Sovereign intimacies

The lives of documents within US state-noncitizen relationships

by GRAY ALBERT ABARCA and SUSAN BIBLER COUTIN

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In the United States, the doctrine of plenary power grants the federal government considerable discretion in formulating US immigration policies. With only limited court review, the executive and legislative branches of government can create or abrogate immigration policies quite suddenly. This produces extreme uncertainty in the lives of noncitizens, who must collect check stubs, bills, medical records, and other documents in hopes of eventually being able to submit them as part of a legalization case. Such record-keeping practices enable noncitizens to speak back to the state in its own language, thus exploiting opportunities to challenge illegalization. The discretion that has been deemed key to US sovereignty therefore makes not only immigrants but also the state vulnerable as it endows documents with transformative potential.