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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cities, Citizenship and Undocumented Aliens: Dilemmas of Law and Political Community in Contemporary America

  • Author(s): Murthy, Hamsa M.
  • et al.

This paper argues that cities are important political and legal communities that construct and govern the “rights in action” of undocumented aliens in the United States today. However, it also challenges the proposition that large U.S. cities are likely to be sites for expansive citizenship for all non-citizens. Through close examination of case law and publicly available documents related to New York City's changing police department policies concerning the immigration statuses of its residents, the paper reveals how limited U.S. cities may actually be in attempts to formulate positive laws expanding the “rights” or “citizenship” of undocumented aliens in particular. On a theoretical level, this paper argues that attention must be given to the prominent role of positive law in U.S. immigration and alienage law as well as to the complexities created for positive law by overlapping jurisdictions and modern administrative modes of governance. While this paper concedes that a formal, legal conception of citizenship need not dominate all discussions of citizenship, it nonetheless seeks to build a particularly sociolegal framework for institutional analysis of cities, citizenship, and alienage in the U.S. today.

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