Broken Mirrors: Identity, Duty, and Belonging in the Age of the New La(tinx) Migra
From DuBois to Anzaldua, the racial and ethnic minority experience in the United States is a story of simultaneity — of multiple, overlapping identities and conflict. It is the struggle for belonging somewhere, while lacking full membership anywhere. In this dissertation, I examine the emergence of a disproportionately Latinx immigration law enforcement workforce as a metaphor for this experience. In electing to work in immigration law enforcement, Latinxs make a claim on belonging in the United States rooted in political (and national) obligation, and a symbolic relinquishment of ethnic group identity. This claim, however, imposes a cost: liminality — segmented membership both in an ethnic community within which they are seen as having turned their backs, and in an American mainstream where immutable ascriptive markers relegate them to a perpetual state of otherness. By exploring how Latinx immigration agents deal with their cross-cutting identities and the tensions they engender, I address what it means to be caught between, yet immersed within, two distinct camps — the police and the policed, both problem and solution. Bringing together literature on social identity, race and ethnic politics, and bureaucracy, my work challenges traditional understandings not only of the role of social identities in the behavior of state agents, but the ways in which individuals balance, or accommodate multiple, overlapping, yet fundamentally contradictory social group memberships. The evidence presented herein — drawn from interviews with one-hundred Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents across Texas, Arizona, and California — reveals a much different image of the Latinx immigration agent than extant scholarship suggests we should find, consciously aware of, and engaged in, the space between their overlapping identities. The stories they share make clear that liminality — intersectionality — beyond a mere theoretical construct, is a lived experience; it is an ongoing process that requires the conscious accommodation of internal contradictions, because the wholesale abandonment of one or more identities is a more difficult and costly exercise.
Political science; Latino; Latina; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); Immigration Law Enforcement; identity; Latinx
Bensel, Richard F.; Mettler, Suzanne Bridget
Ph. D., Government
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis