Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The purpose of my dissertation is to explore the unique challenges facing undocumented migrants, and the claims to amnesty they can make. I take a discourse theoretic approach to this issue, following in the footsteps of Jürgen Habermas and Seyla Benhabib, among others. My thesis consists of the following claims. First, a rights-based approach to amnesty does not clearly distinguish between different types of immigrants (i.e. undocumented and potential immigrants). Second, the relevant distinguishing factor between undocumented and potential immigrants is what I refer to as rooted residency, a category which captures factors such as time spent in a nation, attachments made to a home, and contributions made in the community. Third, time spent in a nation, attachments made to a home, and contributions made in the community contribute value to the community and are of value to the undocumented. Fourth, forcibly removing these attachments causes great harm to the undocumented, which we must weigh against the illegality of entry. Fifth, this social membership calls for a pluralistic application of amnesty. Sixth, application discourses regarding this amnesty must include actual undocumented migrants, not simply virtual representatives. Finally nations must reform the ways in which undocumented migrants can participate in discourses, particularly regarding informal public discourses (e.g. protests) and application discourses in the courtroom.

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