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Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant

The Politics of Immigration Reform

Lina Newton

Publication Year: 2008

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 legislator's 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 pathbreaking findings will shed new light on the current political battles, their likely outcomes, and where to go from here.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

The evolution of this book benefited from the support of several people. My husband, best friend, and scholar of American politics in his own right, Anthony Salvanto, deserves first mention. He brought a sharp and critical eye to the manuscript as I worked to clarify the main arguments. I am grateful to him for his uncanny ability to see clarity in ...

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A Note on Terminology

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pp. ix-10

In this book I employ the term “illegal immigrant” to describe immigrants of any nation who have entered the United States or remained in the United States unofficially. Thus, I use “illegal” interchangeably with the descriptors “unofficial,” “unauthorized,” and “illicit” when discussing the immigration activities or status of those people who have entered or ...

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Introduction: The Power of a Good Story

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pp. 1-4

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 nation’s history. However, Congressman Horn’s remarks ...

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1. Considering Unlikely Outcomes: The Peculiar Politics of Immigration

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pp. 5-41

This is a study of the public face of congressional lawmaking that focuses on the official function of imagery, stories, and symbolism in the policy process. It employs specific methods of discourse analysis and Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram’s social constructions of target populations theory to explore how public officials use these stories and images ...

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2. Cases, Contexts, and the Puzzle of Policy Change

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pp. 42-66

As the statements above demonstrate, legislators are quite aware that they are not simply writing laws, but communicating values to a broader audience. Th e quotations reveal two very different definitions of the illegal immigration issue. Senator Simpson, who was an original force driving the bill that would become the 1986 Immigration Reform ...

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3. Contesting Illegalities: The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act

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pp. 67-103

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 Th e poll had ...

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4. Immigrants versus Taxpayers: The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act

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pp. 104-136

At 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8, voting booths across California shut down, but the 1994 general election would resonate long afterwards. Even aft er its passage, Proposition 187 would linger in the headlines as both supporters and opponents awaited a final decision from ensuing court challenges to the law.1 Pete Wilson hung onto the governorship by ...

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5. Problem Mexicans: Race, Nationalism, and Their Limits in Contemporary Immigration Policy

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pp. 137-162

As elected officials, members of Congress are conscious of the values and traditions of the public they serve, as well as of the society of which they themselves are a product. While it is no longer politically acceptable for immigration policies to single out groups for exclusion based on race or national origin, legislators continue to distinguish between the ...

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Conclusion: Power and Image in Immigration Policymaking

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pp. 163-170

We typically study public policy as a mechanism for problem-solving and expect that research, deliberation, and rationality are applied to solving social problems. Likewise, when public policies fail, analysts quickly attribute these failures to factors such as budget inadequacies, illogical mandates, poor administration, and unanticipated consequences. ...

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pp. 171-182

As I complete this book, the nation is once again embroiled in a bitter debate over immigration control, how best to accomplish it, and what course to pursue in dealing with the resident unauthorized population, whose size is currently estimated to lie somewhere between 10 and 12 million people. Each chamber of Congress has pursued solutions ...


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pp. 183-208


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pp. 209-220


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pp. 221-226

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814759028
E-ISBN-10: 0814759025
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814758427
Print-ISBN-10: 0814758428

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 794701088
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant

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Subject Headings

  • Immigrants -- United States.
  • Immigrants -- Government policy -- United States.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Government policy.
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