Shifting Boundaries by Alexis M. Silver - Book Review

Shifting Boundaries: Immigrant Youth Negotiating National, State, and Small Town Politics by Alexis M. Silver

By Laura Gomez

Alexis M. Silver’s Shifting Boundaries: Immigrant Youth Negotiating National, State and Small-Town Politics published by Stanford University Press, highlights the impact of inconsistent and developing immigration policies on the lives of youth in a small, rural town in North Carolina. Combining ethnography and social demography, Silver centers experience in this population study, by focusing on changing definitions of “legality” from 2000 into the early 2010s, similar to Leisy J. Abrego’s concept of (il)legality in Sacrificing Families (2014), Shifting Boundaries adds to the growing work on liminal legality, expanding its legal definition through an ethnographic analysis of extended support networks, family, and community.

Silver re-frames liminal legality to include the experience of incorporation using the narratives of 1.5 and 2nd generation Latino immigrant youth and their families. Silver places immigration policies within the history of the South that demonstrates the influence of race on experiences of incorporation. Juxtaposing legal and socio-demographic statistics with ethnographic practices, Silver “highlights the important and interactive influences of federal, state and local policies in shaping a very complex context of reception for immigrant youth” that impact the experience of incorporation and belonging. [1]

Silver’s case study of a small town, given the pseudonym Allen Creek, demonstrates the local, state and federal tensions in the local enforcement of immigration policies in both education and community institutions. Beginning with a literature review of sociological incorporation theories, Silver identifies a lack of critical attention to rural living context for which he poses tectonic incorporation as an analytical model to account for “local contexts embedded within multilayered environments” while facilitating an analysis of “how these contexts move and shift, affecting immigrants’ feelings of membership and belonging.” [2]

By complicating the environment in which the policies are reinforced, at the state and federal level, Silver highlights “how these constantly changing contexts destabilize unauthorized immigrant youth,” making the rural landscape a critical site of analysis. [3] Shifting Boundaries provides policy analysis and ethnographic accounts of personal experiences to highlight the varied results of social integration amongst immigrant youths.

The first chapter, “Shifting Contexts of Reception,” provides a context for contemporary changes in immigration policies. Silver points to Plyler v. Doe, as a crucial shift in the relationship between federal and state enforcement of immigration, calling the decision a “legislative stalemate” that directly led to institutions creating their policies at a local level (p. 33).

The following chapter, “Local Policies and Small-Town Politics,” provides local context of federal immigration enforcement in the research site. SIlver identifies the impact of North Carolina’s enforcement of 287(g) on individual experience.Using the experiences of collaborator Itzel, Silver argues that Itzel’s narrative “indirectly illustrates tectonic incorporation and directly demonstrates its spillover effects,” as she endures familial separation via the deportation of her father and brother (p. 55).

The third chapter, “Pathways to Membership” contains, an analysis of school policies that functioned in direct opposition to state policies, such as sports, and educational programs, LAC and AIM. Chapter four, “Graduation, Isolation, and Backlash after DACA,” identifies the limitations and benefits of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by highlighting the struggles of high school graduates attempting to continue their education.

The fifth chapter juxtaposes individual with Temporary Protected Status and DACA recipients to illuminate their comparable conditions, adding “immigrants with liminal legality confront many of the same uncertainty and barriers to upward mobility as their undocumented peers” (p. 114). “Inclusion through Activism” provides an analysis of the role of activism and activist organizations for youth with unauthorized citizenship through Gabriela, Mariano and Eduardo, concluding that the movement demonstrates a “pluralistic model of incorporation” (p. 139).

Silver ends the text with policy recommendations in the Conclusion chapter. Silver hopes to extend the Plyler v. Does decision to facilitate state and federal policy coordination towards a legal pathway to citizenship and residency. Organized in this manner, the book effectively demonstrates the benefits of incorporating ethnographic practices of interview and observation to demographic studies.

Following this juxtaposition is an analysis of the role or activism and activist organizations for youth with unauthorized citizenship through Gabriela, Mariano, and Eduardo, concluding that the movement demonstrates a “pluralistic model of incorporation” (p. 139). Leading to Silver’s policy recommendations in the Conclusion that hope to extend the Plyler v. Does decision to facilitate state and federal policy coordination towards a legal pathway to citizenship and residency. Silver demonstrates the benefits of incorporating ethnographic practices of interview and observation to demographic studies.

Silver’s ethnographic approach demonstrates the diversity that a tectonic incorporation model attempts to highlight, providing a significant contribution to the work on liminal legality. Silver adapts the concept of liminal legality to frame sociological theories on immigrant incorporation. Narrowing in on a moment of transition, young adults in high school with ties to undocumented peers and families, Silver astutely portrays the individual impact of shifting legal definitions in the contributors’ narratives.

As immigrants youths moved from a welcoming high school environment to the exclusionary policies of the college and the job market, the narratives demonstrate that even with legal citizenship, 1.5 and second-generation immigrant youth adopt an undocumented identity as a result. The narratives’ inclusion of intimate relationships with undocumented peers and family demonstrates the analytical significance of ethnography to demographic studies. The impact of liminal legality on families is evident throughout Silver’s work.

Furthermore, Silver juxtaposes legal precedence with socio-historical context to demonstrate how “liminal legality” develops at a local level, frequently in conflict with state and federal policies. Continuously returning to the Plyler v. Doe decision, Silver demonstrates how this fissure between federal and state policies develops into the local attempt to enforce 287(g). Silver concludes that since “the decision was grounded in the principles of equal protection and not preemption, the case had little influence on subsequent state policies affecting immigrants” (p. 102).

Moreover, considering chapter 2’s framing of North Carolina as the “Nuevo South,” Silver incorporates the history of racism and white supremacy that influence current immigration laws, resulting in a hostile local context for immigrants in the American South. While the nation moved towards more inclusive immigration policies, North Carolina and 25 other states filed a lawsuit against the expansion of DACA and DAPA, placing the effects of Plyler v. Doe decision at the forefront. Also, Silver’s legal analysis of the Plyler v. Doe provides historical context for the 2018 passing of New Jersey Senate Bill 699 that grants in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students.

Silver’s previous work on young adult Latinos dealing transitioning from secondary education into the job market and college is expanded by a deep ethnographic engagement with the impact of education and immigration policies on youth in this small, rural context. Adding to the work on immigrant incorporation Silver carefully centers affect in her critique of uniform assimilation, showing the diverse responses and strategies deployed by 1.5- and second-generation immigrant youth. However, Silver does not provide an analysis of the impact of gender within this matrix of “tectonic incorporation,” but the model provided facilitates an analysis of gender. Silver’s analytical attention to the role of place and the incorporation of a variety of methodological approaches makes this a highly useful text for a range of disciplinary interests, including but not limited to immigration, identity, transnationalism, and legal studies.

References

  1. p. 11
  2. p.13
  3. p. 29
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