Refusing Refuge at the United States–Mexico Border

Contemporary social relations at the United States–Mexico border kill the legal fiction that distinguishes between politically motivated refugees and economically motivated immigrants, a distinction fundamental to liberal governmentalities. The border is where refugee, immigrant, green-card holder, and other legal categories become occupied, become transformed, and are destroyed. Its subjects may become sites for a refusal of liberal governmentalities—rooted in long-standing practices of border life, escaping the law, and normative accounts of resistance in academic circles. They may birth a sense of autonomy or defiance rather than the pursuits of a fundamental change in social relations.1

The United States has traditionally adhered to international laws and conventions for people seeking asylum on grounds that they are being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or other factors. They are presumed to be a problem for the state. But immigrants, refugees, or other incarnations of the dispossessed are not the problem.2 The problem remains the racial state. It has been degraded into a vicious assemblage that monopolizes territory and enacts law-preserving violence.3 It relies on de facto status crimes that evoke race, in which gang members are prosecuted under neutral laws that are racialized in application, while illegal aliens or suspected terrorists are targeted based on national origin.4

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About Gilberto Rosas

Gilberto Rosas is the senior research fellow at the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory (2015–17) and an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Latino Studies at the University of Illinois–Urbana Champaign. His award-winning book is Barrio Libre: Criminalizing States and Delinquent Refusals of the New Frontier (Duke, 2012). Currently, he is the lead editor of The Border Reader, under contract with Duke University Press. He is active in the Sanctuary and Immigrant Rights movements both locally and nationally, and regularly gives expert testimony on behalf of asylum seekers in removal proceedings.