Moments of Emergence: Organizing by and with Undocumented and Non-Citizen People in Canada after September 11

Article excerpt

Abstract

Striking new campaigns across Europe, the United States, and Australia led by refugees, immigrants, undocumented people, and allies challenge controls over the right to move freely across borders. Situating similar formations within Canada in transnational context, this article anatomizes the impact of September 11 on North American organizing. Drawing on the argument that the construction of September 11 as a national event was ideologically necessary for war abroad and criminalization of immigrants domestically, the article evaluates strategies for confronting state criminalization, detention, racialized citizenship, and "illegality." It concludes that, far from utopian, "no-border" and "undocumented" movements are fundamentally politically necessary in the current dangerous conjuncture.

Resume

Menees par des refugies, des immigrants, des sans-papiers et leurs allies, de nouvelles campagnes saisissantes ont eu lieu, a travers l'Europe, les Etats Unis et en Australie, pour remettre en question les controles sur le droit de libre circulation a travers les frontieres. Cet article situe des mouvements similaires qui se sont formes au Canada dans un contexte transnational et examine de pres l'impact des attentats du 11 septembre sur l'organisation des mouvements de protestation en Amerique du Nord. S'appuyant sur la these qu'il etait ideologiquement necessaire de presenter les attentats du 11 septembre comme un evenement national afin de justifier la guerre a l'etranger et la criminalisation des refugies a l'interieur du pays, cet article evalue les strategies pour combattre la criminalisation par l'Etat, la detention, la citoyennete a caractere raciste et l'<< illegalite>>. Il conclut que, loin d'etre utopiques, les mouvements en faveur de l'ouverture des frontieres, ainsi que ceux formes par des << sanspapiers >> ou par des gens les supportent, sont fondamentalement et politiquement necessaires dans les circonstances dangereuses actuelles.

In his essay/manifesto, "What We Owe to the Sans-Papiers, French philosopher Etienne Balibar passionately argues that political contestation by undocumented immigrant people in France has made a fundamental challenge to notions of democracy, politics, civil rights, and citizenship. (1,2) Indeed, in France, as elsewhere in Europe, the United States, and Australia, organizing by and with undocumented and non-citizen people has in recent years become a pressing priority; it has also begun to unsettle long-standing assumptions within political theory and practice about borders, nations, sovereignty, and the regulation of immigration. But as we look back since September 11, 2001, and observe the systematic tearing up of immigrant, refugee, and indeed civil rights in North America, Australia, the UK, Europe and elsewhere--not to speak of detentions, deportations, racist killings, physical and verbal harassment, burnings of mosques and Hindu temples, draconian antiterrorist and domestic security bills, and much else--Balibar's manifesto appears wildly utopian, even as it remains politically more necessary than ever. (3) For, as Muneer Ahmad has argued in a recent article on racial violence in the aftermath of September 11, "it is exactly in moments of nationalist, nativist, and militarist excess that we might develop greater acuity not only in our critique of prevailing politics, but in the imagined alternatives." (4)

It is in this context that this paper asks: what now for movements and organizations of and with undocumented and non-citizen people? I raise this question fully aware that, well before September 11, the federal government's immigration policy was moving in increasingly regressive directions. To take just one example, Canada's new Immigration Act, which originated before September 11 and which came into effect on June 30, 2002, expands powers of detention and deportation, to specify only two of its provisions. …