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Law Student's Thesis on Militarization of the U.S./Mexico Border

Posted By Kevin R. Johnson, Jan 3, 2012

Cross-posted from ImmigrationProf Blog.

Before coming to law school, UC Davis law student Nienke Schoutenthe wrote a very interesting Master's thesis entitled The Militarication of the U.S./Mexico Border within the Context of Agamben's State of Exception. As the title suggests, the thesis analyzes the militarization of the U.S./Mexico as a method of immigration enforcement, drug interdiction, and to fight terrorism. Here is Schoutenthe's abstract:

"General rhetoric concerning the border between the United States and Mexico announce three major events that have helped to spur its militarization: the illegal drug trade, undocumented immigration and terrorism. Be it official or unofficial, American politics have declared war against all three, vowing in the name of public security to keep these unwanted elements out. The result has been an exponential increase of militarization in the last 30 years, in which the border area has been made into a sort war zone.

What gives the American government the right to change the daily lives of millions of people, however, and create such a war zone? Does public security provide a sufficient explanation? Has the United States been directly threatened by these elements? Is the Border Patrol actually military? How do the Minutemen play in the scheme of the state of exception and border militarization?

In an attempt to explore all these questions, I introduce Giorgio Agamben’s state of exception as a paradigm of government which addresses those elements that do not fit into the normal judicial order, borrowed from State of Exception and Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. ["State of exception" can be thought of as "state of emergency"]. The first section will go into further depth of both the state of exception as a paradigm of government, and the wars announced by the American government. Subsequent sections will introduce the actors in the state of exception and how they reflect and reinforce its permanent status.

In the course of this analysis, I suggest that the state of exception along the border is becoming permanent, and this entity becomes an object of study itself. The most drastic result has been human rights abuses on migrants. The discourse of militarization further criminalizes immigrants, which cycles into heavier militarization. In addition to the discourse, the physical aspects of the border are used for its political policy as well -- its physical nature is being used as a weapon in killing migrant crossers.

Nevertheless, as long as there is no discussion and conclusion concerning what brought about the state of exception in the first place, this permanent militarization will continue. In this discussion, definitions of citizenship and residence need to be reworked to include all inhabitants of the United States. In other words, a fluid system of immigration needs to accepted and enacted before the border will be demilitarized."