. I follow the
instructive lead of Samuel Chambers, who only half-ironically declares the
importance of being “old-fashioned” about the term queer (2009, pp. 1-2). As
Chambers clarifies, there has been “a continuing tendency to falsely equate lesbian
and gay with queer” and moreover, an increasing trend toward reducing queer to a
mere term of inclusivity, “a rather monstrous construction” whereby it becomes “a
catch-all to describe the identity of any and every individual who somehow is not
now, or someday will not be, heterosexual.” Instead, Chambers announces the need
to “depart fundamentally” from “the notion that ‘queer’ is a term of inclusivity,” and
insists that queer politics is “a politics that both identifies and remains committed to
the impossibility of inclusivity (p. 2; emphasis in original; cf. Gamson, 1995;
Phillips, 2009). Chambers follows David Halperin, who stipulates that the term
queer is precisely not “rooted in the positive fact of homosexual object-choice” and
instead “acquires its meaning from its oppositional relation to the norm”; Halperin
(1995) continues:
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Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate,
the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers.
It is an identity without an essence. “Queer,” then, demarcates not a
positivity but a positionality vis-vis the normativea positionality that
is not restricted to lesbians and gay men but is in fact available to anyone
who is or feels marginalized because of his or her sexual practices.…
“Queer” …describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and
heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance. (pp. 62;
emphases in original)
Whereas LGBT politicssignalling lesbian, gay (male), bisexual, and transgender
categories of sexual identityis a politics directed toward the inclusion of diverse
(positive) categories of gender and sexuality, in other words, the negative
relationality of queer politics supplies a recalcitrant challenge to, and subversive
resistance against, dominant and debilitating normative categories of gender and
sexuality. Queer politics, simply put, is a counter-normative (sexual) politics of
unapologetic and anti-assimilationist non-conformity.
Queer politics seeks not to be integrated within an existing economy of normative
and normalizing distinctions, but rather to sabotage and corrode that hierarchical
order as such. As Siobhan Somerville crucially explains, Anchoring queer
approaches exclusively or primarily to sexual orientation does not do justice to the
potential reach of queer critique, which would destabilize the ground upon which any
particular claim to identity can be made” (2002, p. 787). Precisely for this reason,
queer politics may be understood to signal what Chas. Phillips has aptly depicted as
a turbulent creativity,” which “does not yield to … cries for tolerance, recognition,
and inclusion” (2009, p. 2). Rather than a form of (sexual) identity politics, then,
queer theory aspires to repudiate altogether identity-based liberal political theory,
generally (Chambers, 2009), and queer politics presents an incorrigible and
intractable reply to neoliberal identity politics, in particular (Phillips, 2009). Without
wanting to dissipate the sexual specificity of queer critique as such, but nonetheless
following the instructive lead of these queer theorists, I aspire here to borrow the
destabilizing force of queer politics for the purposes of exploring a politics of
migration that exceeds the normative confinements of citizenship altogether and
subverts the fetishized fixities of identity outright. Put somewhat differently, I want
to ask a question about the politics of human mobility, generally, that foregrounds a
practice of freedom that can never be recuperated to the constituted status (or even
the dynamic practices) of citizenship, which emphasizes freedom as an exercise that
is never reducible to something so objectified and delimited as “rights,” and which
likewise refuses to attach itself to any positive, thing-like (naturalized) “identity” as
In this spirit, and in a manner very much akin to what I am seeking to accomplish
in this essay for the “Aquí estamos” chant, Chambers (2009) seeks to elaborate a
rigorously “queer” interpretation of the slogan, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to
it!” As in Chambers’ parallel endeavour, I seek to theorize the “Aquí estamos” chant
as an articulation of struggle, to ask what the best-known slogan associated with the
migrants’ mobilizations of 2006 might illuminate about the actuality of these real
struggles of migration. It is urgently necessary to discover what this organic
expression of the movement may have to teach those of us who would presume to
supply it with an adequate theoretical formulation, indeed, to reveal how our critical
The Queer Politics of Migration 107
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aspirations themselves must follow the theoretical lead of these practical struggles.
As I have already suggested, neither the migrant nor the queer chant articulates itself
as a demand or a plea; neither makes any claim for inclusion. Indeed, as Chambers
makes explicit, it is not even properly apprehensible in terms of a negative dialectics
of recognition, which would “run the risk of reducing it to the standard formula of
minority identity politics” (p. 17n5). Queer sexual practices and pleasures manifest a
kind of non-conformist and non-compliant freedom that, within the socio-political
order of heteronormative patriarchy, can only be classed as an abject excess
generated systemically by that order’s naturalized hierarchy of distinctions and
discriminations. They are not even properly objectified “sexualities,” as such, which
might thereby be “incorporated.” The queer injunction, “Get used to it,” Chambers
contends, “is not a call for recognition as normal, but rather an insistence that
deviation from the normal will persist. After all, what ‘we,’ as those who hear the
chant, are supposed to ‘get used to’ is precisely the fact that ‘they’ are queernot
that they are like us but that they never will be” (p. 12). The incorrigibly radical
stakes here are plainly not simply a “progressive” transformation of what is deemed
“normal” but instead a conclusive abolition of all normativity, as such. Analogously,
in the migrant mobilization chant, the assertion “we’re not leaving” and,
furthermore, the promise to return in the event of expulsion, is tantamount to a
declaration that short of an utter and universal abolition of state borders, “illegality”
cannot be expunged under any circumstances.
Alongside other demands (most notably, the always-contingent and inherently
partial demand for “legalization”), here, then, was a cacophonous and incongruent
assurance that the “illegality” of undocumented migrants is endemic and, within the
socio-political order of “national” state sovereignty and border enforcement, will
indubitably persist. Thus, many migrants, especially the undocumented, could adopt
a disconcertingly candid, sober, and above all realistic assessment of the socio-
political fact of their unforgiving abjection. They thereby defiantly rejected the
implausibly utopian mandates of assimilationism in favour of an irredeemably queer
(non-normative) politics. That is to say, rather than seeking recognition or
exoneration, this aspect of the movement boldly affirmed: We’re here, we’re illegal,
get used to it! Rather than a politics of citizenship and inclusion, then, this migrant
mobilization chant revealed the intrinsic parochialism of any formulation of
Incorrigibility: The Politics of Anti-Identity
Recent attempts to reinvigorate the ongoing theorization of queer politicsnotably,
the essays by Chambers and Phillips which I have citedhave taken an instructive
cue from the philosophical work of Jacques Rancière (1992, 1995, 2004, 2006). For
Rancière, the very category “politics” is guarded as something comparatively rare
and extraordinary. It does not merely refer to those arenas in which subjects pursue
their competing interests, negotiate disputes over resources, and otherwise engage
one another within the given parameters of a dominant system of distribution in
order to obtain more power, wealth, recognition, or prestige. This sphere is what
Rancière variously calls “the order,” “the count,” or most tellingly, “the police.”
Politics, on the other hand, rather than participation in this game of order, instead
108 Nicholas De Genova
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refers to the radical disruption of such an order, precisely by the unwelcome and
unseemly interventions of those who literally have no place within itthose who,
from the standpoint of order, truly do not existthose who comprise “a part that has
no part.” Rancière summarizes his understanding as follows:
You can count the community as the sum of its partsof its groups and of
the qualifications that each of them bears. I call this way of counting
police. You can count a supplement to the sum, a part of those who have
no part, which separates the community from its parts, places, functions,
and qualifications. This is politics…. (2004, p. 305; emphasis in original)
“Political subjects,” therefore, are only truly political for Rancière insofar as they are
“surplus subjects.” As he explains, “They inscribe the count of the uncounted as a
supplement” (2004, p. 305). The “supplement” is a kind of excess: it exceeds the
limits and constraints of the existing order.
From this standpoint, then, genuine politics tends to be exceptional, extraordinary,
and intrinsically unsettling. Politics, then, can only be about the queer and
incorrigible incoherence that produces a crisis within the presumed normative
“order” of normal “existence.” As Phillips adds, in his elaboration of Rancière’s
A political moment is witnessed only when a discrepancy arises between,
on the one hand, the counting of different parts in the order and, on the
other hand, the existence of those parts. This discrepancy results in a
confrontation between a party or order that exists, and one that does not
exist. The discrepancy built into the order escapes the ordinary
measurement of things and comes to a head at a particular moment,
exposing this miscalculation of parts equaling a whole…. Order is the
background from which politics emerges, reconstituting the ruptured
arrangement of parts. (2009, p. 3)
Importantly, politics for Rancière is therefore about the disruption that transpires
when “those who have no part” become paradoxically manifest as the un-counted
part that produces a crisis of order by exposing a fissure within its fabric (1995/1999,
pp. 14-15). Indeed, this formulation has striking resonances with Kristeva’s
formulation of the abject as that part which is “rejected [but] from which one does
not part,” thereby throwing system and order into disarray, and threatening identity
and meaning itself. Likewise, the theme of nonexistence in Rancière clearly
articulates as well with Susan Coutin’s instructive elaboration of migrant “illegality”
as entailing a space of juridical “nonexistence,” whereby undocumented migrants’
substantive physical and social presence (or, existence) is contradicted and riddled
by their official legal negation and the systemic erasure of their legal personhood
(2000, pp. 27-47, 2003).
The insurgencies of those with no part name the miscount and enunciate it as a
wrong, and in so doing, according to this schema, those of no-count literally conjure
themselves into existence by making an unseemly appearance within the now
disrupted and newly unstable order. This is what I am contending was at stake in the
migrant mobilizations of 2006, wherein those who were presumed to have no
apprehensible existence of any consequence to the existing order of things asserted
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an uncanny existence (Aquí estamos!), which exposed a glaring discrepancy in the
police order of state sovereignty, citizenship, and business-as-usual. However, it is
crucial here to appreciate that, for Rancière, the uncounted do not thereby simply ask
to be counted (included). Indeed, the very ability to make such an appeal would
indicate that they have already been incorporated as part of the count, albeit in some
plainly disadvantaged or subordinate fashion: this is the routine stuff of ordinary
disputes over inequality. As Phillips explains:
Making such a request would require not only mutual acknowledgement
of the existence of parts without a part, but also a shared language between
those non-parts and the dominant order…. the count is everyone who
exists, not everyone who is included. Both the have’s and have-not’s are
within the count; the type of disagreement between them is of a different
nature… In fact, inequality within the count is a result of a more
fundamental equality: everyone who is in the order is equally existent.
(2009, p. 4)
Queerness, then, derives its precisely queer/political force from a kind of
unintelligibility within the order (Chambers, 2009), and is specifically grounded in
“the incommensurable conflict over the count. Policing is the attempt to eliminate
this conflict” (Phillips, 2009, p. 3). This is why queerness cannot be reduced to a
mere catch-all category that aspires toward an inclusivity otherwise beleaguered by
the proliferation of positive sexual identities, such as “gay” or “transgender.” What
makes queer politics both specifically queer and distinctly political, in these
Rancièrean readings, is its negativity. This, moreover, is why the awkwardly liberal
notion of “queering the state” (Duggan, 1994) is deeply misguided (see, e.g. Puar,
2007; Puar & Rai, 2002).
Queerness (unlike “homosexuality,” for instance) audaciously asserts the existence
of something fundamentally unintelligible, incommensurable, incompatible, and
finally inassimilable. And indeed, what makes it political is the irreducible fact that it
is incorrigible. As I have sought to demonstrate, this is exactly the same bold and
unabashed position that the migrant mobilizations adopted as their single most
characteristic gesture: We’re here, we’re illegal, get used to it! Or, to put it in
Rancière’s terms: We are the part that has no part; yet, we are here, we existand
we’re not going anywhere! Indeed, another migrant mobilization chant invokes the
ambiguities and ambivalences that are suggested by the Rancièrean problematic of
“the count,” explicitly: No somos uno, no somos cien; Somos millones; ¡Cuéntanos
bien! [We’re not one, we’re not a hundredwe’re millions; Take a good count of
One could detect here the workings of a more prosaic and predictable notion of
the “democratic” desire to be counted, and thus, something like a prefigurative
politics of incipient citizenship (perhaps insurgent, but nonetheless strictly
intelligible according to the normative logic of the dominant political order). Taken
this way, this indeed would be an analogous gesture to the sorely vexed slogan,
“Today we march, tomorrow we vote.” Nevertheless, there is also a kind of
menacing gambit, which dares the order of the police: Count usIF you can!
According to this more incorrigible logic, the migrant multitude acknowledges the
political rationality of “the count,” only to underscore its flagrant and flamboyant
disregard for it. Here, migrants effectively proclaim (and demonstrate) their own un-
countability, their “countless”-ness. To announce “We’re millions” is in fact not to
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stipulate a real (literal) count so much as to incite the collapse of the official count. It
affirms the impossibility of counting this disruptive but unmistakably enormous part
that has no part within the count. Such a challenge accompanies the parallel assertion
that the ever-deportable mass of undocumented migrants is so innumerable that they
truly could never be expelled (deported), under any circumstances. More
fundamentally, however, this assertion inflames a real situation in which countability
has become unintelligibility, and in which migrants can audaciously proclaim: We’re
not going anywhere; you can’t get rid of us.
The “we” that is posited in this queer politics of migration, however, does not
affirm the existence of a positive constituency. In spite of agonistic slogans, such as
“Today we march, tomorrow we vote”which for the vast majority of
undocumented migrants is utterly implausible, and thus readily recognizable as
fanciful and vacuousmost of those who took to the streets in protest were not
going to be easily marshalled as any sort of electoral bloc within the existing order of
the U.S. state. Nor does the “we” that migrants asserted uphold the existence of an
“identity,” as such. Certainly, within the migrant multitudes, there was ample
evidence of a remarkable heterogeneity, predictably enough comprised of a vast
array of specific racialized and national-origin categories and sub-categories of
“foreign” identity (albeit with Latinosand more specifically, Mexicansplaying
an indubitably preeminent role). There is no denying, moreover, that particular
organizing efforts sought precisely to assert that these migrants’ insurgent energies
could and would be domesticated for the purposes of various more predictable
minoritarian political projects. But to be migrantsand to be “illegal” migrants, in
particularis a strictly relational, and in this sense, negative, identity (constituted in
and through a social relation that is finally contingent). There is nothing positive,
essential, or cohesive about it which could coalesce around any sort of distinct
“group” or “population,
and it is crucial to rigorously avoid the trap of endorsing
culturalist notions of a generic “immigrant experience” (what I have elsewhere
designated as “immigrant essentialism”; see De Genova, 2005, pp. 56-94). Instead,
migrant status (“authorized” or “illegal”) entails a spectrum of juridical and socio-
political relations to the state, and must be actively and more or less deliberately
produced through the law and its enforcement. Thus, a queer and sundry assortment
of different identities came to be bundled together through the mere commonality of
belonging, however haphazardly, to that category that is the part of no accountthe
disposable, ever-deportable mass of migrants with debased, negligible, or no legal
personhood whatsoever, who from the standpoint of the dominant order of
citizenship, simply do not exist.
These migrants’ exuberant and outspoken proclamations of their existencetheir
presence, their “here”-ness, indeed, their “we”-nessand the incorrigibility they
celebrated in their defiant refusal to be silenced, suppressed, or expelled, therefore,
can only be apprehensible as a politics of anti-identity. This more contingentwe”
had nothing positive in commonwithin the U.S. political orderexcept their
negative relation to the machinery of the state, which reduced them all to rightless
denizens and de facto “suspects.” Like Halperin’s depiction of the meaning of
“queer,” this was “an identity without an essence ... not a positivity but a
positionality.” On the other hand, if there was nonetheless an alternative sort of
positivity at stake here, albeit only an incipient one, it congealed around the “we”
that was apprehensible only within the global social relation of labour and capital
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the positive “we” of labouring humanity, as yet unnamed and finally reducible to no
“identity” as such (De Genova, 2010b).
This negative space of relationality, in contradistinction with the positivity of
identitarian positions and attachments, can be affiliated to another concept in
Rancière. “Political subjects,” he argues, “… are always defined by an interval
between identities, whether these identities are determined by social relations or
juridical categories.… Political subjects exist in the interval between different names
of subjects” (2006, p. 301; emphasis added). In other words, subjects may be
activated as genuinely political subjects, according to Rancière, only when they
operate from a position that is not reducible to the given terms and coordinates of
already cognizable and thus, actually existing identities. In this sense, as Dimitris
Papadopoulos and his colleagues (2008) have argued, these politics often involve a
long incubation during which they remain relatively imperceptible. Accordingly,
politics erupts from that incipient and often elusive space of non-identity, the interval
defined by non-existence: its eruption is radically new, hitherto un-accounted for,
unpredictable and unanticipated, and it interrupts the order of things with an odd
(queer) supplement, an excess that, strictly speaking, does not belong and has no
place. Politics, then, is indeed not a matter of accommodating and integrating
otherwise aggrieved identities, not a matter of “inclusion” at all. Instead, it is about
the crisis that ensues from the abrupt and troublesome appearance of that which
officially does not exist, cannot be counted or recognized, and makes unruly claims
that are essentially unintelligible within the order of the police: Here we are, we’re
illegalcome and get us … but if you do, we’ll come right back!
Nationalist Compulsions and the Global Politics of Transnational Mobility
A genuinely critical scholarship of migration must in fact be addressed to the task
not merely of describing but also theorizingand critiquingactual struggles, the
real social relations of unresolved antagonism and open-ended struggle that
continuously constitute social life. Here, it is crucial to specify that the very notion of
“society”the reified and fetishized “thing” that tends to be casually called
“society”involves an uncritical presupposition whereby the presumed “object” of
social analysis is objectified on precisely a “national” spatial scale (Hindess 2000;
Holloway 1994). This is symptomatic of what John Agnew (1994) has depicted as
one of the enduring effects of “the territorial trap” of contemporary political thought.
As Neil Brenner and his collaborators note, “this establishes the national scale as the
ontologically necessary foundation of modern political life” (2003, p. 2).
epistemological and methodological problems are especially pertinent to migration
studies (De Genova, 1998, 2002, 2005; Wimmer & Glick-Schiller, 2003). Indeed, as
Willem Schinkel (2010) has argued, the very notion of “integration” operates more
generally as a decisive and routine short-circuit through which a (territorially-
defined, “national”) “society” may be produced and stabilized as a delimited object
with determinate boundaries demarcating its putative inside from its constitutive
outside (cf. De Genova, 2007b). The very processes of state formation and their
compulsive nationalization must consequently be seen as part of what is in fact
generated through the social struggles surrounding transnational human mobility and
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the political conflicts of “immigration,” whereby the figure of “the immigrant” is
produced as an object of U.S. nationalism (De Genova, 2005, pp. 56-94).
Nonetheless, these struggles operate within the fetishized (apparently fixed and
durable) parameters of already-constituted (reified) state formations and their regimes
of “legality” and “illegality.All migrations, after all, are composed as historically
specific products of the intersections of particular formations of human mobility
(migratory movements) with the distinct political and legislative histories of
particular states and their consequent legal economies of meaning and differentiation
(De Genova, 2002). Part of what is at stake in these struggles, however, is no less than
the state itself. For, the subordination of (deportable) migrant labour is a decisive and
perennial task in the expressly “political” mediation (by territorially-defined, “national”
states) of the global capital-labour relation (De Genova, 2010a, 2010b; cf. Holloway,
1994). Hence, this essay has hitherto referred in a relatively unproblematized way to
the 2006 mobilizations as having taken place and been substantively located “in the
United States.” But it is quite relevant to note that this movement, much as it was
centrally preoccupied by the legislative horizon affecting the juridical status of
migrants within the space of the U.S. nation-state, had transnational repercussions and
ramifications, as it inspired parallel mobilizations in a variety of other sites across Latin
America (Robinson, 2006). Still more important, the struggle of these transnational
migrants radically intervened in the ongoing (re-) composition of the tempos and tenor
of the U.S. state’s politics of “immigration” and law-making. Thus, what is at stake
here is not simply the analysis of socio-political processes “in” the United States (as if
they could be apprehensible as effectively contained within a durable receptacle known
as U.S. “society”), but rather the critical theorization of a transnational social relation
of labour and capital and the global politics of migrant mobility as constitutive of the
contemporary United States as such (De Genova, 2007b). The critical analysis of the
2006 migrant struggles, then, can illuminate a more encompassing interrogation of the
historical specificityin the presentof the United States as a state formation, of the
particular manifestations of its politics of immigration, of U.S. nationalism and
nativism, and the full gamut of its nationalist compulsions. Furthermore, what
manifests itself here as an eminently “political” struggle between migrants and the U.S.
state, in particular, must therefore always be apprehensible as simultaneously an
insubordinate mobilization of (transnational) migrant labour against the more
generalized terms of its subordination to (global) capital. It is not tenable to imagine
that this overtly “political” insurgency of migrants “in” the United States is somehow a
matter of no consequence to capital. The nationalist compulsions through which
politics tends to be fought out in actual struggles, especially with regard to
“immigration” within the space of a specific “national” state, must always be critically
conceptualized in terms of the global politics of the capitallabour relation. In this
respect, the transnational mobility of labourlike all labour under capitalism
necessarily has a double character, as (effectively subordinated) labour-for-capital
while always also potentially labour-against-capital, which is never pre-determined
and remains ever unpredictable and volatile.
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“Illegality” and Incorrigibility
The ultimately abortive Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration
Control Act plainly made a central target of undocumented migration and “illegal
aliens.” Predictably, therefore, the positive demands of the movement commonly
included various formulations of “legalization” for undocumented migrants.
However, the proposed law notably included abundant provisions not only for the
outright and summary criminalization of the undocumented but also for the
manipulation of myriad technicalities in the corpus of immigration law as pretexts
for the illegalization of otherwise “legal” (and generally law-abiding) non-citizens. It
actively and aggressively sought to blur the bright lines between “legality” and
“illegality,” in other words, in favour of a massive degradation of the social and
political condition of all migrant denizens, as such. Thus, the bill’s bluntly punitive
and repressive features served to instigate an otherwise improbable coalescence and
cohesion among juridically divergent categories of migrants, which might previously
have been effectively disabled by the invidious and divisive dimensions of
immigration law’s economy of distinctions and discriminations. Thus, a kind of
improbable “we” crystallized precisely through the negativity of this common act of
refusal. Nevertheless, the premier focus of all the protests, as a consequence, was to
simply but audaciously denounce the purportedly “antiterrorist” immigration law.
This means that much of the actual content of the protests acquired a distinctly
plaintive tone.
The predominantly defensive character of the struggle was amply evident in the
abundance of slogans that tellingly revealed the movement’s more generally
beleaguered sensibility, such as the agonistic and preemptively compromised
proclamations, We Are Not Terrorists, and We Are Not Criminals. These sorts of
migrant complaint are inherently compromised, I contend, because by responding in
kind to the offending allegations of the dominant nativist metaphysics of suspicion,
they are induced to inhabit the same discursive terrain. Their strictly defensive
posture within this arena of discourse inevitably compels them to verify its premises
and uphold its conceits: in short, they seem to reply, there really are “suspect”
migrants, the affinities between “crime,” “terrorism,” and “immigration” are
genuine, palpable, and legitimate concernsit’s just that … “we are innocent!”
Thus, these migrant respondents asserted that the conjuncture of the Homeland
Security State’s metaphysics of antiterrorism with “illegal immigrationwas simply
misguided and misplaced. These were the sorts of reply that seemed to say, “We may
be ‘illegal,’ but otherwise we are truly innocent, good, deserving, and in effect,
legitimate ‘immigrants’.” In the worst scenario, some (Latino) migrants during the
2006 mobilizations even volunteered themselves as accomplices, in effect, of the
security state’s ostensible “war against terrorism”: they fashioned themselves as its
would-be advisors, waving placards that only half-ironically declared, The 9/11
Hijackers Did Not Speak Spanish. Thus, alongside and against the politics that
promoted an expansive, negative (anti-identitarian) “we” encompassing the full
spectrum of the deportable, here was a positive, specifically Latino (and in this
instance, reactionary) identity politics of denouncing “terrorists” (the proverbial
“9/11 hijackers”) as non-citizens who “did not speak Spanish.” The transparent
sarcasm notwithstanding, these sorts of gestures could only uphold anew the
presumed sanctity of the tasks of counter-terrorism that had by now become the
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paramount mandate of the immigration authorities. And they reaffirmed the
dominant insinuation of a racialized logic of suspicion and culpability which figured
Arab and other Muslim non-citizens as de facto enemy aliens (De Genova, 2007a; cf.
Ahmad, 2002, 2004; Bayoumi, 2008; Cainkar, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005; Chon & Arzt
2005; Cole, 2003, pp. 47-56; Daulatzai, 2007; Fernandes, 2007; Human Rights
Watch, 2002; Maira, 2004, 2009, 2010; Puar, 2007; Puar & Rai, 2002; Saito, 2001;
Volpp, 2002).
In the same spirit of conformity with the dominant ethos of a besieged but
reanimated U.S. nationalism, there was likewise an extraordinarily vociferous and
emphatic effort by the more conservative elements in the 2006 struggles to insist that
protesters should carry U.S. flags, as a sign of “loyalty” and as a testament of the
assimilationist desire to truly “become Americans.” In these debates within the
movement, the explicit referent was the customary profusion of flags representing
the migrants’ diverse countries of origin, which would purportedly have served to
merely verify the worst nativist suspicions of the anti-immigrant lobbies (cf. Baker-
Cristales, 2009; Pulido, 2007). More controversial but similarly compromised by
U.S. nationalist prerogatives was the release on April 28, 2006 of “Nuestro Himno”
[“Our Anthem”], a Spanish-language rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (the
U.S. national anthem). Distributed to Spanish-language radio stations on the eve of
the May 1 demonstrations, the song was intended to serve as an anthem of solidarity
for the movement, and was quickly disparaged as verifying an anti-assimilationist
repudiation of genuine “Americanness.” Anti-immigrant columnist Michelle Malkin,
for instance, decried it as “the Illegal Alien Anthem.”
The migrant struggle of 2006 was thus pressed to respond to the enduring and ever
more fanatical fetishization of “illegality” as a presumptively obnoxious affront to, and
unpardonable transgression of, the sanctity of the space of the state. Yet, for precisely
this reason, the other politics of the movement, with its robust, repeated, and insistent
declarationHere we are, and we’re not leaving! And if they throw us out, we’ll come
right back!commands serious reflection. For, this other politics was the indeed the
(anti-assimilationist) politics of the migrant struggle’s irreducible and incorrigible
otherness. This slogan is readily apprehensible within the U.S. “national” context, of
course, and may even be recuperable for various more conventional assimilationist
projects; in effect: We’re here, our inclusion is already an irreversible fact, so our
integration and assimilation must be embraced; in any case, they are inevitable. But
there is a radical open-endedness operative here, which defers and effectively silences
the question of assimilation altogetheras finally irrelevant: Whatever we may
become, we’re not going anywherehere we are, here and now.
Migrant “illegality,” then,
remained the hard kernel around which circulated all these competing and conflicting
projects of negotiating the boundaries of U.S. national identity, either surveilling and
superintending the high premiums of nativist intolerance and hostility, or
magnanimously seeking to “assimilate” the iconic “bad immigrant” (the
undocumented) into the hallowed xenophilic aura of the proverbial “good” one,
which serves to verify for U.S. nationalism the resilient choice-worthiness of an
Immigrant America” (Honig, 1998, 2001, pp. 73-106; cf. De Genova, 2005, pp. 56-
It is useful, furthermore, to reframe this affirmation of migrant presenceboth
literally physical and socially substantive presence within the space of the U.S. nation-
stateas also the enunciation of a global mobility. It overtly proclaims itself to be
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unapologetically “here,” but the promise to return in spite of deportation also boldly
signals, by implication, a kind of ubiquity, which is accomplished in and through
mobilityin effect, declaring: We are everywhere. Indeed, the defiance that migrants
in the United States asserted and the resilience that they celebrated were tantamount to
announcing: We are free in our movement and through our movementand by means
of our mobility, we elude your efforts to control our movement and contain our
freedom. Here, in short, was a politics of migration that exceeded the prescribed
“politics” of “immigration,” a global politics of transnational mobility, an excess that
could not be domesticated and refused to be incarcerated within the space of the U.S.
nation-state. Actual migrant presence within the space of the U.S. state was thereby
coupled with the omnipresent potentiality of more migration, signalling the global
horizon of a migrant “presence” beyond the borders of the state, which remains always
possible and merely awaits its own mobilization as migration-in-fact (De Genova,
2010b). Here, in other words, was a vibrant expression of the autonomy of migration.
Alongside the variety of other more conventional efforts to deflect the allegations of
“undeservingness” affiliated to their “illegality,” therefore, here was an enthusiastic
and recalcitrant affirmation of migrant mobility, as such, and a veritable embrace of de
facto “illegality” itself. This slogan thereby suspended the compulsory nationalist
question of “assimilation” altogether, negating its pertinence and repudiating its
validity: We are who we are, and what we are; we’re here, and there’s nothing you can
do about it. Furthermore, they seemed to assure the authorities: We’re here today, may
be there tomorrow, but will be back here again thereafterCatch us if you can!
Simply put, it was an exuberant proclamation of incorrigibility. As some migrants
made explicit, We’re illegalso what? (McNevin, 2009, p. 74; for analogous examples
from the 1990s, see De Genova, 2005, pp. 238-239).
“Immigrants’ Rights” … and Migrant Rightlessness
At the outset of this essay, I deliberately depicted the two chantsAquí
estamos…and We’re here, we’re queer…not as “immigrants’ rights” or “gay
rights” (much less, “queer rights”) slogans, but rather as the respective expressions
of migrant and queer mobilization. That is to say, they erupt from mobilities which
cannot be fixed into place, categorized, and regimented. They refer us to practices
and processes of open-ended becoming that actively produce and transform space,
not fixed identities or knowable “objects” to be put in their place. Furthermore, I
have emphasized the significance and salience, for interpretive and analytical
purposes, of the fact that neither chant advances anything on the order of a demand.
Neither slogan is a claim for “rights,” and neither appeals in any simple or
straightforward sense for “recognition” (much less, for “representation”). To follow
further the logic of the earlier discussion of Rancière, these are political enunciations
precisely because they do not seek inclusion within the existing order of rights,
privileges, and entitlements, and do not even seek to be intelligible within that
framework of assumptions. Inasmuch as, by means of these slogans, “illegal aliens”
and queers are satisfied to simply announce their existence and boldly affirm their
abject presencecome what may, all conceivable recriminations and repercussions
notwithstandingthey operate according to an altogether different, anti-
assimilationist logic of struggle, for which and through which freedom is a practice
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consummated by its own exercise. Rather than making claims for rights, these
interventions complement irreconcilable antagonisms with incorrigible alterity. They
make no pretence of the possibility of reconciliation. They are the irruption from
within of an irreducible “outside,” an inassimilable excess, which seeks no
integration within the system of their own loathsome abjection. Thus, they menace
that system with the collapse of its own normative meanings and coherence. If they
make claims, moreovereven if only by implicationthey are tantamount to the
sorts of claims that ultimately demand the utter collapse of the whole normative
In a socio-political context of legislative assault against the residual semblances of
migrant legal personhood, escalating border militarization, and intense securitization,
the very notion of “immigrants’ rights” is really rather peculiar, if not completely
oxymoronic. Indeed, the very idea of “immigrants’ rights” instructively exposes
some of the constitutive contradictions of the regime of citizenship itself and of
“rights,” more generally (De Genova, 2007a, 2009, 2010a, 2010b). As I would like
to explicate in this concluding section, what I have designated to be the queer politics
of migration is articulated alongside ofbut fundamentally at odds withthis vexed
concept of “immigrants’ rights.” If the migrant mobilizations of 2006 verified
anything, it was plainly that deportable non-citizens, those migrant denizens
officially relegated to a juridical status and social condition of ever more brazen and
abject rightlessness, could never thereby be so casually dispossessed of their political
prerogatives and their resilient resources for struggle. Their potential power and
creative capacities as a genuinely political force was in no way reducible to their
official (juridical) position of disability, as explicitly and sanctimoniously stipulated
within the order of the police.
It is predictably symptomatic of political struggle in the United States, in
particular, that the migrant mobilizations seemed to be almost exclusively focused on
these legalistic questions of “rights,” “illegality,” “amnesty,” and “legalization,” and
citizenship, more generally (but only in its narrowly juridical register). That is to say,
the migrant mobilizations were quickly celebratedperhaps prematurely, and in any
case without much critical reflectionas a “new civil rights movement” (see, e.g.
Chacón & Davis, 2006, p. 7; Johnson & Hing, 2007), in spite of the flagrant and
preemptive ineligibility of migrants for any of the putative rights of citizens. Yet,
there was virtually never any dispute over the substantive social conditions of
migrants’ marginalization, their material deprivation and real misery. Poverty was a
relatively subdued if not completely silenced theme in these debates. Notably, the
sorts of disputes over migrants’ widespread impoverishment as racially subjugated
“minorities,” which might be pertinent to classic “civil rights” controversies
concerning “second-class” citizenship, tended to be simply disregarded as irrelevant.
Here, one recalls the preemptive terminology of the dominant anti-immigrant
nativism: “What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” Thus, against the hostile
contention that migrant “illegality” renders any claim to “justice” effectively
groundless, pro-immigrant advocates have tended to side-step these social questions
in favour of a straightforward faith in “legalization.” It is as if some sort of merely
juridical remedy to migrants’ “illegal” (deportable and rightless) condition would
presumptively remove an onerous barrier and instantaneously make available to
them the mythic upward social mobility ladder of canonical U.S. nationalist
narratives about the “land of opportunity” (Chock, 1991). In this respect, the
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legalistic preoccupations of these struggles remained recuperable to the hegemonic
xenophilia, in Bonnie Honig’s insightful phrase (1998, 2001), which animates liberal
U.S. nationalist discourses of “immigration” (cf. De Genova, 2005, pp. 56-94). Thus,
liberal advocates for migrant “legalization” and “immigrants’ rights” could remain
dutifully (if perhaps often unwittingly) faithful to the U.S. nationalist conceits and
presuppositions regarding the promise of “Immigrant America” as a refuge of liberty
and a haven of boundless opportunity.
In contrast to the statist and nationalist recuperation of migrant insurgency as a
matter of “civil rights,” others have discerned in the mobilization of transnational
migrants an occasion for the reinvigoration of the sense and substance of “human
rights.” Indeed, the quite pervasive slogan No Human Being Is Illegal would seem to
suspend the pertinence of “the law”specifically, the worldly and parochial
preoccupations of the immigration laws of nation-statesin favour of a “higher”
(moral) imperative, grounded in the universalism of a presumably irreducible
substantive fact of humanity, as such (Agamben, 2003).
The agonistic plea of this
slogan effectively responds to the socio-political reality of one or another state’s
illegalization of migrant non-citizens with the recuperation of these particular
persons (and their specific relations to state power, sovereignty, and borders) as
putatively “rightful” members of a universal (human) constituency. Such a slogan
thereby invokes the spectre of a “law” that is greater than any particular state’s
immigration lawby implication, at least, a (“natural”) “law” that finally must be
grounded in the pure “nature” of human birth, or nativity, as such (cf. De Genova,
2010b). Yet, what is perhaps even more problematic for the purposes of this essay is
that this slogan can also be read to proclaim, in effect: All Human Beings Are Legal.
The gesture toward “human rights,” then, entails a veritable desire for the law.
One could read Rancière in support of such contentions about “human rights,” but
only in a distinctly queer, paradoxical manner. As I have briefly outlined, Rancière
conceives of politics as the content of “specific scenes of dissensus” in which
subjects who are officially deemed to not exist, paradoxically, nonetheless enact a
“supplement” to the official “count” of the dominant order (2004, p. 305). He goes
on to assert that the Rights of Man (or “human rights,” so to speak) are indeed
nothing less than the rights of these political subjects, those of no-count, who do not
exist until they activate this dissensus and unsettle the order of the police. Rancière
argues that this is why …
this sense, these wistful invocations of undocumented (officially rightless) migrants’
putative “human rights,” insofar as they operate as a grand affirmation of an ethereal
ideal of “legality,” remain trapped within the logic of sovereign state power. Thus,
the project of configuring the struggles of migration as an iconic paradigm for
“human rights” advocacy is finally one that is deeply ensnared within the rather more
pernicious and ordinarily unexamined horizon of a global (supra-national, imperial)
even the clandestine immigrants in the zones of transit of our countries or
the populations in the camps of refugees, can invoke [the Rights of Man].
These rights are theirs when they can do something with them to construct
a dissensus against the denial of rights they suffer. And there are always
people among them who do it. (2004, pp. 305-306)
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In answer to the question “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?”, then, Rancière
declares, in effect, that it is this hitherto un-counted subject, non-existent and of no
account. Accordingly, the ostensible subject of human rights is the “surplus subject
who produces a dissensus, the supplemental miscount in which the part that has no
part inserts itself and disrupts the order. Politics therefore ends up being largely a
polemic about the verification of the Rights of Man. As Rancière explains:
Ultimately, those rights appear actually empty. They seem to be of no use.
And when they are of no use, you do the same as charitable persons do
with their old clothes. You give them to the poor. Those rights that appear
to be useless in their place are sent abroad, along with medicine and
clothes, to people deprived of medicine, clothes, and rights. It is in this
way, as the result of this process, that the Rights of Man become the rights
of those who have no rights, the rights of bare human beings subjected to
inhuman repression and inhuman conditions of existence. They become
humanitarian rights, the rights of those who cannot enact them, the victims
of the absolute denial of right. For all this, they are not void. … The void
is filled by somebody or something else. The Rights of Man do not
become void by becoming the rights of those who cannot actualize them.
(2004, p. 307)
Thus, acknowledging the apparent emptiness of “human rights,Rancière suggests
that it is precisely this emptiness that makes them viable for those who activate
politics from a space of non-existence. From his critical vantage (and explicitly
critiquing Hannah Arendt’s classic account [1951/1966, pp. 267-302]), “rights” that
are substantively empty are not in fact voidbecause their specifically political
substance paradoxically derives from their activation of a dissensus that erupts
precisely from a void, a condition of nonexistence. Human rights are activated, for
Rancière, as the besieged rights of those political subjects whose very nonexistence
within the dominant order verifies the contentious polemic that they initiate. From
within this paradox, however, the otherwise vacuous and beleaguered notion of
“human rights” might assume an enigmatic meaningfulness, but one which can be
posited only negatively, relationallyin effect, as the “rights” that matter exactly
because, and only because, they are the rights of the rightless.
A deeper and far more pernicious paradox, however, resides in the utter
impossibility of such a polemic over “human rights” to ever produce a material and
practical grounding that is not haunted by its dependence upon some form of supra-
national, “universal,” quasi-imperial sovereignty. At least by implication, the
dissensus that provokes a new conjuncture of politicsinasmuch as it is articulated
in terms of “rights”also refers inevitably to a sort of adjudication. “By becoming
the rights of those who cannot actualize them,” to re-phrase Rancière’s formulation,
the Rights of Man operate in a void which never fails in fact to be “filled by
somebody or something else.” Like the more metaphorical notions of (“global,”
“transnational”) “citizenship” which are finally inextricable from these various
formulations of “rights,” any attempt to capture (transnational) migrants’ insurgent
energies and veritable practices of freedom within the rubric of rightfulness or
entitlement is doomed to exalt anew some sort of juridical order of constituted
sovereign (state) power. The more virtual the latter appears, the more certain it is to
be that of a global power that eludes definition according to the more conventional,
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territorially-defined “national” form. If the true subject of “human rights” is one
deemed to erupt from a space of non-existence within the order of the police, there
are likewise those constituted police powers that similarly have no sanctioned
juridical place from which to activate or enforce “human rights”except as the
would-be (global) sovereign that confirms its own putative legitimacy only by
deciding in fact upon what does or does not count as a “state of exception”
(Agamben, 2003). Imperial states,” argues Ann Stoler, “by definition operate as
states of exception” (2006, p. 139; emphasis in original). Thus, efforts (such as
Rancière’s) to recuperate the notion of “human rights”precisely with recourse to
the abject figure of sovereign power’s definitively rightless denizensare ultimately
Here, we must return to the question of a global politics of labour and capital
which stubbornly resists its own foreclosure within any politics of “citizenship,”
howsoever construed. Entangled with this matrix of “rights” and rightlessness, the
themes of (transnational) migrant labour (and thus exploitation, even if only in a
somewhat inchoate way), were abundantly manifest in the 2006 mobilizations
above all, in the culminating designation of May 1 as a national one-day general
strike and consumer boycott, to be known as “A Day without Immigrants” (cf. De
Genova, 2009; Pulido, 2007; Robinson, 2006). The significance of the migrant
movement as precisely a labour struggle was clearly signalled by this deliberate
revitalization of May Day as International Workers’ Day. May 1, of course, is a
holiday of the global working class. In spite of the date’s historical genesis in
Chicago in 1886, however, May Day has been generally stigmatized and suppressed
historically by the mandates of U.S. anticommunism and has, in effect, never been
honoured in the United States except by radical left-labour movements. In this
respect, tooexactly because an explicit politics of class struggle has been rendered
virtually unspeakable in the United Statesthe overt and unabashed labour politics
of the migrants’ mobilizations entailed, likewise, a queer politics.
With recourse to a diverse spectrum of proclamations of the dignity and
entitlements of labour, the 2006 movement advanced a stalwart reminder of U.S.
employers’ and consumers’ broad dependency on migrantsas workers.
Nevertheless, these agonistic assertions of migrants’ entitlements and “rights” on the
basis of their laborious (and by implication, docile, dutiful, and law-abiding)
servitude were also plagued by their own contradictions. In particular, one very
pervasive strain of migrant discourse concerning “hard work” and “deservingness”
was deeply ensconced in a torturously contradictory set of allegations with regard to
the “laziness,” “welfare dependency” and “criminality” that many migrants
commonly attribute to their most proximate competitors at the bottom echelons of
the U.S. labour market, namely, impoverished U.S.-citizen racial “minorities”
above all, African Americans (De Genova, 2005, pp. 167-209, 2008; De Genova &
Ramos-Zayas, 2003, pp. 57-82). Hence, a corollary to the presumably self-evident
declarations We Are Not Terrorists and We Are Not Criminals presented itself in
another couplet: We Are Workers, Not Criminals and the still more revealing We Are
Not on Welfare. When Jennifer Gordon and R. A. Lenhardt rightly demand, in
response to these slogans, “As opposed to whom?” they very appropriately note that
the seemingly positive rhetoric of the signs that many carried … had a painful
double meaning” (2006, p. 2496; emphasis in original). Here one may detect the
transposition of a politics of labour as negativity, relationally ensnared within and yet
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irreconcilably against capital, into an identitarian politics of class and race, a politics
of class as positive identity. In this context, “work” itself operates ideologically as an
“American” value within a moral economy of citizenship, whereby the capacity for
labour is affiliated to a competence for self control, self-government, and rightful
citizenship through a kind of labour-republican politics of virtue (cf. Almaguer,
1994; Roediger, 1991; Takaki, 1979).
Still, alongside these positive identitarian gestures, there was the articulation of
another politicsan incorrigible politics of migrant labour that took the form of a
robust politics of anti-identity. Avowing their position as labour, migrants boldly
upheld their “illegal” (and rightless) presenceAquí estamos!—and their
mobilizations presented the sovereign power of the state with an unthinkable
aberration. Migrants answered normative allegations of “illegality” with an
alternative framework for making claimsone premised upon the (global)
prerogatives of labourwhich thus abnegated unreservedly the pertinence of
immigration law altogether. Speaking in a political idiom that was apparently
addressed to the state, then, the migrant mobilizations shifted the register to address
capital directly, as transnational labour. The movement seemed to simply declare:
Here we are, “illegal” and without rightsbut because you depend upon our
labour, you are powerless to expel us; thus, we defy your power, and we’re not going
Here was an enunciation of (transnational) labour as constitutive of
(global) capital, inextricably within capital, but also against capitalrightless,
“illegal,” but insubordinate all the same. As Marx famously noted, in the “antinomy,
of right against right … force decides” (1867/1976, p. 344). Thus, the answer to
migrants’ real predicament of objective rightlessness was not recourse to some
alternate rubric for the restoration of rights. In this sense, migrant rightlessness was
merely a “fact,” and the anomalous and inimical character of this fact made the law
itself an abhorrent nemesis. This aspect of the movement’s unapologetic politics of
(transnational) migrant labour therefore facilitated an implicit rejection of the very
notion of “immigrants’ rights,” which was bedevilled with its own inherent
inconsistencies and so compromised by this incoherence. Such gestures effectively
responded to the fetishistic language of “legality” and “illegality” with another idiom
that was strictly unintelligible to the law’s abstract formalisms and its economy of
categorical distinctions. This politics of migrant labour was a queer politics,
furthermore, because it was unabashed and unreserved about this unintelligibility: it
denounced the abjection and rightlessness of migrants by altogether repudiating the
law and the state itself, defiantly and incorrigibly.
I am truly grateful to Tanya Basok for inviting me to contribute to this special issue; without
her editorial initiative, I may not have had the occasion to develop the thoughts presented in
this essay. Earlier drafts were presented to scholarly and activist audiences in Rome,
Bologna, and Amsterdam, and I owe a note of appreciation to Nina Trige Andersen,
Sébastien Chauvin, Ayça Çubukçu, Paul Mepschen, Sandro Mezzadra, Enrica Rigo, Maria
Vittoria Tessitore, and Bertil Videt for their various roles on these occasions. I received very
engaged critical responses to the text from Ayça Çubukçu, Ramón Gutiérrez, Engin Isin,
Naledi Nomalanga Mkhize, and Nathalie Peutz, which have challenged and enriched my
thinking about this essay. I also owe a note of gratitude to various colleagues and students
whose theory and practice have helped me, in various ways over the years, to arrive at the
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ideas here, especially: Alejandro Amezcua, Rutvica Andrijasevic, Adriana Garriga-López,
Amanda Gilliam, Marcial Godoy, María Lugones, Sofian Merabet, Sandro Mezzadra,
Dimitris Papadopoulos, Joshua Price, and Marie Varghese.
For instances of this chant from migrant protests during the 1990s, see, e.g., Coutin (2000,
p. 42; cf. 1999; 2003); Crawford (2007); Lipsitz (2006, p. 312). Indeed, Raúl Villa (2000)
posits that the distinctly spatial sensibility of this declaration is “barriological” (pp. 52, 109)
and reinscribes its genealogy within the history of Chicano-identified socio-cultural
formations; if not necessarily referring to the phrase itself, verbatim, Villa nonetheless traces
this sensibility back at least to the Los Angeles Barrio Writers Workshop / Los Angeles
Latino Writers’ Association of the late 1970s and early 1980s (pp. 107-109).
For a compilation of estimated totals for virtually all documented demonstrations, based
upon the relatively more conservative reports of the official news media, which nonetheless
arrives at a total participation ranging from 3.5 million to more than 5 million for all known
events during the spring of 2006, see the database available at:
In spite of the genuine depth of the organizing that contributed everywhere to the success of
the movement (see, e.g., Gonzales, 2009; Voss & Bloemraad, n.d.), it is nonetheless
undeniable that the 2006 struggles achieved their remarkable force and scope rather
abruptly, with the rapid spread of an acute awareness of the particularly offensive and
menacing ramifications of the new legislation.
In a related but revealingly discrepant context, Susan Coutin (1999) has also noted the
salience for undocumented migrants of the theme of presence at stake in this slogan (p. 63).
Coutin (2000) discusses this slogan in the particular case of (undocumented) Salvadoran
asylum-seekers’ struggles for legal recognition, insightfully likening it to the memorable
passage in Dr. Seuss’s children’s classic Horton Hears a Who, where “in order to prevent
the destruction of their world by those who doubted its existence, all of the Whos in
Whoville had to shout, ‘We are here! We are here!’” (p. 42). Under these circumstances,
where Salvadorans were indeed seeking legal redress from the state, Coutin (2003) goes on
to suggest that “the assertion ‘Aquí estamos’ begins to seem more important than the defiant
‘y no nos vamos’” (p. 186). In contrast to what I am depicting as the exuberant defiance of
the 2006 mass mobilizations, Coutin (1999) explains: “By asserting their presence, these
unauthorized immigrants claimed both legitimacy and formal membership in the polity” (p.
It is not the proposition of this essay to discuss the intersections of migration, queer
identities, and immigration politics. There is of course a robust and burgeoning field of
excellent scholarship that does precisely that; see, e.g., Cantú (2009); Luibhéid (2002;
2008); Luibhéid and Cantú, eds. (2005); Puar (2007); Puar and Rai (2002); Somerville
(2005). For another attempt to bring the insights of gender and sexuality studies to bear
upon migration scholarship, more generally, see Andrijasevic (2009).
Notably, unknown to me upon first writing this essay, the activist campaign of
undocumented students, generally raised and educated in the United States as the
undocumented children of migrant parents, advocating for their own “legalization” through
the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), inaugurated
March 10, 2010 as “National Coming Out Day”, and initiated a series of “coming out party”
rallies throughout the United States, in which they openly declared themselves to be
“undocumented but unafraid.” The overtly LGBT/ queer theme of “coming out” (of “the
closet”) was tellingly coupled with the immigration discourse of “coming out of the
shadows,” and on one activist website, was accompanied with a quote from gay liberation
icon, Harvey Milk; see: <>; see also:
<>; for various activist
sites within the broader campaign, more generally, see: <>;
<>;and <> (all sites accessed 30 June
For critical examinations of the equivocal and vexed figures of queer “nationhood” and
“nationality,” see Berlant and Freeman (1992) and Bérubé and Escoffier (1991); for a
discussion of the problematic relation of this figure of queer nationhood to migrant
“illegality” and undocumented migrant queers, see Fernández (1991).
122 Nicholas De Genova
Studies in Social Justice, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2010
Indeed, queer politics is challenged as never before to subvert the neoliberal commodifi-
cation of “queerness” itself as an identity, and furthermore, to stringently repudiate the
precisely normalizing enlistment of a domesticated “queerness” into the service of neo-
nationalist projects that aspire above all to “queer” migrants (especially Muslims, as
“intolerant,” inadequately “enlightened,” insufficiently “modern” and “secular,” and so
I am very grateful to Ayça Çubukçu for calling this analogy to my attention.
For key texts in the elaboration of an explicit critique of methodological nationalism, see
Giddens (1973; 1985); Martins (1974); for a retrospective assessment and a critique of
contemporary versions of these arguments, particularly those associated with the explicitly
“cosmopolitan” work of Ulrich Beck (2000; 2002), as a new sociological “orthodoxy” on
globalization, see Chernilo (2006; 2007); see also Beck and Sznaider (2006).
George W. Bush responded to a reporter’s query with the remark, “I think the national
anthem ought to be sung in English. And I think people who want to be a citizen of this
country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in
English” (Montgomery, 2006). However, subsequent reporting disclosed that Bush himself
may have participated in singing along with other Spanish-language versions of the anthem,
and in any case, had apparently condoned their use, during his campaign overtures toward
Latino electoral constituencies (Baker, 2006).
These reflections are indebted to theoretical insights and critical perspectives associated
with scholars of the “autonomy of migration”; see, e.g., Mezzadra (2001, 2004, 2006, 2010);
Mezzadra and Nielson (2003); Moulier Boutang (1998, 2001); Moulier Boutang and Garson
(1984); cf. De Genova (2009; 2010b); Karakayali and Rigo (2010); Papadopoulos,
Stephenson, and Tsianos (2008).
Notably, the slogan No Human Being Is Illegal (especially associated with anti-border
movements in Europe, including the well-established German initiative Kein Mensch ist
Illegal) is sometimes (as in Canada, for instance) more commonly enunciated as No One Is
Illegal. As insightfully suggested by an anonymous reviewer of this essay, this latter
formulation potentially introduces some additional ambiguity, such that the slogan has come
to be deployed on behalf of “animal rights” and other concerns of deep ecology movements,
dedicated to transcending a human-centric politics altogether.
For a related discussion, specifically regarding deportees’ equivocal desire for the law, see
Peutz (2007).
I am indebted to Ayça Çubukçu and Engin Isin for pushing me, in their respective and
discrepant ways, to address this problem more fully. For a related critique of “human rights”
in relation to the problem of sovereign power, see Çubukçu (2008).
Notably, beginning in October 2009, a wave of strikes by several thousand undocumented
migrant workers demanding legal residence in France, articulated the themes of migrant
presence and labour in remarkably similar terms; their principal slogan was: “On bosse ici,
on vit ici, on reste ici” [We work here, we live here, we’re staying here]. I am thankful to
Sébastien Chauvin for bringing this analogy to my attention.
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... Therefore, the modes of experiencing sexual orientations and/or gender identities and expressions (SOGIE) are intimately related to territory, and the sociocultural dimension of space is a fundamental element to be considered when we deal with the migration of LGBTIQ+ subjects (Nicholas DE GENOVA, 2010;Estelle KRZESLO, 2007;Lawrence LA FOUNTAIN-STOKES, 2009;Norma MOGROVEJO, 2005; Catherine NASH; Andrew GORMAN-MURRAY, 2014;Natalie OSWIN, 2008;Farhang ROUHANI, 2016;Gil VALENTINE, 2002;Ruben ZECENA, 2019). This is because not conforming to the hegemonic cisgender and/or heterosexual pattern implies being susceptible to a series of symbolic and/or physical violence. ...
... Regarding a mobility policy for LGBTIQ+ subjects, citizenship resides in the right to be mobile without it representing any kind of vulnerability or precariousness (DE GENOVA, 2010). As Tim Cresswell (2010) argues, mobility is an inherent condition of the constitution of the subject, of the fully realized (and visible) citizen participating in democracy. ...
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The objective of the study is to analyze the impacts of spaces of violence in the case of LGBTIQ+ immigration. The qualitative methodology includes a set of theoretical reflections on the migration of LGBTIQ+ subjects and the conjuncture of violence against the LGBTIQ+ population in Brazil, as well as semi-structured interviews with ten LGBTIQ+ immigrants and refugees living in the city of São Paulo. The analysis focuses on how spaces of violence can affect the migratory experience of these subjects. The results demonstrate that spaces of violence are mainly related to the institutional scope and the appropriation of physical and symbolic spaces in the city.
... Inasmuch as the migrants' mass mobilizations occupy public space, they also disrupt and commonly defy the authority of the state powers that ordinarily presume to control such spaces, above all the borders and boundaries that are deployed to demarcate and define such spaces as state spaces and ostensibly sovereign territories. In these ways, "unauthorized" (illegalized) migratory movementsand the migrant caravans in a particularly potent way -embody and enact a politics of incorrigibility (De Genova, 2010, 2017. ...
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This article analyzes the migrant caravans as a strategy of resistance to the war against migrants in transit to the United States, exacerbated during the pandemic. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with Honduran journalist Inmer Gerardo Chevez, correspondent of Radio Progreso. Having travelled the Central American and Mexican routes accompanying on foot the transit of thousands of migrants since 2018, Chevez is a notable eyewitness and expert in situ of the Caravans. The interview confirms that the caravan has become one of the premier forms in which Latin American migrants, including agricultural workers, struggle and their spatial dispute with the heterogeneous border control regime of the Americas are materialized. The text also reflects on the role that photography and critical journalism can play in the face of the contemporary anti-migrant policy turn. We conclude with an interpretation of the effects that the militarized violence against Latin American migrants in transit to the United States is having across the region.
... 39 Some examples of the discourse on the most recent events include (Neumann 2021(Neumann , 2022. Those concerning these last decades include (Malkki 1992;Mbembe 2003Mbembe , 2019De Genova 2010;Mezzadra and Neilson 2013;Tazzioli 2015;Boano and Astolfo 2020). ...
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Within the ancient corpus we find depictions of people seeking refuge and protection: in works of fiction, drama and poetry; on wall paintings and vases, they cluster at protective altars and cling to statues of gods who seemingly look on. Yet the ancient evidence does not lend itself easily to exploring attitudes to refugees or asylum seekers. Hence, the question that begins this investigation is, representation of whom? Through a focus on the Greco-Roman material of the Mediterranean region, drawing on select representations, such as the tragedies Medea and Suppliant Women, the historical failed plea of the Plataeans and pictorial imagery of supplication, the goal of the exploration below is not to shape into existence an ancient refugee or asylum seeker experience. Rather, it is to highlight the multiplicity of experiences within narratives of victimhood and the confines of such labels as refugee and asylum seeker. The absence of ancient representations of a generic figure or group of the ‘displaced’, broadly defined, precludes any exceptionalising or homogenising of people in such contexts. Remaining depictions are of named, recognisable protagonists, whose stories are known. There is no ‘mass’ of refuge seekers, to whom a single set of rules could apply across time and space. Given these diverse stories of negotiation for refuge, another aim is to illustrate the ways such experience does not come to define the entirety of who a person is or encompass the complete life and its many layers. This paper addresses the challenges of representation that are exposed by, among others, thinkers such as Hannah Arendt, Liisa Malkki and Gerawork Gizaw.
This article proposes border abolitionism as both a political and an analytical framework for deepening critiques of border, migration, and asylum regimes worldwide. Abolitionist perspectives have been associated primarily with questions of criminalization and mass incarceration and thus articulated as a project of prison abolitionism. Importantly, migrant detention and deportation comprise another major pillar of the entrenchment of the carceral state. While critical migration scholarship and No Borders activism have been confronted with the increasing criminalization of immigration and a more general punitive turn in immigration enforcement, engagements with carceral abolitionist perspectives have largely been quite recent. Seemingly disparate struggles increasingly bring into sharper focus a multifaceted critique of what we call the confinement continuum. Not reducible to detention in migrant jails, the confinement continuum is the nexus of heterogeneous modes of confinement that migrants experience, from the fundamental condition of being stuck or trapped in a border zone to the consequent forms of border violence, as well as other forms of coercion that characterize the more general racialized sociopolitical condition of migrant subordination far beyond any physical border site and encompassing the full spectrum of migrant everyday life. Thus, migrants’ and refugees’ struggles and demands exceed a narrow focus on borders alone and frequently enact an incipient politics of abolitionism: migrants and refugees challenge the interlocking bordering mechanisms affecting them while always also repudiating and resisting the biopolitical constrictions that confine them to degraded conditions of life and articulating broader claims for social justice and visions of new and better ways of life.
‘Resistance’ and related concepts like ‘counter-conduct’, ‘counter-politics’ and ‘revolution’ continue to gain an intense interest and use. At the same time, however, we observe an intensified questioning of the concept of resistance and in particular the logic of negativity that it inscribes into our understanding of difference and its politics. Engaging with contributions that have pushed the concept of resistance and its dialectic logic of negativity to its limits in order to explore what it yields for analysing different political practices, we look for new interventions into modes of thinking about critical politics. To that purpose, we introduce the concepts of ‘folds’ and ‘folding’. They allow for understanding how differences work not through opposition to something but through enveloping in dynamic structures of multiple connections that generate a specific social field. We speak loosely of ‘against resistance?’ not as a claim that the concept of resistance has or should be moved to the dustbin of history but rather to argue for experimenting in International Political Sociology with conceptions of non-dialectic critical politics that work in a perspective of co-existence in heterogeneity and multiplicity and the conditions for openness and social possibility that it creates.
The author examines the way in which the example of Filipina caregiver Rosa Fostanes, winner of X-Factor Israel, was used to reframe Israel as multicultural and economically empowering for migrants. Such representations of Israeli magnanimity obscure the ‘incommensurable’ debts owed to Palestinians for dispossession of their land, while obscuring past and ongoing labour and resource extraction that shape global labour markets and drive migration. Such representations of non-white (im)migrant inclusion are common within liberal settler economies, and have long been deployed to shore up global influence in states embroiled in colonial violence. Through the lens of debt, the author highlights the comparative racialisations of migrants.
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h.— Indice 7 Prefazione alla nuova edizione PARTE PRIMA 17 Introduzione 29 Prologo. Il giovane Max Weber, il diritto di fuga dei migranti tede-schi e gli stomaci polacchi Rarissimae aves; Magia della libertà; Una società di nemici; Stomaci diversa-mente costituiti 47 In principio era la forca. Migrazioni, mobilità del lavoro e storia del capitalismo Individui senza storia; Gabbie d'acciaio; La fuga e le briglie 57 Cittadini della frontiera e confini della cittadinanza Nella crisi della cittadinanza; Esclusione; Il doppio spazio dei migranti; Cittadini oltre la nazione?; Migrazioni, diritto di fuga e confini della cittadi-nanza; Problematica appartenenza 79 Dopo le colonie, il mondo UK, 1948; Antiche segregazioni; One World; Culture; Modernità, at large; Marx a Calcutta PARTE SECONDA 101 Né qui né altrove: migrazioni, detenzione, diserzione tra Europa e Australia. Conversazione con Brett Neilson
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This book explores the possibilities for and, more importantly, the obstacles to the emergence of a shared sense of "Latino" identity, or Latinidad, between two of the largest and most historically significant Latin American groups in the United States. Based upon ethnographic research in Chicago-one of very few major sites where Mexicans and Puerto Ricans have both settled over several decades-this study is concerned with the sociopolitical relations between Mexican migrants and Puerto Ricans within the space of the U.S. nation-state. Through the critical analytic lens enabled by these two experiences and their intersections, this research is focused primarily on the politics of race and citizenship in the U.S. "Racialization" and "the politics of citizenship" are posited as the central categories of our analysis.
What should we do about foreigners? Should we try to make them more like us or keep them at bay to protect our democracy, our culture, our well-being? This dilemma underlies age-old debates about immigration, citizenship, and national identity that are strikingly relevant today. In Democracy and the Foreigner, Bonnie Honig reverses the question: What problems might foreigners solve for us? Hers is not a conventional approach. Instead of lauding the achievements of individual foreigners, she probes a much larger issue--the symbolic politics of foreignness. In doing so she shows not only how our debates over foreignness help shore up our national or democratic identities, but how anxieties endemic to liberal democracy themselves animate ambivalence toward foreignness. Central to Honig's arguments are stories featuring "foreign-founders," in which the origins or revitalization of a people depend upon a foreigner's energy, virtue, insight, or law. From such popular movies as The Wizard of Oz, Shane, and Strictly Ballroom to the biblical stories of Moses and Ruth to the myth of an immigrant America, from Rousseau to Freud, foreignness is represented not just as a threat but as a supplement for communities periodically requiring renewal. Why? Why do people tell stories in which their societies are dependent on strangers? One of Honig's most surprising conclusions is that an appreciation of the role of foreigners in (re)founding peoples works neither solely as a cosmopolitan nor a nationalist resource. For example, in America, nationalists see one archetypal foreign-founder--the naturalized immigrant--as reconfirming the allure of deeply held American values, whereas to cosmopolitans this immigrant represents the deeply transnational character of American democracy. Scholars and students of political theory, and all those concerned with the dilemmas democracy faces in accommodating difference, will find this book rich with valuable and stimulating insights.
Inasmuch as virtually all ethnography is parochially located, in some literal sense, somewhere—in some kind of place or nexus of places, or otherwise in relation to some set of practices, which would have to amount to something less than "the United States" per se—then it is self-evident that the sort of intimate research encounter that has come to distinguish sociocultural anthropology would be always restricted to the claims of an anthropology in the United States. But this in fact has always also been true of all other conventionally conceived anthropologies. Compared to the theoretical myopia that has disfigured the anthropological objectification of other places, however, as Di Leonardo argues trenchantly, [End Page 233] The problem (and theoretical problematization) of Blackness and "American"-ness as "two warring ideals," immortalized by Du Bois, became a proverbial material force that could and did make history, precisely when it was taken up by a mass movement during the 1960s (see Marx 1844, 137). One need only recall the ominous judgment of the Kerner Commission's Report (1968, 1), prepared as a presidential advisory investigation into the causes for the urban insurrections in the African American communities of Detroit and Newark in 1967: "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal." Writing only a month or so after the publication of the report, in the still more dramatic aftermath of similar revolts following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., whereby insurgency seemed manifest in virtually every African American urban community throughout the United States, Clifford Geertz was invited by the New York Times Magazine to reflect on the question of violence in U.S. society.²⁰ Writing very much as an "American" and only secondarily as an anthropologist—but not in any substantive sense as an anthropologist of the United States—Geertz's remarks are quite revealing: