The struggle to achieve justice for migrants and immigrants in the United States remains an uphill battle, with raids, deportations, and state violence at the southern border continuing unabated. Direct action against the vicious border and immigration regime has heated up in recent years, but substantive victories remain few and far between, and the extremely heterogeneous immigrant justice coalition has found it difficult to articulate a clearly defined vision for what it seeks to achieve and how it plans to win it. The question of immigration controls has resurfaced as a particularly thorny issue; acrimonious debates erupted after Bernie Sanders called open borders a “Koch brothers proposal” in 2015, and they reached a fever pitch three years later with the publication of Angela Nagle’s “The Left Case against Open Borders” in American Affairs.1 On the other side of the Atlantic, Aufstehen’s refusal to adopt an open borders position took the wind out of the sails of Germany’s stillborn project of left renewal, while both La France Insoumise and the UK Labour Party have faced criticism for refusing to get on the open borders bandwagon.2

These debates have subsided somewhat over the past year or two. By the time the Democratic Socialists of America (dsa) passed its “Support for Open Borders” resolution at its Atlanta convention in July 2019, it raised few eyebrows, demonstrating the degree to which the principle has come to stand in for migrant and immigrant justice more generally on the Left.3 The upshot of this is that the slogan has lost much of its concrete content as it has become more ubiquitous. What does it mean to call for open borders in a world dominated by capitalist nation-states? Is the literal interpretation of scrapping immigration controls enough to overturn the highly exclusionary global regime of national citizenship underpinning a grossly unequal capitalist world economy? Perhaps it is better to think of open borders as shorthand for a radical but practical politics for the early twenty-first century — one that keeps on the horizon of political possibility a world in which territorially bounded and citizenship-conferring capitalist states no longer exist. In this version of open borders, fighting for a domicile-based form of citizenship that guarantees full rights to all residents becomes an absolute necessity.4

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