CfP—Migrant Illegality across Uneven Legal Geographies: A Two-Part Convening

University of Colorado-Denver, April 6-7, 2018 and Brown University, October 26-27, 2018

Given the current political climate, there is a crucial need to examine how illegality is experienced across geographic contexts for undocumented immigrant communities. According to Hiemstra (2010), “labeling a person ‘illegal’ is a subtle yet powerful tool for creating, marking and magnifying perceived difference and exclusion” (p. 78). While the federal political and legal landscape is characterized both by enforcement through a record number of deportations andinaction on comprehensive immigration reform, states and localities have also begun to engage in their own vastly different immigration policy making and enforcement (Zuniga and Hernandez-Leon, 2005; Martos, 2010; Varsanyi, 2010; Varsanyi and Provine, 2012). Some localities have expanded rights for undocumented immigrants, as is the case in states like California and Illinois, both of which are traditional immigrant gateways. While others have become much more restrictionist, as is the case in places such as Tennessee and Georgia, which are considered new immigrant destinations.

The uneven implementation of the law requires that scholars directly engage the question of how undocumented immigrant youth, individuals at the forefront of this paradox of inclusion/exclusion, navigate a variegated landscape of immigration law (Walker and Leitner, 2011). While a significant corpus of work has examined the consequences of immigration law and policy on immigrants’ incorporation in U.S. society, only in the last two decades have scholars examined how illegality affects youth’s’ social and political incorporation. According to Menjívar and Abrego (2012), undocumented immigrant youth experience a unique form of legal violence. Youth also experience partial and privileged integration in institutions like schools as children (Gleeson and Gonzales 2012), intense fear over the specter of family members’ deportation (Dreby 2015), and self-efficacy as they contest their illegality through activism. We endeavor through this two-part symposium to examine how local enactments of law have differential effects on migrant illegality as a lived experience for youth. Papers will investigate the intersection of the liminal legality of youth and the variegated legal terrain with the geographic context being a central differentiating factor among how immigrant illegality is experienced. Towards this end, we invite submissions from scholars whose work explores immigrant youth, illegality, and law across local contexts particularly in non-traditional or re-emergent immigrant destinations.

Papers exploring the following questions are especially welcome:

  1. How does place, or where one lives and grows up, impact immigrant youths’ incorporation process?
  2. How do experiences of undocumented young adults living in urban areas compared to those in rural areas?
  3. How does illegality shape young immigrants’ educational, occupational, or political participation?
  4. How do local geographies and local contexts of immigration enforcement affect experiences of illegality and belonging?

Symposium Overview:

This two-part symposium, funded by the American Sociological Association’s Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline, will take place in two cities: Denver, CO and Providence, RI. The first meeting will be hosted by the University of Colorado-Denver from April 6-7, 2018. The second meeting will take place at Brown University October 26-27, 2018. Each part of the symposium will include a keynote and panel presentations on the first-day followed by workshops on the second day for participants whose papers will be considered for a journal special issue organized around the conference topic. A welcome reception for presenters will also be held the night preceding the start of the symposium.


To apply, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words by September 22, 2017. When submitting, please indicate your preferred location: Denver, CO (April 6-7, 2018) or Providence, RI (October 26-27, 2018). Abstracts can be submitted here.

A limited number of travel grants may be available with priority given to graduate students and junior faculty. To be considered for a travel grant, please include a brief statement of need with your application.

Applicants will receive notification by November 2017 if their papers are accepted. Completed papers are due by February 1, 2018 for the Denver convening and by September 7, 2018  for the Providence convening. Papers should include a title page with contact information for the author(s) (home institution, affiliation, rank, phone number, email, etc.), an abstract of no more than 250 words, and 3-4 keywords.

For questions, please email

About the Symposium Sites:

Denver, Colorado is an ideal setting for hosting the first part of the symposium because of the diversity and history of migration to the state. While Colorado has historic migration links to Mexico dating from the early 20th century, during the middle part of the 20th century few immigrants settled in the state. Beginning in the early 2000s, migration began anew, making it a re-emergent immigrant destination, both for renewed Mexican migration and for new migrations from various world regions. For example, Denver’s population is now 30% Latino and 15% foreign born, anchoring a diversifying Front Range urban-suburban corridor. Colorado is also at the heart of “New West” rural migration trends, with wealthy internal migrants and vacation home buyers driving gentrification in high-amenity mountain towns. This has spurred a parallel migration, attracting new influxes of immigrants to work in the construction and service industries in these towns.

Like Denver, Providence, RI has a long history of immigration spanning Portuguese and Azorean whaling communities in the 1830s, to Italians, other Europeans, and French Canadians in the early 20th century, and contemporary migration from Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. While Rhode Island has long been a site of steady immigration, the increase in Latina/o and Asian immigration that began in the 1970s has shifted local demographics substantially. Today, Providence is a highly diverse, heterogeneous immigrant community, with a mayor who is the American-born son of Guatemalan immigrants.  Providence is an important site for examining undocumented immigrant experiences, particularly instances of community based activism and resistance to marginalization. This immigrant community has been highly organized with organizations working to push forward an in-state tuition bill for undocumented immigrant students, a bill that would provide driver’s licenses for undocumented residents, and a Community Safety Act to improve the police’s treatment of underrepresented community members.