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A Localist Reading of Local Immigration Regulations

66 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2008 Last revised: 13 Jun 2013

Rick Su

University at Buffalo Law School


The conventional account of immigration-related activity at the local level often assumes that the "local" is simply a new battleground in the national immigration debates. This article questions that presumption. Foregrounding the legal rules that define local governments and channels local action, this article argues that the local immigration "crisis" is much less a consequence of federal immigration policy than normally assumed. Rather, it can also be understood as a familiar byproduct of localism: the legal and cultural assumptions that shape how we structure and organize local communities, provide and allocate local services, and define the legal relationship of local, state, and federal governments. From this perspective, local immigration regulations are not unprecedented forays by local governments into uncharted and unfamiliar territory; instead, they reflect a natural extension of how we've traditionally used legal rules to organize our local communities to deal with demographic and socioeconomic diversity and change. Recognizing this not only allows us to develop a more accurate descriptive account of the framework within which localities act with respect to immigration, it also reveals the limitations of national- or federal-oriented immigration proposals and highlights the possibilities of local legal reforms as an alternative.

Keywords: Immigration Law, Local Government Law, Illegal Immigration, Localism, Immigration Federalism

Suggested Citation

Su, Rick, A Localist Reading of Local Immigration Regulations. North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 86, 2008; Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-10. Available at SSRN:

Rick Su (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
7166455134 (Phone)


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