Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, Vol. 28, Article 4, 2018
33 Pages Posted: 31 Dec 2018
Date Written: May 18, 2018
Along the Southern portion of the I-5 freeway in California appears a yellow sign depicting the silhouette of a man, woman, and female child in flight, captioned with text in black stating "Caution." It is the last of ten similar signs erected by the California Department of Transportation, starting in 1990, warning drivers of pedestrians attempting to run across the freeway near border crossing checkpoints. The sign has become an iconic symbol of different forms of migration, in the United States, and, unexpectedly, in Europe.
In the United States, the sign's clear reference is to "illegal migration," and serves as a meme for longstanding debates about immigration to the United States. I examine manipulations of the sign by both supporters and opponents of undocumented immigrants. But the sign has a different association in Germany, where the identical image of running man, woman and child was popularly paired with the text "Welcome Refugees." Amid increased anti-refugee sentiment, groups have further manipulated the image to accompany text stating "Rapefugees Not Welcome" and "Islamists Not Welcome."
The image of running family in its "Welcome Refugees" form migrated back to the United States, specifically to encourage President Obama to accept more Syrian refugees. The movements and the manipulations of the sign help illuminate how Central American refugees seeking asylum in the United States are not seen as truly refugees, but are considered fungible with "illegal immigrants" against whose presence Americans are cautioned. Tracing this image and its accompanying text shows starkly diverging understandings of human flight.
Keywords: immigration law, migration, refugees, signs, undocumented immigrants, image, Germany, running family
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