Skip to main content

// Blogs // network's blog

network 28/11/2016 - 03:00PM

Harsha Walia on Undoing Border Imperialism - Nations & Migrations

The following is an excerpt, used with permission of the author, from Undoing Border Imperialism by Harsha Walia, published by AK Press in 2013. In these passages we see Walia's words addressing the comfortable truth* that borders justly define citizenship and belonging and those who cross them "illegally" are criminals.

"By invoking the state itself as a victim, migrants themselves are cast as illegals and criminals who are committing an act of assault on the state. Migrants become prisoners of passage; their unauthorized migration is considered a trespass, and their very existence is criminalized. In a telling representation, one of the principal detention centers in Canada is the Canadian Immigration Prevention Center (Laval). Migrants are not seen for their actual humanity but instead as a problem to be prevented, deterred, managed, and contained. They become stereotyped by politicians, media, and within popular consciousness as floods of people from 'over there' who are 'disease ridden,' 'fraudulent,' or 'security threats.' These narratives buttress moral panics about 'keeping borders safe and secure' from poor and racialized migrants.


Over the past century, the universalization and proliferation of the Western state as the defining political institution as well as citizenship as the defining political community is a consequence of Western imperialism. European powers drew arbitrary borders, dividing communities in order to serve political and economic interests. It is therefore critical to challenge state-centric framings, such as 'Immigrants are American too' or 'Refugees want to enjoy the freedoms of Canada,' that buttress the legitimacy of the state and its illegitimate foundations in settler colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and oppression. Such framings rely on a regime of state-sanctioned rights, state-perpetuated myths of tolerance and benevolence, and state-enforced assimilation into racialized social formations. … In contrast to state-centric framings of migrant justice, two of the most popular slogans within radical migrant justice movements are 'We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us' and 'No one is illegal, Canada is illegal.'"

Harsha Walia, author of Undoing Border Imperialism.

* #ComfortableTruths are mainstream attitudes and ideas about nationhood, belonging and identity that, despite not being true (such as "immigrants have it easy in Canada"), have become so engrained in the Canadian imaginary and mainstream culture that they become orthodoxy. As part of Cinema Politica's Nations & Migrations project we reached out to activists and artists across the country and asked them to share their thoughts and reactions to these so-called truths.


Join us on Facebook