Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant: The Politics of Immigration Reform

Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant: The Politics of Immigration Reform

Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant: The Politics of Immigration Reform

Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant: The Politics of Immigration Reform


While the United States cherishes its identity as a nation of immigrants, the country's immigration policies are historically characterized by cycles of openness and xenophobia. Outbursts of anti-immigrant sentiment among political leaders and in the broader public are fueled by a debate over who is worthy of being considered for full incorporation into the nation, and who is incapable of assimilating and taking on the characteristics and responsibilities associated with being an American. In Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant, Lina Newton carefully dissects the political debates over contemporary immigration reform. Beginning with a close look at the disputes of the 1980s and 1990s, she reveals how a shift in legislators? portrayals of illegal immigrants- from positive to overwhelmingly negative- facilitated the introduction and passing of controversial reforms. Newton's analysis reveals how rival descriptions of immigrant groups and the flattering or disparaging myths that surround them define, shape, and can ultimately determine fights over immigration policy. Her path-breaking findings will shed new light on the current political battles, their likely outcomes, and where to go from here.


Let me state the following premise about which there is little
disagreement. It is the obligation of the Federal Government to
secure the borders of the Nation from illegal entry and unauthor
ized invasion…. It is not a question of being anti-immigration.
This country was founded by immigrants. I am the son of one
of them.

—Rep. Steven Horn (R-CA), August 9,1996

In these opening remarks to a hearing on federal border control efforts, immigrants appear simultaneously as villainous invaders of the nation and as its heroic founders. That Americans view and treat the immigrant population with both veneration and fear is an accepted peculiarity of the nations history. However, Congressman Horns remarks also reveal four themes that have become the hallmarks of contemporary discourse on immigration policy, which blends old and new sensibilities about the benefits and harms of immigration to the nation. For example, Mr. Horn reminds his audience that the only entity with the power to engage in national defense is the federal government. This first theme, the tendency in political discourse to describe immigration with the crisis language of “war” and “invasion,” is as old as the immigration phenomenon.

Similarly, the congressman's reminder that the federal government has a responsibility to control immigration alludes to another historical theme, the dispute over state versus federal fiscal responsibilities in immigration administration and settlement. State and local governments have periodically complained that they bear the costs of large-scale immigration policies that they do not design, but are mandated to implement. In 1882 . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.