Huyen Pham, When Immigration Borders Move

61 Fla. L. Rev. 1115 (2009) | | | |

ABSTRACT :: With recent immigration enforcement efforts, we have created a completely new paradigm of moving borders: laws, enacted at all levels of government, that require proof of legal immigration status in order to obtain a driver’s license, a job, rental housing, government need-based assistance, and numerous other essential benefits. Unlike the fixed physical border, these laws require proof of immigration status at multiple, moving points within the country’s interior and are triggered through everyday transactions; if unable to prove her legal status, a person is denied the restricted benefit. If a person is denied access to multiple essential benefits, then she is effectively denied the ability to live in the United States.

What is the significance of the moving border paradigm? Why are federal, state, and local governments, in so many different parts of the country, enacting these laws? To answer these questions, this Article explores the formation of moving border laws and the policies driving the growth of moving border laws: to reinforce our physical borders, to preserve resources (particularly government-funded resources) for those lawfully present, and to communicate symbolic messages including prejudice toward immigrants and certain ethnic groups identified as immigrants.

Yet, to truly understand the significance of moving border laws, we need to understand how these laws have influenced our notions of national membership. Now more than ever, legal immigration status has become the threshold characteristic when defining our national community. Thus, in an effort to emphasize legal status, undocumented immigrants have been pushed from the periphery, where they once exercised limited but real rights, to outside the boundaries of our national membership. However, in trying to elevate lawful immigration status, moving border laws have had the ironic and unintended effect of devaluing all forms of legal status. Stated simply, the enforcement of moving border laws increases racial and ethnic profiling against Latinos and others who don’t “look American,” even if they have legal status or even citizenship. For them, the laws create permanent borders of discrimination.

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