Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) relocatable tower; 26.1528155, -98.3529541 (south of Mission, TX); January 2024. Photograph by Colter Thomas. Source: The Border Chronicle.

ሰላም (selam) everyone,

This week Western states continued expanding the racist, militarised and exploitative border regime which is at the core of the reproduction of their global (though partly declining) capitalist and imperialist hegemony. The fact that Western countries simultaneously depend on hyper-exploited migrant labor (and thus need to work out ways to bring it in), while constantly criminalising, militarising, dehumanising, and brutalising the process/conditions of transnational mobility, isn’t a contradiction. As Harsha Walia wrote in Border and Rule:

Colonialism, genocide, slavery, and indentureship are not only conveniently erased as continuities of violence in current invocations of a migration crisis, but are also the very conditions of possibility for the West’s preciously guarded imperial sovereignty. Borders are not fixed or static lines; they are productive regimes concurrently generated by and producing social relations of dominance. In addition to migration being a consequence of empire, capitalism, climate catastrophe, and oppressive hierarchies, contemporary migration is itself a mode of global governance, capital accumulation, and gendered racial class formation.

This was again evident in this week’s news from Europe and the USA. In the UK, Rishi Sunak’s “Rwanda bill”, which seeks to deport some illegalised migrants to Rwanda (an unsafe country with an authoritarian government), was approved in the House of Commons on Tuesday. I won’t go into the details (nor that fact that some of MPs’ votes were driven more by electoralist considerations than support for or opposition against the bill as such), but it says a lot about the state of UK politics that Starmer’s criticism and two conservative MPs’ resignations over it weren’t about the fascistic character of this policy, but the logistics or technicalities (i.e. the issue for them is that it “wouldn’t work”).

Meanwhile, the Home Office has resumed throwing poor people out of “asylum accomodations/hotels” and into the freezing streets: basically a direct form of social murder/social darwinism. Tomoya Obokata, the UN’s special rapporteur on modern slavery, said that the UK government might be “breaching international law” with the seasonal worker scheme which was introduced in 2019. But wait, there’s more! On Monday, the Guardian reported that so-called “asylum accomodation” will be excluded from the cynically-named “Awaab’s law”:

Seriously, fuck the UK! Saying this would feel good if it wasn’t just one drop in a sea of fascistic border madness. What we’re continually seeing is Western states combining increasingly far-right and authoritarian policing of transnational mobility, with the habitual mechanisms of labor differentiation, segregation, racialisation and hyper-exploitation (not to mention the colonial transnational division of labor which extends beyond Western states’ boundaries) that became the norm in the 20th century.

In effect, migrants arriving in Europe today, much as has been true for several decades, originate from places that were effectively mass-scale prison labour camps where their forebears collectively contributed to producing the greater part of the material basis for the prosperity, power and prestige of Europe historically. Virtually all migrations and refugee movements that today seek their futures in Europe have been deeply shaped by an indisputably European (colonial) past. Furthermore, particularly for those who flee the devastation of war and military occupation or civil war—from Afghanistan or Iraq to Syria, Libya, Somalia or Mali (to name but a few)—the expansive human consequences of what Derek Gregory has incisively called the (US dominated, global) “colonial present” are likewise inextricable from their entrenched and enduring European (“post”-colonial) entanglements. Consequently, with the imposition, enforcement and continuous reconfiguration of a “European” border over the last decades, a brave new “Europe” has, in effect, been busily redrawing the colonial boundary between a “European” space largely reserved “for ‘Europeans’ only” and the postcolonial harvest of centuries of European exploitation and subjugation. It is a new Europe fortified by very old and morbid cruelties.

….To the extent that the European Union entails a transnational and partially supranational juridical and political formation, however, with an extraordinarily variegated and graduated spectrum of differential (and never perfectly harmonised) arrangements that regulate and modulate its “internal” and “external” relations, a high degree of instability and mobility is inherent in the very existence of the externalised and virtualised borders that may now be characterised as “European”. Thus, “Europe” presents to us today a transnational and intercontinental laboratory for the neoliberal regimentation and subordination of human powers and freedoms in relation to the space of the planet.

… A genuinely critical examination of borders and migration in Europe unsettles and destabilises “Europe” as taken for granted assumption, and instigates a confrontation with the problem of “Europe” itself. Much as the borders of Europe have been instituted and are constantly being policed for the sake of stabilising and purportedly “protecting” the space of “Europe”—first and foremost, and above all, as a preserve for the presumable birthright entitlements of “Europeans”—the unrelenting struggle over the autonomous mobility of “non-Europeans” across those symbolic and material boundaries continuously instigates a restaging of the borders of “Europe” as sites of their own subversion, and concomitantly, as the scene for the spectral undoing of “Europe” itself. The borders of Europe therefore present a premier site for the enactment and disputation of the very question of and about “Europe”: the question of “Europe” itself has become inextricable from the question of migration.

… Borders are not inert, fixed or coherent “things”. Rather, as in Marx’s analysis of capital, borders are better seen as socio-political relations. What is at stake in these relations, which are indeed relations of struggle, is the rendering of borders into seemingly fixed and stable thing-like realities with a semblance of objectivity, durability and intrinsic power. Thus, the agonistic coherence and ostensible fixity of borders—their thing-like qualities—only emerge as the effect of active processes by which borders must be made to appear thing-like. In other words, they must be continuously objectified through repetitive practices and discourses. This very process of transposing what is in fact always an unresolved social relation into the semblance of a durable objective reality, however, implies that the objectification of borders is inherently fraught and antagonistic. The struggles at and around borders are struggles over the open-ended process of continuously objectifying borders (the process of making borders into objects, or objective facts), and thereby lending them the fetishised quality of unquestionable realities with a power unto themselves.

Nicholas De Genova – The “Crisis” of the European Border Regime: Towards a Marxist Theory of Borders. (International Socialism, Issue 151, April 4 2016)
Protest by high-schoolers against the latest anti-immigration law, in Paris on Friday 19th. They call fellow students to protest to “defend [their] class”, a pun referring to both social class and a student’s classroom/schoolmates (Source).

On Friday Germany, aka the land of Nazism and genocide, demonstrated the two-way logic of Europe’s contemporary “bordering”: the Bundestag simultaneously passed a law change to ease naturalization and widen access to dual citizenship (this is explicitly about the “global (neoliberal) politics of transnational labour mobility and capitalist labour subordination”, as De Genova puts it), and a bill increasing deportations and criminalising humanitarian aid and sea rescues (racist and authoritarian state-based violence and segregation) despite over 135K people signing a petition against it.

In France, the protests against the new (anti-)immigration law continued vigorously, with hundreds of protests and a lot of groups/organizations/social strata participating (for instance many LGBTQ+ activist groups took part). Meanwhile, Joao Gabriel argued that this far right law must also be put in perspective by inspecting the normalised colonial violence that has occurred for decades in France’s so-called “overseas territories” (territoires d’outremer): see here, here, here and here for more.

French migration policy in ‘overseas’ countries is not simply a variation of what is done in France, or even a policy that is just more repressive (which it is), but it is above all a specific and colonial way of applying and thinking about law, the State and order.

Joao Gabriel (@JoaoGwadloup) January 18, 2024. Translated (from French).

In the USA, in terms of the border regime, and contrary to what their obscene media and political spectacle often pretends (e.g. rightwingers panicking about a non-existing “open border”), there is more similarity and continuity than difference between the two ruling bourgeois parties. Again Walia wrote about this in her book (see this excerpt):

While former President Donald Trump’s overtly malicious policies of separating families, caging children, banning Black and brown Muslims, and building the border wall garnered international condemnation, cruel policies of immigration enforcement are a pillar of Democrats’ governance. The rhetoric of “productive” and “legal” immigrants, with the simultaneous demonization of “criminal” and “illegal” immigrants, has been the cornerstone of the party’s immigration platform for three decades. Under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, an entire immigration enforcement apparatus bent on expanding detention and deportation, criminalizing migration through prosecutions, militarizing the border, and imperialist outsourcing of border enforcement was cemented.

Biden’s record has been no less reactionary, indeed there hasn’t been much a difference compared to Trump’s government. This week, amidst the current negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders, several Republican senators went as far as saying that they wouldn’t get a better ‘immigration/border security’ deal even if Trump ends up winning a second presidency.

Lastly, as we saw with the confrontation between Iran and Pakistan (but also between Israel and Lebanon, and Jordan and Syria) the world of borders is also a world of reckless militarism wherein countries attack each other (for whatever reasons) regardless of – and sometimes because they choose to unleash – the potential geopolitical/military escalations/consquences that only ever mean that ordinary poor people get crushed and murdered for absolutely no (good) reason.

Data Corner

While numbers can feel dehumanizing, for me it’s crucial to document what we know, and what’s more important is to reflect on the terms, categories and framings that we use: for instance, every time we discuss “deaths” from the border regime, it would arguably be more appropriate to talk about murders because it’s a systematic and direct result of states’ policies and border violence.

  • Romania deported (at least) 1222 individuals in 2023, half of which had come from South/Southeast Asia (a third were Bangladeshi citizens, the others from Sri Lanka, India, and Vietnam), i.e. mainly hyper-exploited migrant laborers. (InfoMigrants, 17/01/24)
  • Every year, there are hundreds of thousands of people held in immigration detention globally, including more than 100’000 in Europe. (Global Detention Project; Europe)
  • “According to the UN refugee agency, 710 people died or went missing in the eastern Mediterranean (i.e. around Greece and Cyprus) last year while trying to get to #EU. This means that the number has doubled compared to the previous year”. (Spiegel, Twitter)
  • Over the past three years, Greece has abandoned over 55,000 migrants to die on the Mediterranean Sea. There have been over 2,000 violent and illegal expulsions known as ‘drift-backs’ (Forensic Architecture, Forensis)

Weekly Links/Readings:

Note: it is obviously not exhaustive (and never will be), there’s far too much stuff out there. These are some pieces and links that I found important, interesting and/or relevant (not all pieces of news – already quoted above – but stuff that’s worth reading/checking out).

There could be even more to say or mention, but I’ll leave you with this for now!

I’ll see you next week, in the meantime and as always: Solidarity Forever!