The Law Into Their Own Hands: Immigration and the Politics of Exceptionalism
By Roxanne Lynn Doty, University of Arizona Press, 2009, 160 pages
Review by Curt Prendergast
Arizona has become the “epicenter of anti-immigrantism,” wrote Roxanne Lynn Doty in her book on the rise of border vigilantism and the increasingly stringent immigration enforcement measures appearing across the United States. She begins with an insider’s view of the Minuteman Project and takes the reader through the complex web of activists, politicians, academics, pundits, talk radio hosts, and think tanks that back the new “attrition through enforcement” strategy. Arizonans may recognize this strategy from last year’s Senate Bill 1070.
Through interviews with members of the Minuteman Project, analysis of news stories, and data gathered from polls and academic sources, Doty places this new strategy in the context of the politics of exceptionalism. She defines exceptionalism as “those political situations in which individuals and groups are turned into an exception by the exercise of sovereign power, resulting in their exclusion from basic rights guaranteed by the law or the constitution.”
In the first chapter, “Fear and Loathing on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” Doty describes the rise of vigilantism in Arizona. She argues that this vigilantism and increasingly harsh enforcement laws result in an exceptionalism that “works its way into the everyday lives of those most affected, denying them their human dignity, peace of mind, and security, and often threatening the basic material necessities of life.”
Doty includes a detailed description of the major players in the anti-immigrant movement. She acknowledges that this movement is not a formal organization. Instead, it is a loose collection of people from across the country and from all walks of life who view the current immigration situation as a crisis that threatens the meaning of being American. This movement is an example of “statecraft from below,” in which the shaping of issues and key decisions “can originate with widely dispersed, non-state, non-elite actors.”
However, the anti-immigration movement is much greater than the sum of its parts, according to Doty. “Individual names and faces may be unknown and/or quickly forgotten, but the phenomenon itself lives on, feeding off powerful sentiments that lurk beneath the surface of our professed values of equality and respect for individual human beings and their rights.”
Doty brings together a wide array of issues and, apart from a section on the academic theories that form the basis of her study, makes them easily digestible for the average reader. Although it is apparent that she opposes anti-immigration enforcement measures, Doty provides a concrete and far-reaching contribution to the national immigration debate. This book is useful for anyone interested in understanding contemporary issues in immigration, as well as the people and organizations behind the anti-immigration movement.