Volume 36

Rotten to the Core: Racism, Xenophobia, and the Border and Immigration Agencies

by Sophia Porotsky

This Note traces modern xenophobia and racism in U.S. border and immigration policy to colonial times and argues that this legacy is the foundation on which border and immigration agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), were built. Subjugation of the racial “other” is evident throughout American history, often taking the form of surveillance and control under the law to address a perceived threat from this group’s presence. This Note reveals how the modern national security system stems from American imperialism and racial subjugation, and the U.S. national security apparatus—which enveloped border and immigration policy and enforcement—was turbo-charged after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. DHS was formed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing War on Terror. Against this backdrop, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the border and immigration agencies under the DHS umbrella, have perpetrated atrocities against vulnerable populations. For example, subjecting women and children to sub-human living conditions in detention facilities at the border, rampant excessive force incidents, and well-documented corruption, racism, and bigotry infecting the highest echelons of the border and immigration agencies. This Note argues that the existing institution is so intertwined with racism and xenophobia, and the accompanying human rights abuses, that the only way to achieve meaningful change is to dismantle DHS and reimagine border and immigration policy as we know it.

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