Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era provides readers with the everyday perspectives of immigrants on what it is like to try to integrate into American society during a time when immigration policy is focused on enforcement and exclusion.
The law says that everyone who is not a citizen is an alien. But the social reality is more complicated. Ming Hsu Chen argues that the citizen/alien binary should instead be reframed as a spectrum of citizenship, a concept that emphasizes continuities between the otherwise distinct experiences of membership and belonging for immigrants seeking to become citizens. To understand citizenship from the perspective of noncitizens, this book utilizes interviews with more than one-hundred immigrants of varying legal statuses about their attempts to integrate economically, socially, politically, and legally during a modern era of intense immigration enforcement. Studying the experiences of green card holders, refugees, military service members, temporary workers, international students, and undocumented immigrants uncovers the common plight that underlies their distinctions: limited legal status breeds a sense of citizenship insecurity for all immigrants that inhibits their full integration into society. Bringing together theories of citizenship with empirical data on integration and analysis of contemporary policy, Chen builds a case that formal citizenship status matters more than ever during times of enforcement and argues for constructing pathways to citizenship that enhance both formal and substantive equality of immigrants.
About the author
Ming Hsu Chen is Associate Professor of Law, Political Science, and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is Faculty-Director of the Immigration and Citizenship Law Program and co-edits the ImmigrationProf blog.
"Ming Hsu Chen writes with great intelligence and compassion about the frightening reality of attempting to pursue citizenship in a moment when every interaction with the federal government also involves tremendous risk. She brings to life the struggle of recently arrived immigrants who want to integrate more fully into American society, even as federal policy seeks to exclude as many as possible. The complexities of constantly changing and sometimes even contradictory immigration laws are explained and the true predicaments of well-intentioned immigrants who seek only to follow the law to the best of their understanding are illuminated. Chen does a masterful job."
—Helen Thorpe, author of The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in America
"As much critique as corrective vision, Ming Chen's powerful book brings us revelatory conversations with immigrants seeking to become citizens. Their experiences, frustrations, and dreams shine sharp spotlights on the official barriers they face—and on our shared humanity."
—Ian F. Haney López, University of California, Berkeley
"Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era offers a nuanced analysis of the complex relationship between the legal status of citizenship and real belonging to U.S. society. Drawing on wide-ranging interviews, Ming Chen shows how overemphasizing immigration enforcement undermines the integration of immigrants and their potential to make society more cohesive. This is trail-blazing scholarship on how immigrants become citizens."
—Hiroshi Motomura, UCLA School of Law
"Chen makes a compelling case that federal government can and should do more—much more—to integrate its residents by supporting access to citizenship. With a clear-eyed picture of the functional benefits of formal citizenship, this book offers a thoughtful policy roadmap for achieving that goal."
—Jennifer Chacón, UCLA School of Law