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Accepted paper:

Sanctuary as erasure: Discourses and practices of refugee deservingness in USA and UK civil society


Rachel Humphris (Queen Mary, University of London)
Kristin Yarris (University of Oregon)

Paper short abstract:

Comparing volunteer mobilizations in USA and UK we argue that welcoming acts are premised on a rational state. Volunteers are unaware of past injustices in immigration systems. Welcoming acts may (by not acknowledging these historical realities) inadvertently perpetuate hierarchies of deservingness.

Paper long abstract:

As state policies towards migrants and refugees become increasingly restrictive and the boundaries of membership shrink, how are local communities responding to foster spaces of welcome? In this paper, we compare local mobilizations of volunteers in civic organizations in the USA (Eugene) and the UK (Sheffield). We argue that unpacking volunteer motivations to help migrants and refugees in the current era in these two sites reveals two central tensions. First, welcoming acts are premised upon a functioning, inclusive, rational state. Volunteers are often unaware of past injustices or inequities in the immigration / asylum system or the ways immigration policies have perpetuated hierarchies of deservingness. Rather they express incredulity and anger at the actions of the current administration, which overshadows how previous policies have been racially-exclusive and imposed state violence on migrant populations. Second, welcoming acts may, (by not acknowledging these historical realities) inadvertently perpetuate these inequalities and hierarchies of deservingness between different groups of migrants. We analyze these tensions while still recognizing these local mobilizations as acts of solidarity towards migrant populations that represent an alternative politics of welcome. Therefore we do not dismiss the political potential of these movements. Rather we trace the affective responses of volunteers and their desire for a 'fairer state'. Through recognizing the negotiations and dilemmas of these civil society actors we hope to explore the possibilities to expand the boundaries of political membership.

panel AA12a
Helping in an era of hostility: Political agency and moral contestations in civil society movements for and by migrants