- "This is How We Refugee":Neoliberalism from Haiti to Palestine and the Economics of Refugee Form
"The bourgeoisie . . . has resolved personal worth into exchange value . . . has set up that single, unconscionable freedom ––Free Trade . . . and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation."(Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848)
"The March on Washington starts from Occupied Jerusalem / This is how we refugee."(Jehan Bseiso, "Refugee Status Determination," Mediterranean, 2018)
"Refugees are Expensive"
In 1986 leftist punk rock band Dead Kennedys release a song titled "The Great Wall" on their fourth studio album Bedtime for Democracy. The album as a whole loudly criticizes a wide range of conservative Reaganera politics, from trickle down economic policies, American imperialism abroad and right-wing culture wars at home, to the hypocrisy of the Christian 'moral majority' and toxic masculinity. On "The Great Wall," lead singer Jello Biafra connects U.S. imperialism to the policing of migration domestically and the concomitant production of refugees globally. One verse and chorus read: [End Page 348]
There's too many people in your worldAnd refugees are expensiveWhen they trickled down onto our soilWe hunt them and arrest themClassify them insaneAnd put them back on the next planeTo the waiting armsOf the same death squads they fled
We've built a Great Wall around our powerEconomic Great Wall around our powerWorldwide Great Wall around our power
Teenage punk rockers in the Trump-era may be surprised to learn that this song was written not last year but over three decades ago given its surprising relevance today (see the recent right-wing slogans "build the wall" and "send her home" for example). Biafra uses the terms "hunt" and "arrest" to describe the policy of targeting immigrants and refugees, while illustrating the United States' ideological demonization of those deemed foreign in the line "classify them insane."1 But he also shows, correctly, that the United States polices the catastrophic effects of its own policies abroad when it "hunts" and deports refugees and migrants at home. The forcefully displaced today often flee the very forces of displacement that Western powers create, such as U.S.-created or backed counter-revolutionary forces called "death squads" (Grandin 14–15). As Biafra sings, we then "put them back on the next plane / To the waiting arms / Of the same death squads they've fled."2
Here, Biafra describes the practice of Refoulement. Refoulment has been internationally recognized as illegal since the post-World War II era, yet it often happens across the Global North because 1) the legal categorization of who counts as a refugee is strategically narrow and difficult to attain, as I assess below, and 2) the recent unabashed resurgence of xenophobia creates states of exception that disregard international law and precedent. Beyond the practice of repatriating migrants with legitimate claims to asylum, Biafra also refers to the United States' policy of installing pro-capitalist dictators in Latin America and the Caribbean (1985's Iran-Contra scandal would have been fresh in Biafra's mind during the [End Page 349] writing of Bedtime for Democracy). Finally, and with seemingly great foresight, the song critiques the xenophobic and nationalist obsession with a border wall separating the U.S. and Mexico, repeating in the chorus "We've built a Great Wall around our power / Economic Great Wall around our power / Worldwide Great Wall around our power." "The Great Wall" describes a world where the United States has, to a measurable extent, made the world unlivable, and then built a fortress around its borders to keep out the victims of their global violence. From racial capitalism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, imperialism, to neoliberal globalization and now the monstrous resurgence of xenophobic nationalism, countries in the Global North continue to devastate and destabilize the Global South, while terrorizing populations at home. They have indeed helped make the conditions in the South unlivable, yet the North un-enterable.
Jenna Loyd uses the term "global apartheid" to describe this "condition in which the wealthiest regions of the world erect physical and bureaucratic barriers against the movement of people from...