Strategic Systems Seeking: When and Why Undocumented Immigrants Seek Out Municipal ID in Chicago



Oct, 2022


Evento virtual

09:00 h Tiempo del Pacífico

People who experience exclusion from the state disproportionally view government as a punitive, surveilling force rather than a benevolent service provider. Marginalized groups—from undocumented immigrants to people involved in the criminal-legal system—thus commonly avoid government and its associated record-keeping systems. At the same time, marginalized communities disproportionately rely on government for essential services. In light of this contradictory relationship, when and why do people who face overlapping systems of marginalization seek out the state? This study develops a relational framework of engagement, arguing that, because marginalized residents have strong incentives to identify needed and low-threat supports, they respond to policies designed around administrative justice—an approach that seeks to attenuate inequitable constituent-state interactions.

We apply this relational framework to Chicago’s municipal ID program, CityKey, which launched in 2018. Analyzing interviews (N=196) with ID program enrollees, the study argues that the program’s administrative justice policy design induces strategic system seeking among a diverse set of marginalized communities. This study contributes to scholarship on inequality and policy feedback effects, elucidating the strategic behavior of marginalized groups and the key role of cities in promoting inclusion in the broader polity.

Angela S. García holds a PhD in Sociology from the Department of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego and a MA in Latin American Studies, also from UCSD. She is a sociologist and Assistant Professor in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, in The University of Chicago. Her research interests include international migration, law and society, race and ethnicity, urban sociology, social policy, and mixed and comparative methods. García studies the consequences of socio-legal inclusion and exclusion for undocumented immigrants across the United States, Mexico, and Spain. Focusing on subnational (state and local) immigration laws and executive administrative action, she charts how immigrants’ everyday lives, incorporation, and well-being are shaped by the legal contexts in which they reside.

García’s book, Legal Passing: Navigating Undocumented Life and Local Immigration Law (University of California Press 2019), comparatively analyzes the effects of accommodating and restrictive local immigration laws from the perspective of undocumented Mexican immigrants, the primary targets of these measures in the US.

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