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Harsha Walia
Date Published: 
June 01, 2006

As attention to national borders has figured prominently in the post-9/11 world, Securing Borders provides readers with a comprehensive history and analysis for organizing against Canadian immigration processes and policies that have wreaked havoc in the lives of thousands of migrants.

Pratt examines the means through which the growth of the administrative state and its domination over society –– the governmentalization of the state –– has rearticulated state sovereignty and discipline through discursive, legislative, fiscal, organizational, and other resources of the public power. Disciplinary regimes, such as those in prisons, factories, and schools work to instill obedience by encouraging the internalization of methods of control. Pratt deals with various aspects of the detention system, including the horrifying narrative of the death of Michael Akhimien at Celebrity Detention Center in Toronto.

Particularly valuable is her comparison of administrative discretion in immigration to administrative discretion in welfare regulation. Discretion is central to the operation of immigration policy, despite the typically held view that discretion of individual immigration officers is antithetical to the exercise of immigration law. However, discretion and law are not in opposition to each other; rather the operation of legal power depends on the existence of discretionary power; “it works to reconcile the universality of liberal legal principles and the particularity of specific legal cases and contexts.”

Through the mapping of historical developments, discourses that regulate the notion of good versus bad refugees become apparent. “Genuine refugees”are seen as those who are forced to leave their country due to persecution through no personal fault of their own, while “bogus refugee claimants” are perceived as being voluntary (typically economic) migrants. It is only the genuine refugee who deserves Canadian protection and access to the benefits of citizenship, while Canadian society itself becomes promoted as the “victim” to system abusers –– i.e. fraudulent claimants. Therefore like welfare policy, the deserving refugee only exists in opposition to those made out to be undeserving. As many movements like No Borders and No One is Illegal have reiterated, the category of legitimate versus illegitimate migrants further strengthens the power of the state to create humanitarian categories that control peoples right to self-determination.

Bottom line

This book does fall short however, in relating the construction of the Canadian nation-state through the use of immigration policies to a broader anti-capitalist or anti-colonial analysis. There is no mention of the colonial project of Canada that is founded on the occupation and genocide of indigenous peoples. Nor does the book connect the processes of immigration to the broader powers of an imperialist state that requires borders to be established for the security of capitalism. The state, through its internationally-sanctioned right to discriminate against non-citizens, is able to offer employers the cheapest and most vulnerable group of workers. Furthermore, the book does not, at least explicitly, discuss the ways in which the construction of the Canadian nation-state is racialized. The success of border panics, for example, deeply depends not merely on the definition of “foreigner” but depends on the category of racialized foreigners who are to be regulated by Canadian (read: white) society.

The assertion of Canada’s sovereign right to be selective with respect to whom it allows to enter has always represented the bottom line in the justification of immigration law. Canadian multiculturalism will hardly dismantle an immigration system that thrives on and nourishes the racism hidden within the deep structures of our society. Given that the detention and deportation of non-citizens is so readily accepted and unquestioned in society as the legitimate exercise of state power, this books goes a long way to render visible the material conditions and tangible practices of the detention and deportation processes.

UBC Press, 2005