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Abstract

Normative theories of migration taking up the postcolonial turn in scholarship tend to analyze human movement in binaries: between sending and receiving countries, origins and destinations, host and guest states, metropoles and colonies. In this essay, I argue that this framing elides the transnational dimensions of imperialism and racial capitalism that are central to understanding the causes and contexts of human mobility. Focusing on bilateral relations between states and accepting the norms of state sovereignty, including the state’s legitimate power to control territorial borders and immigration policy, adopts the conceptual and legal categories that have been formed by and perpetuate colonial legacies of resource extraction, domination, and exclusion. I propose that theorists work towards decolonizing their methodologies when setting forth normative proposals by engaging deeper with interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary scholarship. I demonstrate the utility of this revised research orientation through employing a specific historical migration event—the forgotten history of Korean indentured labor migration to Mexico in the early twentieth century—as a case study to elucidate and test the assumptions present within recent disciplinary scholarship on migration justice. Through employing this case study as a proof of concept, I argue that theorists should pay closer attention to empirical and historical studies of migration, scholarship on migration utilizing a transnational and hemispheric lens, and area studies insights that can serve as a check against the geographic and temporal specificity of the theoretical abstractions used in analytical methods. In doing so, theorists working on migration will be able to better tailor solutions to problems by gaining a more robust understanding of colonialism and migration as a problem space.

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