Commentary on limits of academic protest published in Savage Minds

Originally published at the anthropology blog, Savage Minds, responding to their call for short commentaries on “anthropology in the Trump era”.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 6.13.05 PMIn late January, President Trump signed three Executive Orders concerning immigration. The “Muslim Ban” galvanized attention, from protests and Op-Eds to legislative action. Given the patently unconstitutional practices sanctioned by that Order, the maneuvers promised by the other two—including increased agency powers to profile and criminalize immigrants, mass raids, detentions, and deportations—possibly appeared less immediately pressing.

Academics’ responses hint at a more worrying reality. An open letter to the President signed by 43,000+ scholars, including prominent anthropologists, concludes:

“The unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States.”

The qualifiers here are alarming and counterproductive. Racialized groups of people have been systematically criminalized, exploited for their labor, and marginalized in the United States since its founding. Terms like “law-abiding,” “hard-working,” and “well-integrated,” are furthermore malleable to pernicious ends, and frequently deployed by right-wing voices.

As scholars, teachers, and activists, we must refute, not echo, the “good” vs. “bad” immigrant rhetoric of this (and earlier) administrations. As anthropologists, we must reflect critically on governmental categorizations of people, not take them for granted. We must expose the xenophobic constructions at the heart of each policy statement. As Trump makes good on his promises, we must advocate for all immigrants—regardless of taxes paid, skill sets, or ascribed work ethics; regardless of faith, language, or family ties; regardless of records, status, or papers. Lines drawn in the sand around state-approved “deserving” immigrants will only fortify the foundations of future border walls.

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