Cover of Legal Phantoms by Jennifer M. Chacón, Susan Bibler Coutin, and Stephen Lee
Legal Phantoms
Executive Action and the Haunting Failures of Immigration Law
Jennifer M. Chacón, Susan Bibler Coutin, and Stephen Lee


January 2024
324 pages.
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Hardcover now $65.00 (50% off)
Paperback now $16.00 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503611719
Paperback ISBN: 9781503637573
Ebook ISBN: 9781503637580

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The 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was supposed to be a stepping stone, a policy innovation announced by the White House designed to put pressure on Congress for a broader, lasting set of legislative changes. Those changes never materialized, and the people who hoped to benefit from them have been forced to navigate a tense and contradictory policy landscape ever since, haunted by these unfulfilled promises. Legal Phantoms tells their story.

After Congress failed to pass a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, President Obama pivoted in 2014 to supplementing DACA with a deferred action program (known as DAPA) for the parents of citizens and lawful permanent residents and a DACA expansion (DACA+) in 2014. But challenges from Republican-led states prevented even these programs from going into effect. Interviews with would-be applicants, immigrant-rights advocates, and government officials reveal how such failed immigration-reform efforts continue to affect not only those who had hoped to benefit, but their families, communities, and the country in which they have made an uneasy home. Out of the ashes of these lost dreams, though, people find their own paths forward through uncharted legal territory with creativity and resistance.

About the authors

Jennifer M. Chacón is Bruce Tyson Mitchell Professor of Law at Stanford School of Law. She is co-author of the casebook Immigration Law and Social Justice (2017).

Susan Bibler Coutin is Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Exiled Home: Salvadoran Transnational Youth in the Aftermath of Violence (2016), among many others.

Stephen Lee is Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

"Legal Phantoms is the rare book that captures both the structural and human costs imposed by America's patchwork approach to immigration. It offers richly faceted analysis of how DACA has operated, its relationship to racist crimmigration regimes, and the tolls of temporariness on recipients. This is urgent reading for anyone who is concerned with immigrant precarity."

—Elizabeth Cohen, Boston University

"Impressive in focus and scope and meticulously researched, Legal Phantoms renders accessible the mesmerizing complexity of the immigration system that spews temporality into immigrants' lives while humanizing those who are entangled in its web. This superb team of scholars has crafted a lasting, indispensable resource for scholars, policy makers, and anyone who cares about immigrants today."

—Cecilia Menjívar, University of California-Los Angeles

"As policy questions around migration remain central to the American political debate, [Legal Phantoms] bring[s] insight into the intricacies of migration regimes, the everyday experiences of migrants and refugees that navigate them, and the activists and community organizations that advocate for their rights."

—Matthew Canfield and Smoki Musaraj, Political and Legal Anthropologyl Review

"Legal Phantoms is a must read for all people interested in better understanding the historical and contemporary forces behind anti-immigration movements and the contributions of immigrants and their families to local communities and society at large. In the face of extreme anti-immigrant distrust and hate across the country—from border communities to mainstream America to the White House—Legal Phantoms offers positive transformation and progress toward social change, equality, and justice in difficult and uncertain times.... Highly recommended."

—M. G. Urbina, CHOICE