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Relief or removal: State logics of deservingness and masculinity for immigrant men in removal proceedings

Law & Society Review

Published online on


["Law & Society Review, Volume 56, Issue 2, Page 167-187, June 2022. ", "\nAbstract\nIn recent years, there has been an unprecedented rise in the number of immigrants facing removal from the United States, many of whom make a case for their right to be granted relief from removal and stay in the country. While immigrant men of color are disproportionately represented in both removal proceedings and contemporary sociopolitical constructions of immigrant criminalization, existing literature has largely overlooked the state's cultural logics involved in decision‐making about immigrant relief or removal. Drawing on theories of racialized masculinity and state gendering, I analyze how judges in immigration court utilize a politicized discourse of masculinity to justify legalization for immigrant men through their relational ties to US citizens. Using ethnographic observations of hearings for the Cancellation of Removal and the judicial decisions that support immigrant removal or relief, I develop a conceptual framework of “relational masculinity,” in which judges evaluate men as emotionally involved parents and partners in traditional family arrangements, raising culturally integrated Americans, and as economic providers of upward social mobility, to determine their deservingness for relief. These findings suggest that, alongside widespread gendered and racialized criminalization, the state also engages in an evaluation process to assess the masculinity of immigrant men who may be formally admitted into the United States. I argue that adherence to these gendered and racialized norms plays a key role in determining migrants' deservingness and membership, with important implications for how the state actively manages immigrant masculinity and bolsters caregiving support for US citizens, alongside heightened criminalization.\n"]