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In U.S. immigration law, disability has historically been associated with deviance, and has served as the basis for legal barriers to entry and eventual citizenship. For example, immigrants with actual and perceived physical and intellectual disabilities, mental illness, and other health conditions have been deemed “inadmissible” to the United States based on the belief that they are likely to become dependent on the government for support. Although the law has evolved to accommodate immigrants with disabilities in some ways, significant legal barriers still exist on account of the widespread, persistent characterization of disability as a “bad difference” from the norm. This chapter contributes to the scholarly literature on disability rights and immigration by examining the strengths and limitations of adopting a destigmatizing account of disablement in the context of immigration admissions. Such an approach, which characterizes disablement as a “mere difference” as opposed to a “bad difference,” would build on the momentum that has liberalized disability-related immigration exclusions over the years. Framing disability as a valued form of diversity, while acknowledging its inherent costs, would be a promising first step toward characterizing immigrants with disabilities as valuable and contributing members of society, and supporting a more just societal allocation of the economic costs of disability.



Publication Date



Cambridge University Press


Law, Disability, Immigration, Welfare, Exclusion, Immigrants, Citizenship


Disability Studies | Health Law and Policy | Health Policy | Immigration Law | Law and Society | Social Policy | Social Welfare | Social Welfare Law

Destigmatizing Disability in the Law of Immigration Admissions