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Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  418 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Explores what it means to be undocumented in a legal, social, economic and historical context
In this illuminating work, immigrant rights activist Aviva Chomsky shows how “illegality” and “undocumentedness” are concepts that were created to exclude and exploit. With a focus on US policy, she probes how people, especially Mexican and Central Americans, have been assigned t
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 13th 2014 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2014)
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4.25  · 
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 ·  418 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Jun 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really like the way Chomsky discusses the issue of immigration. A lot of other books I've read don't examine the immigration system in a historical context (this is so important to talk about), which is something Chomsky strives to do in this book. Immigration in the United States has been racialized since the beginning and she effectively examines that aspect of immigration. She compares the racialization of immigration to mass incarceration as discussed by Michelle Alexander, which really he ...more
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
I checked this book out from the library but it had a lot of important things I want to remember for future reference so I'm going to diligently re-type a lot of the facts and tidbits I found particularly important/insightful:

"Was it a paradox that the Border Patrol was created in the 1920s, just when agribusiness, with its need for migrant labor, was rapidly expanding in the Southwest? Several scholars argue that in fact the system worked well for farmers who needed migrant workers. Mexican wor
Rachel León
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
This book does a really nice job tackling the issue of immigration and putting it in a historical context and displays a lot of the implications of government policies and laws. An excellent overview for anyone wanting to understand the issue of immigration better and to understand the humanitarian issues at stake under our current system.
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
**I received a copy of this book through Goodreads giveaway.**

I'm always interested in immigration issues and was excited to receive a copy of this book. When I noted that the author was a daughter of the famed linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, I wondered what I was going to get. What I got was a well-reasoned, well-written investigation into the history of Latin American immigration and how it became "illegal." I don't always follow Chomsky's economic reasoning throughout this book (I happen
Mack Hayden
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: america, politics
This is a good primer on how the USA is (SURPRISE!) being unjust, irrational, and all-around ridiculous when it comes to enforcing and creating immigration laws. It also does a good job of thoroughly questioning the logicality or purpose of borders to begin with. The downside is that it's about as dry as it is informative; it reads a bit like a long Wikipedia entry on the subject. Regardless, still lots of good information to glean about the history and manifold issues that have resulted from Am ...more
Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
"A faculty member worried that if we raised the issue publicly, it would imperil our undocumented students. Another retorted: 'Do you know of any historical example where social change has come about by people keeping quiet?' p. 207


Chomsky's approach here to the production of unauthorized immigrant illegality in the US context achieves that rare quality of being both a reasonably comprehensive as well as accessible text, suitable for introducing the topic to undergrad students and the public
T.Kay Browning
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I admit that I have not read a lot from Noam Chomsky, but there is something so great about seeing the daughter of intelligent, liberal parents not rebel by being a neo-conservative. I guess that reveals some of my unaddressed fears in parenting.
Annie Windholz
Oct 06, 2017 rated it liked it
How Immigration Became Illegal Aviva Chomsky 

Chomsky traces the history of the idea of "illegality" in the US, explaining that "we as a society created illegal immigration by making immigration illegal." Prior to 1965, the media did not generally portray immigration in negative terms. By the 1970s tthe demonization of immigrants- particularly Mexican and other Latino immigrants had become a hot button issue. How did this happen? 

Migration Today

Currently, Mexican and Central American immigrants m
Chris Demer
Sep 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a brilliant book that lays out the history of immigration in this country, and documents how it has become "illegal" for certain immigrants-specifically those from central and south America- to enter the U.S.

Of course it involves status and race to a large degree. Ms. Chomsky makes an effort to clarify the murky current immigration policies, and blasts many myths held by Americans about immigration.
A few choice examples:

The assumption that if someone comes to live in the US without prop
Mar 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Oscar pena
Aviva Chomsky
Non fiction

This book is such a great book it has so much information and it is hard to keep up with but it was so good. This book is broken up into sections . First part is “ Where did illegality come from.” Second “ Choosing to become undocumented.” Third “ becoming elligle.” Fourth “ what part of Illegal do you not understand. Fifth “working part1 , working part 2 and two more sections but i did not use them. I mostly used the working part 1 and woking par
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent work on the concept and evolution of being "illegal" in America. Traces the development of that concept through the history of immigration to the present day. Chomsky's argument that national borders are arbitrary and that the right to maintain the sovereignty of those borders through "border control" is fraught with implications, may not set well with readers and may cause them to discount the rest of the book. At the very least, that would be an interesting source of discussion. Neve ...more
Oct 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
I learned so much from this book! I read a good part of it while on a road trip. I kept having the husband turn down the music as I read him sections. I had no idea how convoluted our current immigration process is, nor how historical immigration has shaped not only those policies, but also the modern immigration patterns. Living on the border with Mexico, I feel I better understand my neighbors and the political concerns of my region. This book also touched on the private prison sector, which w ...more
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I remember growing up, constantly hearing about the scourge of illegal immigrants and how our great country was being swept away by illegals. Never did I hear an actual reason for why this was the case except for the paradox of "the lazy illegals are stealing our jobs."
This book is an amazing primer for anyone who really wants to understand how this system was created and why it's so convoluted. The "crisis" of illegal immigration is created by the US because of it's history of neoliberal polic
Courtney Skelton
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Through obviously tireless research, Aviva has opened my eyes to how ignorant I was about immigration. Very sobering.This book makes the process of getting into the United States appear like an onion. It is multi-layered with so many different agendas, that as you peel back each layer, the more it smells. Then, somewhere along the way, you will cry for those who are caught up in this. There is a quote from the book that asks " Do you know of any historical example where society change has come a ...more
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pretty good. I think this would be very informative for people without much knowledge of immigration history, law, etc. Well written. Maybe the author is interested in writing a new Trump-era edition, as there have been some major changes as of recent. My biggest problem with the book was the overwhelming emphasis on Mexican immigrants. Yes, they are the largest immigrant and undocumented population, but the author's approach could lead uninformed readers to believe that they're the ONLY undocum ...more
Sarah Leslie
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I received my copy of Undocumented through the Goodreads First Reads program for review.

Aviva Chomsky tackles an issue that many of us don't want to face. That immigration laws are often used as a form of discrimination, a legalised racism. The writing is eloquent and hard hitting, uncomfortable and inspiring. A brilliant read for anyone interested in human rights, immigration, social justice.
This book is really excellent and deserves a wide readership. Chomsky brings together a host of secondary research in a coherent and accessible narrative that would be a great for undergrad teaching in Ethnic Studies or sociology.
Lia Dangelico
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A broad and even-handed look at the history of immigration in the U.S., including how we arrived at our current state of hysteria. The author reminds us that it’s up to us—once and for all—to change the narrative by breaking the cycle of nationalism and white-washing of history, and by finding a humane, inclusive, and permanent solution for our undocumented people.
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook, scribd
This book is mostly focused on US immigration of people from Mexico. I'm still looking for books that talk about immigration more generally but it was a well-researched book based on good ideas nonetheless.
Lance Eaton
Though published in 2014, Chomsky's book feels all the more necessary to be put in everyone's hands during the era of the Trump administration. Her book has several clear and well-researched points. One point is to highlight the historical events that lead to the current frame of how the US has created "illegal immigrants" and how that frame is largely informed by a racialized view that devalues immigrants of color, particularly Mexicans and other people from Latin America (that's not to say tha ...more
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Aviva Chomsky, daughter of distinguished MIT professor Noam Chomsky, impresses again with her follow up to her 2007 title, "They Take Our Jobs and Twenty Other Myths about Immigration," by returning to the immigration debate with her new title, "Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal," that cuts to the heart of the history of “illegal” immigration and immigration policy within the United States. Starting from the regurgitated political phrase, “what part of illegal don’t you understand?” C ...more
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Chomsky shows through much research, testimonies, and fieldwork the difficulties of the immigration system in the United States and its changes over the years. She is able to demonstrate the connections between the system’s policies and its injustice and gains by making immigrants illegal and creating policies that benefit the US economy. She shows how racial discrimination is still into play when creating policies and how the whole system is too complex for themselves to understand. She mention ...more
Tony Rinella
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I gave this a 5 because we all need to get educated on the topic. As always, political rhetoric serves a purpose - often directly opposite to its literal interpretation. The US struggles with its disproportionate need for goods and services, and the labor demand that hunger necessitates. For our entire existence we have required an exploitable workforce to maximize profits, and do the jobs that most citizens do not want to do. Migrant workers fill those slots now more than ever because we are hu ...more
Jul 07, 2017 rated it liked it
I appreciated Chomsky's boldness in proposing that the question of illegality can only be resolved by abolishing the concept of borders, entirely. It challenged my thinking, and I wish she had more fully explored what implementation could look like and what intended/unintended consequences our world would need to face. Otherwise, her discussion of the economic and political underpinnings (in a globalized context) of current immigration systems was insightful, and clearly illuminated the complex ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
A well-researched and summarized history of immigration and the problems faced by the undocumented. I learned a huge amount by the end of the introduction, and found the book very approachable, despite being so dense with information.

It does focus primarily on Mexican and Central American immigration, and work by those immigrants in specific sectors of the economy (agriculture, domestic service, landscaping, construction), while glossing over others. It also would have been useful if more time h
Peter Stewart
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is fantastically well researched, and far more readable than the highly technical and jargon filled old-man-Chomsky writing style (which, I also greatly enjoy)... References the duality between a rejection by US power structures of recognizing the legitimacy of the illegal immigrants while at the same time US society would absolutely not function were it not for a huge bank of highly vulnerable, exploited workers. (I am writing this review 2.5 years after having read it, but with that ...more
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a great book. I told myself I would decide whether to give it 4 or 5 stars based on the last chapter, "Solutions", but then decided that maybe I was setting the bar too high by expecting Ms Chomsky to solve immigration.

"Undocumented" changed the way I view the immigration issue, the boldness of the DREAMers, and the way forward that both protects and offers citizenship to those who would earn it.

Although at times I felt like I was reading a PhD thesis, the book is accessible, and I loved t
John Willis
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Absolutely loved this book. The author gave the history of immigration from different areas(the border of Mexico and Ellis Island) and the different laws that were put in place from each. Chomsky covers the subject in depth and with lots of resources. One quote that really made me think was "An immigration system that attempts to force people to reside in the national territory in which they were born is in fact one of global apartheid." If you have interest in immigration this is the book to re ...more
Heidi Archer
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Love books that add nuance to complicated issues! Avivia Chomsky does just that with her examination on some immigration issues and the status of undocumented persons within the United States. I particularly appreciated how she widened the debate, I guess, by probing deeper into the issue of immigration (legal and illegal) in general, thus making the issue less "everyone wants to come here because we're AMAZING" to "hey, terrible stuff is happening and their country and we're involved in perpetu ...more
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
Very helpful in understanding several ways in which border enforcement and immigration policies exacerbate the very problems they purport to address; the politics driving these contradictory and costly policies, in particular their link to the interests of industries dependent on "insourcing" foreign labor; and some of the socially constructed ideas about criminality, nationality, and race that obscure the structure of what's happening.
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Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American Studies at Salem State University. The author of several books, Chomsky has been active in Latin American solidarity and immigrants' rights issues for over twenty-five years. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts.
“Countries, sovereignty, citizenship, and laws are all social constructions: abstractions invented by humans.” 5 likes
“What’s your status now?” the legislator asked them. “I’m undocumented,” one Brazilian student answered, bewildered. “Why don’t you start the process to become a citizen?” he continued. “I can’t,” she explained. “Why not?” he asked, revealing his profound ignorance of immigration law. Just as the law forbids most residents of the Third World to travel here—by requiring visas, but refusing to grant them—it also forbids virtually all people who are undocumented to regularize their status.” 2 likes
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