Shapeshifting Displacement: Notions of Membership and Deservingness Forged by Illegalized Residents

Abstract: This paper considers how accounts produced by illegalized residents in the United States shapeshift US immigration enforcement regimes by defining narrators and their communities as “belonging.” Anthropologist Aimee Cox develops the notion of “shapeshifting” to refer to how groups that are deemed “social problems” redefine the institutions within which they are embedded. The illegalized residents interviewed for this paper redefined US immigration law and policy as arbitrary, racially biased, and exploitative, even as they argued that they deserved status in the United States. Such critiques and definitions of deservingness perform a politics of displacement, redrawing boundaries of belonging.

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About Susan Bibler Coutin

Susan Bibler Coutin is professor of criminology, law and society, and anthropology at University of California, Irvine, where she is also associate dean for academic programs in the School of Social Ecology. Her most recent book, Exiled Home: Salvadoran Transnational Youth in the Aftermath of Violence (Duke University Press, 2016), examines how 1.5-generation Salvadoran youth in the United States and in El Salvador navigate nationbased categories of belonging.

About Jennifer M. Chacón

Jennifer M. Chacón is professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. She is a co-author of an immigration law textbook and the author of numerous articles, chapters, and essays on immigration law, criminal law, constitutional law, race and the law, and citizenship. Her recent research has been funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and the National Science Foundation. She has served as the chair of the American Association of Law School's Section on Immigration, and she is a member of the American Law Institute.

About Stephen Lee

Stephen Lee is a professor at University of California, Irvine School of Law. His past scholarship has addressed how the law impacts immigrants in the workplace, the criminal justice system, the food industry, and our banking system; the legal, political, and empirical significance of deferred action programs; and how the law enables violence across the immigration system.

About Sameer Ashar

Sameer Ashar is clinical professor of law and associate dean for Equity Initiatives at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. He writes about law, lawyering, and social movements across multiple subject areas, including labor law, immigration law, and the legal profession.

About Jason Palmer

Jason Palmer is Social Science Research Network Junior Fellow at the University of California, Irvine. Having earned a PhD in anthropology in June 2021, he is working on a book about coloniality and indigeneity in the context of Mormon migration, place making, and kin making between Peru and Utah.