Immigration Enforcement and the Complication of National Sovereignty: Understanding Local Enforcement as an Exercise in Neoliberal Governance

This essay reviews the recent expansion of immigration laws that have been enacted by local and state governments to control unauthorized migration. Although these laws evoke a conventional, territorial paradigm of national sovereignty, I demonstrate that they are actually leading toward a more complex form of sovereignty that tolerates wide variations in the way that immigration laws are enforced in different parts of the United States. I also argue that it is a mistake to view these laws only through the lens of an immigration control agenda. Drawing on the writing of Aiwha Ong and Georgio Agamben, I observe that these laws have been shaped by neoliberal governing strategies that create exceptions to prior legal precedent as well as fostering a looser connection between territoriality, rights and legal status. My discussion explains how local enforcement laws have been shaped by these neoliberal priorities, which are more oriented toward the selective policing of an expanding migrant workforce than toward mass deportation of "illegals." As a result, immigration scholars and immigrant rights advocates should come to terms with the likelihood that these priorities will become the dominant, driving force behind future trajectories of local enforcement and other forms of immigration enforcement.