Responsibility for Migrants: From Hospitality to Solidarity

Published date01 February 2020
Date01 February 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Political Theory
2020, Vol. 48(1) 57 –83
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0090591719877543
Responsibility for
Migrants: From
Hospitality to Solidarity
James A. Chamberlain
Critics of exclusionary borders might be tempted to appeal for more
hospitality, but this essay argues that such an approach is misguided and
develops an alternative framework called solidarity borders. The ongoing
legacies of imperialism, the functioning of global capitalism, and insights
from democratic theory show that we need to problematize two key
presuppositions of hospitality: a clear distinction between hosts and guests,
and the exclusive right of the former to impose conditions. Moreover, Jacques
Derrida provides limited guidance as to how to enact necessarily conditional
hospitality in the most just manner. By contrast, Iris Marion Young’s social
connection model highlights the shared responsibility that actors bear to
reduce structural injustice. Drawing out the implications of Young’s work
for migration and borders, I argue that solidarity borders would build upon,
expand, and modify the existing refugee regime.
borders, migration, hospitality, Derrida, Young
On November 25, 2018, US Federal authorities fired tear gas at a group of
hundreds of Central American migrants, including children, who rushed
toward a border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, a town where thousands of
Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Mississippi State University,
Mississippi State, MS, USA
Corresponding Author:
James A. Chamberlain, PhD, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Department of Political
Science and Public Administration, Mississippi State University, P. O. Box PC, Mississippi State,
MS 39762, USA.
877543PTXXXX10.1177/0090591719877543Political TheoryChamberlain
58 Political Theory 48(1)
migrants were living in cramped conditions while they waited to request
asylum. The US government also closed the San Ysidro border crossing,
the busiest in the country, in both directions for the afternoon, and President
Trump reiterated his earlier threats to seal the entire US–Mexico border.
This marked the latest escalation of tensions at the US border, with the
administration having already deployed thousands of active duty troops to
the border, temporarily suspended the international and domestic legal
right of migrants who enter the US unlawfully to claim asylum, and
ordered the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security to
“consult” with the Government of Mexico to find ways to keep migrants
on the Mexican side of the border while they wait for their asylum claims
to be processed.
Critics of such acts and of exclusionary border regimes more generally
might be tempted to appeal for more hospitality. Indeed, the concept has
deep historical resonance and plays a continuing role in structuring the
international order, but in this essay I argue that such an approach is mis-
guided and develop an alternative framework based on solidarity. While
neither the specific actions recounted above, nor Trump’s broader record of
policies and statements on immigration, evince a strong commitment to
hospitality, they nonetheless resonate with Jacques Derrida’s theorization
of hospitality. As Derrida shows, hospitality cannot be offered uncondition-
ally without undermining its own conditions of possibility—namely, the
existence of a host with the ability to welcome a guest. In the name of hos-
pitality, limits must therefore be placed on the degree to which the host
opens up to guests. Moreover, Derrida makes the poignant observation that
the necessity of conditions means that hospitality can all too easily be per-
verted and that “one can become virtually xenophobic in order to protect or
claim to protect one’s own hospitality.”1
The idea that we face a crisis at the border only seems to strengthen
claims that hospitality needs to be reduced to preserve the integrity of the
immigration system, as well as the social order and harmony of the receiv-
ing state. For example, Hillary Clinton stated in November 2018 that she
admires “the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken
particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel,” but thinks that “it is fair to say
Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message—‘we are not
going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support’—because if we
don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body poli-
tic.”2 It is, of course, important to question the motives of those who
declare a crisis, and inquire into whether in fact the situation warrants the
extraordinary measures being proposed to limit hospitality. Yet even with-
out this type of politically motivated exaggeration, the ongoing legacies of

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