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.