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Harvard Latino Law Review




Since concerns about cohesion based on race and based on immigration tend to go hand in hand, immigration scholars have long noted the need to take them seriously. This Article contributes to an emerging body of scholarship related to the integration of immigrants by examining how current immigration policies deepen or diminish social divides and presenting a framework for analyzing proposed immigration reforms in terms of their impact on social cohesion. Specifically, the Article draws on social psychological research regarding the relationship between social categorization and intergroup relations to propose a method for analyzing how immigration reforms might impact intergroup bias.

Part II of the Article frames immigration law as a system of social categorization, arguing that categories based on "legal" and "illegal" immigration status are fuzzy and fluid, but enforcement policies such as militarization of the border, criminalization of immigration violations, and expansion of removal operations render the boundary between these categories more salient. This approach contravenes most categorization-based approaches to reducing intergroup bias, which emphasize decreasing the salience of categorical boundaries.

Part III explains the relationship between social categorization and intergroup bias, drawing on social psychological research to argue that ingroup favoritism is particularly likely to lead to outgroup hostility in the U.S. immigration context. This Part then sets forth three categorization-based strategies for reducing intergroup bias that involve reducing the salience of category boundaries: (1) decategorization, which proposes eroding or erasing group boundaries so that people perceive each other as individuals rather than as members of any given group; (2) recategorization, which proposes recombining group members as part of a new, more inclusive "superordinate" group and thereby replacing "us" and "them" with a shared sense of "we"; and (3) crossed-categorization, which proposes bringing out multiple group identities in order to undermine the usefulness of simple categorizations.

Part IV analyzes how specific immigration policies contravene or support these three categorization-based strategies. Specifically, Part IV(A) argues that immigration policies in recent decades have generally promoted collective anonymity and depersonalization of undocumented immigrants, but recent policy changes encouraging prosecutorial discretion represent a shift towards greater individuation and a first step towards decategorization. Part IV(B) explores the idea of recategorization through the creation of a common "American" identity, focusing on the challenge posed by the persistent association between American identity and Whiteness. This robust association between nationality and race underscores the limitations of legalization programs that alter only legal status as a means of recategorization. Part IV(C) examines how past immigration reforms have supported a narrow form of crossed categorization by creating special categories for "victims" who are treated as distinct from the general category of "illegal aliens."

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Harvard Law School

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