DOI: 10.1177/23996544241230958 ISSN: 2399-6544

Territory, rights, and migrant justice: Undocumented first amendment rights, or the deterritorialization of rights access

Jacob P Chamberlain
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Public Administration
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development

This paper analyzes the work of the powerful migrant rights organization Migrant Justice, as they exemplify ways in which migrant activists in the U.S. today are challenging the socio-political confines of bordered state territory and are pushing the landscape of rights access in new directions. This work utilizes a year-long ethnography conducted with Migrant Justice as they faced intense targeting and surveillance from immigration authorities, including the use of a covert informant, in response to their successful labor and human rights organizing in the state of Vermont. This work in particular details Migrant Justice’s First Amendment rights lawsuit against the federal government in response to this targeting. Here, Migrant Justice directly challenged the federal government in a groundbreaking lawsuit that saw federal immigration authorities forced to acknowledge constitutional rights for undocumented migrant activists. In this confluence of opposing forces, we of course see egregious abuses against migrant actors, but we also see exemplifications of new and progressively powerful forms of resistance that are posing a specific challenge to the state’s bordered and territorially based limitations on human and civil rights. This work utilizes Stuart Elden’s conception of territory—as a process and a praxis of control—to understand migrant resistance to state-sanctioned exclusion and exploitation and the ways in which these challenges to state power are creating new spaces for political belonging. An analysis in this way allows us to see the work of Migrant Justice as that which increasingly deterritorializes relationships between residents and state power—an undoing of spatial limitations on rights and belonging. Throughout this work, the concept of deterritorialization as a form of migrant resistance is unpacked and defined to understand the full potentials of migrant activism today.

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