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Congressional Action Alert on Immigration

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August 21, 2017


Controversies about oil pipelines infringing on Native American sovereignty, immigration, human rights, climate change, healthcare, police violence, and torture have generated heated discussion across the political spectrum.  Anthropologists, who have a broad basis of expertise in communities that live with structural inequalities, have an important role to play in contemporary policy debates.  Twenty-three anthropologists came together in May 2017 for a two-day workshop at the AAA headquarters in Washington D.C. to discuss the current political landscape and consider how anthropological insights might inform governmental policy. We have identified several Congressional policy initiatives of broad importance to anthropologists and will be issuing periodic updates and calls for action leading up to the AAA Annual Meetings in November in Washington DC, and beyond.


ICE POLICE (H.R.2073) & The Bridge Act (S.128)

People from Latin America, Africa, and six Muslim-majority nations have been targeted by the Trump administration for arbitrary detention, increased surveillance, deportation, and immigration bans.

House of Representatives Action

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from the Department of Homeland Security are wearing jackets and vests with the words “POLICE” written in over-sized capitalized letters.  These agents are not in fact police and do not have the same legal authorities as police.  Since the law is ambiguous, ICE officials are permitted to wear “police” uniforms. Under the guise of being police, ICE agents have attempted to force entry into private residences, churches, and workplaces in situations where they have lacked legal authority to do so. Ethnographic research shows that uniforms shape professional identity and reach “more subtly and pervasively into the routines of police work” (Paperman and Katz 2003: 410).  Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) has introduced a bill called H.R.2073 that would prohibit immigration officers and Homeland Security agents from wearing clothing bearing the word “police.”  Many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have joined Rep. Velázquez as co-sponsors of this bill. See if your Representative has sponsored the bill and track its progress online.

Senate Action

Officials across the country are cracking down on Latin American immigrants and pushing to remove deportation protection from nearly 800,000 Dreamers who came to the United States as undocumented children. A definitive study of this community reports: Dreamers “embody American values and confirm the promise of the Dream, yet live under the constant threat of deportation” (Terrio 2015: 3).  Show your support for the bipartisan Bridge Act (S. 128) to “Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy” proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Durban (D-IL).  If enacted, this legislation could grant legal permanent residence to as many as 1.5 million undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. See if your Senator has sponsored S.128 and track its progress online.


Members of Congress will be visiting their local districts in August. We urge all AAA members to meet with elected representatives—sharing your research expertise and specific concerns about unlawful behavior of ICE Agents (H.R.2073) and the status of the Bridge Act (S. 128).


For more background information on Congressional advocacy, please read the COSSA Handbook Social & Behavioral Science Research Advocacy.


During the AAA Annual Meetings in November, members will have the opportunity to participate in a workshop on legislative advocacy led by staff members from Congressional offices and anthropologists with policy experience. In the run up to the AAA Annual Meetings, if you know of any upcoming policy initiatives that we should focus on, please let us know (Eben Kirksey, and Harjant Gill,  This Congressional policy initiative emerged from a meeting of twenty-three scholars in Washington D.C. in May 2017:

Nisrin Abdelrahman (Stanford), Attiya Ahmad (George Washington University), Chloe Ahmann (George Washington University), Alex W. Barker (University of Missouri), Matthew Chrisler (The CUNY Graduate Center), Gloria Everson, Agustín Fuentes (Notre Dame), Harjant Gill (Towson University), Inderpal Grewal (Yale University), Hugh Gusterson (George Washington University),  Eben Kirksey (UNSW Sydney), Edward Liebow (AAA), David Machledt (National Help Law Program), Jeff Martin (AAA), Leith Mullings (The CUNY Graduate Center), Negar Razavi (University of Pennsylvania), Anne Spice (The CUNY Graduate Center), Susan Terrio (Georgetown), Cecilia Van Hollen (Syracuse University),  Alisse Waterston (John Jay College of Criminal Justice), Janine Wedel (George Mason University), Kath Weston (University of Virginia), Bianca Williams (University of Colorado Boulder),   .

If you would like to join this emergent network of scholars, please write to Eben Kirksey ( and Harjant Gill (


Paperman, Patricia, and Jack Katz (2003) Surveillance underground: The uniform as an interaction device. Ethnography 4(3):397-419.

Terrio, Susan J. (2015) Whose child am I? unaccompanied, undocumented children in U.S. immigration custody. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

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