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Excerpted From: Kitty Calavita, Immigration Law, Race, and Identity, 3 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 1 (2007) (9 Footnotes and Literature List) (Full Document)

KittyCalavitaThe aftermath of Hurricane Katrina saw the displacement of tens of thousands of New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents, particularly the mostly poor, African American population living in low-lying areas. Their pictures filled the news media for days, accompanied by wrenching accounts of the travails of those whom the media came to call “refugees”. The refugee label provoked a rapid and vociferous response that argued that such a designation connotes outsiderhood and is implicitly racist.

This review examines the social science literature at the intersection of immigration law and race scholarship and traces some of its prominent themes. Some work in this area has focused on the social construction of race via immigration law, and some has examined the dilemmas faced by the courts and by enforcement officers charged with sorting people into effectively arbitrary, but often rigid, racial categories. More recently, the scholarship has shifted somewhat to explore the question of how contemporary immigration law is implicated in shaping identity--that of the host society and that of the immigrants themselves. To some extent, law has been decentered in this latter literature, which is more concerned with the dynamics of identity than with the details of legal process. In this regard, the shift parallels a move in much contemporary law and society work in which the emphasis is increasingly on the agentive, the everyday, and consciousness, and less on formal and informal legal processes.

In a concluding section of this review, I argue that these immigration studies remind us once again of the oppressive quality of law and its long reach, and they offer a sober warning against any wholesale “expulsion of law”. Finally, I propose that a different kind of decentering may shed light on the dual othering process implicit in the refugee-as-epithet incident described above.

[. . .]

Another kind of decentering, or more precisely decoupling, may be called for here. Just as there is no inherent reason to make formal law the primary factor in our analysis of immigration and race, neither should immigration law necessarily be the prime suspect. Civil rights laws that have failed substantively but that have had a profound impact on race relations, on the use of code words to signal race, and on the politics of identity in the United States may be key to our understanding of the encrypted dehumanization of refugees. So too may economic laws and policies associated with deindustrialization and globalization and the intensified “race to the bottom” that they trigger. Indeed, it may be that issues of immigration, race, and identity are largely affected by laws and policies not explicitly related to them, especially in this contemporary period when race has been expelled from official discourse. If we are to understand the full complexity of the connections between immigration and race it behooves us to broaden our lens--as some of the authors cited here have done--to recognize the interconnections of policy arenas and the long, sometimes circuitous, reach of law.

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