Unsettling Borders

By: Sherally Munshi  

In legal scholarship on immigration, as in public discourse, we often take for granted the normative and conceptual priority of nation-state borders—as though borders were here first, migrants came second. But, of course, people have been migrating since long before the establishment of nation-state borders.  European imperialism was sustained by mass migration. The British Imperial System consisted of both the voluntary migration of colonial settlers and administrators and the involuntary or forced migration of enslaved Africans, Asian “coolies,” criminal convicts.  In the century before the world war, more than twenty-two million men and women left Britain to settle in the New World. An estimated eleven million Africans were brought to the Americas before the end of the slave trade.  After that, millions of Chinese and Indian “coolies” were sent to European colonies around the world. Settler colonialism in the Americans involved not just the mass migration of white settlers and raced laborers, but the mass expulsion of peoples indigenous to the continent. This paper seeks to reframe the study of immigration law in the United States by displacing the nation-state framework through which questions about immigration law and policy are generally raised. Drawing on recent scholarship in American and ethnic studies, postcolonial and indigenous studies, and critical geography, my paper asserts that the appropriate framework within which to think about immigration law and policy is “the imperial.”  

Border control
2019 Special Focus—Border Crossing Narratives: Learning from the Refugee Experience
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Sherally Munshi

Law professor, Law, Georgetown Law, United States
United States