Immigration Blame

77 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2018 Last revised: 16 Nov 2018

Date Written: August 29, 2018


This Article provides the first comprehensive study of blame in the U.S. immigration system. Beyond blaming migrants, we blame politicians, bureaucrats, and judges. Meanwhile, these players routinely blame each other, all while trying to avoid being blamed. As modeled here, these dynamics of “immigration blame” have catalyzing effects on the politics, policies, and structures of immigration law. Yoking key insights from a range of social sciences, this Article offers unique perspectives on the operation and design choices of the immigration system. Moreover, through a blame lens, the terms of debate over amnesty, immigration enforcement, the travel ban, sanctuary cities, and the Supreme Court’s plenary power doctrine come into sharper focus.

In turn, this Article’s descriptive portrayal of immigration blame prompts some vexing normative questions: Is immigration blame desirable? Can its inputs and outputs be controlled? If so, how and toward what ends? In immigration, as elsewhere, blame is a paradox: both functional and dysfunctional, socially cohering and corrosive. That being so, we should not aim for a blame-free immigration system. Rather, we should seek ways to promote the values of immigration blame, while minimizing its more unsavory manifestations. Toward those ends, this Article prescribes an “ethics of immigration blame” and suggests ways that law might be harnessed to mediate some of blame’s pathologies. Today’s sociopolitical conditions crystallize the need for this work.

Keywords: Immigration, Blame, Amnesty, DACA, DAPA, Travel Ban, Plenary Power Doctrine, Immigration Federalism, Zero-Tolerance, Family Separation

Suggested Citation

Rubenstein, David S., Immigration Blame (August 29, 2018). Fordham Law Review, Vol. 87, 2018, Available at SSRN:

David S. Rubenstein (Contact Author)

Washburn University - School of Law ( email )

1700 College Avenue
Topeka, KS 66621
United States
785-670-1682 (Phone)

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