In 2017, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly explained that after separation of children from their family members, the Department of Health and Human Services would take good care of the children “as we deal with their parents.” This project explores how justifying family separation at the U.S. border occurs through two discursive moves. The first move is a call for protection of the border itself from crime, chaos, and terror. That call activates a crimmigration and securitization framework that constructs the border as a wilderness of criminal activity and risk of terrorism. Protecting the border requires prosecuting all who cross without apparent authorization, including parents. The second move is to reframe the relationship between the child and the parent, particularly the mother. It raises questions about the authenticity of the parent and the nature of her parenting. The cauldron of motherhood, crime, and race, then, achieves two transmutations: first, rendering the choices that mothers make into the basis for punitive legal consequences, and second, converting the act of migration into a justification for the state to assume the role of the responsible parent.
This project seeks to explain how official discourse may frame in one legal paradigm such as criminality, while framing out traditional approached such as asylum. Coupled with the Attorney General’s decision to unilaterally revise asylum law in ways that erase established pathways for mothers to seek asylum, humanitarian avenues to authorized migration become invisible.