With or without Papers – We Will Always be Illegal: The Movement of Undocumented Youth Beyond Citizenship and Legislation

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:48
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Helge SCHWIERTZ, University of Osnabruck, Germany
The movement of undocumented youth in the US that has emerged over the last 15 years challenges the illegalization of migrants as well as the strategies of the broader immigrant rights movement. This paper analyzes changes in their fight for equal rights that have not been prominently described yet in academic debates. Especially in California, political groups are currently going beyond a focus on citizenship and legislation. Instead, they are fighting directly against the enforcement of immigration policies and the deportation and detention regime on state and local level.

While legalization is a principal demand for established migrant rights organizations in the US, groups like the Immigrant Youth Coalition (IYC) in California are questioning its importance. Many do not think that they have to become US-citizens, rather they fight for their rights as residents: defending their communities against deportations and fighting for driver licenses, health care and work permits. They criticize the citizenship status because of its racist and sexist limitations and its exclusion of future migrants - symbolized in the slogan “with or without papers – we will always be illegal”. Furthermore, groups like the IYC challenge the focus on legislation and the attempt to appeal to the dominant US-society, a strategy employed especially by the early undocumented student movement, which has been criticized for excluding other migrants.

In this paper, I draw upon my research with the undocumented youth movement in California, where I conducted document analysis, participant observations and qualitative interviews. Referring to approaches of critical citizenship studies and radical democracy, I argue that these undocumented youth radically challenge the anti-migrant hegemony in the US by going beyond the fight for legislation and citizenship status, by favoring the organizing of affected communities over short term activism and by rejecting the criminalizing ‘good immigrant’ / ‘bad immigrant’ divide.