The "Immigration Crisis" as a Security Threat : Biopolitical Sovereignty and the State of Exception at the US/Mexico Border
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Immigration has for much of the last two decades been at the forefront of political discourse in the United States. The policy created or lack thereof in response to this issue has become a defining characteristic of multiple presidencies and it seems as though it’s an issue that only grows more complicated with time. Although the issues surrounding both legal and ‘illegal’ migration over the US/Mexico border have been around for a long time, 2019 became an especially defining year relative to the experiences of migrants under new Trump Administration policies. In 2019 the flow of migrants across the US/Mexico border became, for a time, the subject of serious controversy and national interest in the United States. Further, the discourse around immigration shifted from that of political concern to panic over the newly identified immigration crisis in the name of national sovereignty. Concurrently, disturbing reports and images flooded the national news media describing the detention and separation of families, framed within liberal ideals and the human rights discourse. Congressional representatives and would-be presidential candidates descended on the US/Mexico border zone demanding the termination of the Trump administration’s child/family separation policy in what seemed to be a moment of national shame. Images of children being torn from their families’ arms and placed in cages were rapidly followed by reports that the US government had “lost track” of many of the children it had separated and detained. The coverage of these events painted a picture that US immigration policy had somehow taken a turn for the worse and this might have been true but at the same time that narrative implied that immigration policy in the United States had not already been building toward exactly the uses of state power that we witnessed in 2019. Moreover, I argue that the language used to describe the effects of US policy at the US/Mexico border, specifically the framework of crisis has only justified the extreme actions taken by the US government and effectively solidified a state of exception at the US/Mexico border. There are several important questions that arise from the issue presented here but it is important to first establish that these questions will be examined through the framework of a state of exception, the concept developed in Giorgio Agamben’s 2005 book of the same name. Agamben develops the state of exception as a circumstance in which the state (government) operates in such a fashion that it is actually violating the rights of non-citizens and possibly citizens living in the state. However, this violation is usually justified by an outside threat to the sanctity of the state and its constituent elements and thus it is deemed necessary (and legal) that these rights be violated.