The Politics of Immigrant Rights: Between Political Geography and Transnational Interventions

72 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2017 Last revised: 15 May 2018

See all articles by Deborah M. Weissman

Deborah M. Weissman

University of North Carolina School of Law

Jacqueline M. Hagan

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Sociology

Ricardo Martinez-Schuldt

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology

Alyssa Peavey

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill

Date Written: September 28, 2017

Abstract

This article explores how political geography and the politics of immigration devolution create varying legal environments in which immigrants assert their rights. It argues that the apparent breach of the federal government’s commitment to constitutional and statutory rights pertaining to immigrants has created the need to consider new forms of legal protections through transnational advocacy in a manner consistent with U.S. constitutional guarantees. It contributes to the scholarship on immigrant rights through three lines of inquiry.

First, the article considers the ways that history, demographics, and socio-legal culture affects the politics of devolution of immigration enforcement. Within the boundaries of the United States, different local legal traditions serve to shape the culture of law in which immigrants seek to exercise rights. Legal pluralism may promote innovative developments to law and rights, to be sure. But just as often, legal pluralism serves to undermine fundamental rights that elsewhere provide resolution of legal claims. These idiosyncrasies put into doubt equal protection under the law and raise constitutional and normative concerns. The article considers the various forms and mechanisms of immigration devolution that have developed within a changing political environment and examines the salient factors that act to influence a locality’s preference for devolution policies that enable punitive discriminatory state immigration laws compared with those that tend to foster progressive and protective laws that further immigration integration.

Second, the article examines the capacity of the Mexican Consulate/Department of Legal Protection (DLP) as an agency possessed of the capacity to mitigate the geographic disparity that currently characterizes the exercise of immigrant rights. The Mexican Consulate transacts its responsibilities within “the largest sustained migration flow between any two countries in the world.” It has a lengthy history of engaging in community collaborations to challenge local anti-immigrant legal policies that often stigmatize Mexicans as “a racialized ethnic group” whose presence is deemed unwelcome. Through the functions of the DLP housed within the Consulate, immigrants may obtain assistance to enforce their rights.

Third, the article returns to the impact of the political geography of rights on the effectiveness of the DLP. Through an examination of three strategic research sites: the Mexican Consulate in North Carolina (representing a new destination area for immigrants in an environment of weak community supports); the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Texas (representing binational/bilingual residents in a border area with heightened humanitarian concerns); and the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco, California (representing an established immigrant corridor with long-established community supports), the article examines the policies and practices of devolution and analyzes their impact on the efficacy of each of the three DLPs generally and especially in the realm of labor, family, and human rights.

The article concludes by suggesting that the use of devolution as response to the presence of immigrants may serve as “a bellwether of deeper social changes.” It observes that the likelihood of modification of policy of immigration enforcement in ways to benefit immigrant rights is dubious in the near future. Given these circumstances, the article sets forth those salient characteristics identified by migration scholars as contributing to a robust and coherent national and transnational blueprint to protect immigrant rights and demonstrates that the DLP exemplifies such best practices.

Keywords: Migration, immigrant rights, devolution, transnational bureaucracies, access to justice

JEL Classification: R23, H7, K37

Suggested Citation

Weissman, Deborah M. and Hagan, Jacqueline M. and Martinez-Schuldt, Ricardo and Peavey, Alyssa, The Politics of Immigrant Rights: Between Political Geography and Transnational Interventions (September 28, 2017). Michigan State Law Review, Forthcoming, UNC Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3054297

Deborah M. Weissman (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-5108 (Phone)
919-962-1277 (Fax)

Jacqueline M. Hagan

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Sociology ( email )

Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

Ricardo Martinez-Schuldt

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology ( email )

Chapel Hill, NC
United States

Alyssa Peavey

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill ( email )

102 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC NC 27514
United States

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