- Refusing Refuge at the United States–Mexico Border
Contemporary social relations at the United States–Mexico border kill the legal fiction that distinguishes between politically motivated refugees and economically motivated immigrants, a distinction fundamental to liberal governmentalities. The border is where refugee, immigrant, green-card holder, and other legal categories become occupied, become transformed, and are destroyed. Its subjects may become sites for a refusal of liberal governmentalities—rooted in long-standing practices of border life, escaping the law, and normative accounts of resistance in academic circles. They may birth a sense of autonomy or defiance rather than the pursuits of a fundamental change in social relations.1
The United States has traditionally adhered to international laws and conventions for people seeking asylum on grounds that they are being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or other factors. They are presumed to be a problem for the state. But immigrants, refugees, or other incarnations of the dispossessed are not the problem.2 The problem remains the racial state. It has been degraded into a vicious assemblage that monopolizes territory and enacts law-preserving violence.3 It relies on de facto status crimes that evoke race, in which gang members are prosecuted under neutral laws that are racialized in application, while illegal aliens or suspected terrorists are targeted based on national origin.4
Carlos Spector, attorney, activist, and all around maker of case law, reports:
We’re getting bombarded by complaints that they’re discouraging people at the bridge to apply. And all, if not most of these are working people so and they’re screaming at people . . . horrible stuff. Or they’re being detained for a year or two, not releasing them. The whole antagonism begins at the bridge in terms of the discouraging . . . The regime begins to discourage them from becoming refugees at the actual bridge . . . People are turned away.5
Yet the charged entanglements of privileged bodies crossing borders occur.
It is about 7 p.m. People have left work. Whereas Juarez once was the site for the best food, drink, and fun in the region, many now come across from Juarez to El Paso, and many now live in the latter. Stiletto heels, long tanned legs, short skirts, tight tops, red lipstick, dark eyeliner that accentuates big brown eyes, all commingle with tight t-shirts, khaki shorts, carved arms, and thick wallets. They are clearly here not to try El Paso’s booming restaurant scene. No, these are scenes to be seen.
“We make a mean martini sir or do you want to try one of our microbrews?,” the young woman in Daisy Dukes tells me. She wears a low-cut t-shirt that reveals a little too much and explains my drink options over the booming music in the posh outdoor, [End Page 535] open-air fresh sushi establishment. It is not far from the multimillion-dollar minor league baseball stadium, home of the El Paso Chihuahuas, a nod to the promiscuity of contemporary racisms with new capital addictions and an ever-deepening heteronormativity.
El Paso has boomed. Its downtown has been revitalized. Its restaurant scene has exploded. Its nightlife seduces. It ranked as the safest large city in the United States as recently as the late 2000s. And it sits opposite to what was then being called the murder capital of the globe, the deadliest city in the world. More than twice as many people were killed in Ciudad Juárez, with a population of 1.3 million, as in New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago combined in 2009, the same year that the mayor of Juárez and many of his functionaries themselves moved to El Paso out of concerns for their safety. Juarez was then the center of Mexico’s horrendous “drug war.” Stories of young men turned into assassins, of the killing of young “available” women, of corpses abandoned in the streets and dumps, and of mass disappearances filled sensationalist accounts by the Mexican news media. Upward of 160,000 people have perished since 2006. Some 40,000 others have been “disappeared.”
Graciela fled Juarez to El Paso then, in the midst of the violence...