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Moralizing regulation: the implications of policing "good" versus "bad" immigrants


Recently, the US has dramatically expanded immigration enforcement. At the same time, some advocates have sought to support “good” immigrants. This paper considers how the resulting good/bad binaries affect undocumented immigrants. I examine a case study in Los Angeles, where policing intertwined with protection. Based on participant observation and interviews, I show that respondents believed state agents classified them either as “bad” criminals or “good”, immigrants. To the extent immigrants identified as “good”, they credited the US with offering them “freedom” and hoped for political inclusion. At the same time, in what I call moralizing regulation, they also performed “good” behaviour and distinguished themselves from those seen as “bad”. Some also tied “good” behaviour to femininity and “acting white”. At the extreme, they blamed other migrants for inviting state mistreatment. The effects were ambivalent: while immigrants appreciated US support, they also adopted and adapted to the state’s moral norms.

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