- Lives on the Line
As I prepared to edit this special issue, I knew I would ask Aly Wane to participate in the workshop the journal convened in August 2018 on Biographic Mediation. He is an undocumented organizer with the Syracuse Peace Council. His interviews about migrants' rights and the specific vulnerabilities that Black undocumented immigrants face are notable for challenging the horizon of citizenship as a goal for organizing (Jaffe). Part of the community that formed the UndocuBlack Network in 2016, Wane highlights stories of Black immigrant experiences while deflecting calls for the "good immigrant" narrative that tacitly endorses racialized policing to achieve access for a few. He consistently asks how the pursuit of narrow opportunities for legalization underwrites mass deportation and incarceration. In this way, Wane organically arrives at biographic mediation as an analytic approach. He accounts for the ways biographic details are used in different institutions, public discourse, and advocacy work. He explains how politicians use biographic profiles to abandon populations (homeless white men for instance) and how easily the idea of meritocracy excuses abandonment if you don't confront it daily, an insight Wane gained through his work in a homeless shelter in upstate New York. In this interview, Wane addresses a range of topics threaded through his own path to becoming an undocumented immigrant and human rights organizer. Similar to other essays featured in this issue, his analysis is rooted in contradictions that force closer scrutiny of the profiling mechanisms that sustain policing and patriarchy, contributing to the fragility of families ripped apart by these practices. From missing immigrants in Syracuse to his mother's murder, Wane has cultivated a reflexive disposition about family, home, and rights in the world.
As I revisited the transcript to Wane's interview, I was struck by his ongoing practice of radical vulnerability, which is a mode of disclosure that calls the listener toward ethical reflexivity. By refusing to become an alibi for mass deportation, he champions a broader commitment to migrants' rights, well beyond what applications for selective rights accommodate. That is to say, he does not support idealized [End Page 524] appeals for citizenship because they narrow the pool of people who can claim rights. Instead, he insists on recuperating the remainder excluded from immigration reform proposals. In this conjoined practice of disclosure, refusal, and recuperation, he models an alternative to state-sponsored biographic mediation. Though he is well-positioned to articulate a version of his past that uniquely emphasizes his own capacities and character in service of a citizenship appeal, the refusal broadens the mandate toward human rights unconditioned by citizenship. The final theme of Wane's interview, which encapsulates each of the other elements, is the invocation of Black feminist analysis as a powerful reminder of the right to exist without permission while using self-disclosure as a platform for imagining shared futures.
At what point did activism feel urgent for you? Could you share how you think of your entry point, and if it didn't involve an issue that directly affected you at the time, how did that relate to the organizing work you did later?
That's actually a perfect way to framing all of this. I think my entry point into activism was unconscious. I lost my immigration status when I lost my student visa back in '96, and though I couldn't find work I had been connected with this homeless shelter called Unity Acres and I became a staff member there. That got the wheels turning for me. Until then I'd led a relatively privileged existence. I'd done two years at the University of Pennsylvania and came from a middle-class background. But working at the homeless shelter really exposed me to a population of people who had been completely abandoned by the political system, and that included the Democratic Party. I went from a very privileged university setting to living in rural white poverty in Upstate New York. It was my first exposure to class dynamics in this country. I was just shocked at the poverty that I saw there. I remember trying to tutor...