Co-Authored by Christopher Strunk and DPDF 2011 Provincializing Global Urbanism Research Director, Helga Leitner
Constructing undocumented immigrants as a security threat has allowed the US government to justify extraordinary measures that have pushed immigration enforcement increasingly inward from the border to states, counties, municipalities, and sheriff and police departments. The Secure Communities program, which integrates federal criminal and immigration databases to identify and deport undocumented immigrants, represents only the latest attempt. Most of the academic literature on local immigration enforcement has elaborated on the diffuse, ubiquitous and often paralyzing nature of the biopolitical power of the state vis-à-vis undocumented immigrants. In contrast, in this article, we focus on the contestations that challenge and go beyond repressive state power. We conceive of these not simply as a reaction to state techniques of power, but as productive and affirmative power that promotes alternative imaginaries and institutional change. As the Obama administration has sought to roll out the program to every jurisdiction in the country, it has been met with opposition from immigrant advocates, community leaders, and local law enforcement officials. Using the Washington DC metropolitan area as a case study, we examine the diversity of socio-spatial strategies that advocates have deployed to challenge the Secure Communities program and the articulations of alternative discourses of community and security. We also consider the broader implications of these practices for the immigrant rights advocacy movement and for theorizing resistance. More generally, the case illustrates the efficacy of and the challenges faced by civic activism in contesting dominant modes of governance and systems of authority.