Project Overview

States of discretion: Black migrating bodies, racialization, and naturalization in the United States

Faculty Sponsor

Brenda Sanya (


Educational Studies


Drawing on 200 cases of non-precedent immigration appeal decisions published by the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), this project explores discretionary application. Specifically, I will be examining the patterns, themes, and trends illustrative of how the U.S. decides on who gains documentation and how those people’s careers confirm national ideologies invested in the law to become an immigrant and/or subsequent citizen. Originally limited to 30 cases, this broadened scope in research, which is part of my larger book project, will include line-by-line content analyses, thematic coding, and discourse analysis of every single published all non-precedent immigrations appeal decisions published by the AAO. Looking at common themes from Ghanaian, Kenyan, and Nigerian appellants, this research will pay attention to the significance of academic records and exception for inclusion for immigrants from these three former British colonies, where English is one of—if not the—national language, and which have sizeable U.S.-based Black immigrant populations.

Student work this summer will include reading and categorizing cases based on pre-selected codes, finding corresponding immigration policy cited in appeals, and searching archived news reports to understand the political context of the cases. Primarily, we will examine how immigration law is applied, the role of legal procedure, as well as, the boundaries that define the immigration categories.

Student Qualifications

Have a basic understanding of US immigration processes;
Know how to search through digital newspaper databases;
Willingness to learn how to search for immigration laws and policies on LexisNexis;
Organization and time management;
Course work in educational studies

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

6-8 weeks

Applications open on 01/03/2021 and close on 03/22/2021

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (