Protection as subjection: Discourses of vulnerability and protection in post-9/11 border enforcement efforts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Border and immigration enforcement has been central to post-9/11 national security efforts, resulting in unprecedented resource allocations at and beyond the physical borders of the USA. This paper brings together feminist and postcolonial examinations of post-9/11 military interventions with examinations of US-Mexico border enforcement to examine a relatively unexplored aspect of US border enforcement policy-state-based 'humanitarian' efforts to reduce undocumented migrant deaths associated with unauthorized entry. Based on a discursive analysis of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) press releases, CBP and Border Patrol videos and public statements, industry publications, state policies and congressional hearing transcripts, this paper examines the way in which 'humanitarian' objectives (i.e. reducing migrant deaths) have been integrated into US border enforcement discourse and policy. In particular, I draw on feminist and postcolonial theory to examine the gendered and racialized discursive maneuvers through which undocumented migrants are transformed from potential 'terrorist threats' or 'criminals' into 'vulnerable victims' deserving of assistance. I argue that gender and race are key to producing politically powerful and legible discourses of rescue and vulnerability and draw into question a contingent politics of life predicated on ideologies of gender, race and nation. In doing so, I bring a feminist postcolonial analytic framework to understandings of US-Mexico border enforcement efforts in order to query how gendered and racialized rescue narratives are key to justifying violent state projects that re-assert hegemonic power relations in the post-9/11 world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)414-428
Number of pages15
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • border enforcement
  • gendered violence
  • humanitarianism
  • migration
  • national security
  • race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies


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