by Catherine Dauvergne. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 232pp. Hardcover. $80.00/£45.00. ISBN: 9780521895088.

Reviewed by John SW Park, Department of Asian American Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. Email: jswpark [at]


Just as I was writing this review of Catherine Dauvergne’s book, I received by e-mail another review published by Rebecca Hamlin on Peter Spiro’s new work, BEYOND CITIZENSHIP: AMERICAN IDENTITY AFTER GLOBALIZATION (2007). Based on Hamlin’s assessment, Spiro and Dauvergne have much in common: both consider state sovereignty to be a primary impediment to effective solutions over migration, particularly undocumented migration; both are skeptical of human rights approaches to protect undocumented aliens; and both underscore a disjuncture between how law identifies certain people (as lawbreaking, undocumented social problems) and their lived reality (undocumented aliens can be thoroughly well-adjusted and “American” in most other ways, to paraphrase Spiro). Law fails to capture reality, and thus law might be making things worse. Dauvergne and Spiro have another characteristic in common: neither claims to have any definitive solution to the perplexing problems suggested in their titles. It is hard to move beyond national sovereignty or beyond citizenship when no one seems to know what lies thereafter.

Dauvergne examines the relationship between discourses about globalization and state responses to unlawful migration. While Dauvergne maintains that the United States is extremely important in examining this relationship as “the uncontested hegemon of the contemporary world,” it is certainly not the only site where issues of migration, state sovereignty, and globalization collide; many of her case studies were drawn from outside the US – Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Dauvergne is less concerned about American identity and more interested in showing how America’s problems are really global problems, or rather the problems of affluent Western societies ostensibly committed to liberal political principles. In various contexts, Dauvergne examines the “global crackdown” on illegal immigration and its separate impacts on refugee law and policy, human trafficking, national security, and patterns of citizenship. She examines each relationship as “core samples,” “drilling into each topic under consideration to extract a sample that in key ways reveals something about the whole” (p.3). Two overarching claims are central to her argument, and both are essentially descriptive: that “migration and the laws that regulate it are uniquely positioned to provoke insights about what is taking place under the banner of globalization” (p.31), and that “the contemporary crackdown on extralegal migration reveals that in the face of globalizing forces, migration is [*903] increasingly being transformed into the last bastion of sovereignty” (p.47).

Unauthorized migration is quite obviously a sign of globalization and a global problem: people in the United States might complain about their 7 or 12 million undocumented aliens, but there may be as many as 14 million undocumented migrants in Russia and over 3 million throughout Europe, including about 200,000 to 400,000 persons in France, “about 150,000” in Italy, and “about 9,000” Africans in Spain (pp. 12-13). Dauvergne tells the story of how, in 2006, public officials in London got in trouble for admitting they had not the “faintest idea” how many undocumented aliens were in Great Britain. But really, can any honest person claim more than an educated guess, a hunch, a number very likely to be totally off? To cover for the official in trouble, his colleagues said there were “approximately” 430,000 unauthorized persons and “up to” one million. Truly, they haven’t the faintest idea. It is a big number, though.

Why the utter failure to control migration, and what does the label “illegal” do for states with unwanted people? Dauvergne observes: “Although it is evident that prosperous states would like to assert complete control over those who cross their borders, it is equally evident that this is not possible. Or, at least, that states (especially democratic capitalist ones) are not willing to undertake the trade-offs (mostly economic) that would be necessary to come anywhere close to achieving this goal. The labeling of part of the population as ‘illegal’ accomplishes this exclusion when the border itself does not” (p.17). The state appears to maintain control even as it is obviously losing it. Much of Dauvergne’s work shows how “the law is a necessary site for constructing illegality, but is much less apt for remedying it” (p.27).

Dauvergne notes that wealthier states are pre-occupied with primarily poor undocumented aliens, while affluent and skilled migrants traverse the world rather easily: “Workers in the emerging IT industry servicing globalization’s technology increasingly enjoy worldwide mobility despite comparatively low levels of education and no connection to traditional wealth. Knowledge workers such as academics are included in the global elite despite often being paid little enough that they may never own their own homes. It is common in both groups to develop career patterns that span the globe” (p.18). The passage made me think of a classmate from graduate school, an Australian who did her Ph.D. in California and got her first job in Britain, and lived there for a while on a boat off a tributary of the Thames.

But because they confirm the dominant “globalization script,” the one that promises greater mobility, efficiency, and shared prosperity, impoverished academics do not pose the same political problems as, say, poor Afghani refugees stranded on “barely seaworthy boats” off of Australia in 2001. Australia never “admitted” these 433 Afghanis as refugees, and Australia eventually paid New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Nauru to take them away. Then, to diminish the possibility of having to deal with this kind of thing again, the Australian government re-wrote its asylum laws so that it would no longer consider certain parts of its territory as [*904] parts of its territory for people claiming refugee status. According to Dauvergne, this kind of hostility to poor persons, in effect, “making asylum illegal,” is but one of the most unfortunate results of a global crackdown against poor migrants. States bound by the Refugee Convention lose some control over admission; they simply cannot return someone who pleads for asylum. Dauvergne guesses that a number of other states who, like Australia, have also agreed to the Convention were secretly pleased that Australia behaved in this way, so as to make their own atrocious behavior seem less atrocious. When the refugees appear poor, brown, or both, states have moved to cut them off from making refugee claims in the first place.

Dauvergne argues that even when poorer migrants are clearly the victims of some very bad people, as in the case of human trafficking, states are also unwilling to give up sovereignty and control. The United States, for example, offers temporary residency to persons willing to help in the prosecution of human traffickers. Dauvergne insists that this type of law enforcement remedy is insufficient: “States are willing to tolerate, even to create, an incentive to subject oneself to gross abuse in order to gain a slim chance of becoming a permanent resident, when numbers are very low. States remain in control of this number by decisions about prosecution, because eventual permission to remain is strictly tied to assisting the state. This control gives states the sense that what they are controlling is in fact their borders, and sovereignty is saved” (p.85). In practice, the law enforcement remedies are also problematic: by using graphic images of predatory white men victimizing poor children and women, the United States contributes to a “moral panic” about the problem that in turn justifies American “hegemonic governance” over this issue. In this way, Dauvergne says, human trafficking is framed to promote more sovereignty, perhaps a hyper, transnational sovereignty, while other obvious solutions are rejected. “Another potential remedy would be to give victims of trafficking permanent migration status in destination countries. This is dismissed out of hand as an impossible surrender of sovereignty” (p.85). Even though secure, permanent residency would eliminate “the threat that comes of turning people with no secure immigration status over to the authorities, which in most cases means being sent home,” Dauvergne recognizes that the likelihood of adopting this policy is “politically remote” (p.86). States will simply not give up their right to determine lawful entry, nor surrender the right to punish “wrongdoers” as the primary response to human trafficking. Political imperatives for law enforcement tend to trump more obvious solutions.

This obsession with sovereignty is most pronounced at the intersection of national security and migration control. Dauvergne tells an effective vignette: in many public lectures, she points out that the attackers of 9/11 came to the United States lawfully, as students, tourists, or on business visas. She gets the same response as I do when I point out the same thing: some in the audience “are just certain I have my facts wrong” (p.99). They insist that the attackers were fake asylum seekers, or smuggled over from Canada or Mexico, maybe through a secret tunnel – they cannot believe that a majority of the nineteen [*905] were from Saudi Arabia and had prior clearance to enter from the United States. Dauvergne notes that this kind of “fact resistance” works the other way: three of the four perpetrators of the London bombings in 2005 were born in Great Britain, all were raised there, yet they were framed as “foreigners” both literally and figuratively. In each instance, states responded by asserting power in this “less brave new world,” and they have resorted to techniques like indefinite detention and blanket surveillance of immigrants and “foreigners.” National security and migration control are now linked as never before, perhaps irrationally so, as Dauvergne suggests: “States are seeking to assert control even as the threats and fears are increasingly not bounded by national borders. In this regard, nations are reasserting a traditional ‘nation-ness’ because other options are limited and new ways of doing security have yet to be fully imagined” (p.113). For many Americans, this argument appears absolutely correct, and especially apt in the context of George Bush’s claim that unless the United States “stabilizes Iraq” and occupies Afghanistan, bad people “there” will eventually come to attack us “here.” Taken to its logical conclusion, this kind of argument makes pre-emptive war and foreign occupation seem virtually endless. Foreign policy is domestic security.

Dauvergne’s final “core sample” turns on debates about citizenship, or rather, the way citizenship rules tend to enhance inequality and also preserve fictions of control. In the first instance, migration rules that privilege highly skilled and affluent persons will invariably select men over women; those that are designed for family reunification invariably allow men with citizenship to “import” women from abroad. “Gendered disparities on these indicators persist in the wealthy nations that are sought after immigration destinations. In migrant-sending nations, such disparities are much more pronounced. The migration provisions therefore serve to import gendered disparity” (p.128). While some countries experience this disparity much more obviously than others, Dauvergne is certainly correct to point out that the two most common, lawful ways to gain permanent residency create gendered inequalities within wealthier countries that in turn are reflected in naturalization trends. “The lofty neutrality of citizenship laws is lost when we consider how naturalization functions in tandem with migration law. The way gendered exclusions function in this pairing is paralleled in any group that is excluded by the economic focus in migration, especially poor people. Similarly, whereas our Western citizenship laws may establish formal equality, their relationship with migration regulation ensures that we import wholesale any inequality that exists around the globe” (p.131). If naturalization and citizenship rules tell us about what a nation values, then these rules would suggest either an indifference to social inequality, or an affirmative embrace of inequitable outcomes in this one area of public law, even as the state tends to reject such indifference or outcomes in other areas.

Secondly, at the other end of the spectrum, periodic grants of amnesty preserve the illusion of control and affirm equality “as an act of grace.” Referring to rules like the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Dauvergne writes: “Amnesties exist [*906] because the fiction of formal legal citizenship does not hold fast. Even as prosperous states move to close their borders more firmly, they also move to forgive this trespass.” Amnesties purge and purify the state’s population, but only for those who most resemble citizens: “law abiding and hard working” immigrants get to move beyond stories of illegality and wrongdoing. “When migrants give us, as a nation, what we most want from citizens, they confound legal attempts to keep the stories separate. In other words, the beneficiaries of an amnesty are already acting as citizens. Amnesty converts substantive citizenship to formal legal citizenship” (p.141). Fundamentally, though, as public acts of grace, amnesties preserve the idea that the nation-state retains the right to determine the terms of formal membership. The nation gives what cannot be claimed by right.

Dauvergne’s last two chapters, about globalization and migration in Europe and the United States, and about sovereignty and the rule of law, reiterate many of her central claims. While the creation of the European Union seemed to herald the best globalization – economic integration, the spread of democracy and free markets – recent developments over migration regulation and control would seem to indicate a kind of super boundary, one encompassing all of Europe. Dauvergne notes that after the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, free movement in Europe clearly means only free movement among Europeans, as well as those formally admitted into European states. The Treaty did allow states to maintain control over immigration and thus preserved national sovereignty. But the development of a common system for determining asylum within Europe, and separate, national developments to privilege wealthier and skilled migrants over poorer ones – these both suggest emergent European boundaries to migration. Europe is acting like the United States, and in the United States, the commitment to border fencing and border policing – both by the state and by vigilante groups – suggests similar, profound limits to globalization. In the United States, organized civil society groups like the Minutemen patrol the Southern border, and Dauvergne interprets “the strength of [this] vigilantism [as] an American form of resistance to globalization” (p.160). Americans seem unwilling to tolerate a porous border: here, Dauvergne claims, “border control is elevated over the control of an actual illegal population” (p.166). Americans seem obsessed with obstacles, barriers, fences.

Dauvergne believes that these trends affirm the general conclusion of her interesting book – that a commitment to national sovereignty is the problem. “[It] is a barrier to addressing the myriad dilemmas of illegal migration. It prevents creativity in the political realm. But its power does not stop there. The sovereign state controlling its borders is such a powerful image that it prevents from imagining a different way of organizing regulation of global migration” (p.173). Dauvergne does not so much offer a solution as point to a direction: instead of relying on a human rights norm, which does not really work when one does not have a right to be in a particular place at all, she proposes developing a “rule of law not tied to a national frame,” a rule of law “which has some degree of distance from [*907] the structure that creates, recreates, and endlessly reifies the problem of illegal migration” (p.183). Exactly how this might happen is puzzling, even for Dauvergne: “Thoroughgoing reform of migration laws, in a way that would decenter state sovereignty, appears both politically impossible and the only way to achieve changes that respect and protect individuals trapped in the overlapping cycles of illegal migration” (p.185). And again: “It is clear that decentering sovereignty is the only way forward” (p.190). And once again: “The potential of thinking differently about illegal immigration is breathtaking, even if its theoretical supports remain shaky. Nothing that we are currently doing about illegal migration holds much potential for serious change. A leap beyond what we can currently imagine is not only a risk worth taking, it is the only way forward from here” (p.190).

* * * * *
In her stimulating book, Catherine Dauvergne provides a multifaceted look at why the operations of national sovereignty and of formal state citizenship are inadequate, even irrational and often unjust. But in this important regard, her work is rather similar in scope to other recent works in the field. Books by Kevin Johnson (2007), Bill Ong Hing (2006), and Daniel Kanstroom (2007) say a great deal about how immigration law has gravitated toward the punitive, toward ugly, race-based forms of nativism and social control that are essentially brutal, violent, and even self-defeating. Also, Kanstroom’s work on “post-entry social control” and Hing’s book on the accelerated pace and enlarged scope of deportation both challenge Dauvergne’s claim that Americans are more obsessed with border control rather than the overt control of its existing illegal population; indeed, if recent, more frequent workplace raids by federal authorities are any indication, “post-entry social control,” coupled with expedited removal, might become more emblematic of an American response to illegal immigration than its gigantic new fence. Dauvergne does not touch upon these themes, though might have greatly strengthened her arguments about the relationship between globalization and migration.

In fact, the rate at which the United States now deports aliens – about 200,000 per year – suggests a globalized, forced migration that is truly unprecedented. Anyone representing a “cost” to the American taxpayer is easily removable, and speedily so. Nowhere is this more obvious than in criminal deportation. For example, the United States “sends back” over 50,000 Mexican nationals after their criminal sentences in various state and federal penitentiary systems; how Mexico or any nation will cope with this unwanted migration is hard to imagine, especially in the context of rising economic instability there, not to mention a raging drug war. (Could it be that American deportation policy is making these problems worse?) That poor Mexicans still cross illegally, although one or two die every day, and organized criminals in Mexico are fighting each other for the right to smuggle drugs into the United States at the same time – these say stark and sad things about inequality across this border. They say something damning about the willingness of the United States to shift the costs of social problems onto countries that can least afford it. Indeed, the labels “illegal” and [*908] “immigrant” might also perform a sorting function on the non-citizen population: when undocumented immigrants are productive and working in the shadows of the economy, their presence poses no political or economic problem; when any immigrant “appears” in the public sphere, when many of them need social services, or when they commit a crime, they are quickly carted off. Dauvergne did not choose to discuss “post entry social control” or deportation and removal policies as one of her “core samples,” although these are odd omissions, given the relevance of these topics to her concerns about migration, inequality, and globalization.

Of her central claim – that migration controls provoke unique insights about globalization – one might point out that, although this might be true, it certainly is not the only site where we can see anxieties about globalization or calls for more robust national sovereignty. At the campus bookstore recently, one of my students made sure I bought a “sweatshop free” sweatshirt. I also hear that soccer balls for children in this country are made by children in other countries. Some sweatshirts and soccer balls are evidence of morally revolting modes of production brought to places like Wal-Mart every day. Along other lines, a great many of my kids’ toys are made in China, and I am told those toys (maybe my kids?) have dangerous levels of lead. Infant formula from China might be very dangerous, too, and bad pet food from China has killed many beloved pets in the United States. Bird flu meant the death of millions of chickens, and lots of people in Southeast Asia wore surgical masks in public for months, and refused to eat poultry from this country or that country. Americans worry that beef from Canada may be tainted. South Koreans worry that beef from the United States may also be tainted. The French worry that beef from the United Kingdom might cause a slow, horrible brain disease.

All of these instances generated thousands of calls from worried citizens for their government to do something about the dangerous products and diseases that seem to spread so easily everywhere at once. As a student of immigration myself, I completely agree with Dauvergne that migration and immigration law reveal the limits of globalization discourse, the flaws inherent in its “stock stories” and celebratory scripts, but these other stories from the global village suggest several other important places where globalization might be in trouble, and where national sovereignty is likely to be the politically plausible answer. Perhaps it is for lack of imagination, or maybe it is a more practical matter. I am not sure to which Chinese official I can complain about my kids’ leaded Barbie, but I do know about the FDA website, as well as the contact information for all of my elected officials. My fellow citizens and I protect ourselves in this way because it is familiar and more likely to be effective, and not just because of a lack of imagination.

But the idea of a rule of law unhinged from national boundaries sounds appealing, and this is where Dauvergne’s book is most unfinished and yet potentially most generative. To classical political theorists, including Immanuel Kant, a “world government” necessarily leads to tyranny, but I do not think this is what Dauvergne has in mind. Rather, Dauvergne obviously admires those [*909] characteristics of Western legal systems that collectively entail “the rule of law” – procedural and substantive safeguards to protect a person’s rights and her dignity, processes of democratic decision-making that produce clear rules, and an independent, robust legal system whose branches check and balance one another. Dauvergne’s book reminded me of the central arguments in Brian Tamanaha’s (2006) recent work on the rule of law, which is essentially a book about the dangers of conceiving law in purely instrumental terms. At heart, for Tamanaha, a commitment to the rule of law might entail a commitment to a core set of principles about justice and fairness, about the proper limits of government, and about the dignity of persons in a balanced legal system, and not about what government or interest groups can do with this rule or that rule. It might also entail a commitment to the dignity of all persons in general, not this particular person because she is a citizen and not that particular person because he is an undocumented alien. When my government waterboards someone in the basement of a hotel in some other country, I could say that my government has violated the principles behind our core commitment to a rule of law, even though its clever attorneys (do) say that our agents did not break that particular law or that it should not apply to that specific person in that foreign place. This, I think, is what Dauvergne means by a rule of law “unhinged from the nation.” It is comforting to believe that others around the world share my disdain toward these practices, and share also my commitment to the idea that all governments should show some decency and all persons should be treated with dignity, even when my current government seems to believe in none of these things.

Catherine Dauvergne makes a wonderful effort of sorting through global migration, state membership, and the potential of a rule of law unhinged from nation. Throughout, the one scholar whose influence is so obvious in her work was also so influential in my own work, as well as in the work of many, many other younger academics. “In the twenty years since Joseph Carens wrote that birth in a prosperous state is the modern equivalent of feudal privilege, his statement has become truer than ever as it travels through time to the cusp of a postmodern world” (p.169). Professor Carens was one of the first scholars of his generation to lay out the fact that although the revolutions of the 18th century overthrew certain forms of privilege based on status and other “accidents of birth,” they also created new forms of privilege rooted in state membership that were growing powerful and obvious by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jus sanguinis and jus soli became common ways to confer citizenship, but as Carens noted, and now Dauvergne recalls, “Many citizens of prosperous states experience their right to enter and remain there as a morally imbued entitlement, rather than an accident of birth. Those who seek to enter can therefore be cast as ‘rorters’ seeking to unjustly exploit the system or circumvent the (just) rules that confine them to poorer states with fewer life chances” (p.17). That assigning citizenship by birth is both arbitrary and leads toward undeserved privilege should now be even more obvious in the face of globalized inequalities. And yet to revisit Caren’s original argument and to get more of our fellow citizens to see [*910] past state sovereignty, past their own citizenship, and toward that “postmodern world” where the rule of law survives even though the nation does not – that does seem the “only way.” Whatever flaws or omissions her book might have, I could not stop thinking of its central themes, nor have I been able to ignore Dauvergne’s call for a creative imagining of some other alternative to what we have now. I am uncertain where it will lead, but it is a thoughtful, hopeful, and welcome invitation worth sharing with others, and for that reason alone, her book is a worthwhile read.

Carens, Joseph H. 1987. “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders.” 49 REVIEW OF POLITICS 251-273.

Hing, Bill Ong. 2006. DEPORTING OUR SOULS: VALUES, MORALITY, AND IMMIGRATION POLICY. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Kanstroom, Daniel. 2007. DEPORTATION NATION: OUTSIDERS IN AMERICAN HISTORY. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Tamanaha, Brian Z. 2006. LAW AS A MEANS TO AN END: THREAT TO THE RULE OF LAW. New York: Cambridge University Press.

© Copyright 2008 by the author, John SW Park.