While we are seeing an increase of global migration, there is also a growing anti-immigrant sentiment. However, it is important to remember that most migration is the result of political processes associated with capitalist globalization and imperial conquest. Yet both liberal and conservative media exhibit similar bias toward migrations by treating them as problems that stem “from over there,” Harsha Walia points out in an exclusive interview for Truthout. Instead of accepting these false terms, Walia argues, we must recognize “there is no crisis at the border and there is no crisis of migration,” but instead a crisis of global apartheid.
Walia makes a case to create a world without borders
Harsha Walia, a leading Canadian organizer, writer, was born in Bahrain. She co-founded No One Is Illegal’s Vancouver chapter in 2001. Since then, she has been involved in many migrant justice, Indigenous solidarity and feminist, antiracist and pro-capitalist movements. She is the author or several books. It’s impossible to do Border Imperialism And Border and Rule: Global migration, Capitalism and Racist Nationalism at the Rise of Racist Nationalism.
C.J. C.J. Polychroniou: Europe is a major destination for people seeking to flee war, political turmoil, and poverty. In both places, the influx of “uninvited” people from foreign lands and cultures has generated an anti-immigration backlash and has led to increasingly harsh and even malicious policies in an attempt to deal with what is often referred to in the media and by experts alike as a “global migration and refugee crisis.” You have written extensively on the global migration crisis, so let me start by asking you to share with readers the way you understand and explain the factors behind this mass migration of people in the first part of the 21st century.
Harsha Walia: Both conservatives and liberals view immigration policy as a matter for domestic reform to be managed in the state’s interest. Language such as “migrant crisis,” and the often-corresponding “migrant invasion,” is a pretext to shore up further border securitization and repressive practices of detention and deportation. When mass migration is the result, it is often depicted as the cause of an imagined crisis at a border. actual crisesClimate change, capitalism and conquest:
The U.S. context and panic over the southern border have created a long arc with colonial coups, capitalist trading agreements that extract land and labor, climate changes, and enforced oppression as the main drivers of migration from Mexico and Central America. The fastest growing group of people entering the U.S. from Central America is El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans. These perilous migrations are portrayed by liberal media as “not our problem” and stemming from “over there.” However, these migrations are “our problem” because they are inextricable from displacements created by U.S. dirty wars backing death squads across Central America and the counterinsurgency terror of the neoliberal “war on drugs.” From the war against the FMLN [Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front]From the coup to remove Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to El Salvador, there has been an unbroken stream of U.S. intervention in Central America. Migration is a predictable result of these constant displacements. Yet, the U.S. is strengthening its border to protect the very people who were impacted by its policies.
In 2016, new displacements due to climate disasters outnumber new displacements as a consequence of persecution by a ratio three to one. An estimated 143 million people will be forced to flee Africa, South Asia, and Latin America by 2050. El Salvador and Guatemala are two of the 15 countries most at-risk from environmental disasters, despite having contributed the least to climate change. The loss of coffee, sugarcane, rice beans, maize, beans, and sugarcane crops by rural and indigenous farmers are a serious concern. More than 2.5 million Central American residents were affected by successive droughts in 2014-2018.
Yet, displaced refugees — least responsible for and with the fewest resources to adapt to climate variations — face militarized borders in our warming world. A Pentagon-commissioned report from 2003 encapsulates this hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.”
To prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the border to Mexico, the U.S. funds immigration enforcement in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. U.S.-based businesses have also polluted the world. 700 times more emissionsMore than the entire Northern Triangle of Central America. The total ecological debt owed to poor countries and rich countries is estimated at $47 trillion. Rich countries grow at the ecological expense of poor countries.
The rise of far right movements in the West has been fueled by the backlash against global migration. However, the attitudes towards immigrants and refugees differ from one country to another. Are you a proponent of migration as a crisis by itself or as a result of political opportunism. What are your suggestions for governments to do about the anti-immigration backlash
While far right movements are immigration exclusionists — driven by a xenophobic and restrictionist ideology — the reality is that anti-immigration backlash is not intended to exclude All migrantsBut, rather, to make the conditions of migration, including migrant labour, more precarious. Border controls create spatialized differences to not only exclude all people, but to capitalise on them. Neoliberal U.S. commentator Thomas Friedman says candidly, “We have a real immigration crisis and … the solution is a high wall with a big gate — but a smart gate.” Immigration enforcement is not only about the racial terror of outright exclusion but also about producing pliable labor — what Friedman is calling the “smart gate.”
Capitalism requires labor to be constantly segmented and differentiated — whether across race, gender, ability, caste, citizenship, etc. — and the border acts as a spatial fix for capitalism. The purpose of borders is not to exclude anyone or deport everyone, but to create conditions for the movement of people. DeportabilityThis in turn increases labor and social precarity. Workers’ labor power is captured by the border and this cheapened labor is exploited by the employer. Indentured labor pools can be created by tying visa status to the employer and a lack of full immigration status. The threat of termination or deportation is used to keep workers compliant. One study shows that workers are often kept compliant through threats of termination or deportation. 52 percentDuring union drives, many companies in the U.S. threaten workers with being called by immigration authorities. The production of “migrant labor,” a group of workers InThe nation-state, but different AsNon-citizen labor is a sign of the centrality bordering regimes in both coercing labor under racial capitalism as well as restricting citizenship through anti-migrant racism.
Modernity is all around the globe. braceroPrograms are a extreme neoliberalization in both immigration and labor policy. The distinct order of legal-but-deportable migrants creates structural hierarchies among racialized immigrant workers and citizen workers. This pits workers against each other by making migrant workers the victim of lower wages and further attaching race to citizenship. Even though they are working alongside us, there is a whole class of workers who are suddenly stratified differently in the labor market and the nation-state. Despite being our neighbors and working in the same industry, they have different rights and access to services. “Migrant workers” is a euphemism for “Third World” workers, and jobs like farm work, domestic work and service work that cannot be outsourced are being insourced through migrant work. Insourcing and outsourcing are two sides of the same capitalist coin. They represent both political power and labor deflated. This means that we must be able not only to end all detentions or deportations but also to fight for full and permanent immigration status and labor protections as well as living wages for everyone.
There is general agreement that countries have the right and obligation to limit the number of people allowed to travel within their borders. This policy may not be supported by you. Therefore, it would be useful to discuss your views on borders and whether it is realistic for you to fight for a world with no borders and for the implementation a no borders political regime.
Since 2014, at least 50.013 migrants have died in some part of the world. At least 89.3 millions people are being forcibly displaced worldwide as of 2022. This is increasing due to climate catastrophes. An estimated one person every two second is being forced from their homes by a climate disaster. Liberalism transforms the conversation about this massive, preventable violence into technocratic questions about visa types, quotas, and legality. This has also removed immigration discussions from an analysis and accounting of global asymmetries of power — of capitalism, white supremacy, class, gender, caste, ableism and imperialism — and constrained them to domestic policy discussions. Finally, liberal and neoliberal discourse dampens revolutionary possibilities with talk of “pragmatism,” “realism” and “incrementalism.”
There is no other option than to fight for a world that doesn’t have borders, considering the violence and death of millions around the globe. We must refuse to live in a world where the majority of the world’s people are destined to live without adequate food, shelter or access to life-saving vaccines because of where they were born.
What is the role of borders today? Borders maintain asymmetric relations of wealth accrued from colonial impoverishment, of mobility for some and mass immobility and containment for most — essentially, a divided working class and system of global apartheid determining who can live where and under what conditions. It is impossible to reform or modify border policies. They must be abolished if we believe that justice should be done on a global scale. Real advocates of internationalism cannot accept the lingering reality of the “Global South,” which continues to exist in large part because of the continued differentiation of borders.
A world without borders is different from one with open borders. The world is still structured in an open-borders world. There is massive inequality, mass displacement, and continued hierarchical differentiation. However, borders are opened up. There is no justice when people are still being forced to leave their lands and some parts are being taken and used as sacrifice zones by the centers for power. No-borders politics is bigger than the border. No-borders politics is about removing all borders, all order and all exploitative regimes.
To say that we need to live in a world that doesn’t have borders is not only to struggle for the rights of refugees and migrants, but to fight for freedom for AllAgainst displacement and immobility. It is to fight for freedom so that everyone can live in their homes, in their lands, and in relation to one another. The struggle against borders includes movements against gentrification, liberation efforts against colonialism, occupation, the fight against policing, cages, bosses, banks, and the dream of being at home within our bodies and a healthy Earth for all living things. We must end all systems that allow the Global North to exist in relation with the Global South or the South within the North. A no-borders world means the freedom to remain and the freedom for people to move. Although they may seem contradictory, they are actually necessary corollaries. We want to end all detentions and removals, full immigration status for all migrants and demilitarization, the abolition or police of prisons and police, and dismantling capitalism and collective freedom for all. We can only achieve this by believing that there is a world without boundaries and by committing ourselves to the beautiful tradition if struggle.
Can society and the entire world change by changing the narrative? What can we do to change the narrative around migration and borders?
There is no crisis at the borders or in migration. Instead, there is a constant crisis of displacement and immobility both within and beyond nation-state borders. The same carceral system operates through dispossession, capture and containment. These bordering/ordering regimes simultaneously create and discipline surplus populations in capitalism and colonialism while also extracting land, labor, life and other resources.
Classifications such as “migrant” or “refugee” do not even represent unified social groups as much as they symbolize state-regulated relations of difference and state-manufactured conditions of vulnerability. While the rich from wealthy states routinely enjoy borderless mobility around the world — whether as investors, bankers, expats or hipster colonist tourists — the world’s majority of racialized, poor people are subjected to criminalization, illegalization, immobility and premature death. The politics of what we know as “immigration and borders” must therefore be placed within globalized asymmetries of power, creating mass displacement and constricting mobility around the world. This is why the “migration crisis” has been declared. NewWith you in crisis WesternIt is so offensive to see countries being positioned as the primary victims. Capitalism, colonialism and genocide are all conveniently erased in current invocations for a border crisis. They are also the very unfreedoms which are the conditions for the border.
This interview was lightly edited to improve clarity.