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Beyond Family Separation: The (Anti)Politics of Care and Pathways of Resistance within U.S. Immigration Detention

Chris Magana


This paper critically examines the centering of “family separation’ in oppositional narratives to the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The purpose of this examination is to answer a seemingly simple question; why does a child separated from their parents engender greater public attention—and sympathy—than people in immigration detention on hunger strike? Adapting Miriam Ticktin’s conceptualization of the (anti)politics of care, I argue that appeals to a moral imperative to end family separation reinforce hierarchies of suffering in which the recognized ‘apolitical’ suffering of migrant children delegitimizes the overtly political suffering—and agency—of people in immigration detention engaged in hunger strikes. My argument consists of two parts. First, I will argue that calls for “no more kids in cages” are presented as apolitical despite being employed by political actors, including those directly connected to U.S. immigration enforcement and therefore other forms of family separation. In this way, calls to end family separation are a form of antipolitics in which political agents claim to be acting above politics in pursuit of a moral imperative while also seeking to preserve the necropolitical ends of the current system of immigration enforcement and detention. Second, I examine the consequences of placing children at the apex of a hierarchy of suffering. Appeals to the innocence of children serve to cast guilt on all other targets of US immigration enforcement. Childhood innocence is defined in part by a lack of individual agency and a legally sanctioned apoliticism. I propose that these characteristics make children in immigration detention a foil form of suffering to that of individuals acting to harness their physical suffering as a means of political protest in the form of a hunger strike. This paper concludes by discussing the emergence of a new form of morally legitimate suffering, those who are highly susceptible to COVID-19 and the wave of hunger strikes and other forms ongoing resistance in U.S. immigration detention facilities.

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