Common Immunity or Microbial Xenophobia?

Nation-State Boundary Controls and the Spread of Disease in the Era of Covid-19


  • Geoffrey Boyce University College Dublin
  • Joseph Nevins Department of Earth Science and Geography, Vassar College


Covid-19, border controls, disease, mobility, pandemic geopolitics, public health


In the era of Covid-19, governments and commentators alike have argued that border controls are a necessary tool in the fight against disease. Indeed, for much of 2020, the Trump administration in the United States adopted an almost singular focus on limiting transnational mobility as the lynchpin of its pandemic response. Ironically, this strengthening of border controls, combined with the uninterrupted operation of immigration detention and deportation, incubated the virus and amplified its circulation in the United States and abroad. Such outcomes raise many questions. How did the policing of national borders become embraced as such a pivotal tool in the fight against disease? What work does the border accomplish vis-a-vis pandemic control? And how do these public health outcomes shed new light on the nature of border controls? In this article, we argue that the principal contribution of border controls to the unfolding of contagion emerges from their role in the differentiation and policing of unequal legal and political status. We explore how this differentiation has demonstrably come to drive patterns of risk, harm and vulnerability during the era of Covid-19. As a contrast, we also discuss various grassroots and official interventions that have instead woven relationships of solidarity, care and cooperation across differences of nationality and legal status and their associated territorial expressions. Together, we read these efforts as cultivating a kind of “common immunity,” one based on a recognition of mutual interdependence that is foundational to collective life, health and wellbeing.

Author Biography

Geoffrey Boyce, University College Dublin

Assistant Professor School of Geography  


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How to Cite

Boyce, G., & Nevins, J. (2022). Common Immunity or Microbial Xenophobia? : Nation-State Boundary Controls and the Spread of Disease in the Era of Covid-19. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 21(6), 710–727. Retrieved from