Anonymous Brown Bodies: The Productive Power of the Deadly US-Mexico Border
Nicholas De Genova
Over the last several years, we have witnessed a remarkable escalation in migrant deaths within the U.S.-Mexico borderzone. For reasons deriving from the history that I have previously characterized as the legal production of Mexican/migrant “illegality,” furthermore, the migrants who die crossing the border are overwhelmingly Latina/o, and disproportionately Mexican. Rising numbers of border deaths are no mere coincidence or accident of geography, therefore, but rather a predictable result of U.S. immigration law-making, as well as a systemic feature of the routine functioning of the increasing physical fortification of the border and the increasing militarization of border enforcement tactics and technologies. In light of the evident systematicity of this (infra-)structural violence, which converts the desert into a landscape that kills, we are challenged to critically comprehend the spectacle of border policing in relation to its brute material effects, above all, a ghastly accumulation of dead brown bodies. These largely anonymous brown bodies, however, must likewise be apprehensible as specifically Mexican or Latina/o migrant lives. Thus, we are confronted not only with a lethal border but one that contributes systematically to the production of Mexican and other Latina/o lives as disposable. Assessing the real effects of this deadly border, we are left to ask: do Brown Lives Matter within the U.S. border and immigration regime? In this regard, Latino Studies scholarship, and research in border and migration studies in particular, provides crucial insights that deepen our understandings of the ongoing and unresolved racial crisis in the United States, as well as the centrality of anti-Mexican/anti-Latino racism in the contemporary immigration debate. Nonetheless, the outright disposability of migrant lives so routinely verified by the deadly border cannot be seen as a purely “necropolitical” phenomenon. The blunt truth is some are made to die, while most survive as illegalized migrants who may proceed from this death-defying endurance test to commence their lifelong careers as precarious workers. Hence, we begin to see not only the cruel extremities of U.S. border control as a regulatory regime, but also the regularities that it truly produces -- foremost among them, the “irregularity” of “illegal” migration. Thus, there is a profound continuity between ever-rising border body counts and the disposablity of life at the border with the deportability of illegalized migrant labor.
Nicholas De Genova is Professor and Chair of the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Houston. He previously held teaching appointments in urban and political geography at King’s College London, and in anthropology at Stanford, Columbia, and Goldsmiths, University of London, as well as visiting professorships or research positions at the Universities of Warwick, Bern, Amsterdam, and Chicago. He is the author of Working the Boundaries: Race, Space, and "Illegality" in Mexican Chicago (2005), co-author of Latino Crossings: Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and the Politics of Race and Citizenship (2003), editor of Racial Transformations: Latinos and Asians Remaking the United States (2006), co-editor of The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement (2010), and most recently, editor of The Borders of “Europe”: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering (2017). He is currently writing two new books — one on The “European” Question: Migration, Race and Postcoloniality and another on The Migrant Metropolis.