"From Workers to Enemies: National Security, State Building, and America's War against 'Illegal' Immigrants." In Narrating Peoplehood amidst Diversity. Historical and Theoretical Perspectives, ed. Michael Böss (Aarhus: Aarhus Academic Press), pp. 145-182 [with Desmond King] (go to chapter)
In this paper we argue that since the mid 1980s immigration policy toward “illegal” immigrants has assumed the character of a war expressed in growing border militarization and fortification, expanded numbers of enforcement officers, both at the border and away from it, and enhanced domestic programme of prosecution against undocument immigrants, which have become ““illegal” aliens” or ““illegals” in popular discourse. These immigrants today comprise an estimated 12 million people. We trace the institutional transformations of immigration enforcement towards a militarized endeavour and that of immigrants towards security threats by identifying seven stages of war-making, characterized by a build up that precedes yet supports the process of state building that characterizes the post-9/11 period. The federal government has funded a wall along the US-Mexican border. It has expanded and upgraded the powers of US borders and customs officers, moving this agency into the Department of Homeland Security created in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. High profile armed worksite raids have been conducted– where workers are and detained and returned to their country of origin, with the responsible employers fined. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has pursued, since 2003, rigorous programs of domestic enforcement, including the National Fugitive Operations Program that reached a budget of $218 million in 2008. Finally, state and local police have been incorporated to the struggle against “illegality through agreements of cooperation with immigration authorities. This process of state-building is coupled and supported by exclusionary narratives of peoplehood that prevent the opening of political spaces in which to claim for immigrants’ rights and respond to the militarization of the realm of immigration. These narratives exceed immigrants, potentially affecting all the Latino/a population in the United States, marking them as perpetual outsiders.