February 26, 2015
12:00pm to 1:30pm

4357 Bunche Hall

Belinda Sunnu

Cristina Beltrán, New York University

"Undocumented and Acting Up: Queering Sovereignty in the Immigrant Rights Movement”

[I draw] on the insights of queer theory to analyze the political practices of undocumented activists, particularly those who identify now or in the past as DREAM activists. Rejecting the politics of shame and stigma, DREAM activists (particularly queer DREAM activists) challenged the logic of secrecy surrounding sexuality and illegality by “coming out” and identifying themselves “undocumented and unafraid.”  While the practice of coming out has prompted various scholars to note the connections between immigration and LGBT politics, I argue that what is most powerfully queer about undocumented youth activism has to do with its dual critiques of sovereignty, state action, and preventable death. Turning to writings on AIDS by Gil Cuadros and Douglas Crimp, I explore the resonances between ACT UP’s critique of unnecessary fatalities due to government inaction and indifference to the AIDS crisis and the mass deaths occurring along the U.S.-Mexico border. At times characterized as less than human, both “homosexuals with HIV/AIDS" and “illegals” are populations whose death and suffering are disregarded since the communities in question “brought this on themselves.” Faced with a dehumanizing logic that blames them for their own suffering, gay and undocumented subjects must challenge a political culture more interested in simplistic accounts of individual action than complex analyses of global capitalism, human desire, and government failure. Both AIDS activists and the movement for undocumented rights have an ambivalent relationship to the state that seeks to expose government failure while trying to enlist the state’s resources. Analyzing achievements as well as setbacks, I explore activists’ queer account of sovereignty, particularly their efforts to gain state resources while simultaneously expressing ambivalence and despair regarding the state, its leaders, ideals, and institutions.

Co-sponsored by the Political Theory Workshop