Academic journal article Borderlands

U.S. Biopolitical Geographies of Migrant Containment

Academic journal article Borderlands

U.S. Biopolitical Geographies of Migrant Containment

Article excerpt

'For the citizen to live, the undocumented must be permitted to die'.

-Roxanne Lynn Doty

Traveling west on I-10 through Phoenix on her way to Las Vegas, and despite the light traffic, at the last minute, Shauna (i) decided to take I8., bypassing downtown Phoenix. It was the middle of June, and at 9:20 a.m., the temperature was already a sweltering 94 degrees and rising. Before the day was over, the heat in Phoenix would crescendo at 116.

Ten miles east of the Gila Bend turnoff, a man suddenly appeared from out of a culvert on the side of the highway. He stood frantically waving his arms. Ten years before, Shauna might have kept on driving. But in the summer of 2013, she didn't hesitate to stop because she recognized this man for who he was: a dying man desperately trying to save his own life. Once in the passenger seat, the man's rank body odor filled the interior of the car, and within minutes, he had downed the contents of two 32-oz water bottles she gave him. Alejadro told her that he had been walking the desert for eleven days, the last three of them without water. He and a friend had paid a guide $1000 apiece in exchange for safe passage through the Arizona/Sonoran Desert, but once the coyote had them alone in the wilderness, he robbed them and the rest of their group of their remaining money and valuables. Turning his back on the group, the coyote abandoned his charges to the unforgiving desert. Most of the group decided to walk back to Mexico, but Alejadro and Alberto determined that they would keep walking north. But they had not planned to be walking for so many days. Ten days later, Alejadro held his friend as he lay dying, his body devastated by the ravages of hyperthermia. 'But you can make it!' Alejadro had cried. 'Alberto, look! We can see it from here! Only a few miles away! The highway is right there! It's right there!' But Alberto's body had no life left to give, and so he surrendered his last breath to the Arizona killing deserts.

In the desert, the state's responsibility for migrant deaths is neatly evaded and rendered utterly invisible. U.S. immigrant prevention-through-deterrence policies and border technologies of exterior and interior enforcement constitute a deathly biopolitical project in the state's creation of spatialized geographies whose purpose is to contain, expel, and in the case of deathly desert environs, swallow whole alien 'Others'. U.S. biopolitical policies of citizenship, immigrant policing, and detention and deportation inevitably rely on spatial logistics of containment to render invisible undocumented persons while shoring up the global neoliberal capital project that relies on a tractable, disposable labor force.

The biopolitical making of space and place for the containment of brown illegalized populations is established in four primary venues: first, in immigrant communities where people's experience of fear of deportation and of constricted space and restricted mobility become crucial components in their subjugation; second, in 'Papers-Please' stylized geographies of arrest that lead to detention and deportation; thirdly, in increasingly privatized detention centers built for the warehousing of undocumented immigrants in the name of corporate profit; and finally, in deadly hostile environs in desert treks that all too often become death marches when immigrants lose their way and die from exposure to the elements. Anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation and the consequent creation of spatialized geographies for migrant containment work in tandem to benefit corporate capital in the manufacturing of a convenient scapegoat to shoulder the burden of responsibility for society's ills and in the maintenance of an infinitely exploitable, infinitely disposable migrant labor force.

Biopower serves as a useful concept in highlighting the workings of power behind these U.S. immigration disappearing acts. In his discussion of government and governmentality, Michel Foucault (2003) highlights the emergence of biopower that occurred with the transformation of power in the 18th century with the rise of the nation-state. …

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