Emergency and Migration, Race and the Nation

Europe’s borders are racial borders. The European Union’s external border regime underpins continuing forms of European imperialism and neocolonialism. It reinforces a particular imaginary of Europeanness as whiteness, euphemistically dressed up as a European Way of Life to be protected. It nonetheless sits comfortably within the permissible parameters of international law. This Article conceptualizes international law as a manifestation of liberal nationalist thought: “liberalism with borders,” and the sovereign right to exclude. Sovereignty in this sense is a racial sovereignty. The Article traces the mutual construction of race and sovereignty in colonial history, and the specific role played by emergency legal doctrine and states of emergency in constituting and executing racial sovereignty. It argues that international law’s framing of a state of emergency as a threat to the life of the nation strategically motivates exclusion based on race, laundered through the prism of nationality. In our early twenty-first century migration conjuncture, a perceived dilution of Europe’s whiteness has been presented as posing just such a threat to the life of individual and collective European nations. The conception of a migration “emergency” provides tactical scope for European states to further harden their border regimes at opportune moments. International law produces and permits this emergency paradigm, and is currently ill-equipped to confront or challenge the phenomena of border regimes and their racial contours. The Article concludes by sketching out some of the ways we can think against this violent reality by thinking with alternative perspectives within and beyond international law.

About the Author

John Reynolds, Associate Professor, Department of Law, National University of Ireland, Maynooth.