Processes of Sub-Citizenship: Neoliberal Statecrafting ‘Citizens,’ ‘Non-Citizens,’ and Detainable ‘Others’
It is not always the case that the governing political philosophy is spoken by everybody as if they’re already inside it. It is when it becomes ‘just how things are’ that it wins consent and enters common sense. And at that point the political regime or philosophy has achieved a more settled, long-term deeper form of control…a level of unconsciousness where people aren’t even aware they’re speaking ideology at all. The ideology has become ‘naturalised,’ simply part of nature.
2. ‘Reengineering’ Citizenship
‘Market forces’ was a brilliant linguistic substitute for ‘the capitalist system,’ because it erased so much, and, since we all use the market every day, it suggests that we all somehow already have a vested interest in conceding everything to it. It conscripted us… constantly associating ‘the market’ with things like freedom, choice—and thus the necessity of a privatised economy; that’s the logic.
3. Processes of Sub-Citizenship
4. Children in Immigration Detention
- The US detains far more children than Australia.
- The US lacks transparency regarding the number of children in detention.
- The US is the only country in the world that systematically separates and detains immigrant families en masse (Wood 2018). Australia is the only country in the world with a policy of mandatory detention and offshore processing of people seeking asylum who arrive without a valid visa (Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) n.d.).15
- The average length of time children are held in immigration detention is believed to be roughly similar: 3.5–7.9 months in the USA and 7.5 months in Australia (Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 2014).
- Both countries have been condemned by the United Nations and other human rights organizations for breaching international human rights law, including the Rights of the Child (Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 2014; Amnesty International 2013, 2015, 2015; Nethery and Holman 2016; United Nations News 2018).
4.1. Experiences of Children Held in Australia’s Immigration Detention Centers
- 57 serious assaults.
- 233 assaults involving children.
- 207 incidents of actual self-harm.
- 436 incidents of threatened self-harm.
- 33 incidents of reported sexual assault (the majority involving children).
- 183 incidents of voluntary starvation/hunger strikes (with a further 27 involving children) (Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 2014, p. 62).
My hope is finished now. I don’t have any hope. I feel I will die in detention.17-year-old child, gender redacted, held at Phosphate Hill Detention Center on Christmas Island
My country and my religion is a target for Taliban. There were bomb blasts and always big wars and terrible attacks. Shia people have arms, legs, noses hacked off, necks slashed, plus there is rocket fire and missiles. This is because I am Shia. All this means no one is safe and how because I escaped. I am in detention.Child, age and gender redacted, held at Nauru Regional Processing Center
I feel like I’m in jail, no one here to help us. It’s just me and God.17-year-old child, gender redacted, held at Christmas Island detention Center
I am a thirteen years old boy that came to Australia with my parents and my eight-year-old brother for better and brighter future. We took the risk of this dangerous way because we had no other option. I heard Australian politicians say Iranian people come to Australia because of their economic problems. But we weren’t poor in my country. We weren’t hungry, homeless, jobless, and illiterate. We immigrate because we had no freedom, no free speech, and we had [a] dictatorship.
the Government of Australia has made a calculation in which intolerable cruelty and the destruction of the physical and mental integrity of hundreds of children, men and women, have been chosen as a tool of government policy. In doing so the Government of Australia is in breach of international human rights law and international refugee law. The conditions on Nauru—refugees’ severe mental anguish, the intentional nature of the system, and the fact that the goal of offshore processing is to intimidate or coerce people to achieve a specific outcome—amounts to torture.(p. 7, my emphasis)
I was particularly distressed by the utter despair of the unaccompanied boys I spoke with on Christmas Island—despair underpinned by past, present and anticipatory trauma. Young men, in the prime of their lives, who face the intolerable realization that any hope of a better life had almost evaporated.
4.2. Experiences of Children Held in US Immigration Detention Centers
I’m in a room with dozens of other boys. Some have been as young as 3 or 4 years old. Some cry. Right now there is a 12-year old-boy who cries a lot. Others try to comfort him. One of the officers makes fun of those who cry.17-year-old boy, currently held in US immigration detention center in Clint, Texas
A Border Patrol agent came into our room with a 2-year-old boy and asked us, “Who wants to take care of this little boy?’ Another girl said she would take care of him but lost interest after a few hours and so I started taking care of him… I feed the boy, change his diaper, and play with him. He is sick. He has a cough and a runny nose and scabs on his lips.15-year-old child, gender and detention center location redacted
I have been here without bathing for 21 days. I have seen that when we try to complain about the conditions the (officers) want to know what we said. Then they start yelling at us, saying things like, ‘You don’t belong here,’ ‘Go back to where you came from,’ ‘You are pigs,’ ‘You came here to ruin my country.’ They try to intimidate us. I have seen officers hit other detainees in the stomach.Age redacted, young mother held at the Ursula detention center in McAllen, Texas
the conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities. That is, extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 h a day, no access to medical care, basic sanitation, water or adequate food… every single person I spoke to [was] denied access to hand-washing even after bathroom use.
5. Denaturalizing the Nation-State, Citizenship, and Borders
5.1. Historizing the Nation-State
5.2. Problematizing Traditional Migration and Citizenship Perspectives
6. Pressing for Sub-Citizen Solidarity
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I use the term ‘expulsion’ to refer to a qualitative “deprivation of status” (Nail 2016). It can take many forms, including removing social, political, juridical, economic, and territorial status from a person or a group of people. For example, certain groups of people with legalized ‘non-citizen’ status, such as ‘temporary migrants’ and ‘permanent residents,’ often do not have (or have limited access to) voting rights, welfare provisions, public education, work rights, and so on. People with illegalized ‘non-citizen’ status are at risk of experiencing more severe forms of social, political, juridical, economic, and territorial expulsion, including deportation and detention.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights defines a ‘non-citizen’ as a person who has not been recognised as having “effective links to the country where he or she is located” (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2006, p. 5). In the United States, ‘alien,’ is the more commonly used term to refer to people without citizenship status. (see Immigration and Nationality Act 1952). In the interest of consistency, this paper will use the term ‘non-citizen.’
The term ‘illegalized’ is used to convey “that states of illegality are not in any way natural, but are deliberately constructed through law and practice” (Weber 2013).
In this paper, I use the term ‘migrant’ to denote a person who has moved across international borders. Terms related to ‘migrant’ include ‘forced migrant’ (including ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’), ‘illegal migrant,’ ‘undocumented migrant,’ ‘voluntary migrant,’ ‘temporary migrant,’ ‘economic migrant,’ ‘internal migrant,’ and so on. These terms either represent legal statuses or are terms of rhetoric. For instance, ‘illegal migrant’ is a form of rhetoric denoting people who do not have the nation-state’s authorization to be within its territorial borders. At times, ‘illegal migrants’ are referred to as ‘undocumented migrants,’ which highlights that they do not have the nation-state’s permission to move.
The other ways that people can become ‘non-citizens’ include being born in a country without citizenship status, opting to be denaturalized, or having one’s citizenship stripped. It is beyond the scope of the present article to explore the various ways that people may acquire ‘non-citizen’ status and their operant effects.
Following Thomas Nail’s political theory of movement, Kinopolitics, regimes of social motion are metastable social flows that cannot be mapped out in their entirety because they are constantly in motion. As society is always moving within regimes of social motion, borders are not fixed, spatial or even temporal entities. Rather, borders act to “introduce a division or bifurcation of some sort in the world” (Nail 2016, p. 2). Bordering practices direct people to move through regimes of social motion in particular ways.
It is worth noting that among ‘citizens’ and ‘non-citizens’ with legal status containment often takes the form of the penal system, while in the case of ‘non-citizens’ with illegal migrant status containment often takes the form of detention and deportation.
For example, in some nation-states, politicians are deliberating on or enacting legislation that can make it easier to strip citizenship. Creating legislation to strip citizenship status is a technology that extends processes sub-citizenship among those with more secure levels of ‘citizen’ status.
This is not to imply that all ‘citizens’ and ‘non-citizens’ are treated the same nor do they have the same access to resources, power, and security. This paper is concerned with exploring how citizenship and migrant statuses act as a series of gates that categorically allow or deny access formal rights and protections. Those with citizenship status have more security in terms of residency and other rights, while those with ‘non-citizen’ status are more vulnerable to all forms of social expulsion, especially territorial expulsion.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of the United States provides no consistent or overarching definition of the term ‘illegal alien,’ although the term is used in several provisions under title 8. Conversely, several provisions use the term ‘unauthorized alien.’
The Health Requirement began with the inception of Australia’s Immigration Restriction Act (1901). Since 1901, potential all migrants to Australia, including those with refugee status who come through the Humanitarian Program, are required to undergo a cost-benefit assessment of health. Under this neoliberal approach to migration, people who have a disease or disability are actively excluded from the Australian migration process.
While all people are positioned somewhere on the citizenship’s spectrum, economics elites, certainly those of the billionaire class, cannot be said to experience human (im)mobility, dehumanization, extraction, and exploitation.
‘Unlawful non-citizen’ designates a legal status. People with this status are often referred to as ‘illegal migrants’ in popular discourses, including politics and media.
In this article, I use the term ‘immigration detention center’ to ensure consistency when discussing immigration detention in Australia and the United States. However, the term most often used by the United States government is ‘Customs and Border Protection facility’ (CBP), while the Australian government’s preferred term is ‘offshore processing center.’ Additionally, in the interest of consistency, this article uses the American spelling of ‘center’ for both US and Australian immigration centers, noting that the Australian spelling of the word is ‘centre.’
In July 2019, US President Trump enacted the “third party asylum rule”. Under this rule the US government plans to ban asylum seekers form making a claim and send them to offshore detention in another country, such as Guatemala or Mexico (See Pearson 2019). This approach was first trialed in Australia and referred to as ‘offshore detention.’ It extends border enforcement beyond the nation-state’s territorial border and into the borders of other neighboring nation-states.
In 2017, the US agreed to consider resettling refugees held in Australia’s offshore detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island, as well as those who have been transferred back to Australia for medical reasons. Often referred as the ‘US refugee deal,’ this arrangement has resulted in 619 refugees being resettled in the US (Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law 2019).
There are approximately 30,000 asylum seekers living in Australia who were formally held in offshore detention and have been granted visas allowing them to live in Australia without access to pathways citizenship. This group have become known in public policy as the ‘legacy caseload.’ Most of these people were held in offshore detention since 2013.
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Rung, D.L. Processes of Sub-Citizenship: Neoliberal Statecrafting ‘Citizens,’ ‘Non-Citizens,’ and Detainable ‘Others’. Soc. Sci. 2020, 9, 5. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9010005
Rung DL. Processes of Sub-Citizenship: Neoliberal Statecrafting ‘Citizens,’ ‘Non-Citizens,’ and Detainable ‘Others’. Social Sciences. 2020; 9(1):5. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9010005Chicago/Turabian Style
Rung, Daile Lynn. 2020. "Processes of Sub-Citizenship: Neoliberal Statecrafting ‘Citizens,’ ‘Non-Citizens,’ and Detainable ‘Others’" Social Sciences 9, no. 1: 5. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9010005