Neoliberalism and Nativism: Local Anti‐Immigrant Policy Activism and an Emerging Politics of Scale


Recent years have been witness to an explosion of locally scaled immigration‐related policy activism in cities across the United States. While cities have had both integrative and exclusionary reactions to unauthorized immigration, this article explores a politics of scale and rescaling exemplified by anti‐immigrant ‘Illegal Immigration Relief Act’ ordinances passed and/or considered by over 130 cities in the United States beginning in 2006 — most visibly, in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. I interpret this nativist immigration‐policy activism as locally scaled acts of contestation to neoliberalizing policies formulated at the national and supranational scales that have had the (un)intended consequence of fostering ‘illegal’ immigration. Perceiving themselves at the frontlines of a rescaled national boundary, these locally scaled immigration policies represent attempts by local governments and residents to ‘take matters into their own hands’ by rescaling a defining characteristic of the nation‐state — power over immigration enforcement — in order to regulate undocumented migration. While scholars have begun to document examples of progressive local contestation to neoliberalization, there has yet been only passing reference to the nativist potential for resistance to neoliberalization. This article provides a novel empirical contribution by seeking to flesh out a broader conceptualization of both neoliberalism and its contestations, and to provide a critical warning that not all contestations may lead to progressive futures.