From the European South

a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities

Anonymous brown bodies: the productive power of the deadly US-Mexico border

Nicholas De Genova


Over the last several years, we have witnessed a remarkable escalation in migrant deaths within the US-Mexico borderzone. For reasons deriving from the history that I have previously characterized as the legal production of Mexican/migrant ‘illegality’, furthermore, the migrants who die crossing the border are overwhelmingly Latina/o, and disproportionately Mexican. Rising numbers of border deaths are no mere coincidence or accident of geography, therefore, but rather a predictable result of US immigration law-making, as well as a systemic feature of the routine functioning of the increased physical fortification of the border and the increasing militarization of border enforcement tactics and technologies. In light of the evident systematicity of this (infra-)structural violence, which converts the desert into a landscape that kills, we are challenged to critically comprehend the spectacle of border policing in relation to its brute material effects, above all, a ghastly accumulation of dead brown bodies. These largely anonymous brown bodies, however, must likewise be apprehensible as specifically Mexican or Latina/o migrant lives. Thus, we are confronted not only with a lethal border but one that contributes systematically to the production of Mexican and other Latina/o lives as disposable. Nonetheless, the outright disposability of migrant lives so routinely verified by the deadly border cannot be seen as a purely “necropolitical” phenomenon. The blunt truth is some are made to die, while most survive as illegalized migrants who may proceed from this death-defying endurance test to commence their lifelong careers as precarious workers.


US-Mexico borderzone, militarization, Latino migrants, necropolitics, labour precarity



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