Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal


The treatment of "aliens," particularly noncitizens of color, under the U.S. immigration laws reveals volumes about domestic race relations in the nation. A deeply complicated, often volatile, relationship exists between racism directed toward U.S. citizens and that aimed at noncitizens. The United States has a long history of treating racial minorities in the United States harshly, at times savagely. Noncitizen racial minorities, as foreigners not part of the national community, generally have been subject to similar, although not identical, cruelties but also have suffered deportation, indefinite detention, and more. One need look to further than the treatment of Arab and Muslim noncitizens after September 11, 2001 for a recent example. The differential treatment is permitted, if not encouraged, by the disparate bundles of legal rights afforded domestic and noncitizen minorities.

The connection between civil rights and immigration, and thus the struggles of noncitizens and citizens, has important implications for the quest for social justice. Common interests create the potential for alliances among Asian Americans, Latina/os, and African Americans, as well as other groups. Such coalitions are particularly necessary in these uncivil times. Unless racial justice and immigrants rights activists work together, we can expect a "divide and conquer" strategy to the detriment of all people of color, immigrants and citizens alike. History teaches that, even if one group obtains formal legal rights, absent the support of a broad-based, mobilized political coalition, the law ultimately will prove to be unenforceable.

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