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I offered the title for this paper before family separations were on the news, before the president had brought attention to the exodus of migrants (so-called “caravans”), and before the government shutdown in response to the request of billions of dollars to build a border wall.1 I had no idea how common immigration would be in everyday conversation. By the time you read this, I am sure there will be other worrisome news. Perhaps we will still be thinking about immigration, or we might have moved on.

I have been intrigued, however, as to what this intensified public discussion of the threats of immigration reveals about the self-image of the United States, and the racial and religious ideas that undergird that self-image. What traits are invoked to define the boundaries of this “America”? In previous research I had focused on US imperialism in the early twentieth century, one characterized by glorious national visions, evangelical zeal, and a seemingly unbounded Anglo-Saxon Protestant identity. Political discourses did not just claim that the United States was a Christian nation, but were shaped by Christian metaphysics, understandings of collective identity and history, of belonging and otherness. Progress and American culture were explicitly asserted as evidence of God’s election and grounds for a God-given duty to save the world, through civilizing missions or colonial interventions. For instance, official church publications exalted the colonial work in Puerto Rico.2 “May the spirit of true progress carry on the work and preserve our identity in the great world of Christian thought and action so that at last we may give to the future the rich legacy of a redeemed land.”3 And they gave colonization theological meaning. “Porto Rico is ours,” a US missionary confidently proclaimed. “Let Porto Rico become the best and truest reflection of ourselves. . . . Never before in American history was such an opportunity [End Page 48] and such a material given from which could be carved character and Christ’s likeness.”4

This vision of redemption as American identity carved onto Puerto Rican matter is just one example among the many promulgated in the pages of the year books of the Methodist Church. The White Man’s Burden and Christian mission shaped each other. Christian theology was explicitly cited in support of American engagement with the world—advocating for evangelization or describing the character and values of the nation. The immediate threats to the nation were claimed to be Jews, Catholics, and Mormons.5 A Muslim ban and a demonization of Central Americans—identified as Catholics—could be a slightly displaced repetition of those colonial tropes, I thought.6

But the differences between the early twentieth century and the present surprised me more than the similarities. Beyond continuities in racial and gender signifiers and despite the political power of “white evangelicals,” the theological allusions in anti-immigration discourse seemed almost illegible—as if the language of political might had finally erased all traces of its theological roots. Almost, but not quite.

Political theologians have long argued that modern political concepts are theological, even when their religious roots are hidden. Perhaps the most cited formulation of this view is, tellingly, Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt’s. He wrote in his 1922 Political Theology: “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development—in which they are transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver—but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts.”7

While the aims of contemporary political theologians are starkly different from Schmitt’s, they retain an interest in analyzing the connections between theology and political concepts. The prominence of terms like “sovereignty” and “order,” the vision of “America” as an enclosed nation, links my examination [End Page 49] of anti-immigration discourses to the work of political theology. It even excuses my reluctant return to Schmitt’s work. Still, to state that political concepts are secularized theological concepts is not an answer, but a provocation to formulate critical questions about specific concepts and contexts. Theology and the political are, after all, constantly being reformulated in response to each other. “The designated aliens of religion and unwhite race may shift. The strategy, however, returns with force,”8 Catherine Keller reminds us. Political theology, as I understand it, must also look beyond the borders of national jurisdiction, attending to what those borders occlude. This is where political theology might intersect with critical race studies and decolonial thought, where the national is revealed as dependent on its others.

Examining the theological metaphors in current anti-immigration debates entails attending to the constitution of a collective “we” as the legitimate people of the nation and to the representation of others, not just as enemies but as barely human. As Sylvia Wynter has shown, Christian theology undergirds a division more profound than the boundaries between nations, the distinction between being and nonbeing—mapped onto geographic regions and codified as race.

In this essay, I focus on official documents and public statements mostly from the Trump administration, as archived on White House immigration websites, choosing language that appears consistently throughout. It is a literary reading of sorts. I am not tracking social or institutional histories, but rather foregrounding visions of the world. This essay can only be a snapshot of a rapidly and unpredictably unfolding story. The discourses are not coherent; I don’t expect them to be. But their language reveals important sensibilities at work in our context, the intensification and clarification of ideals deeply imbedded in the United States.

I. Sacred Enclosures

There is, then, a sacred space, and hence a strong, significant space; there are other spaces that are not sacred and so are without structure and consistency, amorphous. . . . For the religious man, the spatial nonhomogeneity finds expression in the experience of an opposition between space that is sacred—the only real and really existing place—and all other space, the formless expanse surrounding it.

Mircea Eliade

The opposition between order and chaos on which Eliade founds his theory of the sacred has a long Christian lineage. Keller’s Face of the Deep has traced [End Page 50] this dichotomy back to interpretations of Genesis that translate the deep as chaos. The legacy of this imaginary permeates Christian theology, where chaos is deemed as “nothing” yet also demonized.9 It also extends beyond Christian texts, as chaos is widely projected onto the bodies of women and racialized peoples, as the unruly others that threaten the order of creation. “Not surprisingly,” Keller observes, “the aggressive nihilation of the chaoid otherness took the form of exacerbated, even divinized, masculinities.”10 The opposition between order and chaos was translated as the contrast between civilization and barbarity in the conquest of America and as a vision for the creation of the new Puerto Rico following the US invasion in 1898.11 Places characterized as regions of chaos—untamed land or uncivilized people—were considered in need of settlement by the conquerors who, like the Creator, would establish order.

The view of divine creation as the elimination of chaos lends support to the assumption that what is created as order is sacred. Joseph Winters finds this articulation in Eliade’s definition of religion. “Eliade consistently contrasts the qualities of the sacred—structure, foundation, reality—with the characteristics of the profane—chaos, formlessness, lack.”12 This contrast leads him to envision conquest as a ritual of participation in divine creation. “If the sacred ‘fixes the limits and establishes the order of the world’ it does this by opposing and engulfing territories and populations that embody chaos. . . . ‘An unknown, foreign, and unoccupied territory (which often means unoccupied by our people) still shares in the fluid and larval modality of chaos. By occupying it, and above all, by settling it, man symbolically transforms it into a cosmos through a ritual repetition of cosmogony.’”13 Coloniality defines the regions of darkness and chaos, rendering them in need of colonization and conversely giving a sacred aura to that very practice.

The images of chaos and order reappear in the current context, not to justify the colonization of “unoccupied” territories, but to reconsecrate the territory as already sacred and yet again threated by the forces of chaos. The country [End Page 51] is “besieged by chaos as a nearly unending flood of migrants and drugs poured across our border,” we are informed.14 The impoverished peoples of the global south are depicted as a formless mass, chaos. They “flow”—the most recurrent image for the movement of immigrants. They are “spilling across the country,” “flooding,” “pouring into our country,” “a stream of illegal immigration,” “waves of unaccompanied alien children.”15 The threat from the forces of chaos must be contained. Thus the president proclaims: “We will never surrender our nation to the forces of anarchy and chaos.”16

The repeated allusions to the chaos outside project order onto the inside, the nation, accentuating the need to preserve the distinction between the two. They also sacralize the actions taken in the name of order. The defense of the borders is construed as the defense of the nation as the realm of order: “No [End Page 52] borders, no nation, and utter anarchy.”17 And the president presents himself as the protector of the nation. He “will always be defending the sovereignty, the safety, and the security of the American people.”18

The wall is an increasingly prominent symbol of the opposition between a “strong, significant space” and “the formless expanse surrounding it.” Indeed, the president does not shy away from calling border protection his “sacred duty” to the American people.19

The separations do not hold, of course. Not only because the people inside look increasingly like those outside, not only because the imagined “America” has always excluded some of its citizens, but also because even those readily seen as “American” are exposed to transnational forces. Global capitalism has undermined the power of nation-states—shifting the balance of power from the nation-state to transnational corporations and even changing the principles of politics to conform to the standards of finance. The idea that governments should be run as corporations, or indeed led by corporate moguls, is but one manifestation of a deeper logic. Technology and finance do not respect national boundaries, changing strategies of warfare and interfering in electoral politics. Even their side effects—like poverty and climate change—reach well beyond any corporation’s country of origin or intended markets. Nation-states may support and defend global corporations, they may try to protect their citizens from the most detrimental effects of global capitalism, but they do not fully control them.20 There are some who welcome this global evolution [End Page 53] of capitalism as they dream of joining its transnational class and of enjoying its exceptional status. But for many the perceived loss of national sovereignty represents a loss of actual or imagined power that threatens their very existence.

Ironically, it is the loss of national sovereignty and the related sense of vulnerability produced by invisible global forces that drives the desire for physical walls, political philosopher Wendy Brown argues.21 Contemporary wall building is, after all, expensive and ineffective. The existing US–Mexico fences have redirected, rather than stopped immigration; pushing those seeking to cross to become more dependent on smugglers whose operations are increasingly sophisticated and lucrative. More than mechanisms of immigration control, Brown argues, wall building is theater staged “for national populations specifically unsettled by global forces threatening sovereignty and identity at both the state and the individual level.”22 The significance of these walls lies in their performance of a “political sovereignty that globalization is draining out of state institutions, providing a visual emblem of power and protection that states increasingly cannot provide, and generating an imaginary of stable and homogeneous . . . nationhood concretely eroded by global flows of capital, power, people, finance, ideas, cultures, religions, goods, and terror.”23 Walls are meant to sustain an illusion of power, but they contribute to the waning of state sovereignty.

The loss of state sovereignty is felt as a loss of power, but also of self-containment. “Within liberal ontology, the decline of state sovereignty . . . threatens a return to an intensely vulnerable and violable condition of existence for subjects.”24 Walls offer the illusion of enclosure, hiding the true causes of economic problems behind alternative explanations conveniently tailored to fuel old and persistent affects of white supremacy. “The popular desire for walling harbors a wish for the powers of protection, containment, and integration promised by sovereignty.”25

Brown’s analysis clearly assumes a first-world location, where economic vulnerability is being blamed on immigrants as using taxpayers’ money, free-loading welfare, taking jobs, etc. The view from the other side of the border, where people are experiencing the worst effects of global capitalism and climate change—violence, droughts, and food shortages—would be drastically [End Page 54] different. I would also emphasize, more than Brown does, that while a sense of economic troubles might activate particular forms of militant racism—among those who see themselves or aspire to be seen as legitimate “Americans”—I don’t believe such troubles fully explain anti-immigration sentiment. The very presence of black and brown bodies in the United States incites anxieties— even at times of perceived American might. Such anxieties have been managed through domestic law and immigration practices throughout US history.26 The perceived threat is not only economic but also demographic—the performance of sovereignty seeks to assuage anxieties about economic forces and fear of brown bodies. They converge at the wall.

President Trump has consistently portrayed the country’s problems as the result, not of global forces beyond his control, but of immigration policies. Addressing the UN General Assembly in October, 2018, he promised “to confront threats to sovereignty from uncontrolled migration.”27 And this claim to sovereignty is explicitly and repeatedly tied to the power of enclosure. “A key and undeniable attribute of a sovereign nation is the ability to control who and what enters its territory.”28 Those who cross the border illegally “violate our sovereignty.”29 The more anxious “we” are, the more it must be repeated: “We are a great Sovereign Nation. We have Strong Borders and will never accept people coming into our Country illegally!”30

The solidity of the promised wall stands in stark contrast to the unrestrainability of forces that cross nation-states—finance capitalism, technology, climate.31 [End Page 55] The wall must be a “meaningful physical barrier,” a “physical border wall,” “substantial,” rather than “open” or “porous.” “A real wall, not a little wall.”32 The debate about whether the plan is to build a metal barrier rather than a concrete wall only highlights the crucial symbolic function of the wall in creating an imaginary enclosure for the nation.

The material, visible wall represents the desired separation from the “chaos” projected onto poor brown bodies and a show of sovereignty, a visual denial of vulnerability to forces of global capital and technology. The US–Mexico wall also materializes a disavowal of responsibility for participation in the economic systems that now undermine the United States’ proclaimed sovereignty and impoverishment in the global south—destroying modes of subsistence as well as social and material ecologies. Latin American liberation theologians have long denounced the neoliberal project to recreate all dimensions of society. They even described capitalism as the idolatrous religion of the global north. As Filipe Maia explains, for liberation theologians like Franz Hinkelammert, “capitalist social organizations are idolatrous to the extent that the economic development occurs at the expense of the oppression—indeed the sacrifice—of the poor.”33 Today’s migrants are refugees of capitalist development. The wall blocks their entrance. But most of all, the wall pretends to shield “Americans” from the effects of such forces and from their responsibility for them.

The wall cannot deliver on its promises of protection. The wall would produce further ecological damage, for instance. Nonhuman bodies are threatened as well—animals may face extinction—jaguars, wolves, owls, and many others—and the effects on the ecology would be devastating. Environmentalists warn of further erosion and flooding. The wall cannot exempt the United States from the effects of climate change. But the United States can and has [End Page 56] denied its responsibility for climate change, and promotes the illusion of invulnerability to it, what Keller calls “anthropic exceptionalism.”34 The wall pretends to exempt the nation from its relations.

Political theologians and philosophers concerned with the fascist tone of recent political discourse are quick to note that the insistence on describing immigration as a state of crisis is reminiscent of Schmitt’s “state of exception.” “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception,” Schmitt famously wrote.35 The sovereign acts like the omnipotent God who can suspend the laws of nature. The true state of exception is not restrained by the law. For the sovereign is the one “who decides in a situation of conflict what constitutes the public interest, public safety and order. . . . He decides whether there is an extreme emergency and what must be done to eliminate it.”36 As I write this, the most recurrent name for the emergency is “the crisis at the border,” which has justified everything from the militarization of the border to the separation of children from their parents only to be indefinitely housed in for-profit detention centers.

The system exempts itself from the normal distinctions between military intervention and immigration enforcement, between government and corporate interests. The exceptions have been in place for much longer, however. Drawing from Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception, Francisco Cantú, a former border agent, describes the border as a “vast zone of exception, a vast place where laws and rights are applied differently than they are in any other part of the nation.”37 On the border, violence is normalized. “Living near the border means becoming conditioned to a degree of militarization and surveillance that would cause great alarm in any other part of the country.”38 The practices at the border are redefining humanity as predicated upon the acquisition of passports or visas. In rhetoric and in practice, those outside the boundaries of the nation are not perceived as fully human, indeed, they barely register in death.39

The exception applies not only to the border zones, where the jurisdiction of the US law might be contested (though not the authority of US agents). [End Page 57] The “crisis” constrains the law within the boundaries of the nation. Despite the recurrence of references to law and order in public statements, law and order are cited as traits of the nation that justify acting contrary to such laws. For instance, the Real ID Act of 2006 waives all laws that interfere with the construction of a barrier along the US–Mexico border. It has exempted the government from complying with environmental laws and from honoring provisions regarding Native American sacred land.

II. Bounded Territory

The link between assertions of sovereignty and appropriation of land betrays the colonial logic at the core of US sovereignty reasserted now at the border. The land claimed is land appropriated by settler colonialism and US expansionism. But stating it this way occludes the important distinctions between land as commodity, national territory, and earth.

The colonial organization of space entailed the reduction of land to property to be exchanged as a commodity. Theorist Sylvia Wynter observes that capitalism undermines the mutual relationship between humans and their natural environment, redefining “Nature as land, conceivable only in terms of property, laid bare of myth, custom, tradition”—a clear departure from the African and indigenous traditions of those enslaved by capitalism.40 The interweaving of culture and nature had shaped native people’s attitude toward the earth, and was thus crucial for their well-being. But from the time of the conquest, “an economic and instrumental civilization could make us believe that one part of the process, the transformation of Nature by Man is the very essence of culture.”41

This reduction of soil to space was based on a rejection of particular religious imaginaries. As Willie Jennings shows, Spanish colonialism “created a new space freed from spiritual interference because it was also space that had already denied any communicative density with land and animals.” (I take him to mean living soil and animals). They “represented the world as inert, silent ground and animals as enclosed in utility.”42 Inert geographic space is available for colonial expansion and ultimately reduced to commodity. [End Page 58]

Colonial discourses continued to appeal to geography and climate as explanations for the inhabitants’ perceived inferiority, however, assuming a formative relationship to be overcome by civilizing mission. Meanwhile Christian claims to land seemed unbounded by geography, and the appropriation of new “territories” was welcomed as the removal of obstacles for mission. Mission was creation as the containment, transformation, or destruction of chaos.

In contrast to the global claims of colonialism, nationalisms assert an essential link between a particular people—defined by national origin and/or race—and a particular territory. To be a chosen people implies having claims to the land. (Native peoples are denied any such connections to the land, of course). In the United States, the continental territory was envisioned as a body, requiring the conquest of the West.43 The importance of the imaginary link between people and land is foregrounded when it comes to crisis in the early twentieth century. Discussions about the incorporation of Puerto Rico, for instance, revolved around the desire to contain it outside of the United States—defining it as an “unincorporated territory.” “Even though ‘the annexation of distant possessions [may be] desirable,’ . . . the problem was that these possessions were ‘inhabited by alien races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation, and modes of thought.’”44 The strained language of the legal definition of Puerto Rico highlights the tension between claiming it as “American territory” while refusing any significant relation to its people and their social ecology. The definition registers and disavows the tension between the logic of colonial expansion and the nationalist ideologies of bounded land.

“Walls appear to harken back to a modality and ontology of power that is sovereign, spatially bounded, and territorial,” Brown observes.45 This is the kind of sovereign power that Schmitt described and admired. For Schmitt, enclosed land was not only crucial for national sovereignty but also legitimately based on theology. Both the sacred and the law are established through demarcation, he argues. Building a shrine or a temple creates a material barrier between the sacred and the profane. Similarly, all nomos (law) derives from [End Page 59] an “original act of spatial ordering.”46 Indeed, the connection is inherent in the etymology of “nomos,” he argues, which relates it to “land-appropriation as well as the concrete order contained in it and following from it.”47 Schmitt cites approvingly linguist and Nazi party member Jost Trier’s statement: “In the beginning was the fence”—a startling reframing of the celebrated creation narrative, at the beginning of the gospel of John. “Fence, enclosure, and border are deeply interwoven in the world formed by men determining its concepts.” Trier continues, “The enclosure gave birth to the shrine by removing it from the ordinary, placing it under its own laws, and entrusting it to the divine.”48

Elaborating Schmitt’s claim for the theological foundations of borders, Brown argues that today’s enthusiasm for walls—she sometimes calls it “frenzy”—reveals the theological dimensions of sovereignty. “Nomos can be described as a wall,” and “like a wall it, too, is based on sacred orientations.”49 The secular practice of enclosure as the origin of the law evokes the religious practices that “bring the sacred into being.” “The fence founds and relates sacred space and sovereign power.”50 The interiority of the enclosure becomes sacred. The connection between sacred enclosure and sovereignty explains the religious aura around wall building in the contemporary world. “If the fiction of state sovereignty is the secularization of the fiction of divine power, the deteriorating viability of this political fiction generates understandable popular anxiety, and anxiety addressed in part by the theological effect and affect of walling.”51 In addition to fostering the illusion of power and self-containment—of power as self-containment—the rhetoric turns the wall itself into the object of admiration. We are compelled to admire the tall, strong, powerful wall, not just its purported effects, Brown observes. Walls instill awe.

Biblical justifications for anti-immigration policies focus on the legitimacy of the nation as the space of order. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions [End Page 60] responded to concerns by “our church friends” about family separations at the border by referring to Paul’s statements in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” He interprets this text as stating a “command” to “obey the laws of the government because God had ordained them for the purpose of order.”52 The appeals to order as a trait of the nation is not surprising. Sessions does not elaborate a Christian ethical or theological principle, instead he limits biblical guidance to an assertion of national sovereignty. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. . . . I do not believe scripture or church history or reason condemns a secular nation state for having reasonable immigration laws.” The Bible orders us to obey the laws of government, but as a secular nation, the United States just needs to be “reasonable.” Jerry Falwell Jr. assumes a similar position—discursively restricting the access of Christian teaching (not Christian subjects) to the public sphere. He argues, “It’s a distortion of the teachings of Jesus to say that what he taught us to do personally—to love our neighbors as ourselves, help the poor—can be imputed on a nation. Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome.” (Comparing Trump with Caesar doesn’t seem to trouble Falwell.) And he continues to build a discursive border between the earthly and the heavenly kingdom. In the earthly kingdom you are obliged to “choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country.”53 This is a claim to exemption.

The argument by the group Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration is only slightly more prescriptive. Writing to Congress about Syrian and Iraqi refugees, they argue, “The Bible does not teach open and undiscerning welcome, but only wise welcome. We are to embrace the lawful and well-meaning foreigner, who, like a convert, comes as blessing (e.g. book of Ruth).”54 The letter continues, “Elsewhere we find the building of walls to protect from harmful foreigners (e.g. Nehemiah). The breaking down of borders and culture is not a commandment [End Page 61] in Scripture, it is a curse.”55 In contrast to the rights of Christians to build protective walls, Muslim doctrine commands them to migrate and spread their dehumanizing law, they argue.

The contrast between the settled American/Christian and the migrant others also informs repeated arguments against “globalism.” As used in this context, the term does not include finance or technology. It is mainly used against arguments for the responsibility of the United States toward refugees, described as Catholic ideology. Robert Jeffress, one of the White House evangelical advisors, responded to the Pope’s defense of refugees by stating, “The Bible teaches that God is the one who designed countries. Acts 17 says he designed the boundaries in which countries exist. God’s plan is not for a one world government that the pope seems to be longing for,” what “the globalists like the pope” seek. Furthermore, “the end game of globalists is to erase the distinction between nations and eliminate the differences between people who live in and outside our country, and that’s wrong.”56

The nation is imagined as a sacred entity, guarding the differences between those inside and those outside. God legitimates the laws of the nation, and the nation itself. Indeed, except for the biblical references, there is little difference between the language of the preachers and the language of government. Trump states, for instance, “We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”57 Sacred duty is articulated here not as a matter of ethical conduct, nor as a duty to be an example to the world, nor as the duty to spread the gospel—claims that have so often characterized American exceptionalism. The duty is to defend the nation. “We’re going to build a wall. . . . And we are going to kneel when we pray and stand for the flag.”58 Trump is referring to the practice of some football players—following Colin Kaepernick—of kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against African Americans. The president had harshly criticized it as disrespecting flag and country. The statement then displaces the debate from the football field to the wall, as if the familiar images of football players kneeling, [End Page 62] heads reverently bowing, could be reoriented toward the wall. Surprising as this conjunction of wall and prayer might be, it boldly performs the theological underpinning of the bounded nation-state—enclosure followed by reverence.

There is a significant gap between what is represented and what is accomplished by such statements. “The US–Mexico barrier stages a sovereign power and control that it does not exercise, is built from the fabric of a suspended rule of law and fiscal non accountability, has multiplied and intensified criminal industries, and is an icon of the combination of sovereign erosion and heightened xenophobia.”59 Theatricality, as Brown uses it, represents what is not, creating an illusion to address the anxieties of contemporary life.60 But the arguments for a biblical foundation for bounded nations, along with the images of reverential bodily posture, gives these performances a sacred aura.

I see such performances of enclosure as rituals of subject formation. Even if contemporary claims to sovereignty and the powers of enclosure are “theatrical,” they are materially productive of physical barriers, as well as of the practices of the state and through them of subjective identities. We are asked to imagine the wall, to believe in its power, and to publicly declare our conviction—repeatedly. Whether contemplating the many images that represent actual or planned barriers; cheering to repeated promises of a strong, tall, and powerful barrier; or chanting “build the wall!” people are compelled to envision and embody a mode of subjectivity shaped in the image of the enclosed nation.

This is a masculinist subjectivity. Loss of state sovereignty is represented as a threat to masculinity, which in turn fuels the performance of its strength. There is no shortage of examples of the public performances of toxic and violent masculinities and their legitimation contiguous with assertions of US sovereignty. I don’t need or want to list them here. I include only one illustrative example: on the White House main webpage on immigration, a photograph literalizes the mutually reinforcing evocations of masculinity and the wall.61 The image is framed by the wall on the right and the mountains in the background. The focus is on a group of male agents in uniform. Two of them are on horses and wearing cowboy hats, two are on motorcycles, their faces hidden by the helmets, and another three walk toward the camera. Together they form [End Page 63] a wall of bodies displaying the (masculinist) power to protect what is inside the border.62

Even as they project sovereign power, the discourses about the wall define the nation as innocent and pure, contrasted with the chaos and depravity outside.63 Any violence perpetrated toward the immigrants is replaced by discussions of the outsider’s intended violence against innocent “American” victims. The message from the shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue reveals the sense of threat in the starkest terms: “HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”64 President Trump claims that immigrants are “killing innocent Americans and spilling innocent blood.”65 It is the blood of the “Americans” that cries out for revenge. “Unaccompanied alien minors . . . look so innocent; they’re not innocent,” we are told.66 “American” innocence is also part of the standard anti-immigration theatrics. Families of victims of crimes committed by immigrants, often invited on stage at political rallies, hosted at the White House, and identified in immigration websites, are called “Angel families.”

III. Foreign Bodies

We are to blame for this destruction, we who don’t speak your tongue and don’t know how to keep quiet either. We who didn’t come by boat, who dirty up your doorsteps with our dust, who break your barbed wire. We who came to take your jobs, who dream of wiping your shit, who long to work all hours. We who fill your shiny clean streets with the smell of food . . . We, the dark, the short, [End Page 64] the greasy, the shifty, the fat, the anemic. We the barbarians.

Yuri Herrera (Signs Preceding the End of the World)

Walls are erected as material representations of national sovereignty conceived as absolute and separate from the chaos of the world. The interiority that they create is imagined as founded on a bounded territory. This territory, I suggested, is not seen as living, material ground but merely protected space for human action. The interior is represented as sacred, its people, as innocent.

Imaginaries of interiority draw also from ancient corporeal metaphors of the collectivity as a body. Perhaps the most influential of these images in the West is Paul’s notion of the “body of Christ,” which attributes to the collectivity traits of the individual body—notably, the porosity of its boundaries and concerns about outside threats to its health. The collective Christian body is one entity, not only functionally, in terms of division of roles, but also physically.67 This implies that members of the collective body must guard its boundaries as they would protect their own bodies. Failing to do so can have sickening consequences for all. The illustration of the detrimental effects of contact with others is tellingly sexual. If one of the members has sex with a prostitute, his body becomes one with hers, and thus makes the “members” of Christ the members of a prostitute, Paul cautioned. Bodily contact is contaminating. Just as an individual body must be protected, avoiding practices that would subject it to sin, the collective body must be protected against those who would bring the power of sin into the body of Christ.

Twentieth-century political imaginaries transposed older images of the collective “body”—especially Paul’s—into biomedical metaphors that accentuated the threat of contagion posed by foreign bodies, not just outside the nation, but also within. Roberto Esposito argues that the State inherits from the Church the idea of the unifying role of the collective body—of every person’s incorporation in the Church, or later in the State.68 The logic of unification is based on the need for protection, but the body may misidentify benign bodies as threats and react in ways that are harmful to itself. Collectively, the incorporation into the State can similarly produce “a sort of immunitary syndrome”—a strong reaction against anything perceived as foreign.

Esposito’s analysis expands on Foucault’s earlier descriptions of the paradox that political discourses that took the protection of life as their main objective still managed to produce deadly forms of racism. Foucault suggests that such [End Page 65] discourses represented the death of the racialized other as necessary for the flourishing of life of those taken as legitimate peoples of the nation. Esposito pursues Foucault’s inquiry focusing on the biologization of Nazi political discourses. They produced, he argues, a “double enclosure of the body,” the incorporation of the self within its body and the incorporation of the person in the organic totality of the nation. The first reduces the person to biological inheritance, the second imagines the nation as the “incarnation of a racial substance.”69 The arguments for enhancing the life of the nation are thus seen as consonant with the denial of protection or even the death of others, as long as they are defined as a potential threat to the life of the nation. Esposito sees another version of immunity shaping anti-immigration discourses. “The fact that the growing flows of immigrants are thought (entirely erroneously) to be one of the worst dangers for our societies also suggests how central the immunitary question is becoming. Everywhere we look, new walls, new blockades, and new dividing lines are erected against something that threatens, or at least seems to, our biological, social, and environmental identity.”70

Contemporary descriptions of the collective seldom refer explicitly to the nation as a body. Indeed, the frequent pronouncements against “porous borders” seem to convey that the collective body should not be like a body, that we need a wall, not skin. However, corporeal metaphors are still used in relation both to the identity of “Americans” and especially in characterizations of the threats of immigrants to the life of the nation. The calls to “reclaim our magnificent destiny as Americans”—a veiled allusion to “manifest destiny”—connect “America” with the idea of race. “America’s true heritage and righteous destiny” as “one people . . . one family . . .one glorious nation.”71

The discussions of ending birthright citizenship implicitly define belonging in terms of bloodlines. Only those born of American parents could be citizens. The principle is not new. And while it is unlikely that it will be instituted again, public references to it incite doubts about people of color in the United States—particularly Latinx peoples—by making belonging a matter of lineage. Some commentators have observed the recurrence of language about bloodlines in the president’s public statements—referring to himself as having [End Page 66] “the right genes” and claiming that “some people cannot, genetically, handle pressure.”72 Such references cast the recurrent references to family ties in a new light. “America” is a family, and the protection of its citizens is evidence of love, not immorality, the president argues.73 The immigrants are accused of “destroying the lives of our families,” of preying “on innocent American families and children.”74

The “aliens” are described, predictably, as criminal and immoral—“dangerous,” “violent,” “bloodthirsty” criminals who prey on “innocent Americans.”75 In White House reports and presidential speeches, the alleged crimes perpetrated by “aliens” are described in gruesome detail fit for crime television shows: the use of chains, bats, and especially machetes, the details of dismemberments. They are uncivilized, “savages,” “barbarians,” or simply not human. “They are not people, they are animals,” the president says.76 If the migrants in the caravan are said to be mostly “military-aged” or “gang-aged” men, “men, young, strong,” [End Page 67] it is only to allude to the potential for violence.77 They carry across the border drugs and weapons, terrorists who threaten national security. The image of the rapist, which figures in most lists of potential crimes associated with immigrants, is particularly potent, for it captures the imagined threat to bodily integrity; the violation of the individual body is a metonym for the violation of the national body.78

In addition to the threat of personal harm, immigration has been depicted as having detrimental effects in the collective identity—caused by dilution of the ideal composition or by contagion. The argument against admitting people from other cultures and religions can be simply that it would change the demographics, a matter of numbers. The claim that there are an “unprecedented number” of immigrants entering the country stirs this worry. This can be ameliorated by admitting only immigrants who can easily assimilate, as opposed to those who “don’t speak English, have no First World skills or education.”79 The discussions of the “Muslim Ban” suggests religious dimensions of the exclusionary impulse. Anti-immigration discourses suppose that the very presence of people from other cultures dilute the desirable qualities of the nation. But there seem to be other ontologies at work that assume a more organic model of corporeal coexistence. That is, the concern is not just that the sheer number of nonwhite Americans will change the composition of the nation but that it will also corrupt it—an idea openly expressed in US legal discourses until the twentieth century. Just as “racial mixing” was claimed to weaken the individual body, immigration quotas and segregation sought to prevent “race amalgamation” in the collective body.

Right-wing media describe the threat posed by foreign bodies in more explicit biomedical metaphors. The Caravan is represented as a threat to public health, carrying “exotic diseases.” “Coming into our country with disease,” they will [End Page 68] “infect our people in the United States.”80 But even in the absence of such metaphors, blocking the “infiltration” of immigrants is represented as a protection of life. If we don’t “kill” the implementation of sanctuary cities, “it will spread,” and “it will be a death sentence for American law-abiding citizens.”81 The immigrants are carriers of disease, it is argued. But the metaphors slip into portrayals of the people as disease.

“Death is pouring through,” the president said as he discussed the need to declare an emergency at the border.82 Insuring that foreign bodies do not enter the imagined body is seen not as an aggression against others but as a protection against a corrupting and potentially deadly infection. This might explain why the majority of white evangelicals identify immigration as their highest moral political issue, higher than marriage or abortion.83 Christian theology is thus reduced to exceptionalism. Since the entry of immigrants through the borders is a matter of life and death, the president stands as the protector of life, even if that means allowing others to die.

IV. Disenclosures

1,950 mile-long open wound     dividing a pueblo, a culture       running down the length of my body,   staking fence rods in my flesh,   splits me splits meme raja me raja. . .

       But the skin of the earth is seamless

Gloria Anzaldúa, “The Homeland, Aztlán/El Otro México” [End Page 69]

Anti-immigration discourses are concretized in walls, fences, and other partitions. Their effects materialize in human bodies. Whether metal or concrete, the walls have made the US border a land of wounded bodies and open graves.84

Written in 1987, Gloria Anzaldúa’s “The Homeland” conveys the complex connections between individual bodies and geopolitics, myth and history, culture and geography. For her the border is both geopolitical and existential. The US–Mexican border is “una herida abierta [an open wound] where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds,” she wrote in her now- classic text.85 Despite being so familiar, the image of “staking fence rods in my flesh” still produces in me a visceral reaction. Literally and metaphorically, US anti-immigration practices have been producing carnage.

Anzaldúa describes the border as injuring the earth, which she also imagines as a body. The corporeal metaphor shifts the grounds of relation from the bounded nation to the earth, which makes it all the more disturbing to find the image of the “open wound” in a warning from the president about the threat of migrants. “I campaigned on Border Security, which you cannot have without a strong and powerful Wall. Our Southern Border has long been an ‘Open Wound,’ where drugs, criminals (including human traffickers) and illegals would pour into our Country.”86 I have no explanation for this perverse intertextuality.

I have been describing a vision of the United States as a sacred enclosure, creating a people bounded to a territory and yet threatened by contact with foreign bodies. In contrast to this view of protective enclosure, Anzaldúa portrays the fence as wounding the skin of the earth, hurting social and ecological worlds, and thus wounding also the bodies of human beings. “The Homeland” depicts the touch between the individual body and the earth, while the stanzas move back and forth between geopolitical borders and ecological borders. The “earth touches the ocean” as her feet sink into the sand. The sea, the river, the mountains, the desert—all affect her body. But this is no peaceful scene. The violence of land appropriations and partitioning reach deep into the past. The area was the home of the Aztecs, she reminds us as she challenges territorial claims of both Mexico and the United States. “This land was Mexican once/ [End Page 70] was Indian always/and is/and will be again.”87 Yet Anzaldúa does not regard this land as territory, and the undoing of the boundary is brought about neither by Indians nor Mexicans but by the sea: “Miro el mar atacar/la cerca en Border Field Park” ([I look at the sea attacking the fence in Border Field Park). She describes the destruction as “resurrection,” as well as vengeance from Yemayá, the goddess of water. In order to challenge the world order that reduces humanity to documents and land to property, Anzaldúa reaches into religious traditions dismissed as myth, as inadequate for civilization. Yemayá will “show the white man what she thought of his/arrogance.”88

I now read this poem as a warning against denials of global warming, against the arrogance of exceptionalism. “The sea cannot be fenced/el mar does not stop at the borders.” The sea is showing us the perils of human arrogance. But I can’t ignore that the sea has become a threat for black and brown peoples in islands across the world, including the Caribbean. I cannot be reassured by the power of the sea. The worlds of the “peoples of the sea” are ending.89 In the continent, the literatures of these borderlands become more apocalyptic: “Tell me How it Ends” or “Signs Preceding the End of the World.”90 These tales of despair do not hide the social-material constitution of human lives.

The wall is a symbol of deep structures of thought, of fantasies of invulnerability and absolute autonomy that may ultimately destroy people on both sides of the border. The “Third World grates against the first and bleeds”—a sacrifice of many, no doubt. But I would not call it “innocent blood,” any more than “criminal” or “alien.” I have here restrained myself from offering images of immigrants as innocent victims. I could. Such examples abound, and they are true. But I want to emphasize that anti-immigration discourses are not just juridical. The discourses I have been analyzing demarcate the very limits of humanity.

Representing migrants as the chaos sets them out for elimination, I suggest, and gives a sacred aura to the practice of delimiting, to the wall, and attributes innocence to those perceived as legitimately bound to the interiority of that enclosure. The fact that the enclosure is only illusory, that a wall cannot [End Page 71] protect “Americans” from the consequences of its social, economic, or ecological relations, does not make it superfluous. The repeated calls for a wall shape subjectivities that strive to be doubly enclosed—within their imagined racial identity and as a racial group bounded by a territory defined by national sovereignty. These discourses activate the dread of foreign bodies—which justifies their death or makes them unrecognizable as human, in life or death.

Responses to anti-immigration discourses must include legal challenges, including those that highlight the violations of human rights and ecological protections, and thus remind us of the broadest relations that constitute humanity. We also need the works of those who strive to reassert the humanity of migrants, by searching for disappeared people, looking for lost children, and counting the dead. We need those writers who tell their stories. “Numbers and maps tell horror stories, but the deepest horrors are perhaps those for which there are no numbers, no maps, no possible accountability, no words ever written or spoken.”91 Valeria Luiselli writes stories woven from pieces of information recorded in immigration questionnaires and transformed into fragmentary testimonies of children’s lives.

What then is theology’s role? My essay has sought to uncover the theology supporting current anti-immigration discourse, noting a shift from an outward-looking civilizing mission to a territorial racist nationalism. This is a critique of both. Perhaps political theology should limit itself to unmasking false gods and uncovering the sacrifices they extract. It is a difficult stance, however, one with which I have struggled. Maybe I should have ended this essay at “demarcate the limits of humanity,” as I initially did. But something kept troubling me—multiple images more than a formed idea. Images from the literary works I have cited before and their affective charge. And the images of the network of churches and secular organizations that mobilize to support immigrants and asylum seekers—strangers looking for lost children and arranging for their care until they are reunited with their families, flying with immigrants to make sure they reach a family member in a different state, leaving bottles of water in the desert, gathering data of unclaimed bodies. They work against the reassertion of xenophobic nationalism, but also beyond calculus. It is a kind of power mindful of vulnerability. After political critique, this might be all the theology I need. [End Page 72]

Mayra Rivera
Harvard University
Mayra Rivera

Mayra Rivera is professor of religion and Latinx studies at Harvard University. Rivera works at the intersections between continental philosophy; literature; and theories of coloniality, race, and gender—with particular attention to Caribbean postcolonial thought. Her book Poetics of the Flesh (2015) explores the relationship between discursive and material dimensions in shaping human embodiment. She is author of The Touch of Transcendence: A Postcolonial Theology of God (2007); coeditor, with Stephen Moore, of Planetary Loves: Spivak, Postcoloniality, and Theology (2010); and coeditor, with Catherine Keller and Michael Nausner, of Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire (2004).


1. I am grateful to my research assistant, Adelaide Mandeville, for her invaluable help gathering and sorting through primary sources for this paper and for her analytic insights.

2. The occupation was the outcome of a war many saw as an opportunity to unify the United States after the civil war by identifying Spain as the enemy. See, for instance, Matthew McCullough, The Cross of War: Christian Nationalism and U.S. Expansion (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

3. The Methodist Year Book (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1905).

4. The Methodist Year Book (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1909).

5. Josiah Strong, Our Country: Its Possible Future and its Present Crisis (New York: Baker & Taylor, 1891).

6. A rumor circulated about four years ago that immigration officers were looking for cars with a crucifix hanging from their rearview mirror to identify presumed immigrants (Personal communication).

7. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 36.

8. Catherine Keller, Political Theology of the Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 25.

9. Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (London: Routledge, 2003).

10. Ibid., xvii.

11. For an analysis of this trope in Puerto Rico, see Mayra Rivera Rivera, “En-Gendered Territory: US Missionaries Discourse in Puerto Rico (1898–1920),” in New Horizons in Hispanic/Latino(a) Theology, ed. Benjamin Valentin (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2003).

12. Joseph Richard Winters, “The Sacred Gone Astray in the Flesh: Eliade, Fanon, Wynter, and the Terror of Colonial (Un)-Settlement,” in In the Image of Man: Race, Coloniality, and Philosophy of Religion, ed. Yountae An and Eleanor Craig (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, forthcoming).

13. Ibid. Winters is here citing Eliade.

14. “Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke USA Today Editorial: ‘Border Walls Work. Yuma Sector Proves It,’” Immigration, White House, August 22, 2017,

15. “Fact Sheet: Donald J. Trump and Attorney General Sessions Stand Up Against Lawless Sanctuary Cities,” Immigration, White House, August 16, 2017,; “Praise for President Trump’s Commitment to Border Security,” Immigration, White House, August 23, 2017,; “Remarks by President Trump at Customs and Border Protection Roundtable,” Immigration, White House, February 2, 2018,; “What You Need to Know about the President’s Authorization for the National Guard to Deploy to the Southern Border,” Immigration, White House, April 4, 2018,; “California’s ‘Sanctuary’ Laws Aren’t Pro-Immigrant—and Local Leaders Are Pushing Back,” Immigration, White House, May 18, 2018,; “Remarks by President Trump and Vice President Pence at Meeting with Members of Congress,” Immigration, White House, June 20, 2018,; “What You Need to Know about Catch and Release,” Immigration, White House, April 2, 2018, These are just examples of recurrent tropes found through official documents published in the immigration section of the White House website, The language of “flood of people” also appears in conservative media. See, for instance, the segment “Medical Expert: Migrant Caravan Could Pose Public Health Threat,” Breitbart News Daily, October 26, 2018.

16. “Remarks by President at the Salute to the Heroes of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection,” Immigration, White House, August 20, 2018,

17. “President Donald J. Trump Stands with Brave Heroes Who Enforce Our Immigration Laws and Secure Our Borders,” Immigration, White House, August 20, 2018, “We don’t have borders, we don’t have a country,” Trump campaign rallies, Mosinee, WI - October 24, 2018,

18. “Remarks by President Trump at Lunch with Members of Congress,” Immigration, White House, June 26, 2018,

19. President Trump referred to “our sacred duty” in his primitive address from the Oval Office on January 8, 2019. And, for instance, “Remarks by President Trump to Law Enforcement Officials on MS-13,” Immigration, White House, July 28, 2017, Similarly, “the highest duty of the President is to defend” the borders. “National Security Presidential Memorandum,” National Security & Defense, White House, April 4, 2018,

20. As I write, farmers in Iowa are severely affected by tariffs imposed by China. Although their problem is attributed to recent US trade decisions to try to protect local industry, it shows how even their land-based livelihood is dependent on global forces that the US government do not fully control.

21. Brown uses the term “sovereignty” in a technical sense described by Schmitt, Hobbes, and Bodin, among others. Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (New York: Zone Books, 2010).

22. Ibid., 9.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid., 91.

25. Ibid., 38.

26. I think, for example, of the perceived threat of naming Puerto Rico part of the United States. Admitting a large number of brown people—poor and under US then-lucrative rule—to be part of the United States was represented as a threat to the very nature of the country. For this reason, it was argued, the island had to remain “unincorporated.”

27. “The Democrats have launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country,” he repeated. See, for instance, the October 22, 2018, campaign rally in Houston, TX, The promise to “defend the sovereignty, the safety, and the security of the American people” is repeated through official documents and informal remarks.

28. “National Security Presidential Memorandum,” April 4, 2018, National Security & Defense, White House,

29. “What You Need to Know . . . Authorization for the National Guard,” April 4, 2018.

31. For instance, Juliette Kayyem, Belfer Lecturer in International Security at Harvard Kennedy School argues that “the bigger threat now is not terrorism, it’s cybersecurity.” Harvard Gazette, January 11, 2019.

32. “Fact Sheet: Secure the Border by Deterring and Swiftly Removing Illegal Entrants,” Immigration, White House, October 8, 2017,; “Remarks by President Trump and Vice President Pence in a Meeting on Immigration with Republican Members of the Senate,” Immigration, White House, January 4, 2018,; “Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with Bipartisan Members of Congress on Immigration,” Immigration, White House, January 9, 2018,; “Remarks by President Trump at Customs and Border Protection Roundtable,” Immigration, White House, February 2, 2018,

33. Filipe Maia, “Trading Futures: Future-Talk, Finance, and Christian Eschatology” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2017), 22.

34. Keller, Political Theology of the Earth, 6.

35. Schmitt, Political Theology, 5.

36. Ibid., 6f.

37. Francisco Cantú, “Has Any One of Us Wept?,” New York Review of Books, January 17, 2019.

38. Ibid.

39. See No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, Disappeared: How the US Border Enforcement Agencies are Fueling a Missing Persons Crisis,

40. Sylvia Wynter, “Black Metamorphosis: New Natives in a New World,” n.d. [ca. 1970s], MG 502, box 1, Institute of the Black World Records, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, 19 (italics mine).

41. Ibid., 1.

42. Willie James Jennings, “Binding Landscapes: Secularism, Race, and the Spatial Modern,” in Race and Secularism in America, ed. Jonathon S. Kahn and Vincent W. Lloyd (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 234f. Keller reserves the terms “ground” for the “whole planetary underground of our lives.”

43. Myra Jehlen, American Incarnation: The Individual, the Nation, and the Continent (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).

44. Amy Kaplan, The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 6.

45. Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, 93.

46. Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth: In the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europeaum, trans. G. L. Ulmen (New York: Telos Press, 2003), 78. Schmitt writes, “Nomos is a matter of the fundamental process of apportioning space that is essential to every historical epoch—a matter of the structure-determining convergence of order and orientation in the cohabitation of peoples on this now scientifically surveyed planet. Every new age and every new epoch in the coexistence of peoples, empires, and countries, of rulers and power formations of every sort, is founded on new spatial divisions, new enclosures, and new spatial orders of the earth” (79).

47. Ibid., 70.

48. Trier, cited in ibid., 74.

49. Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, 57.

50. Ibid., 59.

51. Ibid., 38.

53. Joe Heim, “Jerry Falwell Jr. Can’t Imagine Trump ‘Doing anything that is not Good for the Country,” Washington Post, January 1, 2019.

54. I cannot ignore the ambiguous deal offered to Ruth the convert. In order to gain Boaz’s protection, she was counseled to go to him at night, “uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what you are to do” (Ruth 3:4). The “convert” is an ambiguous reference, given the history of the term “converso” to mark others inside the nation or collectivity—those who were not Christian by birth and thus, even if not immediately killed or exiled, remained always suspect of deception. Their “welcome” was a kind of exclusion.

55. Letter to congress from “Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration,” January 19, 2016,, accessed July 11, 2018. My emphasis.

56. Robert Jeffress, interview by Lou Dobbs, Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox News, November 2, 2018.

57. “Remarks by President Trump to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly | New York, NY,” Foreign Policy, White House, Sept 25, 2018,

59. Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, 50.

60. Following Freud, she interprets this strategy as inherently theological. If religion arises from the experience of vulnerability and dependency, projecting an image of omnipotent parents, it is not surprising if at the present moment, the protection of the wall takes on a religious significance. This understanding of religion is impossibly reductive, of course, and it hardly seems sufficient to characterize a pattern of discourse as theological.

62. There is a border patrol museum in El Paso, Texas, which exhibits garments and guns—the vestments of power against immigration.

63. The formulation often refers to families and children as “innocent American families” or “innocent American men, women, and children.” See, for example, “What You Need to Know about the Surge in Illegal Border Crossings and the Failures of Our Current Immigration System,” Immigration, White House, May 9, 2018,; and “Abolishing ICE Would Erase America’s Borders And Open The Floodgates To More Crime, Drugs, And Terrorism,” Immigration, White House, July 5, 2018,

64. “America—and Judaism—at its Best,” New York Times, October 28, 2018.

65. “Remarks by President at the Salute to the Heroes of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection,” August 20, 2018. Most of the references to blood in White House documents refer to bloodshed.

66. “Remarks by President Trump at a Roundtable Discussion on Immigration, Bethpage, NY,” Immigration, White House, May 23, 2018,

67. See Mayra Rivera, Poetics of the Flesh (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 29–42.

68. Roberto Esposito, “Flesh and Body in the Deconstruction of Christianity,” Minnesota Review, no. 75 (2010): 94.

69. Roberto Esposito, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, trans. Timothy Campbell (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 142.

70. Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics, trans. Rhiannin Noel Welch (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 59.

72. Michael D’Antonio, “Trump’s Move to End DACA Has Roots in America’s Long, Shameful History of Eugenics,” LA Times, September 14, 2017.

73. For instance, a letter from the white house to the House and Senate refers to “every member of our national family” (“President Donald J. Trump’s Letter to House and Senate Leaders & Immigration Principles and Policies,” Immigration, White House, October 8, 2017, In Trump’s address from the Oval Office on January 8, 2019, he stated, “Some have suggested a barrier is immoral. Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences, and gates around their homes? They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside but because they love the people on the inside” (

74. “Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security,” Immigration, White House, April 4, 2018,; “What You Need to Know about the Surge in Illegal Border Crossings and the Failures of Our Current Immigration,” Immigration, White House, May 9, 2018,

75. These three adjectives are in a one-page statement, dated June 29, 2018, and posted in the White House Immigration page. “Statement from President Donald J. Trump on House Passage of Kate’s Law and No Sanctuary for Criminals Act,”

76. “Remarks by President Trump at a Roundtable Discussion on Immigration, Bethpage, NY,” Immigration, White House, May 23, 2018,

77. Michele Bachman on the American Pastors Network’s Stand in the Gap radio program, October 23, 2018,; Donald Trump, interview by Laura Ingraham, The Ingraham Angle, Fox News, October 29, 2018,

78. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people” (“Full Text: Donald Trump Announces a Presidential Bid,” Washington Post, June 16, 2015).

79. “Editorial on the RAISE Act: A Reasoned Return to Policy Sanity,” Immigration, White House, August 4, 2017,

80. “Medical Expert: Migrant Caravan Could Pose Public Health Threat,” Breitbart News Daily, October 26, 2018.

81. “Remarks by President Trump and Members of the Angel Families on Immigration,” Immigration, White House, June 22, 2018,

82. “Interview: Sean Hannity Interviews Donald Trump in Mission, Texas at the Border,” January 10, 2019,

83. 2018 Public Religion Research Institute’s survey: “White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority believe that immigrants threaten American society.”

84. Jason De León, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015). For a discussion of the literal wounds suffered by those crossing the border, see Ieva Jusionyte, Threshold: Emergency Responders on the US-Mexico Border (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018).

85. Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999), 25.

86. Donald Trump, Twitter, December 31, 2018, 8:29 a.m.,

87. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 25.

88. Ibid.

89. The “peoples of the sea” is Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s description of Caribbean peoples (Benitez-Rojo, The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective, trans. James Maraniss, 2nd ed. [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996]).

90. Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2017); Yuri Herrera, Señales que precederán el fin del mundo (Cáceres, Spain: Editorial Periférica, 2009).

91. Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends, 30.

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