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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Legal Construction of Central American Unworthiness: An Examination of Human Rights in U.S. Immigration Law

  • Author(s): Raza, Arifa
  • Advisor(s): Rodriguez, Dylan
  • et al.

The Legal Construction of Central American Unworthiness: An Examination of Human Rights in U.S. Immigration Law, examines how the discourse and policy of human rights is deployed in domestic immigration legislation, contributing to the process of racial formation, and reification of white supremacy. This dissertation argues that the project of human rights—both as a discourse and international and domestic legal movement—ultimately fails to provide protections for immigrants and communities of color. Instead, it obfuscates how the law maintains racial logics domestically and globally.

This dissertation centers domestic legislation outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and its corresponding reauthorizations (TVPA). Specific attention is given to two categories of immigrants that the TVPA provides protections and immigration relief for- victims of human trafficking and unaccompanied ‘alien’ children. These two groups were chosen because of their primacy in international human rights laws which depicts them as particularly vulnerable migrants, and the United States’ incorporation of protections for them within the TVPA. Through tracing the evolution of the TVPA this dissertation explores the various ways the law operates, and how it obscures projects of racialization as applied to Central American migrants. By analyzing specific legal protections for trafficking victims and migrant children, such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, this dissertation exposes how the law works to racialize and de-humanize even those groups that are veiled as worthy of rights and humanity.

This dissertation is empirically grounded in data collection in the form of case law, legislative histories, federal prosecution data, and case studies. The data obtained is analyzed through a mixed-method approach, combining legal analysis with discourse and narrative analysis, as well as grounded theory and aspects of autoethnography. As an interdisciplinary study it departs from traditional legal analysis by examining the law through critical race theory, cultural studies, and critical ethnic studies frameworks.

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