The Immigrant Plight / Immigration Law: A Study in Intractibility

Ferguson, Robert A.

Intractable problems, ones that defy solution because of conflicting lines of force, almost always require an outside catalyst for any movement toward an answer. This Essay explores intractability through two parallel historical moments of conflict: debate over slavery in ante-bellum America and debate over aliens in current America. Severe discrimination (based on difference, racial prejudice, communal identity formation, and larger psychological needs) deprives these disadvantaged groups of human rights and the protection of law. Nineteenth-century slavery and twenty-first century illegal immigration also share another quality. Both stimulate virulent forms of rhetorical excess that endanger the body politic and threaten the social fabric of an increasingly divided United States. The connection of law and literature offers a catalyst, an opportunity for a change in perspective through the power of fiction. As Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s novel, Uncle Tom‘s Cabin, forced recognitions of a common humanity against slavery, so Henry Roth‘s classic immigrant novel, Call It Sleep, indicates some of what is currently needed now. The synergy between legal and literary forms of address encourages a deeper realization, and that realization, in turn, raises a question about intractable problems in general. Can the rule of law, when law itself is questioned, respond through its equal partner, the right to free expression?

Geographic Areas


Also Published In

Columbia Journal of Race and Law

More About This Work

Academic Units
Published Here
February 19, 2013