“We can take the people out of the slums, but we
cannot take the slums out of the people”
How Today’s Racial Alliances
Shape Laws on Crime and Immigration
Few issues recur more forcefully or regularly in U.S. politics than immigration and crime. And the impact of the racial alliances with their ideologically opposed policy agendas has been decisive in shaping how the issues of criminal policy and immigration are framed and how support for them is mobilized. Plainly these issues would be debated even if racial alliances did not exist. Many voters and politicians have acted on them for reasons having nothing to do with racial policy commitments. But for many others, the racial implications of policies in these areas have been vital. Racial politics have infused these issues with a content and significance they would not otherwise have. Most important, on these issues as on many others, conflicts over their racial dimensions hamper the making of beneficial policies.
As we argue throughout the book, though today’s racial alliances affect contestation over a wide range of issues in American politics, they are far from the only players in American political arenas. Just as racial alliances are not reducible to economic or partisan conflicts, even if they have all become much more closely aligned, so economic and partisan alliances play independent roles in political conflicts; governmental institutions themselves shape the values and strategies of political actors; and a huge number of lesser groups, movements, and interests are also at work. We cannot hope to canvass here all the actors involved in major political controversies in modern America, including crime and immigration.
And because many other factors are indeed at work, crime and immigration issues are widely seen as either not being only about race or as not politically structured through the racial coalitions that we emphasize. Hence, both issues are further candidates to demonstrate that our portrait of racial alliances is wrong or at least that it is well on its way to becoming obsolete. We argue here that although there is more going on in the politics of both these issues than simply clashes between the era’s two major racial coalitions, those alliances