New legal realism focuses on the complexity of individual action and the view of law from the "bottom-up." Neoinstitutionalism also suggests that rational-actor models are too simplistic, but spotlights enduring historical ejects on individual action and thus tends to view the world from the "top-down." In this article, we seek to marry the two disparate approaches by centering on moments of institutional vulnerability and opportunity when a system can change or be redefined. The terrorist attacks on September 11 provided a unique opportunity for institutional change. Policymakers seized this opportunity to introduce reforms into American immigration law that fundamentally altered how that law is administered. The implications of these legal reforms were to group many migrants into the category of potential "terrorist" and to make it increasingly difficult for any migrant to claim "victim" status. Immigrants responded to these reforms by refraining from public criticism of the United States and by becoming American citizens. We discuss the potential implications of those actions on the institution of citizenship.