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.

References

BBC News
2006 “U.S. detains 1,200 illegal migrants.” (published April 20, 2006; 21:51:19 GMT). http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/Americas/4928764.stm.

Bush, George W.
2004 “President Bush Proposes New Temporary Worker Program.” White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 7, 2004. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040107-3.html.
2006 “President Bush Addresses the Nation on Immigration Reform.” White House Office of the Press Secretary, may 15, 2006. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/05/20060515-8.html.

Calavita, Kitty
1992 Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the I.N.S. New York: Routledge.

Cole, David
2003 Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism. New York: The New Press.
2006 “Are We Safer?” New York Review of Books 53(4) (March 9, 2006 issue): 15-18 (dated February 8, 2006).

De Genova, Nicholas
2002 “Migrant “Illegality” and Deportability in Everyday Life.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31:419-47.
2005 Working the Boundaries: Race, Space, and “Illegality” in Mexican Chicago. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Galarza, Ernesto
1964 Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story. Santa Barbara, CA: McNally and Loftin.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
2006a “ICE agents arrest seven managers of nationwide pallet company and 1,187 of the firm's illegal alien employees in 26 states.” News Release, April 20, 2006. http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/newsreleases/articles/060420washington.htm.
2006b “Department of Homeland Security unveils comprehensive immigration enforcement strategy for the nation's interior.” News Release, April 20, 2006. http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/newsreleases/articles/060420washington 2.htm.

Malkin, Michelle
2002 Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.

National Security Council
2002 The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (September 2002). http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html.

Papdemetriou, Demetrios
2002 “A Grand Bargain: Balancing the National Security, Economic, and Immigration Interests of the U.S. and Mexico.” Migration Policy Institute Policy Paper, March 18, 2002. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/files/bargain.pdf.

Samora, Julian
1971 Los Mojados: The Wetback Story. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.