Migrant “Illegality” and the Metaphysics of Antiterrorism: “Immigrants’ Rights” in the Aftermath of the Homeland Security State
Published on: Jul 28, 2006

Thus, from the standpoint of capital, the system that is decried as “broken” has been working astoundingly well, indeed. The U.S. immigration system has rather routinely and predictably ensured that U.S. employers have had at their disposal an eminently flexible, relatively pliable, and highly exploitable mass of labor migrants, whose “illegality”—itself produced by U.S. immigration lawmaking and enforcement practices—has relegated them to a condition of enduring vulnerability. Subjected to excessive and extraordinary forms of policing, denied fundamental human rights, and thus consigned to an always uncertain social predicament, often with little or no recourse to any semblance of protection from the law, undocumented migrant labor-power has increasingly become the commodity of choice for employers in an ever-expanding range of industries and enterprises. But if it is so, it is only because, and to the extent that, it may continue to be subjugated under the stigma of “illegality.” The more profitable it is to exploit undocumented labor, the more bellicose and fanatical must be the sanctimonious political denigration of “illegal aliens.” Hence, undocumented migration must be perennially produced as a “problem”: as an invasive and incorrigibly “foreign” menace to national sovereignty, as a racialized contagion that undermines the presumed national “culture,” and as a recalcitrant “criminal” affront to national security.

In the aftermath of antiterrorism and the Homeland Security State, when the very notion of national security has been elevated to the status of a kind of metaphysical redemption in a putatively limitless war of bombastic righteousness against nefarious transnational networks of “evildoers,” the fateful equation of “illegal aliens” with nation-state borders perceived to be deplorably “out of control” conjures the phantasmatic hallucination of a nation prostrate before the predations of “terrorist” interlopers of nightmarish proportions. In an antiterrorism regime that has assiduously relegated its suspected internal enemies—namely, Arab and other Muslim migrants utterly innocent of anything remotely resembling “terrorism”—to the abject condition of rightslessness in indefinite detentions, undocumented migrants need not be branded as actual “terrorists.” Indeed, given that they are absolutely desired and demanded for their labor, to do so would be counter-productive in the extreme. Rather, it is sufficient to mobilize the metaphysics of antiterrorism to do the crucial work of continually and more exquisitely stripping these “illegal” workers of even the most pathetic vestiges of legal personhood, such that their own quite laborious predicament of rightslessness may be further amplified and disciplined. If some undocumented migrants may be rendered eligible for “amnesty” and eventual citizenship, and thus exempted from these severities, it is only as part of the larger functioning of a highly calculated and predictable machinery that will relegate a far greater number of present—and future—“illegal aliens” to their respective assignments of protracted servitude. Fortunately for them, however, as the mass mobilizations that forcefully reinstated May 1 as International Workers’ Day eloquently established, migrants need not look to the state like beggars in search of “legal” entitlements, as they finally have only those rights that they dare to take and are prepared to fight to defend. In the face of all the depredations against their ostensible “rights” as “immigrants” that may be concocted by nativist politicians and perpetrated by the state’s immigration system, the productive power and creative capacities of migrant working people, finally, are the only genuine source of their potential political prerogative and social dignity.


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