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The Intersection of Race and Class in U.S. Immigration Law and Enforcement


Kevin R. Johnson


University of California, Davis - School of Law

December 23, 2008

Law & Contemporary Problems, Vol. 72, 2009
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 156

Abstract:     
This issue of Law and Contemporary Problems will no doubt make a contribution to the literature on the intersection of race and class in modern American social life. In my estimation, there is no better body of law to illustrate the close nexus between race and class than U.S. immigration law and enforcement. At bottom, the U.S. immigration laws historically have operated - and continue to operate - to prevent many poor and working people of color from migrating to, and punish those living in, the United States.

Matters of race and class in the U.S. immigration laws unquestionably are more complicated today than in the past. Namely, express racial exclusions fortunately can no longer be found in the U.S. immigration laws. A by-product of the civil rights movement, the Immigration Act of 1965 abolished the discriminatory national origins quotas system that had remained a bulwark of the U.S. immigration laws since 1924. As a consequence of the change in the law, the nation saw a dramatic shift in the racial demographics of immigration, with an especially sharp increase in migration from Asia.

Although racial exclusions are something of the past, the express - and aggressive - exclusion of the poor remains a fundamental function of the modern U.S. immigration law, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA). In sharp contrast, domestic laws generally cannot - constitutionally at least - discriminate de jure against the poor. The express discrimination against poor and working immigrants by U.S. law, as we shall see, has disparate national origin and racial impacts.

Part II of this article sketches how race and class interact synergistically in the U.S. immigration laws and their enforcement. Part III offers case studies from recent immigration events in the United States demonstrating race and class at work in the experiences of noncitizens.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 58

Keywords: Immigration, Race, Class, U.S. Immigration Laws

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Date posted: January 5, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Kevin R., The Intersection of Race and Class in U.S. Immigration Law and Enforcement (December 23, 2008). Law & Contemporary Problems, Vol. 72, 2009; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 156. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1319795

Contact Information

Kevin R. Johnson (Contact Author)
University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )
Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States
530 752 0243 (Phone)
530 752 7279 (Fax)
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