Reading List

No Walls, No Borders


This reading list on borders and immigration provides an important starting point for thinking through what a world with no borders would look like and how to get there. These books contextualize migration crises rooted in the violence of capitalism, legacies of colonialism, and racist state narratives.

The Dispossessed tells the story of a twenty-four-year-old Salvadoran man, Arnovis, whose family’s search for safety shows how the United States—in concert with other Western nations—has gutted asylum protections for the world’s most vulnerable. Crisscrossing the border and Central America, John Washington traces one man’s quest for asylum. 

For decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have employed xenophobic ideas and policies, declaring time and again that “illegal immigration” is a threat to the nation’s security, wellbeing, and future. The profound forces of all-American nativism have, in fact, been pushing politics so far to the right over the last forty years that, for many people, Trump began to look reasonable. As Daniel Denvir argues, issues as diverse as austerity economics, free trade, mass incarceration, the drug war, the contours of the post 9/11 security state, and, yes, Donald Trump and the Alt-Right movement are united by the ideology of nativism.

From the 1960s the UK’s immigration policy—introduced by both Labour and Tory governments—has been a toxic combination of racism and xenophobia. Maya Goodfellow tracks this history through to the present day, looking at both legislation and rhetoric, to show that distinct forms of racism and dehumanisation have produced a confused and draconian immigration system. 

The twenty-first century has witnessed the rapid hardening of international borders. Security, surveillance, and militarization are widening the chasm between those who travel where they please and those whose movements are restricted. But that is only part of the story. Empire of Borders is a tremendous work of narrative investigative journalism that traces the rise of this border regime. 

With the growth of borders and resource enclosures, the deaths of migrants in search of a better life are intimately connected to climate change, environmental degradation, and the growth of global wealth inequality. Jones crosses the migrant trails of the world, documenting the billions of dollars spent on border security projects and explores how borders are formed and their dire consequences.

Journalist Eileen Truax tells the story of Carlos Specter, a Mexican American layer in El Paso, Texas who through filing hundreds of political asylum cases has brought increased attention to the corruption in America's asylum process at both a local and national level. We Built the Wall  is an immersive, engrossing story of a new front in the immigration wars.

Combining the techniques of eyewitness reportage with the medium of comic-book storytelling, Threads is an unforgettable account of Kate Evans' time volunteering with the refugee aid effort in the Jungle—the makeshift town within the French port town of Calais that was home to thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa until it was demolished in October 2016. By turns shocking, infuriating, wry, and heartbreaking, Threads addresses one of the most pressing issues of modern times to make a compelling case for the compassionate treatment of refugees and the free movement of peoples.

The Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martinez and his anthropologist brother Juan José Martínez got to know the Hollywood Kid when he informed on MS-13. In his hideaway shack, he recounted a life of killing—a death toll of more than fifty rival gang members—until his own murder ended the story. Vivid and violent, The Hollywood Kid brings a brutal world to life, illustrating the geopolitical forces propelling a country toward ever more vicious extremes.

In Extreme Cities, Dawson offers an alarming portrait of the future of our cities, describing the efforts of Staten Island, New York, and Shishmareff, Alaska residents to relocate; Holland’s models for defending against the seas; and the development of New York City before and after Hurricane Sandy. Our best hope lies not with fortified sea walls, he argues. Rather, it lies with urban movements already fighting to remake our cities in a more just and equitable way.

In 2016, a small protest encampment at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, initially established to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, grew to be the largest Indigenous protest movement in the twenty-first century. Water Protectors knew this battle for native sovereignty had already been fought many times before, and that, even after the encampment was gone, their anticolonial struggle would continue. In Our History Is the Future, Nick Estes traces traditions of Indigenous resistance that led to the #NoDAPL movement.

The Lights in the Distance take readers through six “borderlands’—areas of Europe where the refugee crisis is at its most acute. Moving through places where Europe’s history of conflict, nationalism, and conquest is never far from the surface, Daniel Trilling explains how the present crisis is driven by racism and fear of the “illegal” immigrant; how Europeans came to fool themselves that Europe could ever really be a “fortress” cut off from the world around it; and how the growth of systems designed to control and deter refugees is leading to disaster. 

A toxic ideology of extreme competition and individualism has come to dominate our world. It misrepresents human nature, destroying hope and common purpose. Only a positive vision can replace it, a new story that re-engages people in politics and lights a path to a better future. George Monbiot shows how new findings in psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology cast human nature in a radically different light: as the supreme altruists and cooperators. 

Much has been written about Britain’s trailblazing post-1970s privatisation programme, but the biggest privatisation of them all has until now escaped scrutiny: the privatisation of land. Since Margaret Thatcher took power in 1979, and hidden from the public eye, about 10 per cent of the entire British land mass, including some of its most valuable real estate, has passed from public to private hands. Forest land, defence land, health service land and above all else local authority land—for farming and school sports, for recreation and housing—has been sold off en masse. Why? How? And with what social, economic and political consequences?

Do you have to think that prostitution is good to support sex worker rights? How do sex worker rights fit with feminist and anti-capitalist politics? Is criminalising clients progressive—and can the police deliver justice.

Teresa Thornhill uses her experience volunteering at the makeshift camp on the Greece-Macedonia border to interweave the narrative of daily life at the camp with the extraordinary stories of it's guests and the recent history of the revolution in Syria, painting a vivid picture of the predicament of Syrians trapped on Europe’s borders.

Nisha Kapoor's analysis of 5 men who where deported for terrorism-related charges shows how the war on terror has turned the state into the real 'extemists' through the brutal treatment and dehumanisation of these men. These cases have illuminated and enabled intensifying authoritarianism and the diminishment of democratic systems.

An expansive investigation into the relationship between contemporary states and the far-right.

Published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Occupation, radical Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s Ten Myths About Israel explores the foundational myths repeated endlessly in the media, enforced by the military, and accepted without question by the world’s governments that reinforce the regional status quo. The book shows how Zionism is a colonial project of occupation that requires mass displacement of Palestinians.

A History of Violence is a book of reportage about the grisly death toll of the daily life in countries that comprise the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Martínez’s intimate portraits of daily life in the northern triangle show how the long-lasting effects of US intervention and the War on Drugs created a region of fear; a place where citizens suffer from the some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and many are forced to flee for North America.

Now more than ever, we need to look to revolutionary history for inspiration in our current fight against Trump’s regime of oppression.

Throughout the ages and across every continent, people have struggled against those in power and raised their voices in protest-rallying others around them or inspiring uprisings many years later. This anthology, global in scope, presents voices of dissent from every era of human history: speeches and pamphlets, poems and songs, plays and manifestos. Every age has its iconoclasts, and yet the greatest among them build on the words and actions of their forerunners.

Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has inspired a spike in hate crimes. Across the nation, more than 900 incidents of hate-related intimidation or harassment were reported in just the first 10 days following the election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The new front in the War on Terror is the “homegrown enemy,” domestic terrorists who have become the focus of sprawling counterterrorism structures of policing and surveillance in the United States and across Europe. Domestic surveillance has mushroomed – at least 100,000 Muslims in America have been secretly under scrutiny. Based on several years of research and reportage, this is the first comprehensive critique of counterradicalization strategies. 

Seven years after the deadliest earthquake in the history of the Western Hemisphere struck Haiti, the island nation remains in crisis, all but ignored by the international community. At the center of this crisis is Lavil—“The City” in Kreyol, as Port-au-Prince is known to Haitians—the cultural, political, and economic capital of Haiti and home to over 2.5 million resilient souls.

This immersive and engrossing oral history collection gives voice to the continuing struggle of Haitian people to live, love and prosper while trying to rebuild their city and country after disasters both natural and man-made.

In this new edition of his seminal exploration of migrant workers, John Berger asks what the Western world looks like to those who come from outside to perform the most menial tasks. Accompanied by the striking photographs by Jean Mohr, A Seventh Man shows that, despite marginalisation and exclusion, the migrant experience stands at the absolute centre of modern experience. According to Sukhdev Sandhu in the Guardian, "It fused poetic text, political analysis and striking images – one depicted a solitary figure on a horse and cart, having just left behind his ancestral land, slowly wending through sun-blazed dusty lanes in pursuit of a new life – in order to ask why those migrant workers are "treated like replaceable parts of a machine? What compels them to leave their villages and accept this humiliation?"

This powerful work of reportage combines an analysis of the politics of migration with first hand accounts of the people struggling to survive as they are faced with anti-immigration zealots. Written after countless interviews with those seeking safety beyond the borders of Europe and North America, the book challenges the common distinction made between “refugees” and “economic migrants” – after all, with the inequalities between rich and poor countries so acute, do the latter not also deserve “refuge” from this reality? In the author’s words: “nothing in the world of unauthorised migration is quite what it seems”. For anyone wishing to look beyond the headlines, this is an indispensible piece. 

In 2012, Jonathan Littell traveled to the heart of the Syrian uprising, smuggled in by the Free Syrian Army to the historic city of Homs. For three weeks, he watched as neighborhoods were bombed and innocent civilians murdered. His notes on what he saw on the ground speak directly of horrors that continue to force thousands to flee their homes, only to be locked in detention camps or drown at sea. A crucial reminder of why people need refuge.

Patrick Cockburn, Winner of the 2014 Foreign Affairs Journalist of the Year Award, provides the essential on-the-ground account of the emergence of the Syrian conflict’s most extreme group. From Saudia Arabia, Turkey and Iran to – especially – the West, nobody escapes criticism for the crisis that has driven millions for their homes. With many now seeking safety in Europe, it is important to remember our governments’ parts in the collapse of Syria and Iraq. 

This is essential reading for anyone interested in the collapse of the Middle East, and the devastating role of the West in the creation of this hellish crucible. As he shows, this did not explode suddenly in Syria after the Arab Spring as the conventional view holds, but over several years in occupied Iraq. It is in the sectarian conflict that engulfed Iraq following the war of 2003 that patterns were established that would later spill over into Syria with such devastating results. Since July 2014, the dominance of ISIS has threatened the stability of the whole region. Cockburn was the first Western commentator to warn of ISIS, so far ahead of everyone else that last year the judges of the British Journalism Awards advised the UK government to ‘consider pensioning off the whole of MI6 and hiring Patrick Cockburn instead.’ The Age of Jihad is the most in-depth analysis of the failure of the Middle East to date.

With Europe’s humanitarian civil society apparently mobilising in solidarity with refugees and migrants, Delphy’s manifesto is a timely reminder of the complex relationship between liberal “humanitarianism” and racial supremacism. Calling for a true humanitarianism that sacrifices no-one at the expense of others, Delphy exposes the hypocrisy of many euro-centric calls to save the “Other”.

A shocking reminder of the dangers migrants face on their journeys, The Beast chronicles the stories of some of the 20,000 people who “disappear” while travelling through Central America with the hope of finding safety and shelter. Just as those seeking to enter Europe have to navigate the waves of the Mediterranean, people on the American “migrant trail” risk kidnapping by traffickers and drug smugglers. If understanding the experiences of those searching for refuge is essential to combating anti-migrant racism, then this book is required reading.

In Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, sixteen-year-old Vicente and two of his high school friends murdered his mother, his father, and his little sister in cold blood. Through a Truman Capote–like reconstruction of this seemingly incomprehensible triple murder, Sandra Rodríguez Nieto paints a haunting and unforgettable portrait of one of the most violent cities on Earth. This in-depth and harrowing investigation into the thought processes of three boys leads the reader on an exploration of the city of Juárez, as well as the drug cartels that have waged war on its streets, in a bold attempt to explain the inexplicable.

Migration and its struggles are not only about those seeking to cross borders, but, as Hsiao-Hung Pai shows, also affect those desperate for survival within them. Described by Sukhdev Sandhu as "a worthy successor to A Seventh Man," Scattered Sand tells the story of the largest migration in human history – the 200 million labourers who travel from China’s rural hinterland to work in factories, construction sites and coal mines. Based on years of research and field work, this often heartbreaking and moving book tells the human stories of mass migration driven by globalised economy, reminding us that, even if the migrants themselves do not cross borders, the commodities—such as Apple products—they produce do.

Guglielmo Carchedi’s original analysis of the European Union unearths the internal contradictions at the heart of many of the crises now threatening its very existence – including the issue of migration. The author argues that unless another Europe is built – specifically, one that foregrounds class solidarity and abandons imperialist relations with the Third World – such problems will persist. Recommended for anyone seeking to understand how mass migration to Fortress Europe is driven by the policies of the European Union itself.

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