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Illegal: How America’s Lawless Immigration Regime Threatens Us All

Elizabeth F. Cohen

Basic Books, December 2020

Illegal: How America's Lawless Immigration Regime Threatens Us All cover

Elizabeth F. Cohen, professor of political science and senior research associate with the Campbell Public Affairs Institute, has written Illegal: How America’s Lawless Immigration Regime Threatens Us All, recently published by Basic Books.

In the book, Cohen assesses a long history of nativism and anti-immigrant antagonism that she describes as driving forces in U.S. immigration policy, and which began to reemerge during the 1980s. Illegal describes lacking oversight of and increasing militarization within immigration enforcement agencies over recent years. It includes, as well, an historical analysis of the social production of legal and illegal as immigration typologies — conceptions, she says, that have allowed immigration enforcement to operate at, and sometimes beyond, the limits of constitutionality. The book ends with an analysis of how increased attention on national security over the past two decades has substantially scaled up immigration enforcement efforts across the United States. Cohen concludes that there is a serious need to rethink U.S. naturalization law and its enforcement, aimed at treating immigrants as potential citizens rather than criminals.

Cohen, who joined the Maxwell School in 2004, researches the intersections of contemporary and modern political theory, the history of political thought, and questions surrounding immigration and citizenship. She recently started a four-year term as associate editor of the American Journal of Political Science

In 2018, Cohen received the best book award from the American Political Science Association, Migration and Citizenship section, for her book, The Political Value of Time: Citizenship, Duration, and Democratic Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2018). She is also the author of Semi-Citizenship in Democratic Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and, with Cyril A. Ghosh, Citizenship (Polity Press, 2019).

From the Publisher

A political scientist explains how the American immigration system ran off the rails — and proposes a bold plan for reform. Under the Trump administration, U.S. immigration agencies terrorize the undocumented, target people who are here legally, and even threaten the constitutional rights of American citizens. How did we get to this point?

In "Illegal," Elizabeth F. Cohen reveals that our current crisis has roots in early twentieth century white nationalist politics, which began to reemerge in the 1980s. Since then, ICE and CBP have acquired bigger budgets and more power than any other law enforcement agency. Now, Trump has unleashed them. If we want to reverse the rising tide of abuse, Cohen argues that we must act quickly to rein in the powers of the current immigration regime and revive saner approaches based on existing law. Going beyond the headlines, Illegal makes clear that if we don’t act now all of us, citizen and not, are at risk.