Natasha Lennard: Law and Border – Dismantling the logic underlying liberal immigration policies

Bookforum | Sept 2021

“THERE ARE POLICY CHOICES to be made about who should be an immigrant, and that includes removing folks who don’t qualify under the law,” said Cecilia Muñoz, a member of President Joe Biden’s transition team, and previously the face of President Barack Obama’s harsh immigration-enforcement policies, in a recent interview. She added, “That’s, I think, just the reality of being a nation.”

Muñoz’s comment is true in the same way “all bachelors are unmarried men” is true—analytically, by virtue of the meaning of its constituent terms. When “a nation” is constituted as the nation-state, in the model of the Western state, defined by its borders and the inclusions and exclusions they entail, which are legitimized by “the law,” then determining who is or is not “an immigrant,” and their status as such, is indeed the “reality” of being a nation. Indigenous peoples, decimated and dispossessed by the forging and maintenance of the nation-state, teach us of a different notion of “nation,” without ownership and enclosure; the bordered state, treated as transhistorical, erases this history.

You can’t find evidence to prove an analytic truth to be false. You can, however, seek to challenge the meaning of terms on which analytic truths rely. It’s a trivial thought experiment to imagine a world where etymologies took different turns over time. It’s an ethical imperative to reckon with the entrenched assumptions around borders and migration. There are currently 281 million migrants worldwide, 82.4 million of whom have been forcibly displaced. We do not need to accept as a given the logics by which the modern nation-state asserts its reality.

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