Resettled Yet Stateless: Elderly Monoglot Refugees in the United States as a Limit Case to Citizenship


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

In this article, we present a limit case to citizenship—the elderly monoglot refugee who has resettled but remains stateless. Specifically, we focus on Bhutanese elders, who were denationalized and exiled from their home country of Bhutan and spent two decades in refugee camps before being resettled in the United States beginning in 2009. As resettled refugees, a ‘durable solution’ for their statelessness has technically been fulfilled; they are presumed to be on a path to citizenship. But because they are unable to pass the English language test required to become naturalized, and thus cannot gain citizenship in the United States, they remain permanently stateless, denied access to full political rights and full membership in any country. Drawing upon interviews with Bhutanese community leaders and field research, this article addresses new problematics about how the state creates, in unexpected ways, statelessness via non-decision. State decisionism, a key element in the theory of state violence by Giorgio Agamben that highlights the state’s power to decide on who can be excluded, functions here in the negative. We argue that in this limit case, violence exerted by the state is not by action but by non-action, through non-decisionism, that renders monoglot Bhutanese elders in a permanent state of liminal life and statelessness, not in exile or in refugee camps, but within the United States.

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