Bringing Racial Justice to Immigration Law

Forthcoming 115 Northwestern University Law Review (2021)

UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper Forthcoming

14 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2021

See all articles by Kevin R. Johnson

Kevin R. Johnson

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: January 2021


This article is part of a collection of racial justice articles in national law reviews.

From as far back as the anti-Chinese laws of the 1800s, immigration has been a place of racial contestation in the United States. Even though today’s immigration laws are color-blind, their enforcement have unmistakable adverse impacts on people of color from the developing world. The laws, as applied, limit the immigration of people of color to, and facilitates their removal from, the United States.

Contemporary immigrant rights activism generated a powerful counter-response led by Donald J. Trump. His administration made aggressive enforcement a priority like no other in modern U.S. history. Exemplified by the administration’s heartless separation of Central American families, race has been central to the U.S. immigration policies and their enforcement.

Immigrant demands for racial justice share important commonalities with the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. Both demand an end to racialized law enforcement and the removal of race from the criminal justice system.

Part I of this article maps the discriminatory foundations of immigration law, the lack of constitutional review, and the enduring and impenetrable fortress built by the courts to shield discrimination. Part II considers the surprising emergence of a powerful immigrant rights movement – energized and organized yet handicapped by the fact that noncitizens cannot vote – fighting for racial justice. Part III summarizes the emergence of the Trump administration’s opposition to that movement, which ruthlessly sought to maintain and reinforce the racial caste quality of the immigration system. Part IV considers the uncertain future of the quest to bring racial justice to immigration law.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Kevin R., Bringing Racial Justice to Immigration Law (January 2021). Forthcoming 115 Northwestern University Law Review (2021), UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Kevin R. Johnson (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States
530 752 0243 (Phone)
530 752 7279 (Fax)

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