Immigration Policing Through the Backdoor: City Ordinances, The “Right to the City,” and the Exclusion of Undocumented Day Laborers (Working Paper #165)

Monica W. Varsanyi, School of Justice and Social Inquiry, Arizona State University

Abstract: Whereas the federal government has exclusive authority over immigration in the United States, during the past decade (and particularly since 9/11), many cities have formulated “grassroots” policies that enable local immigration policing “through the backdoor,” and have the indirect—but intended—effect of excluding undocumented immigrants from their jurisdictions. Providing a national overview and three case studies from the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan region, this article focuses specifically on the way in which cities are deploying public space ordinances to police (presumed) undocumented day laborers within their jurisdictions. This
study underscores how noncitizen status can compromise claims to “the city,” and thus makes an argument that the legal geographic literature on city ordinances, public space, and the “right to the city” must engage with immigrant legal status and break free from the “territorial trap” of the nation-state, in which citizenship status is either assumed or considered a non-issue.

Working Paper 165 »