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Socially UndocumentedIdentity and Immigration Justice$

Amy Reed-Sandoval

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190619800

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190619800.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
(p.iii) Socially Undocumented

Amy Reed-Sandoval

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The Introduction introduces the concept of being socially, as opposed to (merely) legally undocumented. It briefly explores the relationship of being socially undocumented to Latina/o/x identity and anti-Latina/o/x racism. It establishes the relational egalitarian conception of justice that is employed throughout this book. The Introduction also lays out the framework for the remaining chapters. Chapter 1 articulates a new framework for immigration justice using a more expansive conception of what it means to “be undocumented.” Chapter 2 explores the meaning of having a socially undocumented identity. Chapter 3 argues that “being socially undocumented” is embodied along racial and class lines, an argument continued in Chapters 4 and 5. Chapters 6 and 7 examine what states must do to undermine anti-socially undocumented oppression. The Conclusion draws upon the arguments explored in all the previous chapters.

Keywords:   immigration, justice, relational egalitarianism, undocumented migration, identity, social identity, borders, Mexico, US-Mexico border, Anderson

Alejandra, who is now twenty-one, grew up in Ciudad Juárez, which borders El Paso—two cities divided by the Rio Grande and the heavily militarized Mexico-US border.1 As a child, she frequently crossed the border to El Paso on a tourist visa for daytrips with her family. She started dreaming of going to college in the United States.

“I remember going to El Paso and driving past the beautiful campus of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) on the I-10,” she told me over tea in El Paso. “I told myself that one day I was going to study there.”

Years later, when Alejandra began applying to colleges, her mother told her that she could not afford to pay for Alejandra to attend a university in the United States. Alejandra would have to go to college in Mexico. Ever-determined, Alejandra, a straight-A student, managed to get two academic scholarships that would pay for her US undergraduate degree in its entirety.

After obtaining an F-1 visa that permitted her to live, work, and attend school in the United States, Alejandra enrolled in her first college classes at UTEP.

Like many residents of Ciudad Juárez who attend grade school or university in El Paso, she decided to save money by living in Juárez with her family while attending school in the United States. This required her to cross the Mexico-US border on a daily basis to go to her classes at UTEP. Each day, at about six o’clock in the morning, her mother would drop her off at the Paso del Norte International Bridge/Puente (p.2) Internacional that is frequented daily by border-crossers moving between the United States and Mexico. Alejandra would wait in lines that varied in length; she recalls occasions on which she had to wait for two hours in the winter cold prior to her morning classes.

What was most distressing for her, though, were her regular encounters with the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents, who would decide whether Alejandra would be allowed to cross the border and make it to school that day, and sometimes even keep the visa on which her US schooling depended. While some CBP agents were very friendly, others would make her uncomfortable.

“Often they don’t even look you in the eye when they tell you to give them your visa and they ask you questions,” she explained. “It makes you feel like you are inferior to them.” On a lucky day, the CBP agents would simply ask to see the contents of her bag for inspection. On two occasions, though, Alejandra was asked to go wait in a room for additional questioning.

“Even though I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong—I mean, I was just trying to go to school—my heart would start racing, and I would start sweating!” she said. “I felt like I was doing something wrong even though I knew that I wasn’t.” Alejandra recalls an occasion when one of the large dogs that often accompany CBP agents started sniffing at her shoes with peculiar intensity.

“In general, I like dogs, but the CBP dogs make me really nervous,” she explained. That day, Alejandra, who has an anxiety disorder, felt her heart pound heavily. She began sweating profusely, and the CBP agent noticed. He became suspicious, and sharply asked Alejandra if she had something to hide. Meanwhile, the dog continued to sniff her shoes. Alejandra felt her anxiety level spike. The CBP agent asked Alejandra to go to a “special room” for additional questioning. Eventually, she was released. She crossed the Mexico-US border and quickly caught a bus to UTEP.

Alejandra told me that her border-crossing experiences have affected her perceptions of her place in US society.

“When something like that would happen to me, it would affect me for the rest of the day,” she said. “Even after I crossed the border, I would keep thinking and thinking about it. It would make me feel like I don’t really belong here, in the US.”

(p.3) “When I’m at the border, I follow my parents’ advice,” she further explained. “I keep my head down. I don’t talk more than I need to. I try to appear humble to the CBP agent. And it really bothers me, because you feel like you’re lesser than they are. But I never say anything.”

Alejandra, who describes herself as neither “white passing” nor particularly dark or morena, also reflected on how her daily experiences crossing the border to go to school were “easy” in comparison to those of many others. She said that she often observed that fellow Mexican border-crossers who appeared to be working class (i.e., their clothes and demeanor reflected the fact that they were headed to the United States to clean houses, do construction work, or perform other types of manual labor), who were dark-skinned and/or Indigenous were generally subjected to increased questioning. Even though all these border-crossers, like Alejandra, had legal permission to enter the United States, the CBP agents would frequently “test” them to see if they spoke English. They would also spend considerable time inspecting their persons and belongings. Meanwhile, Alejandra said, US citizens and white-passing middle- and upper-class Mexicans could cross the border with relative ease.

Reflecting on these experiences, Alejandra said, “I am very grateful to the United States for giving me the opportunity to study here. But I also don’t think that the treatment that we receive from some CBP agents is right. My mother taught me that you should try to be nice to people. Why can’t they do the same?”

Alejandra’s story will likely inspire different reactions on the part of different readers.

Some may not object to her treatment at the border. After all, one might say, she has a terrific opportunity to attend a university in the United States and she even gets to save money by living in Ciudad Juárez with her family. Furthermore, one might argue that the CBP agents are just doing their jobs in their dealings with her. The United States, like other sovereign nations, has to protect its borders, and Alejandra’s experiences are morally acceptable consequences of this fact.

Others may find this story disconcerting. Should Alejandra, who has legal permission to enter the United States and is, after all, just trying to go to class, be subjected to treatment that makes her feel (p.4) “lesser than” CBP agents? It is right that Alejandra is made to feel that she is doing something wrong in her legally authorized border-crossings? Furthermore, is it morally and politically acceptable that some border-crossers—particularly those who appear working-class, have darker skin, and/or are “read” as Indigenous—must contend with additional obstacles to crossing the border? One might agree that the United States has a right to its borders but still feel that there is something problematic about this story.

I am introducing this book with Alejandra’s story partly because it is somewhat ordinary (bracketing Alejandra’s very impressive accomplishments). That is, this is not a particularly “dramatic” Mexico-US border-crossing narrative. Countless Mexico-US border-crossers have experiences similar to those of Alejandra on a daily basis, and such experiences are widely regarded as normal (even by many of the border-crossers themselves). And yet, I argue that this story, in all of its “ordinariness,” is indicative of something pernicious, widespread, and profoundly unjust about immigration policy and its enforcement in the United States. Alejandra feels demeaned, and she is treated as though she is doing something wrong or “illegal” in terms of US immigration policy, not on the basis of her legal status in the United States, but on the basis of a complex array of social factors. Alejandra may not be legally undocumented in the United States. I aim to argue that she and others similarly positioned are, however, socially undocumented, and that this is indicative of immigration injustice.

In this book, I aim to establish that there are two core aspects of socially undocumented identity, both of which I shall explore and unpack over the course of the ensuing chapters. First, the socially undocumented are presumed to be undocumented on the mere basis of their appearance—not by any fair and egalitarian confirmation of legally undocumented status. To be presumed to be undocumented is to be presumed to be “an illegal” in the United States. However, I will generally use the term “socially undocumented,” as I argue, along with many others, that it is morally problematic to refer to people as “illegals” (a concern to which I return later in this chapter). Second, the socially undocumented are subjected to what I call “demeaning immigration-related constraints” or “illegalizing forces” (that is, they are “socially illegalized”) on that very basis. As Alejandra’s story seems (p.5) to suggest, one can, in fact, have legal permission to be in the United States and nevertheless be socially undocumented. On the other hand, I shall argue that one can lack legal permission to be in the United States and still be treated unjustly if one is oppressed on the basis of having a socially undocumented identity.

To put it somewhat differently, I shall argue that even if coercive state borders are not automatically and entirely “ruled out” as unjust—that is, even if we assume, at least for the sake of argument, that states have a presumptive right to restrict some immigration into their territories—it is still unjust that some people, including those who lack legal authorization to be in the United States, are presumed to be undocumented on the mere basis of their appearance and are subjected to demeaning immigration-related constraints on that basis. While I suspect that most of my readers will be suspicious of borders and sympathetic to immigrant rights activism, I also hope to have in my audience some readers who support restrictions on immigration and the rights of states to maintain coercive and exclusionary borders. I aim to demonstrate to skeptics of what I have asserted thus far that even if one takes as one’s theoretical starting point the popular idea that states have a right to control immigration, the existence and perpetuation of socially undocumented identity and oppression requires us to reconceive dramatically US immigration policy as a matter of justice.

While I introduced this book with Alejandra’s experiences crossing the Mexico-US border, let me be clear that literal border-crossings are not the only sites of socially undocumented experience in the United States. Indeed, in this country (and in other parts of the world—an issue I turn to later), people are often presumed to be undocumented on the mere basis of their appearances and thus subjected to demeaning, immigration-related constraints in an alarmingly wide range of places and social situations. These contexts include, but are certainly not limited to, places of employment, sidewalks, one’s car as one is driving, places of worship, hospitals, grocery stores, and schools of all levels. They also include Native American reservations, for, as I also explore in this book, Indigenous peoples in the United States, and particularly those who live along the Mexico-US border, regularly report being treated “like illegals” on their own land.

(p.6) Indeed, in the context of the United States, socially undocumented oppression is not only widespread but is also an urgent social and policy concern. It is so pernicious, I shall argue, that is has generated a social group of people who, in Michael Walzer’s words (though he says this in a particular discussion of guest workers who lack citizenship), “are locked in an inferior position that is also an anomalous position; they are outcasts in a society that has no caste norms, metics in a society where metics have no comprehensible, protected and dignified place.”2 In addition to constituting an oppressed social group that is locked into such an inferior position, I shall argue that individuals who are made to feel “being socially undocumented” experience having a real, embodied social identity and corresponding hermeneutic (or interpretive) horizon via which they perceive and understand the world. This will show, first of all, just how profound, complex, and challenging socially undocumented oppression truly is in the United States. In addition, I argue that it demonstrates that socially undocumented people are epistemically well equipped to challenge, as part of the broad fight for immigration justice, many of the demeaning, immigration-related constraints imposed on them.

To make these arguments, I will be delving into the academic areas of both political philosophy and theories of social identity—and, in so doing, putting into dialogue with one another two “branches” of philosophical literature that have often remained separate. In my explorations of the metaphysics and epistemology of socially undocumented identity, I shall focus phenomenologically on the racialized, class-based, and gendered components of socially undocumented identity and oppression. Meanwhile, as a work of political philosophy, this book argues that achieving justice in immigration requires us to understand clearly how “being socially undocumented” is operative as a real (and oppressed) social identity, and also how “being undocumented” entails, in a wide range of cases, something different from a mere legal status. I aim to use these explorations to offer a new framework for achieving justice in immigration in the United States and (p.7) possibly on a global scale. Immigration justice, I argue, demands the undermining of oppressing socially undocumented people.

Let me explain in a bit more detail just how the descriptive, phenomenological account of socially undocumented identity offered in this book contributes to my arguments about the social injustice of socially undocumented oppression. First, I argue that understanding “the socially undocumented” as an oppressed social group will enable us to detect “patterns of inequality” that unfairly target the individual members who make up this group. In order to detect these patterns of inequality and injustice, we need to understand precisely who the socially undocumented are. My descriptive account of socially undocumented identity is designed to facilitate such understanding.

Second, in exploring the ways in which socially undocumented identity operates along racialized, class-based, and gendered lines—a process that is, I shall argue, rendered conceptually difficult if not impossible under a purely “legalistic understanding” of being undocumented—we arrive at a richer and more accurate understanding of the nature of socially undocumented oppression. Indeed, we learn that it entails far more than (and sometimes something different from) an ongoing lack of legal status. It is also often about physical embodiment and corporeality, gender discrimination, workplace exploitation, commonplace ways of speaking and seeing, and much more.

Third, I argue that in coming to understand “being socially undocumented” in terms of possessing a real social identity, we—that is, those of us who, like me, are not socially undocumented—are compelled to turn socially to undocumented people themselves for ideas and solutions for combating unjust socially undocumented oppression. As I explore below, the framework of justice adopted in this book maintains that achieving social justice often requires ground-up social mobilization, often waged by members of oppressed groups themselves and, when appropriate, their allies, and not exclusively state-centric solutions. Thus, in coming to understand “being socially undocumented” as having a real social identity, we also establish a useful groundwork for dismantling socially undocumented oppression in cooperation with socially undocumented people.

(p.8) I. Anti-Latina/o/x Racism

Considerations of anti-Latina/o/x racism play an important role in the metaphysical and epistemological components of this project. We have seen that Alejandra, and many of her aforementioned fellow border-crossers, are citizens of Mexico. As I shall explore in this book, Mexicans—particularly those who are working class— have come to represent the paradigmatic “illegal subject” in the United States. This often also holds true for Latina/o/xs and Latin Americans who are not Mexican. At the same time, I argue that not all Latina/o/xs and Latin Americans are socially undocumented. Furthermore, one need not be Latina/o/x or Latin American to be socially undocumented. Prior to embarking upon these arguments in this book, I want to make some early, clarificatory statements about the complex relationship between socially undocumented and Latina/o/x identities.

To date, considerable work has been done in Latina/o/x philosophy to explore the interplay between immigration (in)justice and anti-Latina/o/x racism. Indeed, Manuel Vargas lists “broadly social and political questions about Latinxs, with a special eye toward immigration issues” as a “core area of concern” of this philosophical subfield.3 Gloria Anzaldúa famously wrote in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza that for Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Chicana/o/xs in the Mexico-US borderlands, “those who make it past the checking points of the Border Patrol find themselves in the midst of 150 years of racism in Chicano barrios in the Southwest and in big northern cities.”4 Carlos Alberto Sánchez explains that “among the Spanish-speaking immigrant community in the US, the answer to the question ¿tienes papeles? often marks the differences between subjects and non-subjects.”5 Meanwhile, José Jorge Mendoza has analyzed the ways in which immigrant enforcement and expulsion strategies in the US (p.9) interior serve to marginalize US Latina/o/xs with legal permission to reside in the United States.6 In sum, philosophical work on Latina/o/x identity is now a core component of the ethics of immigration.

My account of socially undocumented identity seeks to engage this important literature. In fact, almost all of the philosophical, historical, ethnographic, and artistic material I shall employ in my explorations of socially undocumented identity pertains to the experiences of working-class Mexicans and Central Americans in the United States who are systematically treated “as illegals” irrespective of their actual legal status in the United States. In this sense, I seek to contribute to the growing philosophical literature on anti-Latina/o/x racism.

At the same time, this book seeks to complicate the relationship between socially undocumented oppression and anti-Latina/o/x racism. As mentioned previously, it is possible to be Latina/o/x or Latin American in the United States and not be “read” or treated as “an illegal,” just as one need not be a Latina/o/x to be socially undocumented. Thus, while this study of socially undocumented identity is necessarily a study of aspects of anti-Latina/o/x racism, it also seeks to disentangle our understandings of socially undocumented oppression from discourse about anti-Latina/o/x racism. This is not simply because socially undocumented oppression is not experienced by all Latina/o/xs. In addition, anti-Latina/ox racism itself has a number of features that are not necessarily operative in socially undocumented identity and oppression.

For instance, Linda Martín Alcoff has explored ways in which US Latina/o/xs are often stereotyped as “pre-modern” and thus incapable of assimilation.7 Anti-Catholicism also frequently plays a strong role in anti-Latina/o/x discrimination. In addition, Latin Americans and Latina/o/xs in the United States often experience anti-Latina/o/x racism on the basis of their accent or “sound.” Eduardo Mendieta has argued that “race is as much, if not more, in the voice than in the skin color,” and that “the racist dreams of a pure race at the same time that (p.10) she dreams of a pure language, a perfect sound, a harmonious white prosody.”8 Indeed, anti-Latina/o/x racism often involves presumptions and accusations that one cannot assimilate, that one is pre-modern (something that is often suggested about Catholics),9 and that one has a hopelessly “foreign” or “Spanish” accent. While many of those who experience anti-Latina/o/x racism also experience socially undocumented oppression, note that one can experience these aspects of anti-Latina/o/x racism without being presumed to be in the United States without legal authorization and demeaned on that particular basis.

In sum, this book is, in part, a study of anti-Latina/o/x racism, for the “paradigmatic” socially undocumented or “illegal” person in the United States is a working-class Mexican or Latina/o/x in this country. At the same time, this book aims to disentangle socially undocumented oppression from anti-Latina/o/x racism for the aforementioned reasons. While this may seem contradictory, it is, I believe, consistent in spirit with the fraught terrain of Latina/o/x identity politics. As Cristina Beltrán notes in The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of the Political, “rather than striving to uncover the unitary core that binds Latinos, scholars and advocates should embrace, rather than resist or deny, the instability and incompleteness of the category ‘Latino.’ ”10 The relationship between socially undocumented identity and Latina/o/x identity is certainly complex, but so is Latina/o/x identity itself.

II. Representing “The Undocumented” in Political Philosophy

This book also seeks to engage representations of “the undocumented” in the political philosophy of immigration, and to explore the theoretical consequences such representations have for the scope of the immigration policies that political philosophers ultimately advocate. (p.11) While specifically undocumented migration, as a philosophical topic, has received relatively little attention in political philosophy, those political philosophers who have advanced arguments for amnesty for undocumented migrants have defined what it means to be an undocumented (or irregular or unauthorized) migrant in what I describe as a legalistic sense.

For instance, Joseph Carens defines “irregular migrants” as “noncitizens residing without official authorization” (and he then moves on to argue that they often deserve such official authorization).11 In his own argument for legalization of the undocumented, Adam Omar Hosein has described “unauthorized migrants” as those who “entered [the state in which they currently reside] in contravention of immigration laws.”12 Michael Blake, in arguing that undocumented migrants should often be granted amnesty on the basis of the political virtue of mercy, represents “the undocumented” as people who “are present within a society without a legal right.”13

In certain respects, these “legalistic understandings” of what it means to be undocumented make perfect sense. After all, the moral “problem” of undocumented migration tends to be represented in one of two ways, depending on one’s political beliefs about immigration. It is framed as either (1) the moral “problem” that occurs when legally undocumented people who live, work and build families in the United States are denied a legal right to remain (which they deserve); or (2) the moral “problem” that occurs when individuals choose to violate a state’s immigration laws by opting to live in that state without legal authorization. The dispute in question is certainly legalistic in nature. It refers to laws being broken and legal protections being denied to individuals who may be entitled to them. Thus, it is understandable that one would initially represent the undocumented themselves—and the moral challenge associated with (p.12) being undocumented—in terms of a certain legal status (or a lack thereof).

The problem is, or so I shall argue in this book, that “being undocumented” in the United States is not merely or even necessarily about legal status. Rather, as I have maintained, it often involves the possession of an oppressed social identity—that of being socially, rather than legally, undocumented—that does not neatly track whether one possesses legal authorization to be in the United States. Furthermore, the problem is not merely an incomplete description of the subjects in question. I argue that when we view what it means to be undocumented in a purely legalistic sense, we are philosophically compelled to focus on a limited range of policy concerns—i.e., a disproportionate (though important) focus on whether legally undocumented migrants should be given legal permission to remain in the country in which they currently reside without legal authorization—and not others. While I agree with Carens, Hosein, Blake, and others that legally unauthorized migrants are often owed a right to remain, and certainly regard their respective arguments as highly significant, I shall explore ways in which a focus on socially undocumented identity serves to broaden productively the scope of our ongoing conversations about immigration justice. Once again, it compels us to take on a far wider range of policies, social institutions, societal attitudes, linguistic practices, and ways of relating to each other that serve to perpetuate unjust socially undocumented identity. I shall argue that it even compels us to reconsider the terms of the philosophical “open borders debate,” which responds to the difficult question of whether national borders are, or ever could be, just.

Interestingly, political philosophers have, in certain respects, demonstrated sensitivity to the ways in which “being undocumented” seems to involve more than a mere legal status. In this sense, I conceive of this book as, in part, an engagement of representations of the undocumented in political philosophy and not simply a critique. For instance, as I shall soon explore in greater detail, Joseph Carens introduces The Ethics of Immigration with a vignette about Miguel Sanchez, a poor citizen of Mexico who, after entering the United States without legal authorization, works in construction and at Dunkin’ (p.13) Donuts while he raises a family in near-constant fear of deportation.14 In addition, in his prominent argument for open borders, he writes of “Haitians in small, leaky boats confronted by armed Coast Guard cutters,” “Salvadorans dying from heat and lack of air after being smuggled into the Arizonan desert,” and “Guatemalans crawling through rat-infested sewer pipes from Mexico to California.”15 When Michael Blake argues, contra Carens, that there is a range of conceivable circumstances under which one can justly be deported, he substitutes Carens’s story of Miguel Sanchez with that of Morgan, a Canadian artist (who is presumably white) who is drawn both to the “Portland art scene” and the “slightly higher hourly wages for manual labor.”16

I think the individuals that Carens describes are likely to be socially, and not just legally, undocumented. However, as I shall argue in Chapter 1, cases similar to that of Morgan seem to be about legally, but not socially, undocumented status. The social identities of Miguel and Morgan—one a poor, Mexican laborer, and the other a white, middle-class Canadian artist—are clearly important in both of these arguments about justice in immigration. However, this work has yet to be rendered philosophically explicit in the philosophy of immigration. I aim to demonstrate that if we make such concerns of social identity central rather than peripheral to our philosophical conversations about immigration, we will alter the scope of our philosophical conversation, arriving at a more robust and accurate vision of immigration justice.

III. Justice: Relational Egalitarianism

Prior to surveying chapters of this book and outlining the arguments I shall make therein, allow me to articulate the theory of justice employed in these arguments, namely, relational egalitarianism. I am (p.14) particularly interested here in the relational egalitarian thought that has been developed, albeit in different ways, in the respective works of Iris Marion Young and Elizabeth Anderson.

There are, I believe, two fundamental ideas that these relational egalitarian theories share, and these features undergird my normative arguments about immigration. The first is a commitment to universal moral equality of all people, across the globe. Universal moral equality means, as the very least, that just states cannot permissibly regard their own citizens as morally superior to those of other countries.17 A great deal of philosophical debate about justice in immigration has revolved around the question of whether coercive borders and practices of immigrant exclusion undermine the moral equality of prospective migrants who are denied entry to the states to which they want to migrate.

Second, relational egalitarians hold that just states are required to cultivate and maintain a “society of equals,” and that this involves taking steps to undermine unequal and oppressive social relations. The “point” of equality, Anderson argues, is not to ensure that any and all differences in wealth stem only from the responsible or irresponsible decisions that people make (and not from circumstances beyond their control, and for which they cannot be held responsible). Rather, Anderson describes the end-goal of relational egalitarianism as a social system of “democratic equality” which “guarantees all law abiding citizens effective access to the social conditions of their freedom at all times,” and “integrates principles of distribution with demands of equal respect.”18 Such a system of democratic equality requires, Anderson maintains, that citizens be empowered as workers, as human beings, and as political agents.

Such a society can productively be envisioned in contrast to what we would take to be a deeply inegalitarian society. In inegalitarian societies, Anderson maintains, “those of superior rank . . . [are] . . . thought entitled to inflict violence upon others, to exclude or segregate them (p.15) from social life, to treat them with contempt, to force them to obey, work without remuneration, and abandon their own cultures.”19 A society lacking relational equality, Anderson argues, is one that often features what Iris Marion Young has called the five faces of oppression, which include, on Young’s view, the “faces” of exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence.20 In sum, two core principles of relational egalitarianism employed in this book are (1) a respect for universal moral equality, and (2) a requirement that states and societies cultivate a society of equals and dismantle oppression in the pursuit of democratic equality.

Upholding these two principles will require, on the relational egalitarian view advocated here, significant attention to issues of representation. Certain patterns of representation constitute what Debra Satz has called “images of inequality.”21 Such images, Satz explains, undermine the social status of the wrongfully represented group. For instance, in her discussion of the “five faces of oppression,” Iris Marion Young explores the way cultural imperialism “involves the universalization of a dominant group’s experience and culture, and its establishment as the norm.”22 Furthermore, under cultural imperialism, oppressed groups “find themselves defined from the outside, positioned, played, by a network of dominant meanings they experience as arising from elsewhere.”23 Consequently, she argues, “the dominant culture’s stereotyped and inferiorized images of the group must be internalized by group members at least to the extent that they are forced to react to behavior of others influenced by those images.”24 As I shall explore over the course of this book, problematic representations of the socially undocumented in a variety of realms also promote other faces of oppression, such as exploitation, violence, and powerlessness.

In sum, achieving relational equality requires attentiveness to harms of cultural imperialism and, more broadly, the sorts of “images (p.16) of inequality” that contribute to inegalitarian social relations. I have focused on this element of relational egalitarianism in particular because, in the forthcoming chapters, several of my proposals for alleviating socially undocumented oppression will focus on the ways in which the socially undocumented are stereotyped and inferiorized at various levels in US society through such “images of inequality.”

At this stage, in order to continue to articulate the relational egalitarian understanding of justice employed in this book, I think it would be helpful for me to use a dialectical method in which I respond to a series of possible objections to relational egalitarian theory. Many of these objections stem from the fact that relational egalitarianism, particularly as it has been developed by Anderson, is part of the philosophical tradition of political liberalism. I find Anderson’s account of relational equality lucid and helpful for the purpose of articulating the real “point” of equality. However, some of my replies to the following objections will entail delving more deeply into the thought of Iris Marion Young, whose relationship with political liberalism is somewhat more complicated (that is, I take Young to further complicate aspects of political liberalism, albeit from a broadly relational egalitarian perspective).

Prior to embarking on this dialectic, let me clarify two things. First, the “liberalism” in question is liberal egalitarianism. Liberal egalitarianism, as helpfully explained by Tommie Shelby, “takes seriously not only individual liberty and civic equality but also substantive economic fairness”— much in contrast to neoliberalism, which “promotes the use of market rationality and business principles in all social institutions, prefers firms and private organizations to carry out public functions, and views citizens primarily as economic agents.”25 I will not, therefore, reply to objections connected to neoliberalism, for this is an ideology that I reject outright. Second, let me clarify that I am not offering the ensuing discussion as a robust or complete overview of all philosophical objections to liberal egalitarian thought. Such an overview falls out of the scope not only of this chapter but of this entire book. (p.17) Rather, this series of objections and responses is intended to further orient readers toward the understanding of justice that undergirds this book’s normative arguments.

The first strand of objection is as follows. One might argue that inasmuch as relational egalitarianism is tied to liberal, and specifically Rawlsian, political theory, it is problematically individualistic. There are two important variations of this objection that I shall explore here. First, one might argue that liberal theories are inadequate for understanding structural injustice and the oppression of social groups. Stated differently: given that liberal thought is concerned with the moral equality of individuals, it therefore cannot take seriously the interests and claims of social groups. Liberal theorist Ronald Dworkin, for instance, has developed a theory proposing “that equality is in principle a matter of individual right rather than group position.”26 Larry Temkin, meanwhile, argues that “concern about inequality between society’s groups must ultimately be understood as concern about inequality between groups’ members.”27 Since I am exploring what is owed to the socially undocumented, which I describe in terms of an identity and an oppressed social group, one might contend that relational egalitarianism, qua liberal theory, is an inadequate conception of justice for my stated purposes.

The political thought of Iris Marion Young is particularly helpful for understanding how one can, in fact, regard the individual as the “primary unit of moral concern” while also employing an inherently group-sensitive political philosophy. To begin with, note that Young’s theory of structural injustice is explicitly social group-focused. Young has argued that “evaluating inequality in terms of social groups enables us to claim that some inequalities are unjust . . . because such group-based comparison helps reveal important aspects of institutional relations and processes.”28 Importantly, however, Young explicitly states that her political theory is motivated by a commitment to the universal moral equality of individuals. Indeed, she stipulates that “the (p.18) ultimate purpose for making assessments of inequality is to promote the well-being of individuals considered as irreducible moral equals.”29 Group-based comparisons, Young maintains, can reveal “patterns of inequality” that affect not only social groups but the individuals who make up such groups.30 Young’s claims suggest that there is no reason a relational egalitarian committed to universal moral equality and the undermining of oppressive social relations could not evaluate inequality by way of invoking group-based comparisons of well-being and constraint. In fact, it seems that a relational egalitarian should do precisely this.

There is a second important variation of the objection that liberal theories of justice are problematically individualistic, and it comes from a feminist political perspective. While I have already argued that liberal concern with the moral equality of individuals is consistent with a “group sensitive” approach to theorizing (in)justice, one might argue that any such focus on atomistic individuals misrepresents who we actually are. A very important insight of feminist philosophy is that human beings necessarily exist in relation to one another. In fact, on this view, we are constituted by our inter-personal relations.31 The language of individual rights, individual autonomy, and equality of individuals—language that is featured in the relational egalitarian tradition—seems to obscure this fact. Indeed, liberalism’s individualism has led some feminist theorists to reject liberal political theories altogether. Illustrating this, in her 1983 book Feminist Politics and Human Nature, Alison Jaggar argued that “the liberal conception of human nature and of political philosophy cannot constitute the philosophical foundation for an adequate theory of women’s liberation.”32

I certainly agree with this insight about our fundamentally relational natures and “selves.” This insight is not, however, inconsistent with an adherence to the main goals of relational egalitarianism. (p.19) Indeed, there are resources from within feminism that can help us to understand how a relational egalitarian understanding of equality, rights, and justice can be rendered consistent with a relational understanding of the self.

Jennifer Nedelsky’s work is particularly helpful in this regard. She has argued that “understanding how to honor and nurture each individual is best done through a relational approach,” and that “relationship . . . must be central rather than peripheral to legal and political thought and to the workings of the institutions that structure relations.”33 Though liberalism, in practice, has historically obscured the fundamentally relational nature of the self, Nedelsky provides a framework for reforming liberalism in theory and practice through a relational approach.

Articulating such an approach, Nedelsky explains that “rights structure relations of power, trust, responsibility and care.”34 This means that when engaging in debates about which rights ought to be distributed, and to whom, we must begin by exploring the ways in which current rights and laws may have contributed to ongoing, unjust patterns of social relations. We must then be forward-looking, and ask: “What interpretation or change in the existing law would help restructure the relations in a way that would promote a given value?”35 While I cannot do justice to the full range of Nedelsky’s arguments here, I provide this brief summary to convey that one can, indeed, make “relationship central” while making decisions about the distributions and very nature of rights in a liberal system. On Nedelsky’s view, it is not merely the distribution of rights that is at stake. Even more important, what is at stake is the way in which such distributions affect social and inter-personal relations.

In sum, regarding individuals as the “primary unit of moral concern” is not inconsistent with the feminist insight that we exist fundamentally in relation to one another, though we do need to take steps to, (p.20) in Nedelsky’s words, make relationship central rather than peripheral to our political thought.

Let me now move on from critiques of liberalism’s individualism to consider a third possible objection. One might argue that all variations of liberal theory, including liberal and relational egalitarianism, are necessarily hostile to and at odds with anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and other liberatory objectives. Recall, for instance, Marx’s famous claim that under capitalism, a system that generates alienated labor, man “is unfree in relation to his own activity, he is related to it as bonded activity, activity under the domination, coercion, and yoke of another man.”36 Note that while relational egalitarian theory does require significant state intervention to curb or eliminate certain economic inequalities, it does not necessarily eschew any and all variations of capitalism. Thus, relational egalitarianism may be vulnerable to certain Marxist strands of criticism in particular.

In addition, the silence of liberal political philosophy (and Western political theory more broadly) on matters of race and racism has been explicated and critiqued meticulously by Charles W. Mills over the course of various works. For instance, he argues in The Racial Contract that “insofar as racism is addressed at all within mainstream moral and political philosophy, it is usually treated in a footnote as a regrettable deviation from the ideal.”37 He adds that “treating it this way makes it seem contingent, accidental, residual, removes it from our understanding.”38 With Mills’s words in mind, it becomes clear that any serious attempt to employ Western political philosophy (relational egalitarian or otherwise) for normative theorizing must contend with this history of philosophical silence on the injustices systemic racism. In sum, one might object that given that I am focusing on racialized and class-based components of socially undocumented identity and oppression, my preferred theory of justice is, once again, inadequate for my stated purposes.

(p.21) To begin with, it is not the case that relational egalitarianism is necessarily at odds with these objectives—though it certainly must be acknowledged that the liberal tradition, taken as a whole, has historically been reluctant to theorize a range of injustices (race-based, gender-based, and otherwise) that have been relegated to so-called non-ideal theory. As Charles Mills has explained, “liberalism in the United States has historically been complicit with plutocracy, patriarchy, and white supremacy, but this complicity is a contingent function of dominant group interests rather than the result of an immanent conceptual logic.”39 With Mills’s words in mind, recall what I presented as the two “core principles “of relational egalitarianism: (1) a commitment to universal moral equality, and (2) a commitment to the undermining of oppressive structural social relations in the pursuit of democratic equality. Once again, such a framework in fact requires us to work toward an anti-racist society in which racial, gender-based, and class-based oppressions are absent.

An illustrative, liberal alternative to a liberalism that is silent on matters of race and racism is that of “black radical liberalism” which, as Tommie Shelby articulates, “embraces insights from black nationalism, feminism and Marxism.”40 Charles Mills, who introduced the term “black radical liberalism,” proposes a synthesis of both liberalism and black radicalism (understood to include both black Marxism and black nationalism). He explains that black radical liberalism both “(i) recognizes white supremacy as central to the making of the United States and (more sweepingly) the modern world,” and “(ii) seeks the rethinking of the categories, crucial assumptions, and descriptive and normative frameworks of liberalism in light of that recognition.”41 Though many liberals have, indeed, effectively ignored white supremacy in practice, relational egalitarian principles themselves also (p.22) demand that people both recognize and come to understand the reality of (i) while working toward the objectives of (ii).

While I do not claim to be working directly in the tradition of black radical liberalism (as I am not an African American political theorist myself), I have briefly presented Mills’s discussion to demonstrate that liberal political theorizing need not, and ought not, reject the fundamental insights of explicitly anti-racist scholarly work. Note that this also holds true for scholarship that is critical of capitalism. Indeed, Mills also maintains that “liberalism is not in principle opposed to social democracy or market socialism.”42 Furthermore, Elizabeth Anderson explains that her relational egalitarian theory is “concerned with the relationships within which goods are distributed, not only with the distribution of goods themselves,”43 and that “goods must be distributed according to principles and processes that express respect for all.”44 Such relational egalitarian principles are clearly inconsistent with neoliberalism, unbridled capitalism, and the dehumanizing conditions of alienated labor to which Marx so forcefully objected. In sum, relational egalitarianism principles are not themselves hostile to anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and otherwise liberatory objectives.

A fourth possible objection is that a relational egalitarian conception of justice—like many contemporary theories of justice—disproportionately emphasizes the obligations of states to alleviate injustice and inequality, while de-emphasizing the vital contributions and obligations of non-state political actors in this regard. As Iris Marion Young explains, “Contemporary theories of justice, along with much popular opinion, tend to assume that remedy for injustice is the responsibility of a particular agent, the state, and that the responsibility of citizens is to make claims upon government to bring about justice.”45 We should certainly place demands upon the state, the objection contends, but, as Iris Marion Young points out, “Individuals and organizations ought to take responsibility for undermining structural (p.23) injustice by thinking about their positions of power, privilege, interest, and collective responsibility.”46

I agree with the objector that a great deal of philosophical work on social and global justice has, in practice, been overtly state-centric. However, once again, there is nothing inherent in a relational egalitarian framework that bars us from attending to the moral and political obligations and actions of non-state actors. Emphasizing the importance of non-state actors and action for the pursuit of social justice, Young argues that “political struggle about state policy must involve vocal criticism, organized contestation, a measure of indignation, and concerted social pressure.”47 On her “social connection model,” individuals and not simply states are responsible for structural injustice regardless of whether they can be held personally “liable” for the injustice in question. She explains that “responsibility in relation to injustice . . . derives . . . from participating in the diverse institutional processes that produce structural injustice.”48 In relational egalitarian spirit, the focus here is not on determining exactly who ought to be held liable for unjust outcomes, but rather, on seeking to end oppressive relationships.49 Those of us who participate in diverse institutional processes that produce social injustice bear a form of responsibility for that injustice even if we never intended for the injustice to transpire in the first place. Along these lines, in this book I will also focus on ways in which non-state actors can, do, and ought to play key roles in alleviating socially undocumented oppression.

A fifth objection to relational egalitarianism, inasmuch as it is a liberal political theory, is that it is at odds with the interests of Indigenous peoples living under settler-state regimes, as well as decolonization projects. Dale Turner has argued, in reference to the Canadian context, that liberal efforts to incorporate Indigenous interests into a “coherent [liberal] philosophical vision of political justice” “can be thought of as (p.24) philosophical ‘peace pipes’ because they claim to respect Aboriginal peoples and their differences and to define not only the meaning and content of their rights but also their proper place in Canadian society.”50 Understandably,

Turner’s view is that such liberal theories, when applied to Aboriginal/Indigenous rights, are definitively “not peace pipes,”51 as they generally misrepresent Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples and their interests. Given that I shall discuss not only the ways in which Indigenous peoples of the Mexico-US borderlands region are often rendered socially undocumented on their own land but also some of the implications of this at the bar of justice, this is a very important objection to consider.

Let me be clear that I do not take myself to be offering a theory of Indigenous or minority rights in this book. I will also respectfully refrain from offering up my arguments to Indigenous peoples as a “peace pipe.” Rather, I aim to demonstrate that the United States, a colonial setter state, must be held accountable for undermining socially undocumented oppression affecting a variety of peoples in its territories, including Indigenous peoples who are systematically “illegalized” on their own lands. However, I should acknowledge and reflect on the fact that I am theorizing from within the settler state.

Kim Tallbear has explained, in the context of a written, public dialogue with other Indigenous academic and activist colleagues, that “we live inside a colossal colonial structure that took most of the world’s resources to build. Does not every maneuver against colonialism occur in intimate relationship to its structures? There is no outside.”52 There is no denying that the relational egalitarian arguments offered here have been developed from within the settler state, and in “intimate relationship to its structures.” I acknowledge this, and want to clarify that I intend for these arguments to serve, at the very least, as a “maneuver against colonialism” by drawing attention to the ways in which many (p.25) Indigenous peoples are unjustly rendered socially undocumented on and nearby their own lands.

I shall now briefly consider a final possible objection to relational egalitarianism—though the bulk of my response will occur in the next chapter. Recall Anderson’s claim that states should pursue democratic equality among their citizens. In her words, democratic equality “guarantees all law abiding citizens effective access to the social conditions of their freedom at all times.” This inspires questions about whether relational egalitarianism is adequate for the purpose of delivering a theory of rights for immigrants and other non-citizens. Going even further, the objector might argue that one needs an alternative theory that rejects the moral and political legitimacy of borders—what we might call an “open borders” perspective—as opposed to the sort of “closure” featured in Anderson’s depiction of relational egalitarian justice.

The first problem with this objection is that it fails to acknowledge the requirement of liberal theories of justice, including relational egalitarianism, to uphold universal moral equality. While Anderson’s view helps us to understand why states have certain special obligations to ensure the conditions of freedom of their own citizens, it cannot, qua liberal theory, neglect the requirement of states to treat as moral equals people across the globe, including those who reside within their own territories without legal authorization. Bearing this in mind, if the “point” of equality is, as Anderson maintains, to dismantle oppressive structural social relations, then relational egalitarian justice must require us to combat the unjust oppression of non-citizens, particularly when this oppression is caused by citizens and institutions of the state in question.53 As Iris Marion Young explains, “An agent’s responsibility for justice is not restricted to those close by or to those in the same nation-state as oneself, if one participates in social structural processes (p.26) that connect one to others far away and outside those jurisdictions.”54 This holds true even if one maintains that citizens are owed certain “conditions of freedom” (i.e., voting and serving on a jury in a particular state, for instance) for which non-citizens may not automatically be eligible.

In addition, I shall soon argue, from within a relational egalitarian framework, that the oppressive, immigration-related constraints associated with socially undocumented identity are unjust—including when they are experienced by legally undocumented people—even if we assume the moral and political legitimacy of borders and a relational egalitarian conception of justice. That is, I shall argue, using the tools of relational egalitarianism, that the oppression of socially undocumented non-citizens is (also) unjust. And while I am personally very sympathetic to the idea of a world without borders as a matter of ideal theory, I shall assume here that states have a prima facie right to maintain a system of borders and exclude at least some prospective migrants for two reasons. First, as Joseph Carens has argued, philosophizing exclusively within an “open borders” framework serves to distance us from a wide range of immigration-related ethical challenges that occur in our “real world,” with its very real borders.55 Along these lines, working exclusively within an open borders framework would simply make it impossible for me to theorize socially undocumented identity and oppression. Second, I shall argue that socially undocumented identity and oppression could feasibly occur in, and may even be exacerbated by, an “open borders world.” This means, I argue, that we need to rethink and reframe the terms of the philosophical open borders debate. When it comes to undermining the oppressive constraints of socially undocumented identity, rejecting borders is not necessarily the appropriate (or even most “radical”) choice.

(p.27) IV. Some Final Notes on Language

I should acknowledge that the term “socially undocumented” clearly deviates from standard usage of the term “undocumented,” which is often employed to refer to people who reside in a state without legal authorization, and also to a legal status that is made “official” and can be “proved” via physical, legal documents. Thus, the term “socially undocumented” may seem somewhat jarring to readers, as there do not appear to be any “social documents” (or any non-physical documents) connected to immigration processes that one can possess or lack. My use of a linguistically unconventional and potentially jarring term is, however, intentional, for one of my central aims is to draw attention to the fact that “being undocumented” in the United States is not necessarily about “documents” or “papers” at all.

There are additional reasons for my employment of the term “socially undocumented.” The expression “undocumented migrant” is widely acknowledged to be a preferred alternative to contested terms such as “illegal,” “illegal alien,” and “illegal immigrant,” and I shall focus on the injustice and oppression associated with these three latter terms in this book. For the most part, I will employ the term “socially undocumented,” as it is widely acknowledged that calling someone an “illegal” is to commit a racial slur. In fact, even mentioning terms like “illegal” or “socially illegal”—even without referring to actual people in any derogatory way—can bring the offensive slur to mind. That said, I will, however, occasionally mention, rather than use, the terms “illegal” and “socially illegal” in order to call attention to and argue against their widespread use. This requires a bit of explanation.

Many philosophers hold that there is an important distinction between using a word (i.e., “I saw a hummingbird in the garden this morning”) and mentioning it (i.e. “The word hummingbird contains eleven letters”). In the second sentence, the speaker, in employing the word “hummingbird,” is only referring to the word hummingbird; she is not saying anything about any actual or imagined hummingbirds. Along similar lines, one might argue that it is appropriate to sometimes mention slurs (i.e., the immigrant rights slogan “No Human Being Is Illegal”) while acknowledging that it is unacceptable to use them to insult and degrade others.

(p.28) However, in their article “Slurring Words,” Luvell Anderson and Ernie Lapore have argued compellingly that in many cases, even mentioning a slur can cause morally significant offense.56 They explain, for instance, that if one were to utter the phrase “there are no [N-word]s” (but, in so doing, use the actual N-word)—even with the anti-racist objective of criticizing the use of the N-word to degrade African Americans—one risks offending one’s listeners with the mere mention of the word. Note that they do not call for a full prohibition on the mention of slurs, however. They maintain, first of all, that while the mention of a slur may, indeed, constantly provoke offense (and that this is morally significant), to mention a slur in this way not the same thing as derogating someone. Second, they hold that the offense caused can sometimes be mitigated by heavily conditioning the context of one’s slur-mentioning and making explicit one’s didactic purposes in so doing.57

I agree with Anderson and Lapore that in mentioning slurs like “illegal”—even with intentions that may themselves be morally sound—one risks morally significant offense and should therefore proceed with great caution. This seems even more important when one is mentioning a slur that targets a group of which one is not a member. In my own case, I am not “socially undocumented” or “socially illegal,” and I have never been referred to or treated as an “illegal.” Thus, with Anderson and Lapore’s words of caution in mind, I want to make clear that I am mentioning the offensive terms for the didactic purpose of illustrating the injustice of their use (and the ideology that supports their use) in our society. In so doing, however, I also acknowledge the troubled waters into which any act of slur-mentioning may lead one, even when one has morally sound intentions.

V. Structure and Outline of This Book

Stylistically and methodologically, this book takes the form of a “bottom up” philosophical analysis through which I aim to engage the (p.29) perspectives of socially undocumented people themselves as conveyed in the contexts of music, poetry, ethnographic interviews, and historical research.58 I am also working in non-ideal theory. Rawls argued that non-ideal theory “is worked out after an ideal conception of justice is chosen.”59 Non-ideal theory is needed, Rawls explained, because the just world articulated in ideal theory simply does match our actual social world; people and institutions are generally not in compliance with the requirements of justice. In Tommie Shelby’s words, non-ideal theory “should guide efforts to transform an unjust social arrangement into a more just one.”60 I shall take as my starting point in this book the deeply inegalitarian world in which we live, and develop arguments that explore how we ought to go about achieving relational equality in the realm of immigration.

In the chapters that follow, I integrate a descriptive, epistemological, and metaphysical account of socially undocumented identity with normative arguments about what the United States, non-state political actors, and, to a lesser extent, Mexico and other states must do to address the oppressive constraints associated with socially undocumented identity. I should note that there are a range of philosophical problems in immigration that fall outside of the scope of this book but that are nevertheless relevant to understanding the ethics of immigration. These include, but are not limited to, questions of justice for refugees, debates about the very nature of citizenship, and growing theoretical concerns about methodological nationalism. This book is not intended to be an all-encompassing theory of justice in migration, and I propose that it be read alongside and, when possible, in dialogue with this growing literature on immigration ethics.61

(p.30) In Chapter 1, “Socially, Not Legally, Undocumented,” I begin to articulate a new framework for immigration justice on the basis of a more expansive conception of what it means to “be undocumented.” My main goals in this chapter are (1) to begin to distinguish “being socially undocumented” from “being legally undocumented” and (2) to show why this matters at the bar of justice. Employing a relational egalitarian conception of justice, I argue that while long-term legally undocumented migrants may, indeed, be owed a right to remain after an extended period of time in the new society, simply “having” legally undocumented status does not necessarily violate one’s status as a moral equal and contribute to oppressive social relations. However, being socially undocumented does, indeed, involve being (unjustly) undermined and oppressed. This holds true, I argue, both for socially undocumented people who have legal permission to be in the United States and for those who are both legally and socially undocumented. Indeed, I argue that even if one grants that states may permissibly exercise a range of controls over immigration into their territories, those who are both socially and legally undocumented are often treated unjustly in the United States.

In Chapter 2, “On Social Identity,” I build on the insights of Chapter 1 by beginning to explore in greater depth what it means to have a socially undocumented identity—a task to which I shall devote four chapters. As discussed in this introduction, comprehending the nature of socially undocumented identity provides for a fuller and more accurate account of both socially undocumented oppression itself and also the ways in which it should be alleviated. My primary goal in this chapter is to establish what I take social identities to be. I explore, and ultimately adopt, Linda Martín Alcoff’s phenomenological account of “visible identities,” which she defines as socially constructed but also “real,” embodied interpretive horizons and sites of situated (p.31) reason. While Alcoff focuses on race and gender as “visible identities,” I argue that class is also a visible identity. To make this argument, I supplement Alcoff’s view with Pierre Bourdieu’s descriptive claims about habitus, or embodied class identity.

In Chapter 3, “Socially Undocumented Embodiment,” I draw upon multidisciplinary sources (historical, artistic, ethnographic, and philosophical) to argue that “being socially undocumented” is embodied along racial and class lines. It therefore meets one of the criteria of a real, visible social identity established in Chapter 2 (namely, that of embodiment). In making this argument I also trace the history of socially undocumented identity development in the United States, focusing on the country’s earliest white supremacist immigration laws, the Mexican-American War and subsequent Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the expansion of US agribusiness in the early twentieth century, the Immigration Act of 1924, Mexican Repatriation, and the Bracero Program. We shall see that understanding this difficult history is important not only to comprehend the nature of socially undocumented identity but also to grasp the alleviation of socially undocumented oppression as a matter of social justice.

In Chapter 4, “Pregnant and Socially Undocumented,” I continue to explore phenomenologically the embodiment of socially undocumented identity. Here, however, I focus on how visible pregnancy impacts and intersects with socially undocumented experience and embodiment. I draw on six months of ethnographic research I conducted in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez area with Mexican women who, while living in Ciudad Juárez, regularly crossed the Mexico-US border into El Paso to seek prenatal care and give birth in the United States. While all the women I interviewed had legal permission to do this, I learned through my research that they were nevertheless subjected to a range of significant immigration-related constraints before, during, and after their perfectly legal “pregnant border-crossings.” Thus, they were socially, but not legally, undocumented in the United States. I further argue that the pregnant, socially undocumented woman is perhaps the most socially “illegalized” of all subjects in the United States.

In Chapter 5, “Socially Undocumented Horizons,” I complete my argument that “being socially undocumented” constitutes a real (p.32) social identity by exploring possible aspects of a socially undocumented interpretive horizon (the second criterion for a real, visible identity as identified in Chapter 2). Note that in this chapter, I merely propose (rather than argue for) possible content of a socially undocumented interpretive horizon. This is because, as I discuss in greater detail in this chapter, my own positionality is not that of a socially undocumented person. I therefore do not have direct epistemic access to the situated reasoning of socially undocumented people. Thus, I present this chapter as a contribution to a conversation that must ultimately be led by socially undocumented people themselves.

I propose, then, that the socially undocumented interpretive horizon involves a tendency to perceive and even resist a “double bind”—a concept I borrow from Marilyn Frye—in which US society puts socially undocumented people. On the one hand, the socially undocumented are compelled by social circumstances to perform certain types of labor that tend to be associated with legally undocumented status (e.g., agricultural labor, domestic work) given the historical development of socially undocumented identity explored in Chapter 3. On the other hand, socially undocumented people are often oppressed and “illegalized” on the very basis of performing that solicited labor. I propose that socially undocumented people are epistemically well-equipped both to perceive this double bind and sometimes to take steps to respond to it—generating a unique interpretive horizon for those with this identity.

In Chapter 6, “Rethinking ‘Open Borders,’ ” I employ the understanding of “being socially undocumented” articulated in the preceding chapters to begin considering the question of what states (particularly the United States) must do to undermine anti-socially undocumented oppression. I focus here on the “open borders debate,” or the question of whether eliminating coercive state borders is a just and appropriate means for achieving immigration justice. Socially undocumented oppression, I argue, would continue to exist even in—and it may even be exacerbated by—the sort of “open borders world” that has been proposed by several contemporary political philosophers. Furthermore, I argue that a universal freedom of movement right, though a laudable ideal, is not the appropriate policy mechanism for (p.33) alleviating socially undocumented oppression. Instead, we need a third option, which I propose in the next chapter.

Chapter 7, “The Injustice of the Migrant Journey to the United States,” builds on the particular arguments of Chapter 6 by continuing to explore what kind of border politics is required in our efforts to undermine unjust socially undocumented oppression. Here, however, I take up a problem that has not been extensively explored by political philosophers: migrant journeys, and the particularly treacherous migrant journey to the United States from Latin America. I argue that the migrant journey that many Latin American migrants take to the United States without legal authorization, often toward and into the Sonoran Desert as a result of increased Mexico-US border militarization, is unjust in the scope of US immigration policy. This is due in part to the role that the migrant journey plays on a representational level—how it “socially illegalizes” and thus oppresses socially undocumented people.

I argue that the United States is required, as a matter of relational egalitarian justice, to demilitarize the US-Mexico border at urban ports of entry and respect Indigenous sovereignty in the US-Mexico borderlands, as many Indigenous peoples are treated “like illegals” on their own lands due to the increased presence of immigration enforcement and weapons of war on Indigenous territories. I also briefly explore the obligations of Mexico and other states to attend to migrant journeys toward and into their territories due the images of inequality these journeys also represent. In relation to the “open borders” debate explored in the previous chapter, I present these proposals as a “third option” that does not fit neatly into an “open borders” or a “closed borders” philosophical framework.

Finally, in my Conclusion, I draw on the arguments explored in all the previous chapters. I synthesize my frameworks for understanding the nature of socially undocumented identity and responding at the bar of justice to the oppressive constraints with which it is associated. While I do not aim to provide a full battery of policy proposals for alleviating socially undocumented oppression—as this would fall outside of the scope of a single work of philosophy—I explore ways in which these frameworks can be applied to a range of moral and political issues in immigration in the United States.

(p.34) For instance, I argue that immigration justice demands that both states and non-state actors directly address and alleviate socially undocumented oppression, or the social “illegalization” of a subset of the population as described over the course of this book. This will require careful engagement and understanding of socially undocumented histories, horizons, and corporealities by policymakers, academics, journalists, and activists at various levels. Returning to Anderson’s account of achieving relational egalitarian justice, I also explore a number of concrete ways in which socially undocumented people can and should be empowered as workers, as human beings, and as political agents. I end this book by briefly discussing how these methods, though developed in reference to the US context, can and should be applied on a global scale.


(1) “Alejandra” is a pseudonym.

(2) Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. 59

(3) See Manuel Vargas, “Latinx Philosophy,” forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Latino Studies, edited by Ilan Stevens (New York: Oxford University Press).

(4) Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987), p. 12

(5) Carlos Alberto Sanchez, “On Documents and Subjectivity: The Formation and De-Formation of the Immigrant Identity,” Radical Philosophy Review vol. 14 no. 2 (2011), p. 197.

(6) See José Jorge Mendoza, The Moral and Political Philosophy of Immigration: Liberty, Security, and Equality (London: Lexington Books, 2017).

(7) See, for instance, Linda Martin Alcoff, “Comparative Race, Comparative Racisms,” in Jorge Garcia, ed., Race or Ethnicity? On Black and Latino Identity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017).

(8) Eduardo Mendieta, “The Sound of Race: The Prosody of Affect,” Radical Philosophy Reviewonline first.

(9) I borrow this idea from Linda Martín Alcoff, personal conversation.

(10) Christina Beltrán, The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of the Political (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 161.

(11) Joseph Carens, “The Case for Amnesty: Time Erodes That State’s Right to Deport,” Boston Review: A Political and Literary Form, accessible at http://bostonreview.net/forum/case-amnesty-joseph-carens.

(12) Adam Omar Hosein, “Immigration: The Argument for Legalization,” Social Theory and Practice vol. 40 no. 4 (October 2014), p. 609.

(13) Michael Blake, “Equality without Documents: Political Justice and the Right to Amnesty,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy vol. 40 (2010), p. 100.

(14) Joseph Carens, The Ethics of Immigration (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 1.

(15) Joseph Carens, “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders,” Review of Politics vol. 49 no. 2 (Spring 1987), p. 251.

(16) Michael Blake, “Equality without Documents: Political Justice and the Right to Amnesty,” p. 109.

(17) See Michael Blake, “Immigration and Political Equality,” San Diego Law Review vol. 45 no. 4 (2008), pp. 963–980.

(18) Elizabeth Anderson, “What Is the Point of Equality?” Ethics vol. 109 no. 2 (1999), pp. 289‒290.

(20) See Iris Marion Young, chap. 2, “The Five Faces of Oppression,” in Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. 48‒63.

(21) Debra Satz, “Markets in Women’s Sexual Labor,” Ethics vol. 106 no. 1 (1995), p. 78.

(25) Tommie Shelby, Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016), p. 10.

(26) Ronald Dworkin, “What Is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources,” Philosophy and Public Affairs vol. 10 (1980), p. 340, my emphasis.

(27) Larry Temkin, Inequality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 101.

(28) Iris Marion Young, “Equality of Whom? Social Groups and Judgements of Justice,” Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 9, no. 1 (2001), p. 2.

(31) See, for instance, Nel Noddings, The Maternal Factor: Two Paths to Morality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), and Virginia Held, The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political and Global (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

(32) Alison Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1983), pp. 47‒48.

(33) Jennifer Nedelsky, Law’s Relations: A Relational Theory of Self, Autonomy, and Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 86.

(36) Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844),” translated by Lloyd D. Easton and K. Jurt H. Guddat, from Allen W. Wood, ed. Marx: Selections (New York: Macmillan, 1988), p. 795.

(37) Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 56.

(39) Charles W. Mills, “Occupy Liberalism! Or, Ten Reasons Why Liberalism Cannot Be Retrieved for Radicalism (And Why They’re All Wrong),” Radical Philosophy Review vol. 15 no. 2 (2012), p. 306.

(41) Charles Mills, “Black Radical Liberalism,” guest post at PEA Soup, originally published February 23, 2015 and accessible at http://peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2015/02/black-radical-liberalism-and-why-it-isnt-anoxymoron.html.

(45) Iris Marion Young, Responsibility for Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 112.

(49) For an interesting response to how Anderson, in particular, contrasts the ideal of relational equality to what we might call the “liability model” of luck egalitarianism, see Richard Arneson, “Luck Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism,” Ethics vol. 110 no. 2 (January 2000), pp. 339‒349.

(50) Dale Turner, This Is Not a Peace Pipe: Towards a Critical Indigenous Philosophy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press,2006), p. 5.

(52) Kim Tallbear, “Couple-Centricity, Polyamory, and Colonialism,” at The Critical Polyamorist, originally posted July 24, 2014, and accessible at http://www.criticalpolyamorist.com/homeblog/couple-centricity-polyamory-andcolonialism.

(53) In “Immigration and Freedom of Association,” Christopher Heath Wellman argues that a relational egalitarian conception of justice does not necessarily require states to alleviate global oppression for which they are culpable through immigration policies like open borders. Meanwhile, in “Do Duties to Outsiders Entail Open Borders? A Response to Wellman,” Shelley Wilcox argues, contra Wellman (and also from a relational egalitarian perspective), that immigration policy should, indeed, sometimes be developed in response to such oppression given the actual ways in which migration operates in the contemporary world.

(55) For further discussion, see, for instance, Joseph Carens, The Ethics of Immigration, particularly the introduction and appendix.

(56) Luvell Anderson and Ernie Lapore, “Slurring Words,” in Noûs vol. 52 no. 2 (June 2018), pp. 25‒48.

(57) I am grateful to Luvell Anderson for discussing these ideas with me in personal conversation.

(58) For a helpful overview of the nature of “bottom up” moral reasoning, see William J. Talbott, Human Rights and Human Well-Being (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(59) John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (rev. ed.) (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 216.

(61) On the matter of justice for refugees, see, for instance, Serena Parekh, Refugees and the Ethics of Forced Displacement (New York: Routledge, 2017); Matthew Lister, “Climate Change Refugees,” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy vol. 17 no. 5 (2014); and Max Cherem, “Refugee Rights: Against Expanding the Definition of a ‘Refugee’ and Unilateral Protection Elsewhere,” Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 24 no. 2 (2016). On citizenship see, for instance, Seyla Benhabib, The Rights of Others: Aliens, Citizens, and Residents (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); and David Miller, Citizenship and National Identity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000). On methodological nationalism, see, for instance, Alex Sager, Toward a Cosmopolitan Ethics of Mobility: The Migrant’s Eye View of the World (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing for Palgrave MacMillan, 2018), and Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller, “Methodological Nationalism and Beyond: Nation-State Building, Migration and the Social Sciences,” Global Networks vol. 2 no. 4 (2002), pp. 301‒334.