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Vol. 5 No. 3 (2022): The Critical Phenomenology of Borders and Migration

Illegal Skin, White Mask: A Critical Phenomenology of Irregular Child Migrants and the Maintenances of Whiteness in the United States

  • Sierra Billingslea
February 9, 2023


I reinterpret the experiences and perceptions of child migrants through the lens of racialization and White Supremacy by advancing work by Cheryl Harris (1993) and Lisa Guenther (2019) on the critical phenomenology of “Whiteness as Property” (WaP) and the protection of “White Space.” WaP is “the collective investment in state violence” to protect the economic, territorial, and legal privileges of Whiteness, while White Space describes its two dimensions: “enclosure and territorial expansion” (Guenther 2019, 202). I build on this foundation by examining the way WaP regulates sociogenic3 and emotive states in order to protect its accrued resources, resulting in an “economy” of racial identity where ownership produces and is produced by particular societal structures and relationships. I use these concepts to understand the framework that willfully misinterprets racialized children. I establish “the Child” as a sociogenic concept and symbol of national futurity and universalism, and therefore of the futurity and universalism of Whiteness; reiterating and interrogating the inconsistency that many immigration and child activists point to, that there is no such thing as an “illegal” or racialized child. Thus, the ICM either loses the privileges and protections afforded to children or must don the White Mask through a performance of victimhood. Through this framework, I undertake an examination of the ICMs as portrayed in the legal process using tools from legal sensorial studies and critical phenomenology, demonstrating the sociogenic shifts that occur for the ICM and how these shifts work to protect WaP.