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

By Lina Newton | Go to book overview

3
Contesting Illegalities
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act

In August of 1984, an in-depth article on immigration reform appeared in Newsweek along with a poll of American opinion on immigration and aspects of the proposed reforms. The results showed that Americans had “mixed feelings” about the policy proposals and revealed “ambivalence about all immigration, legal as well as illegal.”1 The poll had asked Americans to rank issues according to their perceived importance: unemployment ranked highest (84 percent), inflation was second (73 percent), and threat of nuclear war was third (70 percent). A majority of Americans (55 percent) also ranked immigration as a “very important” issue; still, Newsweek deduced that compared to the rancorous congressional debates that lay ahead, “the public's view of all of this is somewhat less impassioned—but it is fair to say that immigration reform is a serious national concern.”2

In addition to ranking issue saliency, the poll asked respondents to assess a number of claims about immigrants, which are reproduced in Table 3.1. The poll did not ask that respondents differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants, but the findings reveal that Americans viewed immigrants as simultaneously injurious and beneficent. While nearly two thirds of Americans believed that immigrants took jobs from U.S. workers, 80 percent believed that immigrants were industrious and resourceful, taking

TABLE 3.1
Public Evaluations of Immigrants, 1984

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