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Theorizing Transnational Resistance “From the Inside Out”

Ama Ruth Francis, Global Southerners in the North, 93 Temp. L. Rev. 689 (2021).

In Global Southerners in the North, Ama Ruth Francis offers a new theoretical angle on the long-standing and crucial question of how to mobilize popular opinion and legal power on behalf of migrants who lack political voice. Her contribution decenters the state as the key actor in international law, and suggests instead that scholars concentrate on individuals and sub-state spaces. Focusing on climate change migration, Francis suggests that the way to address the severe power asymmetries between those responsible for and those most impacted by the changing climate is to reconceptualize the Global South to include all people and spaces rendered expendable by racial capitalism. She builds on the Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) literature to argue that international law should be theorized as a shared commitment that can be furthered by political agents – in other words, that states are not the only actors capable of creating international law.

Francis begins her analysis by noting that the Global South is not a monolithic bloc; there are vast differences across and within states. For example, among the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), China is a major emitter even though it remains part of the Global South. Moreover, within states in the Global North and the Global South, racial capitalism creates significant gulfs between rich and poor that underlie disparities in both emissions and community resilience in the face of climate change. She describes the TWAIL literature on international environmental law that discusses the history of colonial expansion and domination linked to environmental degradation, and explains how this project of global economic inequality was justified and continues to be bolstered by international law.

Francis underlines the importance of this groundwork, but suggests that the Global South should be defined by material conditions rather than geographic terms, a move that encompasses individuals and sub-state spaces. Drawing from Balakrishnan Rajagopal’s framing of the Global South as a contestation of power formations, she suggests that we can think of the Global South as deterritorialized political practice that creates space for counterhegemonic discourse. Francis describes these Global Souths in the north as racial capitalism’s externalities, highlighting the glaring expendability of some individuals and spaces in the climate change context, and noting how those distinctions are drawn on racial grounds.

Though Francis is perhaps more sanguine than I am about the promise of international human rights law, and in particular of the Teitiota decision, she demonstrates ably the ways in which climate migration highlights the limits of that body of law. Despite obligations to protect individuals’ human rights regardless of immigration status, we see expendability drawn along racial lines. Francis explains that human rights law is incapable of enforcing the rights of climate migrants because such a step would require calling out Global North responsibility for climate change.

To bridge that gap, Francis suggests a transnational alliance of Global Southerners as political agents with the capacity to shift international law. Drawing from Harold Koh’s transnational legal process theory, she explains that “international law is constituted through a dynamic interplay between domestic and international legal norms, and those domestic norms are created through domestic political processes.”  Francis argues that Global Southerners in the North can leverage rights discourse to begin to shift international legal norms through domestic legal processes.  I would add that they might even start to frame climate justice measures as duties, perhaps drawing on the right to solidarity. Francis suggests measures to operationalize the theory, including climate action in domestic courts, transnational advocacy efforts, and drafting domestic legislation.  In other words, rather than invoking international law in domestic courts, she makes the case for transnational coordination of domestic climate efforts as a means of reforming international legal standards over time.

Francis offers an interesting and creative route forward for climate migrants seeking redress under international law. This article strikes me as a promising first step in a broader research agenda. A follow-on article, for example, could engage in more detail with both the idea of Souths and Southerners in the Global North as well as Norths and Northerners in the Global South. It could also expand on the operational component: if the Global North is defined as the defense of global capitalism and economic inequality, how do we identify the actors opposed to that approach and what steps can be taken to mobilize a unified political voice amongst them? Perhaps most importantly for this readership, Francis offers a role for scholars in identifying, describing, and uplifting the role of social movements in shaping not just legal discourse but also international law and policy.

Cite as: Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Theorizing Transnational Resistance “From the Inside Out”, JOTWELL (September 7, 2021) (reviewing Ama Ruth Francis, Global Southerners in the North, 93 Temp. L. Rev. 689 (2021)),

Follow the Money: Capital Controls as Migrant Control

Shayak Sarkar, Capital Controls as Migrant Controls, 109 Cal. L. R. 799 (2021).

When I picture immigration enforcement, my mind’s eye sees walls bisecting dusty hills, “POLICE” slashed across ICE uniforms, sheriffs with immigrant detainers, and the bright painted bricks and silvery wire of detention facilities. I don’t see money.

At least, I didn’t. Then I read Shayak Sarkar’s Capital Controls as Migrant Controls. Now, like a Sixth Sense, when I picture immigration control, I see money. I see it everywhere, walking around. Capital Controls will shift your perspective on the relationship between how we control capital and how capital is a tool of immigration control.

I am a sucker for legal history, and Capital Controls delivers. The article narrates the arc of financial regulation theory—from “financial liberalization,” advocating for the removal of capital controls to expand development, to a 180-degree-Keynesian turn toward stronger financial borders to prevent flows of foreign capital from exacerbating domestic financial problems. Financial borders were also promoted as a way to address national security concerns. The narrative arc alights on the current state of affairs in which capital controls have largely fallen to the wayside over the last few decades. Now, scholars of finance, political science, and law critique the asymmetry between human and capital movement, as with Nobel Laureate Gary Becker advocating for lifting border controls to match more closely the movements of goods, services, and capital.

Immigration scholars have expended many pixels examining how the law of immigration admissions and welfare have drawn lines between citizen haves and noncitizen have-nots. Sarkar adds a wholly new dimension, exploring “the law’s disparate treatment of migrant wealth and the institutions responsible for creating and enforcing such laws.” As he points out, “ordinary people crossing borders …. accumulate capital, whether that crossing occurs lawfully or unlawfully.” That is, noncitizens are no different from citizens in moving money from one place to another in order to live, provide for family, work, and operate in a society organized around capital. Much of that money flows across borders.

Controlling the particular ways that migrants move money, says Sarkar, constitutes a form of migration control. Capital controls distinguish migrants from citizens “by regulating a migrant’s access to their own money.” The article examines three forms of capital controls acting as migrant controls. The first is the popcorning of federal and state proposals to tax remittances that noncitizens use to transfer money earned in the United States to their country of origin. Oklahoma is the only state thus far to have passed actual legislation; other proposals would base taxation on either the cross-border destination of the capital or the immigration status of the sender, or both. Most seek to constrict or prevent the cross-border entry of undocumented noncitizens.

Second, the U.S. government conditions an undocumented immigrant’s receipt of earned Social Security benefits on leaving the United States. As Sarkar points out, these provisions press for expelling migrants themselves. They “create a Faustian bargain: relinquish your adopted homeland or relinquish your capital.” This condition operates as a form of migrant control, but also imposes a collateral consequence on the United States of expelling the capital from the country.

Last, post-9-11 legislation compels banks and similar institutions (also known as “insured depository institutions”) to “identify” their customers, but without saying much about how. Inspired by the employment eligibility requirements of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, the law largely leaves it to banks to figure out how to comply with the identity verification requirements. The law provides few guidelines and no determinative list of acceptable documentation of the sort that is a feature of the employment verification system (itself a flawed and much-critiqued enforcement system). These identity requirements have resulted in suspended accounts due to uncertainty about a noncitizen customer’s identification. They have also created a division based on citizenship status between those with access to the relative security of a bank and those who cannot access such services or perceive them as a part of the immigration enforcement infrastructure.

These financial controls act to regulate both migrants and migration. They screen out those whom governmental or private institutions deem undesirable, burdening movement into or within the United States and pushing outward migration of those deemed undesirable. By drawing distinctions based on citizenship status, they also communicate that noncitizens occupy a less favored tier on the membership scale in the community to which they have moved.

What I like (lots) about this article, beyond pulling the scales from my eyes about the significance of capital regulation as a means of migration control, is that it applies a seemingly orthogonal area—the law and policy of finance—to immigration law. It also contributes in a new way to the substantial literature on the private and subfederal enforcement of immigration law. The collage in my mind’s eye of immigration enforcement was mostly composed of images of federal agencies employing brute-force methodologies for controlling the movement of people through a crimmigration and securitization framework. Sarkar takes us into the liminal world of financial controls populated not with ICE and the Customs and Border Patrol but rather with private institutions such as banks, state and local regulators, and financial and welfare agencies like the Social Security Administration and the IRS.

Cite as: Juliet Stumpf, Follow the Money: Capital Controls as Migrant Control, JOTWELL (August 5, 2021) (reviewing Shayak Sarkar, Capital Controls as Migrant Controls, 109 Cal. L. R. 799 (2021)),

A Positive Immigration Agenda for Racial Justice

Kevin Johnson, Bringing Racial Justice to Immigration Law, 116 Nw. U.L. Rev. 1 (2021).

Since the summer of 2020, Americans have been having more explicit discussions about racial hierarchy in the United States and the role of law enforcement in maintaining such hierarchy. Kevin Johnson’s forthcoming essay, Bringing Racial Justice to Immigration Law, brings that conversation to immigration law. Johnson argues that Congress, but ultimately the Supreme Court, needs to explicitly address the racial animus that has motivated the structure of immigration law in the United States. Through an examination of immigration history, the emergence of a robust immigrant rights movement, and the significant backlash from the Trump Administration, Johnson demonstrates that a positive agenda for immigration reform is required in order for the country to move towards a more just immigration system, rather than simply reverting to the pre-Trump immigration system, which was not a model for justice.

Johnson’s essay begins by mapping the racially discriminatory foundations of immigration law and the minimal role that courts have played in acknowledging and remedying such discrimination. The essay then discusses the emergence of the robust immigrant rights movement despite the fact that non-citizens are not eligible to vote. A response to the growth of the immigrant rights movement was a backlash by the Trump Administration. The next section of the essay explores the efforts undertaken by the Trump Administration to “maintain and reinforce the racial caste quality of the immigration system.” (P. 3.) The essay ends with an appreciation for the immigrant rights movement, and the claim that the goals sought by the movement will only be “meaningful, lasting, and truly transformative” if the Supreme Court jurisprudence shifts to require robust constitutional review of immigration laws and “allows the courts to serve as a check on racial animus.” (P. 3.)

Bringing Racial Justice to Immigration Law is a timely and important piece because it draws attention to the role of racial animus in the structure of U.S. immigration law. Scholars often recount the xenophobic concerns that have motivated the country’s immigration law, but it is rarely referred to as feature of the system. Rather it is examined as a bug. Johnson’s piece requires readers to rethink that analysis.

Acknowledging the structural challenges within U.S. immigration law leads Johnson to highlight two important features of a positive immigrant rights agenda. The first is legislative reform because at present it is “likely the only way to attempt to bring greater racial justice for immigrants.” (P. 11.) Congress could enact the DREAM Act, comprehensive immigration reform, and reform the immigration bureaucracy. These would bring about important changes that would positively impact the lives of millions of individuals. However, Johnson explains that these types of reforms will be vulnerable to the goals and perspectives of the next political majority because courts exercise such minimal review of substantive immigration law.

Therefore the second claim is that the Supreme Court must require “constitutional review of the immigration laws and allow[] the courts to serve as a check on racial animus.” (P. 3.) As Johnson details in his essay, the Supreme Court established an extremely deferential standard of review for immigration cases in the 1800s that limits the courts from reviewing substantive challenges to immigration laws, particularly in the area of Equal Protection challenges. Therefore the political branches can, and have, enacted immigration restrictions rooted in racial animus and the courts have failed to acknowledge the racial animus or strike down the laws or policies. As Johnson explains, “[t]he immigration laws’ immunity from constitutional review encourage Congress to act on its worst instincts and prevent a dialogue between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches about the constitutional constraints on immigration law and policy.” (Pp. 12-13.) Meaningful change within immigration law will require substantive changes to the law, but also significant changes in the role of the courts as a check on the political branches.

As Congress considers the various immigration bills before it, it is important to remember that “[w]ithout constitutional constraints, the nation can expect repeated episodes of anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by racial animus, with the Trump presidency simply making the most recent and extreme one.” (P. 13.)

Cite as: Angela Banks, A Positive Immigration Agenda for Racial Justice, JOTWELL (July 7, 2021) (reviewing Kevin Johnson, Bringing Racial Justice to Immigration Law, 116 Nw. U.L. Rev. 1 (2021)),

Rescue Based in Liberty and Dignity

Shalini Bhargava Ray, The Law of Rescue, 108 Cal. L. Rev. 619 (2020).

The Law of Rescue connects aiding migrants to the body of law governing rescue generally. Professor Shalini Bhargava Ray proposes a new theoretical framework for the law of rescue based on her examination of prosecutions for migrant rescue. Her framework de-emphasizes economic interests and lifts up considerations of liberty and dignity.

While “[t]he law of rescue was not designed to express, promote, or protect the human dignity of beneficiaries or the liberty of rescuers,” (P. 623) Professor Ray argues that it should be redesigned to do so. Her new framework would balance three considerations: (1) the rescuer’s liberty to engage in the rescue; (2) the beneficiary’s need for rescue; and (3) the potential third-party harm flowing from a consensual rescue.

The law of rescue cuts across many substantive areas of law. Professor Ray identifies tort law, contract law, criminal law, public international law and maritime law, in addition to immigration law, as providing standards for rescue. Professor Ray examines how these substantive areas treat rescue in various circumstances and the historical motivations behind those rules. She is particularly interested in how the law of rescue treats both the person needing rescue and the (potential) rescuer.

Professor Ray finds that the law surrounding rescue mostly has developed around economic interests and commercial development. Existing theoretical frameworks are anchored in and dominated by the concerns of economic elites: economic efficiency and property rights. It is a mistake, according to Professor Ray, to ignore dignity interests of the rescued and liberty interests of rescuers. Because these considerations are not prominent, “the law of rescue leaves vast areas of important rescue work exposed to prosecution.” (P. 623.)

Migrant rescue, for example, can be subject to prosecution. Federal law prohibits transporting or smuggling an individual but also includes a prohibition on harboring. Harboring includes inducing or encouraging an authorized individual to remain in the United States. Some courts have interpreted the prohibition on inducing or encouraging to include any kind of assistance, including free housing and food.

The government does prosecute under the harboring laws. Professor Ray details the 2018 arrest and trial of Scott Warren. Mr. Warren was charged with harboring counts after he provided food, water, and shelter to two migrants in Arizona. While Mr. Warren was acquitted of the harboring charge, his arrest and trial serves as a powerful example of what is at stake for rescuers when rescue is illegal.

Applying her new framework to the rescue of migrants, Professor Ray concludes that prohibiting rescue in this context degrades both liberty and dignity. If the law protects the right not to rescue, as it does in torts, then it should equally promote the interests of those who want to rescue.

To Professor Ray, the rescuer’s liberty interest in rescuing connects to the freedom of association, both as a constitutional norm and a moral value. Professor Ray argues that this liberty interest is strongest when a rescuer seeks to prevent death, as is frequently the case in aiding individuals who recently crossed the US border illegally. The liberty interest is strongest in this situation because the individual already has crossed the border (the rescuer is not leading the border crossing) and the rescuer is not affecting the ultimate decision whether the individual will be able to remain legally in the United States. Instead, the rescuer is promoting another human’s life and welfare while satisfying the rescuers own moral values. In such a scenario, the beneficiary’s dignity risks are high, as survival is at stake. As Professor Ray states, “[p]ermitting those migrants who do cross the border to survive the journey is the least the law can do.” (P. 658.) Consideration of the risk of third-party harm incorporates externalities. This risk is low, and, in any case, outweighed when the migrant’s life is at stake. Professor Ray considers externalities such as littering, trespassing on private land, damage to private land, property crimes, personal crimes, and the protection of sovereignty.

Professor Ray’s article is an important contribution to a growing trend to link immigration law to other areas of law. Traditionally immigration law has been seen as an outlier and is often left out of conversations about mainstream legal developments. This has been changing somewhat in administrative law and constitutional law. The Law of Rescue builds another immigration law bridge.

The Law of Rescue also is an important contribution because it identifies and highlights the importance of dignity interests in the law. Dignity interests often are overshadowed by economic interests, but Professor Ray reminds us that they are just as important. In Professor Ray’s new theoretical framework, dignity is a factor among three to be considered. In some ways, her proposal is in fact quite modest; one might argue that dignity should be the overriding consideration. Her proposal seems revolutionary, however, because dignity as a concept is waning in immigration law. Reimagining the law of rescue is a good place to start to inject dignity back into how the law treats migrants.

Cite as: Jill Family, Rescue Based in Liberty and Dignity, JOTWELL (November 11, 2020) (reviewing Shalini Bhargava Ray, The Law of Rescue, 108 Cal. L. Rev. 619 (2020)),

Resistance is Not As Useless As We Believed

Daniel Farbman, Resistance Lawyering, 107 Cal. L. Rev. 6 (2019), available at SSRN.

“Resistance is useless,” said the Vogon guard to Ford and Arthur, the intergalactic protagonists of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That statement turned out to be pretty accurate. Despite Ford’s attempt at resistance through searing critique of the bureaucratic system that the Vogon guard serves, he and Arthur are summarily pushed through the airlock into the starry void.1

Perhaps what Ford needed was the lesson in Daniel Farbman’s Resistance Lawyering:  that resistance staged from within an unjust and illegitimate system, rather than from the outside, can be dramatically effective. Farbman illustrates this through examining resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the sharp edge of a system that shaped both the racial trajectory of this nation and our national yardstick of the meaning of injustice.

Resistance Lawyering introduces to the historical stage a troupe of unknowns: abolitionist lawyers who used the stingy, slanted procedural rules of the Fugitive Slave Act, in combination with political savvy, to “wage a proxy war against the institution of slavery.” Walking the halls of Congress or bringing impact litigation to defeat slavery, approaches that attack the institution from the outside, was not their methodology. Instead, they were direct service lawyers, employing the summary processes of the Act in service of their clients’ freedom and also their abolitionist commitment. These lawyers’ movement politics manifested in a commitment to ensuring that their clients remained free by engaging with and using the system the lawyers opposed.

Celebrating success in these cases would have been in tension with the idea that had significant traction for abolitionists: that the Fugitive Slave Act imposed relentless unremitting injustice on people who had succeeded in fleeing slavery. The historical consensus has embraced that narrative, concluding that the overwhelming majority of people were returned to slavery.  Farbman’s groundbreaking archival research, however, reveals that this direct service, linked with an unwavering commitment to opposing enslavement, was far more effective than previously realized. The article reports that “of 210 cases invoking some form of process under the Law, eighty-one (38.5 percent) of the fugitives ended their cases as free people,” either exonerated, escaped, or having had their freedom purchased.

I like this article (lots) because, in addition to the revelations that archival research brings, and to the light the article sheds on one of the most harrowing decades in this nation’s history, it’s a good read. Farbman introduces us to characters who once drew breath here, at the most important crossroads of their lives–people like Lewis, captured by a slavecatcher, who obtained representation by two abolitionist lawyers: John Joliffe and future president Rutherford B. Hayes. While his lawyers engaged with the Fugitive Slave Act commissioner, Lewis seized an opportunity not contemplated by the Act:

“While the room (including the lawyers on both sides) was thus distracted, Lewis slipped his chair back a little bit to make space for himself. Noticing that nobody took note of him moving his chair, he did it again until he was behind the marshal and almost in among the crowd. Still no one noticed his movements, so he quietly stood up and stepped backwards. An ally in the crowd gave him a nudge of encouragement and someone put a hat on his head. Then, while [Commissioner] Carpenter droned on, Lewis quietly walked right out of the courtroom and mingled among the crowd of free black activists who had gathered to observe the hearing.”

Lewis made it to a safe house and ultimately to Canada and freedom.

The article dubs this approach of working within the system in furtherance of its destruction “resistance lawyering.” Abolitionist lawyers were able to both protect their individual clients and use those cases to further political opposition to slavery. Resistance lawyering worked when the lawyers won, either by overcoming the procedurally-skewed odds and convincing an often-sympathetic judge on the merits, or by delaying the process sufficiently so that the client took the opportunity to escape or abolitionist groups staged a rescue. Even when lawyer lost though, the legalized violence of the return of a client to enslavement, and the inflicted horrors of legalized retaliation, laid before the public, furthered the abolitionist crusade against the law. This tactic of delay and transparency frustrated the summary process in the Fugitive Slave Act that was intended to facilitate rapid return of people who had made it to the North, with as little publicity as possible.

So what does this have to do with immigration? (After all, I’m an immigration editor for JOTWELL.) The article singles out immigration law as one area in which resistance lawyering has taken root. The United States has over the past few decades constructed a grand apparatus of immigration enforcement that many advocates believe encroaches on once sacrosanct principles of immigration law, like asylum law and family unity. The development of these institutions—what Eisha Jain has called the enforcement pyramid—results in mass deportation and detention but also play out among legal, social, and racial lines when enforcement manifests as surveillance and social control of communities of color. Arrest, deportation and detention rates have soared as have rates of conviction for immigration crimes. Procedural shortcuts to expelling noncitizens using administrative forms of deportation now leapfrog court proceedings as easily as turnstile jumping.

The lesson that Resistance Lawyering brings to the present is that daily direct advocacy linked to movement ideology has been effective in resisting institutionalized injustice. The article points to immigration law as one of several areas where resistance lawyering has either taken root or could. Stephen Manning and I have written before about massive collaborative resistance to family detention. That resistance effort relies on the accumulation of daily direct service actions yoked to the larger goal of frustrating, opposing, and ending family detention itself. Ingrid Eagly, Steven Shafer, and Janna Whalley have documented the role that immigration courts (and advocates) have played in reducing deportation and detention by reversing half of the negative credible fear decisions of asylum officers and systematically lowering the bond amount set by detention officers.

For observers of legal transformation, Resistance Lawyering holds another lesson. As commentators, scholars, and analysts, we often train our binoculars on impact litigation making waves in the Supreme Court, track the freefall of comprehensive immigration reform, or obsess over high-level agency policy and pronouncements. Resistance Lawyering teaches us that when we overlook the integration of direct service with political goalposts, we may be missing the game.

Cite as: Juliet Stumpf, Resistance is Not As Useless As We Believed, JOTWELL (June 12, 2020) (reviewing Daniel Farbman, Resistance Lawyering, 107 Cal. L. Rev. 6 (2019), available at SSRN),