Who Belongs in America? Presidents, Rhetoric, and Immigration

Who Belongs in America? Presidents, Rhetoric, and Immigration

Who Belongs in America? Presidents, Rhetoric, and Immigration

Who Belongs in America? Presidents, Rhetoric, and Immigration

Synopsis

"How can the immigrant of yesterday be lionized as the very foundation of the nation's character, while the immigrant of today is often demonized as a threat to the nation's safety and stability?" ask volume editor Vanessa B. Beasley in her introduction to this timely book.

As the nation's ceremonial as well as political leader, presidents through their rhetoric help to create the frame for the American public's understanding of immigration. In an overarching essay and ten case studies, Who Belongs in America? Explores select moments in U.S. immigration history, focusing on the presidential discourse that preceded, address, or otherwise corresponded to events.

These chapters, which originated as presentations at the Texas A&M University Conference on Presidential Rhetoric, share a common interest in how, when and under what circumstances U.S. presidents or their administrations have negotiated the tension that lies at the heart of the immigration issue in the United States. The various authors look at the dual views of immigrants as either scapegoats for cultural fears, especially during trying times. U.S. presidents have had to navigate between these two motifs, and they have chosen different ways to do so. Indeed, as these studies show, their words have sometimes been at odds with their deeds and policies.

Since 9/11, few issues have more public significance than how America views immigrants. The contributors to this volume provide context that will help inform the public debate, as well as the scholarship, for years to come.

Vanessa B. Beasley, an associate professor of communication at the University of Georgia, is the author of You, the People: American National Identity in Presidential Rhetoric, also published by Texas A&M University Press. Her Ph.D. is from the University of Texas at Austin.

Excerpt

Vanessa B. Beasley

OVER THE COURSE OF U.S. HISTORY, few questions have been as enduring, as emotional, and as imperative as the question of, in Harry Truman’s words, “whom we shall welcome” to the nation’s shores and its citizenry. Although immigration to the United States has often been viewed primarily as a public policy problem, it represents something of a rhetorical dilemma as well. As a “nation of immigrants,” which the United States is often called, how can the country justify the exclusion of new arrivals? Likewise, how can leaders of a nation whose origin stories glorify the pilgrim and the pioneer explain their reasons for denying entry to their modern-day counterparts, who are presumably driven by the same ambitious vision of a better life? How can the immigrant of yesterday be lionized as the very foundation of the nation’s character, while the immigrant of today is often demonized as a threat to the nation’s safety and stability?

This book asks what has happened when such concerns have collided within the situated, pragmatic realm of political communication in general and presidential rhetoric in particular. To explore this question via . . .

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