Immigration law's organizing principles.

Author:Cox, Adam B.
 
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Immigration law and scholarship are pervasively organized around the principle that rules for selecting immigrants are (and should be) fundamentally different from rules that regulate the lives of immigrants outside the selection context. Both courts and commentators generally conclude that the government should have considerably more leeway to adopt whatever selection rules it sees fit. Consequently, the selection/regulation dichotomy shapes the central debates in immigration law--including debates about the legality and legitimacy of guest worker programs, America's criminal deportation system, and restrictions on immigrant access to public benefits. This Article argues that this central organizing principle is misguided: legal rules cannot be classified as concerning either selection or regulation because every rule concerns both. Every rule that imposes duties on noncitizens imposes both selection pressure, potentially influencing noncitizens' decisions about whether to enter or depart the United States, and regulatory pressure, potentially influencing the way in which noncitizens who choose to stay live their lives. Moreover, even if it were possible to overcome a century of radical disagreement about which rules are "really" about selection rather than regulation, there would still be little reason to ascribe constitutional or moral significance to the distinction between the two. As the Article shows, selection and regulation are simply two alternative mechanisms that a state may use to achieve a particular end. There is no a priori reason to prefer one mechanism over the other. These central conclusions have a number of important implications for immigration law and institutional design.

INTRODUCTION I. THE CONCEPTUAL STRUCTURE OF IMMIGRATION LAW A. Constitutional Foundations and the Immigration "Plenary Power". B. Immigration Law and "Alienage" Law C. Immigration Federalism II. THE MISLEADING DISTINCTION BETWEEN SELECTION RULES AND REGULATORY RULES A. Choosing Where to Live and How to Live B. Rescuing the Dichotomy? C. Selection and the Role of Membership in Immigration Law and Theory III. SECOND-ORDER STRATEGIES IN IMMIGRATION LAW A. Immigrant Integration B. Second-Class Status C. Impermissible Choices IV. THE IMPLICATIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL DESIGN A. Immigration Law and Information Policy B. Immigration Federalism Redux C. Temporary Deportation CONCLUSION INTRODUCTION

American immigration law is organized around a seductive idea: that rules for selecting immigrants are fundamentally different from rules regulating immigrants outside the selection context. At bottom, the idea flows from the intuition that rules governing who gets to live in a state are, and should be, legally and morally distinct from other sorts of legal rules. This intuition has long led courts to conclude that the government has considerable leeway to adopt whatever selection rules it sees fit. For example, rules that restrict the admission of immigrants on the basis of their speech are given great deference, but attempts to restrict the First Amendment rights of resident noncitizens would be subject to strict scrtuiny. (1) Outside the constitutional context, the distinction between selection rules and other rules frames debates about the legality and legitimacy of myriad laws that affect immigrants, including guest worker programs, the criminal deportation system, and recent proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. (2)

This central distinction is misguided. For over a century, every effort by courts and scholars to draw a conceptual distinction between immigrant-selecting rules and rules that affect immigrants' behavior outside the selection context (immigrant-regulating rules) has been an utter failure. These efforts have inevitably led to radical disagreement about how to classify any given rule. The reason is not surprising: legal rules cannot be classified as concerning either selection or regulation because every rule concerns both. Every rule that imposes duties on noncitizens imposes both selection pressure, potentially influencing noncitizens' decisions about whether to enter or depart the United States, and regulatory pressure, potentially influencing the way in which resident noncitizens live. At a very basic level, these are the twin consequences of any territorially bounded rule that imposes a duty on a person. Despite the fact that the distinction between selecting and regulating rules is part of the conceptual bedrock of immigration law, it is a foundation without substance.

Recognizing that all immigrant-affecting rules have consequences for both selection and regulation has a number of important implications for immigration law and theory. Fundamentally, it makes clear that we must reorganize debates about the legitimacy and constitutionality of various immigration rules. Legal rules cannot be meaningfully defended simply by contending that they are part of the process of selecting immigrants. Nor can legal rules be criticized simply by casting them as surreptitious attempts to use putative immigrant-selecting rules in order to regulate immigrants' daily lives.

Furthermore, even if we were able to get greater agreement by reformulating the dichotomy between selection rules and regulatory rules, there would still be little reason to treat the distinction as important. To be sure, sorting people across borders is meaningfully different from shaping peoples' lives wherever they do choose to live. These are two very different forms of behavior. But even were we to ignore the fact that every legal rule produces incentives for both sorts of behavior, it is hard to see why we would treat the distinction between selection and regulation as legally or morally significant. Selection and regulation are simply alternative strategies for achieving whatever a state's normative goals or constitutional commitments happen to be. A state concerned about the cultural consequences of migration, for example, can shape those consequences in two ways: by altering the spatial sorting of peoples across borders (perhaps to increase the cultural homogeneity of people who reside in the state), or by inculcating particular cultural views in those who do reside in the state.

It would be a mistake to hold an a priori preference for either selection mechanisms or regulatory mechanisms. Neither has an inherently positive or negative valence. Rather, which mechanism is more effective or desirable in any particular context is an important (and overlooked) question of institutional design. (3) Exploring this question will allow us to develop ways of evaluating immigrant-affecting rules that are analytically sharper and normatively more significant. But these new analytic frameworks will not track the misleading distinction between selection rules and regulation rules that dominates immigration law today.

In addition to this insight into the design of immigration regimes, the Article's clearer conception of the relationship between selection and regulation has other important implications for the structure of immigration law. (4) First, it demonstrates the central role that information can play in immigration policy. Second, it reorients modern debates about immigration federalism by pointing to the fundamentally different types of sorting pressure created by state and federal rules. Third, it reveals the extent to which courts and commentators have overlooked a variety of options for structuring American deportation policy.

This Article proceeds in four parts. Part I surveys several central debates in immigration law to show the prominent role played by the distinction between selection rules and regulatory rules. Parts II and III set out the Article's core arguments: first, that it may not be possible even to draw this distinction because efforts to employ it produce radical disagreement about how to categorize a wide swath of rules; and second, that even if it were possible to overcome this obstacle, there is no reason to treat the selection/regulation distinction as legally or morally significant. Part IV discusses a few implications for institutional design that follow from these conclusions.

  1. THE CONCEPTUAL STRUCTURE OF IMMIGRATION LAW

    To set the stage, this Part highlights the way in which immigration law and scholarship draw sharp conceptual, constitutional, and moral distinctions between rules that "select" immigrants and rules that regulate immigrants outside the "selection" context. This dichotomy dominates most of the central controversies concerning immigration law and theory. Part I focuses on three of the most prominent: debates about the scope of the federal government's "plenary power" over immigration, disagreements over the boundaries and legal status of so-called "alienage law," and conflicts concerning the power of state and local governments to regulate noncitizens.

    Before laying out these examples, it is useful to say a bit more about what I mean by the terms "selection" and "regulation." Part of the difficulty in defining these terms stems from the fact that they are never clearly defined by courts or commentators. Instead, in existing discourse, the ideas of selection and regulation often seem to operate more as metaphors than as clear concepts. But as I will show, there is an underlying account of selection and regulation that is central to all of the following examples. Behind all of them is a rough sense that selection has to do with the process of sorting, while regulation has to do with the process of determining how immigrants residing in the United States live their lives. For that reason, I will use the concept of "selection" to refer to spatial sorting for residency in a state. (5) In contrast, I will use the concept of "regulation" to refer to the behavioral regulation of those who live within a state. (6) It is, of course, possible to define these concepts slightly differently, but the above...

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