Why the Legal Strategy of Exploiting Immigrant Families Should Worry Us All

54 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2019 Last revised: 22 Dec 2019

See all articles by Jamie R. Abrams

Jamie R. Abrams

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law

Date Written: November 30, 2019


This article applies a family law lens to explore the systemic and traumatic effects of modern laws and policies on immigrant families. A family law lens widens the scope of individuals harmed by recent immigration laws and policies to show why all families are affected and harmed by shifts in state power, state action, and state rhetoric. The family law lens reveals a worrisome shift in intentionality that has moved the state from a bystander to family-based immigration trauma to an incendiary agent perpetrating family trauma.

Modern immigration laws and policies are deploying legal and political strategies that intentionally sever the parent-child relationship and demonize immigrant families. The family law lens brings into focus how the state is acting under the parens patriae power, which positions the state as the “parent of the nation.” For the state to intervene using its parens patriae power to perpetrate the exact kinds of harms that would be considered abusive if deployed by a parent, suggests a deep dissonant injustice in the use of state power in certain families. This shift in intentionality exacerbates deep longstanding differences in government family interventions by race, class, and immigration status.

Laws and policies that exploit the hardships of families as political pressure should worry all families under the law because we entrust the state to intervene to protect families. These political strategies threaten the constitutional norms that are the foundation of modern family law. Revealing new insights from family law is a call to action for the family law bar to engage in immigration advocacy and reform.

Keywords: Immigration; Family Law

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Jamie R., Why the Legal Strategy of Exploiting Immigrant Families Should Worry Us All (November 30, 2019). Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 14, 2019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3496042

Jamie R. Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law ( email )

Wilson W. Wyatt Hall
Louisville, KY 40292
United States

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