Make the City: How do undocumented immigrant activists challenge the status quo?

On June 17th, the editors of our recently published symposium, “Undocumented Immigrant Activism and the Political: Disrupting the Order or Reproducing the Status Quo?”, Thomas Swerts (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Walter Nicholls (University of California, Irvine) co-hosted a discussion based on the collection of papers.

Thomas and Walter sat down with Gaby Hernandez (Executive Director of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition), Marlies Casier (policy advisor at Sensoa, the Flemish expertise centre for sexual health, and Visiting Professor at Ghent University) and Stijn Oosterlynck (Professor of Urban Sociology at the University of Antwerp) as part of Maak de Stad / Make the City, a series of dialogues organised by the Antwerp Urban Studies Institute in collaboration with Stadsform (a centre for dialogue about the city of tomorrow, based in Antwerp):

The intensification of global migration and the roll-out of deportation regimes has created shadow populations that reach well into the millions across the world. These populations are de facto citizens in their cities of residence, yet they lack the de jure recognition needed to guarantee their right to stay.

Pushed into the urban margins, undocumented migrants have long been regarded as vulnerable, voiceless subjects who avoid public life and retreat into the shadows. However, in recent years, undocumented immigrants have mounted highly visible and contentious public campaigns in European and North American cities to contest their illegality, assert rights and express their belonging.

In the United States, undocumented immigrants have fought for the partial legalization of youth, putting an end to Trump’s mass deportation machine and create Sanctuary Cities. In Europe, activists have struggled to demand collective regularization, protest against the deadly consequences of Fortress Europe’s border policies and foreground Solidarity in the wake of the “migration crisis”.

Without a doubt, there are many important lessons to be learned from comparing how undocumented immigrant struggles play out across the world. To this end, we bring together both scholars and activists to share insights around the following questions: How can the political activism of undocumented immigrants – potentially – disrupt or challenge the status quo? And how do conditions in cities support or hamper the emergence of radical, free and safe spaces where undocumented immigrants can become politicized?

Thanks to Thomas and Walter and the good people at Stadsform, you can watch a recording of the discussion below (in both English and French). Below that, readers can access the Antipode papers on which it’s based.

Symposium – “Undocumented Immigrant Activism and the Political: Disrupting the Order or Reproducing the Status Quo?”

Introduction – Undocumented Immigrant Activism and the Political: Disrupting the Order or Reproducing the Status Quo? – Thomas Swerts and Walter Nicholls

Undocumented Activism and Minor Politics: Inside the Cramped Political Spaces of Deportation Defense Campaigns – Austin Kocher and Angela Stuesse

Politics Disrupted? Collective Intentionality, Inaugural Performativity, and Institutional Receptivity in Undocumented Migrant Struggles – Thomas Swerts

City Government Activists and the Rights of Undocumented Immigrants: Fostering Urban Citizenship within the Confines of US Federalism – Els de Graauw

Equals in Solidarity: Orfanotrofio’s Housing Squat as a Site for Political Subjectification Across Differences Amid the “Greek Crisis” – Lazaros Karaliotas and Matina Kapsali

Civil Disobedience as Strategic Resistance in the Immigrant Rights Movement – Kevin Escudero and Amalia Pallares

Protestors’ Emotional Work in Contexts of Marginalisation: The Emancipation of “Forced Migrants” in Germany – Pierre Monforte

The Uneven Geographies of Politicisation: The Case of the Undocumented Immigrant Youth Movement in the United States – Walter Nicholls

Afterword – From Disruption to Transformation: Politicisation at a Distance from the State – Erik Swyngedouw