Illegality, Youth, and Belonging
Harvard Graduate School of Education, October 25 & 26
Although the protection of children and young people is seen as a valence issue worldwide, national governments face the growing challenge of how to best provide for children and young people’s well-being, given the political popularity of strong enforcement stances and stringent immigration policies against undocumented immigration. This tension has produced a broad range of state responses, with implications for local communities, schools, social services, and other mechanisms of protection.Moreover, resulting from the uneven impact of the current global economic crisis, a new geography of migration is emerging, both in terms of new immigration destinations and of changing systems of governance of in- and out- flows of population. Little is known about whether and how membership is changing in association with these processes.
Background of Symposia
Scholarly literature shows that neoliberal globalization, through delocalization of state borders, precarization of labor, restructuring of the welfare system, and the emergence of new non-state actors operating transnationally, have fractured the connections between state, territory and residents triggering a significant transformation in the meanings, practices and experiences of membership in contemporary Western democracies. However, little is known about the impact of the proliferation of legal statuses and precarization of membership on the ‘members’ of these societies, and the ways in which legal status (or its absence) intersect with social cleavages such as age, class, gender and ‘race’ and shape social relations.
Scholarly conceptions of state membership have been based on a notion of a bounded community whereby rules of legal citizenship determine community belonging and set the parameters for exclusion. More recently, however, a burgeoning line of scholarship is challenging the primacy of the nation-state for determining membership and endowing rights, arguing that recent trends in globalization, human rights, and multiculturalism have made state borders less consequential. Focusing on non-citizens’ long-term presence and their status as persons, this scholarship argues that non-citizens create spaces of belonging that supersede legal citizenship. To be sure, both the older and the newer definitions raise critical questions as to when and how territorial presence constitutes membership.
Today, undocumented migrants are creating families and establishing residences in territories where they do not have full legal rights. Regulating undocumented (also unauthorized, irregular, or illegal) migration has become a high-priority objective of policy interventions worldwide. The growth of large, settled populations lacking full citizenship raises questions of how different segments of these populations are being incorporated into host societies, what factors determine different pathways and outcomes, and how the condition of illegality shapes migrants everyday lives. While all receiving countries regulate who is allowed in and what entitlements they receive, national policies differ widely.
The lives of undocumented children are inexorably linked to the fates of adult migrants, but are shaped differently. Although the protection of children is seen as a valence issue worldwide, national governments face the growing challenge of how to best provide for children’s well-being, given the political popularity of strong border enforcement stances and stringent immigration policies against undocumented immigration. This tension has produced a broad range of state responses, with implications for local communities, services, and protections.
Over the last two decades in the United States, non-citizens have experienced a shrinking of rights while immigrant communities have witnessed an intensification of enforcement efforts in neighborhoods and public spaces. In effect, these trends have sewn fear and anxiety and narrowed the worlds of youth – such that even mundane acts of driving, waiting for the bus, and traffic stops can lead to the loss of a car, prison and deportation. But these young people have also benefited from local and national efforts to widen access – particularly in the realm of education – providing young immigrants important opportunities to establish connections, form relationships, and participate in the day-to-day life of their communities. The experiences of undocumented immigrant youth teach us about the two-sided nature of citizenship – such that persons can be removed from spaces, denied privileges and rights, but can experience belonging too.
Collectively the symposia aim to break new ground through analyses that are empirically informed, theoretically engaged and ethnographically rich and drawing on the expertise of scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and state contexts. As immigration has become a topic of great visibility among scholars, policy makers, and the media, this endeavor holds appeal to a range of audiences.