The University of California, Los Angeles hosted a workshop last week comparing the “mass deaths” of illegal aliens “along the U.S.-Mexico border” to the deaths of AIDS victims, and urging pro-illegal immigration activists to use the same tactics utilized by ACT UP and other AIDS advocacy groups.
The UCLA department of political science hosted the Feb. 26 lunchtime workshop in a campus building. The workshop was presented by Cristina Beltrán, a professor at New York University.
The title of the midday workshop at the taxpayer-funded school was “Undocumented and Acting Up: Queering Sovereignty in the Immigrant Rights Movement.”
“Faced with a dehumanizing logic that blames them for their own suffering, gay and undocumented subjects must challenge a political culture more interested in simplistic accounts of individual action than [in] complex analyses of global capitalism, human desire, and government failure,” Beltrán explained in a summary of her workshop.
The NYU professor’s 33-page paper corresponding with the workshop is entitled “Undocumented and Acting Up: Queer Sovereignty in the Immigrant Rights Movement.”
In the document, Beltrán explains that her goal is to revisit “the work of ACT UP to reconsider what it means to ‘queer’ the politics of immigration.” She wants “to consider the resonances between AIDS activism and undocumented activism.”
Beltrán focuses largely on “undocumented youth” who — perhaps because they can’t legally vote — refuse to wait to see what happens in elections “to make their voices heard.”
Gay people and illegal aliens — and especially gay illegal aliens — are “blamed, belittled, excluded” and “vilified in ways that are deeply dehumanizing,” the professor proclaims.
Beltrán pronounces that illegal immigrants “pose no threat to America’s identity and institutions.” Instead, she argues, “they actually shore up the traditional values that the country increasingly lacks.” Latino immigrants “are a nonthreatening, inherently conservative civic presence.”
Beltrán also claims that “the majority of people with HIV/AIDS are poor and people of color” but the American public erroneously associates the disease with “gay men.”
She declares that “anyone can be (or become) undocumented” but “it is Latinos who are most closely associated with illegality, particularly Mexicans.”
The work of gay activists can be a model for illegal immigration advocates because “citizenship status” is a “critical marker to one’s relationship to power and privilege shaped by race, class, gender, and sexuality.”
Beltrán emphasizes the metaphor of “coming out.” However, she writes, “what is most productively ‘queer’ about undocumented activism has less to do with visibility and ‘coming out’ and more to do with the movement’s critique of sovereignty, survival, and preventable death.”Activists for illegal immigration and for the DREAM Act (which would provide conditional permanent residency primarily to the children of illegal immigrants) must “wage a war of representation” similar to the strategies pursued by AIDS advocacy groups, Beltrán asserts.
Such a “wage a war of representation” is already ongoing. One example is a “Coming Out of the Shadows” campaign from 2010 and 2011, which involved “a series of speeches by unauthorized youth who openly declared their undocumented status.” (RELATED: Illegal Immigrant TROUNCED In Runoff For Univ. Of North Carolina Student Body President)
Advocates for illegal immigration are right to call for “mass actions” and to “refuse to accept the criminalizing logic of unauthorized border crossings,” Beltrán suggests, lauding an illegal immigrant rapper who has criticized “right-wing media and politicians” as “‘those elephant nutcases'” and urged like-minded people “to ‘fuck Fox News.'”
According to her New York University faculty webpage, Beltrán’s areas of research interest include Latino politics in the U.S., feminist theory, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality.