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Will to love, will to fear: the emotional politics of illegality and citizenship in the campaign against birthright citizenship in the US

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Anti-immigration activists argue that the broad inclusivity of the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment is a national security concern that enables criminalized migrant mothers to give birth to citizens who can later harm the US through violence and resource consumption. Seeing this argument as representative of the problem of inclusivity inherent to citizenship in a liberal democracy, this essay asks how the children of undocumented and temporary migrants are constructed as what Mae Ngai calls ‘alien citizens.’ Drawing from Sara Ahmed's affective economy of emotion, I find that affect and emotion figure prominently in how citizens are made ‘alien.’ Specifically love and fear function as pivot points in the anti-birthright citizenship argument, wherein the ‘real citizen’ is ‘willed’ to love and be loved by the nation and to fear the nation's Others. Moreover, the emphasis on national feelings does not evacuate white supremacy or heteronormativity from its imagination of citizenship, but instead displaces these loci of power into feeling and affect. Thus, this essay claims that the birthright citizenship argument illustrates how national love and fear work in tandem to uphold, naturalize, and expand the racial and sexual exclusions inherent to citizenship in a nation-state.
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Keywords: affect and emotion; anti-immigration discourse; birthright citizenship; liberalism; sexuality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Communication Studies, University of North Carolina, 115 Bingham Hall, Campus Box 3285, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-3285, USA

Publication date: March 4, 2015

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