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12 Chapter Two Setting the Stage: Policies, Demography, and Social Representations There she lies, the great Melting-Pot—listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? —Israel Zangwill (1909) Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience. —John F. Kennedy (1964) THE CONTEXT FOR immigrants—the stage set, as I metaphorically refer to it— could be considered in terms of the immediate, interpersonal situations that immigrants encounter when they arrive in their new country. That is the level of analysis most familiar to social psychologists, who often focus intently on the micro-level aspects of interpersonal interaction, and it is a level of analysis that I will use in later chapters. Here, however, I begin with a wider lens, one that looks both at broader currents in the contemporary scene as well as historical events that have shaped immigration in the United States over the past century. Three elements guide this analysis—policy, demography, and social representations—and their contributions are interlocked as figure 2.1 illustrates . Consider, for example, the policies of the United States with regard to immigration. Over the past one hundred years, key legislative actions have shifted the course of immigration, in terms of both source and numbers , in ways that are critical to the story. On the one hand, it is important to consider the impetus for these changes in policy, which can reflect particular political and social conditions within the country or that can, in the case of world wars and broad-ranging economic conditions, influence immigration in many countries simultaneously. On the other hand, it is important to consider how the enacted changes make the bar higher or lower for those who wish to enter the country, thereby affecting the immigrant flow and the demographic patterns. Thus, in figure 2.1, the relationship between demographic patterns and social policy is depicted bidirectionally. Although the move from policy to population patterns is the most obvious direction, that is, evidence that raising or lowering the caps on entry will have a direct numerical impact, the rationale for the other direction is also strong. Once the population reaches a certain level—whether the level of the country as a whole, the immigrant share more particularly, or the number of specific types of immigrants—citizens and lawmakers often become energized in debates about the need for changes in current policies. The third element of the triad is somewhat more elusive, or at least less concrete. Whereas one can look to the legal record for articulation of official policy, and to the census data files for a stipulation of numbers, social representations are less easily pinned down. Yet, this element of the attitudes and images that a community holds about immigration—in general, as well as about particular groups of immigrants—is a critical member of the triad. Policies are affected as much by subjective belief as by objective data, and the social process of interpretation and explanation of events drives the political actions. Setting the Stage 13 Figure 2.1 Cultural Elements of Immigration Source: Author’s compilation. Social Representations Demographic Realities Government Policies The settings that I describe in this chapter—consisting of policy, demography, and social representation—are based primarily on the landscape of the United States, which “has admitted more immigrants than any other country” during the past two hundred years (Meyers 2004, 27). At times, however, it will be useful to consider alternative scenarios from other countries, where policies, demography, and representations can differ . In turning to these other models, the dynamics and interdependence of the three elements will be clearer, as will the possibilities for alternative scenarios. A BRIEF HISTORY OF U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY The history of the United States is, as Oscar Handlin (1951) noted, a history of immigration.1 Indeed, one could consider, as Christopher Jencks (2001) has, the movement of people from North Asia to the North and South American continents, some 13,000 years ago, as the first U.S. immigrant movement. I will leave the long history of immigration, from the discovery of America by Europeans and their early settlements through the forced immigration of Africans during the slave trade, to historians. Instead I focus on some of the key moments in U.S. immigration history that illustrate how the “theatrical set” of immigration...


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