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Islands of SovereigntyHaitian Migration and the Borders of Empire$
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Jeffrey S. Kahn

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226587387

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226587554.001.0001

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The Political and the Economic

The Political and the Economic

(p.27) Chapter 1 The Political and the Economic
Islands of Sovereignty

Jeffrey S. Kahn

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the history of Haitian migration to the United States by exploring two modes of narrating that history—one that emphasizes poverty as the primary cause of migrant flows and another that emphasizes political persecution as its dominant cause. The chapter offers a politico-economic history of the rise of the Duvalier dynasty and of migration from Haiti to the United States during the dictatorships of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier and after. It also excavates the deep history of the causal explanations for this migration to demonstrate how refugee law's "frames" rely on an idea that markets are naturally disembedded from social and political institutions. This market naturalism and its more extreme variant—neoliberalism—has profoundly impacted the structure and background assumptions of refugee and asylum law in the United States and elsewhere. The chapter reveals that offshore migration policing emerged as an instance of neoliberal penality—i.e., heavy investments in policing designed to maintain the "freedom" of unregulated markets—operating transnationally, a scalar recalibration that necessitates a rethinking of the neoliberal penality concept itself. The result is a new perspective on the logics underlying refugee law and the representation of Haitian suffering in the courts, in political discourse, and in the media.

Keywords:   refugee law, asylum law, neoliberalism, neoliberal penality, Haitian migration, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Francois Duvalier, Haiti

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