Undocumented Activism and Minor Politics: Inside the Cramped Political Spaces of Deportation Defense Campaigns

Austin Kocher, Angela Stuesse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Undocumented activism is on the rise. In response to the expansion of immigrant policing, detention, and deportation, immigrant rights organizers have increasingly deployed a longstanding approach to anti-deportation activism called “deportation defense campaigns” (DDCs). DDCs seek to disrupt the deportation regime by preventing or delaying individual deportations and providing immigrants a path to temporary or permanent legalization on a case-by-case basis. Yet in the process, campaigns must address questions about when and how to challenge dominant discourses and institutions while also achieving short-term goals. We examine DDCs through Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the “minor” to examine how campaigns navigate difficult decisions about when and how to employ tactics that are typically characterized as either disruptive or conformist. Indeed, we argue that disruption and conformism should be understood not as a static evaluative framework, but as strategies that condition, and are conditioned by, the contexts in which undocumented activism unfolds. Using ethnographic methods, we examine two DDCs to show how the campaigns strategically navigated the cramped political spaces of undocumented organizing in the months following the new Trump administration’s surge of anti-immigrant policies. We find that DDCs simultaneously draw upon and subvert dominant forms of citizenship and belonging in order to pressure ICE to exercise legal discretion and stop deportation. We conclude that DDCs unfold under historically and geographically specific conditions that not only shape what counts as disruptive and conformist, but may call into question any easy division between the two altogether.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-354
Number of pages24
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • deportation defense campaigns
  • immigrant rights
  • immigration
  • minor politics
  • undocumented activism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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