Sanctuary and the Contested Ethics of Presence
in Borders and Boundaries: Mapping Out Contemporary Societies (Didier Fassin, ed., U. California Press, 2018, Forthcoming)
29 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2018
Date Written: June 1, 2018
Sanctuary denotes the insulation of spaces and places and persons, designating refuge or immunity from some force or authority. In this respect, we can think of sanctuary not as challenging state power frontally but as shielding against incursions of power. It is protective and defensive; it embodies a politics of boundary maintenance.
Precisely because sanctuary is a politics of boundary maintenance, it is in some respects quintessentially liberal in nature and impulse. Liberalism stands for a politics of jurisdictional boundary maintenance; it demands the separation of spheres and powers. (In political theorist Michael Walzer’s terms, liberalism is “the art of separation.”) In (heretofore) liberal democratic states like the United States, jurisdictional sphere separation has been enormously protective for noncitizen immigrants. Liberal legalism has imposed crucial constraints on the jurisdiction of interior border enforcement. That this is so becomes particularly clear in moments like the present one, in which the authoritarianizing national state is smashing through prior jurisdictional boundary settlements and extending the interior border to reach an ever wider set of spaces and moments and subjects. Which is to say: the aggressive processes of border pervasion unleashed by the Trump administration represent a systematic attack upon, and partial dismantling of, certain sanctuarist elements endemic to liberal legalism.
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