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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Articulations of National Membership on Debates about the DREAM Act and the AgJOBS Act


How is legal membership framed by American political elites? I address this question through a comparative analysis on debates surrounding the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security (AgJOBS) Act. I define framing legal membership as the conception and articulation of national membership through the law. Literature has stressed three types of ideologies framing citizenship in the United States: republican membership, liberal membership and ‘ascriptive Americanism’. However, there are other ideologies that come into play when it comes to framing who deserves to be a legal member of the United States. I examine the importance cultural, economic, and national security arguments in making the case for undocumented migrants’ access to legal status based on data sets of Congressional hearings on the DREAM Act and the AgJOBS Act. I argue that Dreamers are constructed as deserving of citizenship because they are already part of American society and they need to unleash their full potential while AgJOBS’ beneficiaries are constructed as deserving of citizenship because American society needs their labor. I show this by demonstrating how Dreamers are framed as culturally American, patriotic and contributing to cultural diversity. Secondly, I discuss how market citizenship is racialized in discussions about the AgJOBS Act. Lastly, I show how under the DREAM Act, presence is not seen as a crime because Dreamers did not chose to come to the US, and how food production becomes a matter of national security in the AgJOBS Act. By analyzing two different types of immigrant populations – undocumented youth who will gain permanent residence through the military or education and undocumented farmworkers – I contribute to an understanding of current trends on boundary-making based on national membership through immigration law.

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