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Debordering Rights, Deterritorializing Law, and Redistributing Power: Migrant Activism and New Forms of Resistance in the Era of Deportation

Authors: Jacob Chamberlain*, Clark University
Topics: Migration, Political Geography, Legal Geography
Keywords: human rights, legal geography, political geography, migration studies, resistance
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In November 2018, Migrant Justice, a migrants’ rights organization in Vermont, U.S., filed a lawsuit against Immigrant and Customs Enforcement for targeting the group in what they say was direct retaliation for their speech, activism and assembly—political repression in the name of border policy. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed the ways in which ICE had surveilled the group, both electronically and with the use of a covert informant, in efforts that led to the detention and potential deportation of the group’s lead organizers. This research examines the groundbreaking work that migrant activists in the U.S. are doing to push the political and conceptual boundaries of rights, law, political space, and notions of citizenship in new directions, despite increased repression. Migrant Justice has been increasingly active and successful in fighting for the improved conditions of migrant’s lives in this precarious border state. From legislative work winning drivers’ licenses for undocumented residents to winning a labor rights campaign that established a legally binding contract to improve working conditions on dairy farms, the group is pushing on through retaliation and continuing their efforts. Pulling from political and critical theory, migration and border studies, citizenship studies, and legal and political geography, alongside qualitative data collected during one year of participant observation with the group, this work utilizes three new concepts for understanding Migrant Justice’s multifarious methods of resistance: debordering rights, deterritorializing law, and redistributing power.

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