Race and Immigration, Then and Now: How the Shift to 'Worthiness' Undermines the 1965 Immigration Law’s Civil Rights Goals

32 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2014 Last revised: 9 Sep 2014

See all articles by Elizabeth Keyes

Elizabeth Keyes

University of Baltimore - School of Law

Date Written: January 7, 2014

Abstract

This essay looks at how far immigration reform has come from the explicit civil rights character of the 1965 immigration law that reshaped America. The optimism surrounding that law’s dismantling of national-origins barriers to immigration proved to be overstated in the intervening decades, as the factors determining an immigrant’s “worth and qualifications” too often became proxies for race. After briefly looking at work done by critical race theorists tracing some of ways race and immigration have long intersected in immigration legal history, the article closely examines modern-day immigration reform proposals, particularly the Senate bill that remains the most complete articulation of the state of political agreement on the role of immigrants present and future. The article suggests that the criteria for worthiness dominating today’s rhetoric of reform are race-neutral in name only; the criteria for the proposed legalization program will exclude millions, and those exclusions particularly affect immigrants of color who will become the new “super-undocumented.” While always present in immigration law’s history, the laudable sounding concept of “worthiness” has become an increasingly powerful concept and sorting device within immigration law, but one that provides a sharp and problematic counterpoint to the egalitarianism envisioned by the civil rights era 1965 immigration law.

Suggested Citation

Keyes, Elizabeth, Race and Immigration, Then and Now: How the Shift to 'Worthiness' Undermines the 1965 Immigration Law’s Civil Rights Goals (January 7, 2014). 57 Howard Law Journal 900 (2014); University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-04. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2375804

Elizabeth Keyes (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

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