'Illegal' Migration Is Speech

48 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2015 Last revised: 15 Mar 2022

Date Written: September 5, 2015


Non-citizens must comply with immigration laws just because citizens say so. The citizenry takes for granted its monopoly on immigration control, but the legitimacy of this arrangement has been called into question by cutting-edge political theorists. One prominent theorist argues, for example, that basic democratic principles require that non-citizens living outside the U.S. have a say in the formation of immigration law, since they must obey it. For the first time, this Article provides a legal response to these political theory developments, assimilating them, along with the facts on the ground, into an account of “illegal” migration as First Amendment speech.

If non-citizens’ voices are unjustly excluded from the immigration law conversation, then “illegal” migration is speech of necessity — there is no other way for non-citizens to be heard. Protest speech occurs every time a migrant crosses a border without permission, and every time a non-citizen chooses to overstay a visa: these defiant actions declare the illegitimacy of immigration law. In turn, the individual speech acts of millions of “illegal” migrants help to foment an immigrants’ rights consciousness, and enable groups of migrants to engage in core, protected forms of dissent, like marching in the streets shouting “NOT ONE MORE DEPORTATION” — and tweeting #Not1More.

By speaking in these disruptive and unorthodox ways, the undocumented force the citizenry to grapple with the serious constriction of non-citizens’ lives that immigration laws cause. If these millions of protesters had respected our immigration laws by staying at home, pining for — but failing to seize — a better life in the United States, citizens could not know concretely how immigration laws limit non-citizens’ lives, nor learn whether our legal and political system is resilient enough to accommodate millions of people the citizenry did not ask for. Thus, “illegal” migration makes the immigration law conversation more consistent with American free-speech values than it would otherwise be.

Keywords: First Amendment, Undocumented Immigration, Legal Theory, Habermas, Amnesty, Deportation, Immigration Law

Suggested Citation

Morales, Daniel I., 'Illegal' Migration Is Speech (September 5, 2015). 92 Indiana Law Journal 735, 2017, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2656567 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2656567

Daniel I. Morales (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center

University of Houston Law Center
4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204
United States

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