Racial borders

As part of the Lunchtime Seminar Series, the African Centre for Migration & Society invites you to a seminar titled Racial borders by E. Tendayi Achiume (Professor of Law, University of California).

Borders sit firmly at the center of existential national and multilateral debates, and for legal scholars the doctrine and theory of human movement across these borders calls for serious attention. The specific concern of this presentation will be the ongoing consolidation and expansion of a global migration governance regime that is deeply at odds with fundamental racial equality principles, but that nonetheless remains immune to meaningful critique within the dominant frame of liberalism, as both a legal and political project. Driven by a crisis discourse in Europe, and the United States among others, this global migration governance regime is multifaceted, comprising a broad range of techniques. At one extreme, are formal nationality-based bans on mobility and migration, border externalization and militarization, immigrant criminalization, and even punitive “deterrent” strategies such as the separation of asylum-seeking families (include child removal). But this troubling regime should also be understood to include more neutrally and even positively regarded border and migrant controls such as passports and visa restrictions, whose racialized operation remains firmly obscured by legal and political concepts such as sovereignty, nationality, and asylum on the one hand, and economic and national security discourses on the other, that today enjoy an unwarranted but tenacious presumption of race-neutrality. Historical and functional analysis warrants abandonment of the liberal presumption of the race-neutrality of borders, in favor of the presumption that the tendency of most (if not all) contemporary national borders is to operate as racial borders—territorial and political institutions of admission and inclusion that, in effect, sort people, and allocate mobility and migration privileges on a racial basis.


Tendayi Achiume is Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, and a research associate of the African Center for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. She is also the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and is the first woman to serve in this role since its creation in 1994. The current focus of her scholarship is the global governance of racism and xenophobia; and the legal and ethical implications of colonialism for contemporary international migration. Her publications include: Migration as Decolonization, Stanford Law Review (forthcoming 2019); Governing Xenophobia, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law (forthcoming 2018); Syria, Cost-Sharing and the Responsibility to Protect Refugees, 100 Minnesota Law Review 687 (2015); and Beyond Prejudice: Structural Xenophobic Discrimination Against Refugees, 45(2) Georgetown Journal of International Law 323 (2014). Professor Achiume is the Faculty Director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights, at UCLA School of Law, and a core faculty member of UCLA’s Critical Race Studies Program and the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy.

Date: Tuesday 20 August 2019

Time: 12.45 -13.45

Venue: ACMS Seminar Room 2163, South East Wing, Second Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House, University of the Witwatersrand East Campus


*Photo credit: Border patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana, Mexico (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)