The Border as Crisis

The following post is an abstract that I wrote with the esteemed Ana Montgomery and submitted to 2015 Crisis & Critique conference. It is cross-posted at our collaborative tumblr The Department of Anthropology. Stay tuned for more critical reflections on contemporary events from Ana and I. 

To speak of crisis is to demand a response. Both those who support further border militarization and those who support migrants’ freedom of movement, deploy the rhetoric of “border crisis” in hopes of precipitating state action. Such was the case in what has come to be known as the “American Immigration Crisis of 2014,” the “surge” in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization. What was so remarkable about this invocation of crisis was its mobility across a polarized political landscape: whether one faulted an inadequate immigration system (unable to accommodate asylum-seekers) or a porous border (failing to hold back the flood of those who did not belong), the nation was in crisis and called to action. Here, the language of crisis reveals itself to be a technique of bordering, an affirmation of an always-aspirational sovereignty. In other words, when crisis is invoked, sovereignty itself is performatively called into being and along with it, the nation’s territorial scope and boundaries. At the same time, the exceptional aspect of the concept of crisis naturalizes the structure of a territorial border, masking its contingent, historically-rooted emergence. Therefore, while the bordering practice of “crisis” figures the border as an imperiled yet concrete and pre- existing boundary, in actuality the coherence of the border as such cannot be understood without this element of peril. There is no border crisis; the border is crisis.