Home / General / It All Started on the Border and That’s Still Where It is Today

It All Started on the Border and That’s Still Where It is Today


Harsha Walia has an excellent long read at Boston Review thinking hard about borders and immigration restriction, what they really mean, why they exist, and what to do about this evil. A couple of excerpts from a piece I really do want to recommend you read in its entirety:

To be a modern nation-state in a state-centric world presupposes the necessity of a secured border. Radhika Mongia argues, “Today all states embody a historically produced colonial dimension, with the citizen/migrant distinction as one of the primary axes of such differentiation.” Borders maintain hoarded concentrations of wealth accrued from colonial domination while ensuring mobility for some and containment for most—a system of global apartheid determining who can live where and under what conditions. The Indian Border Security Force is the world’s largest border security force, Europe’s Mediterranean border is the world’s deadliest border, and Australia jails detainees for an average of 689 days in its matrix of offshore immigration detention centers. As Toni Morrison described in her prophetic 1997 work, “Home,” “The contemporary world’s work has become policing, halting, forming policy regarding, and trying to administer the movement of people. Nationhood—the very definition of citizenship—is constantly being demarcated and redemarcated in response to exiles, refugees, Gastarbeiter, immigrants, migrations, the displaced, the fleeing, and the besieged.”

We are witnesses to the horrific impacts of this categorization and control of people. Suffocation in the back of cargo trucks in Texas and Arizona, dehydration in blistering heat in the Horn of Africa’s eastern corridor, unmarked graves in the Sonoran and Sahara deserts, deadly pushbacks of migrant caravans in Melilla and Croatia, and wet cemeteries throughout the Mediterranean are the deathscapes of borders’ victims.

As the (always racialized) body count grows, language such as “border crisis” becomes a pretext for more border securitization, including repressive practices of interdiction and the criminalization of smuggling. Migrants and refugees become the cause of an imagined crisis at the border, despite the fact that approximately 95 percent of displaced people remain internally displaced or in refugee camps. In fact, mass displacement and immobility represent the outcome of the actual displacement crises of capitalism, conquest, and climate change. The catastrophic effects of climate disasters, which displace one person every two seconds, are a primary source of escalating border militarization in our era. While ruling elites fail to mitigate climate change, “climate security” is the latest screed of eco-apartheid proponents. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-right politician Marine Le Pen. Meanwhile, the Australian Defense Forces have announced military patrols to intercept climate migrants, and the United States has created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation after climate disasters in the Caribbean.

In addition to the nascent scapegoat of the “climate migrant,” the border merges a range of other constructed threats. There is the illegal (bear in mind: Crees, Chippewas, and Yaquis launched political battles for Indigenous tribal recognition after being considered illegal immigrants); the terrorist (never forget: 779 Muslim men and boys were imprisoned and tortured at Guantánamo Bay); the criminal (remember: Clinton’s 1996 immigration laws dramatically widened the net for detention and deportation for those with convictions); the bogus refugee (recall: most refugees from Vietnam were welcomed during the Cold War, while most Haitians fleeing U.S. destabilization were deemed bogus and faced detention and deportation); the swarm (Trump infamously propagandized: “Working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal immigration: reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools, hospitals that are so crowded you can’t get in, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net”); the undeserving (Obama peddled: “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids”); the diseased (still counting: 1.7 million Title 42 expulsions from the U.S. during the pandemic); the foreigner (compare to: “We’re talking about Europeans [Ukranians] leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives”).


Migrant workers do not cause environmental degradation or suppress wages; bosses, corporations, and borders do. An internationalist, feminist, abolitionist, labor rights platform is perhaps best articulated by migrant sex workers enduring the intersection of sex work criminalization, precarious migration status, and gendered labor—all of which, not coincidentally, uphold the feminization of poverty. Canary Song, a coalition of migrant Asian and Asian American sex workers in the United States, articulates a vision against policing, deportation, and anti-trafficking raids, while advancing labor rights for all sex workers and migrant workers to “openly assemble without fear, share resources, and collectively organize for better wages and working conditions.”

Abolition, Ruth Wilson Gilmore teaches us, is concerned with collective presence and building life-affirming institutions. Hundreds of campaigns are fighting for solidarity/sanctuary cities, where undocumented residents are guaranteed access to public needs and local jurisdictions limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Dozens of civilian solidarity/rescue missions on land and on sea are engaged in lifesaving, and often illegal, efforts to provide food, water, shelter, and transportation to migrants and refugees. There are many ways people and organizations are extending networks of collective care and safety: people opening their homes to refugees, congregations of faith sheltering migrant fugitives, people distributing food and medical supplies at border sites such as Calais and Nogales, houseless and stateless squats and encampments, migrant workers and labor unions uniting to establish rank-and-file worker centers, direct actions preventing immigration raids, and internationalist organizing. These actions create liberated zones of belonging beyond and against neoliberal, nationalist conceits. These ecosystems, even if small in scale, model different forms of social relations, solidarity, and kinship through the process of joint struggle.

And the everyday unsanctioned movement of people—defying borders and risking death—is, in itself, worldmaking and homemaking. Without romanticizing or generalizing the politics of those on the move, we must recognize the sheer will and productive power they represent. In their determination for a different life, migrants and refugees subvert the multibillion-dollar global industry of barbed wire walls, drone surveillance, militarized checkpoints, and bureaucratic violence aimed at fatally deterring them. Revolutions bring no guarantees, but they do call on us to dream, listen, commune, act, struggle, dismantle, rematriate, create, to move and make anew.

Again, just great stuff.

Sometimes, on Twitter and the like, you’ll see people say that liberals don’t really believe in open borders, I guess as a way to push back on Republican rhetoric on the issue. Well fuck that. I believe in open borders and I say that proudly. And I do not care what the political impact is. This entire nation’s history can be summed up in liberals acquiescing to racism in order to gain whatever can be gained. Well, maybe that’s a necessary evil but I am done with it. I’d rather have fascism than participate in a political program that allows for continued racial oppression.

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