Immigrant “Illegality” as Neoliberal Governmentality in Leadville, Colorado



Abstract:  In this paper, I frame immigrant “illegality” as a local-scale technique of neoliberal governmentality. Drawing on recent work of anthropologists, I present illegality as a racialized, spatialized social condition which operates as governmentality by marginalizing and criminalizing immigrants, loosening the US border and forcing it into local spaces, and impacting immigrants’ everyday lives and mobility. The paper then draws on a case study of Leadville, Colorado, to illustrate the utility of this framework. In Leadville, we see how through illegality neoliberalism seeps through scales. Illegality disciplines immigrant labor in service of the neoliberal order, turns all residents into surveillers of immigrants’ subordinate sociospatial position, and masks contradictions within neoliberalism that arise particularly at the local scale. I argue that conceptualizing illegality as a governmentality technique provides a powerful tool for understanding changing state spatiality, especially ways in which neoliberalism is diffused and embedded into local economic, political, and social processes.