1 Nov

Geographical Review Preview: The Asymmetric Border: The United States’ Place in the World and the Refugee Panic of 2018

By: John Agnew

Article Title:
“The Asymmetric Border: The US Place in the World and the Refugee Panic of 2018”

What is the main purpose of your study?
In 2018 a moral panic emerged in the US over the treatment experienced by refugees from Central America attempting to cross into the United States and subsequently claim asylum. In truth, the overall number of immigrants in total crossing without documentation into the US, notwithstanding the uptick in recent years in asylum seekers predominantly from Central America, has been in steady decline since 2006. Yet, the sense of a southern border crisis has been central to recent US national politics, particularly since the arrival of Donald Trump on the national political scene. The purpose of the article is o show that the US southern land border with Mexico is not in fact “any old border” but that between one country, the US, that has been caught geopolitically between its expansion into the affairs of other countries and its own territorial sovereignty, and other countries, such as those in Central America, whose production of refugees attempting in 2018 to cross the border owes much to social and political problems resulting from historic interventions by successive US governments.


What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?
To throw light on the contemporary “crisis” of the southern land border and its impacts on potential refugees and asylum seekers.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
It places the southern land border into a wider framework of the US geopolitical relationship to its southern neighbors and in relation to recent US national politics.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
That the numbers of people crossing undocumented into the US is lower than at any time in over twenty years yet the southern border has never been so central to US national politics.

That it is vitally important to distinguish legally between different types of migrants in order to see that US and international law regards refugees and asylum seekers in a different category from migrants in general. Yet the US government and the popular media confuse the public by not making such distinctions

That the US politics focusing on the southern border is driven by fears of ethnic change in the composition of the US population represented by potential immigrants and refugees from Latin America even when visa overstays account for an increasingly large percentage of the undocumented and Asia is now the main source region for immigrants to the US.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
To not regard all borders as if they are equivalent and to place borders into a broader geopolitical analysis.

How does your research help us think about Geography?
Historical-geographical contexts matter in interpreting what seem to be “commonsensical” issues such as the management of international borders.

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Click here to read the abstract of this article.