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Contesting Immigration Policy in Court
Legal Activism and its Radiating Effects in the United States and France

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Law and Society

  • Author: Leila Kawar, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Date Published: June 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107071117


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About the Authors
  • What difference does law make in immigration policymaking? Since the 1970s, networks of progressive attorneys in both the US and France have attempted to use litigation to assert rights for non-citizens. Yet judicial engagement - while numerically voluminous - remains doctrinally curtailed. This study offers new insights into the constitutive role of law in immigration policymaking by focusing on the legal frames, narratives, and performances forged through action in court. Challenging the conventional wisdom that 'cause litigation' has little long-term impact on policymaking unless it produces broad rights-protective principles, this book shows that legal contestation can have important radiating effects on policy by reshaping how political actors approach immigration issues. Based on extensive fieldwork in the United States and France, this book explores the paths by which litigation has effected policy change in two paradigmatically different national contexts.

    • The first scholarly history of contemporary immigrant rights litigation
    • Based on a unique combination of archival research and more than sixty in-depth interviews with litigators and government attorneys in two national settings
    • Explicitly decenters the American experience of legal activism, allowing scholars and practitioners to consider alternative models
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    • Joint Winner of the 2016 Herbert Jacob Book Award, Law and Society Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Dr Kawar analyzes high-profile immigrant-rights cases in France and the United States, arguing persuasively that legal advocacy subtly transforms political debate, administrative practice, and cultural beliefs by assembling and publicizing meanings that become public currency. Her insightful re-framing offers a fresh and positive approach to the study of litigation's impact on public policy.' Doris Marie Provine, Professor Emerita of the School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University

    'Artfully interweaving sociolegal studies and comparative law, Leila Kawar offers a novel and immensely insightful analysis of the politics of immigrant rights legal activism … a truly important and unusually elegant work.' Mitchel Lasser, author of Judicial Transformations: The Rights Revolution in the Courts of Europe

    'Leila Kawar has written a fascinating and nuanced account of the evolution of immigrants' rights mobilizations in the United States and France. However, Contesting Immigration Policy in Court is far more. A pathbreaking comparative study grounded in meticulous research, it offers rich lessons on the complex webs linking legal doctrine, lawyer advocacy, and movements for social change.' Hiroshi Motomura, Susan Westerberg Prager Professor of Law, University of California, Los Angeles and author of Immigration Outside the Law

    'Leila Kawar's well researched and clearly written study convincingly demonstrates how legal rights activists generated a variety of important impacts on immigration policy-making in both France and the United States over several decades. Contesting Immigration Policy in Court is an important book for all scholars interested in legal activism, the politics of rights, and social change.' Michael McCann, Gordon Hirabayashi Professor, University of Washington, DC

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2015
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107071117
    • length: 232 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.48kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. What difference does law make in immigration policymaking?
    2. A new area of legal practice
    3. Formalization of immigrant rights
    4. Institutionalizing legal innovation
    5. Enacting adversarial legalism through class action lawsuits
    6. Performing legality before the Conseil d'Etat
    7. Conclusion: legal activism and its radiating effects.

  • Author

    Leila Kawar, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
    Leila Kawar is an assistant professor in the Legal Studies Program of the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Council for European Studies, focuses on the intersection of legal activity with migration and citizenship. She is active in the Law and Society Association, where she served for four years as coordinator for the Citizenship and Immigration Collaborative Research Network. She is a cofounder of the Migration and Citizenship Section of the American Political Science Association.


    • Joint Winner of the 2016 Herbert Jacob Book Award, Law and Society Association
    • Winner, 2016 Best Book Award, Migration and Citizenship Section, American Political Science Association

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