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Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens

The Cost of Immigration Reform in the 1990s

Christina Gerken

Publication Year: 2013

During 1995 and 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law three bills that altered the rights and responsibilities of immigrants: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the Personal Responsibility Act, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens examines the changing debates around immigration that preceded and followed the passage of landmark legislation by the U.S. Congress in the mid-1990s, arguing that it represented a new, neoliberal way of thinking and talking about immigration.

Christina Gerken explores the content and the social implications of the deliberations that surrounded the development and passage of immigration reform, analyzing a wide array of writings from congressional debates and committee reports to articles and human-interest stories in mainstream newspapers. The process, she shows, disguised its underlying racism by creating discursive strategies that shaped and upheld an image of “desirable” immigrants—those who could demonstrate “personal responsibility” and an ability to contribute to the U.S. economy. Gerken finds that politicians linked immigration to complex issues: poverty, welfare reform, so-called family values, measures designed to combat terrorism, and the spiraling costs of social welfare programs.

Although immigrants were often at the center of congressional debates, politicians constructed an elaborate, abstract terminology that appeared to be unrelated to race or gender. Instead, politicians promoted neoliberal policies as the avenue to a postracist, postsexist world of opportunity for every rational consumer with an entrepreneurial spirit. Still, Gerken concludes that the passage of pathbreaking legislation was characterized by a useful tension between neoliberal assumptions and hidden anxieties about race, class, gender, and sexuality.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Building a Neoliberal Consensus

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pp. 1-18

Congressional debates from the mid- ????s suggest that the U.S. immi-gration system had reached a point of crisis. According to the dominant political rhetoric, immigration laws failed to protect U.S. citizens from an overwhelming infl ux of undesirable immigrants who, unlike previous generations of newcomers, were reluctant to blend in with the majority ...

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1. Exclusionary Acts: A Brief History of U.S. Immigration Laws

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pp. 19-72

Immigration in the United States has had a profound impact on the nation?s political, economic, social, and cultural life. Since ????, some sixty mil-lion persons from all over the world have migrated to the United States.? Th e volume of immigration has varied signifi cantly in response to the economic and political situation in both the United States and foreign ...

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2. Family Values and Moral Obligations: The Logic of Congressional Rhetoric

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pp. 73-110

In June ????, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform sent its sec-ond interim report, ?Legal Immigration: Setting Priorities,? to Congress.? In her introductory letter, Chair Barbara Jordan wrote that ?the Commis-sion recommends a signifi cant redefi nition of priorities and a reallocation of existing admission numbers to fulfi ll more eff ectively the objectives of ...

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3. Dehumanizing the Undocumented: The Legislative Language of Illegality

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pp. 111-150

Th e previous chapter examined congressional discussions of the legal immigration system. In particular, the analysis focused on one noteworthy discursive strand: the controversy about family reunifi cation. In accor-dance with a neoliberal project designed to impose economic rationale on governmental policies, many politicians felt that the U.S. immigration ...

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4. Manufacturing the Crisis: Encoded Racism in the Daily Press

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pp. 151-194

In November ????, Annette Ha of San Leandro, California, sat down to express her growing frustration with the ?hysterical, mean- spirited scape-goating? that informed political debates and media representations of immigrants (San Francisco Chronicle [SFC], November ?, ????). In a letter who have received extensive coverage in the media: I am lazy; I ...

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5. Entrepreneurial Spirits and Individual Failures: The Neoliberal Human- Interest Story

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pp. 195-234

In spring ????, the Houston Chronicle devoted dozens of articles to Adela Quintana, a fourteen- year- old Mexican immigrant who was pregnant by her twenty- two- year- old husband. A few months later, the San Francisco Chronicle caused a public outcry with a story about a twelve- year- old Iraqi immigrant, whose family had arranged her marriage to thirty- year- old ...

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Conclusion: Legacies of Failed Reform

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pp. 235-250

Fift een years aft er the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immi-grant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), it is diffi cult to ignore the fact that it never achieved the goals outlined by politicians in the mid- ????s. Most notably, the IIRIRA has failed to reduce the population of undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. Quite to the contrary, the ...

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pp. 251-252

Many individuals contributed, directly or indirectly, to my completion of this manuscript, and I am extremely grateful for their support and encour-agement along the way. Most important, I recognize the superb guidance of my dissertation advisor, Rob Buffi ngton. Rob?s scholarly insights and encouraging feedback and his willingness to comment on countless ...


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pp. 253-286


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pp. 287-308


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pp. 309-329

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About the Author

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p. 330-330

CHRISTINA GERKEN is assistant professor of women?s studies at Indiana University South Bend, where she teaches classes on immigration, global women?s issues, and race and reproductive rights. Her research examines how anxieties about immigrants? race, class, gender, and sexuality aff ect ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816686292
E-ISBN-10: 0816686297
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816674732

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2013