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Sector: Identity                                               Importance: ****

Level: Supranational                                      Scope: USA only

Period: Short, middle, long                             Process: Policy politics

MAIN TOPIC: Immigration                               Treatment: Commentary, background, analysis.



LATE  2012   1

Partisan tactics   1.1

Reform strategies   1.2

Policy packages    1.3



Economy  2.1

Identity   2.2

Security   2.3



Classic complacency   3.1

Revisionist critiques  3.3

Historical institutionalism  3.3



                                                  HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!


As Part Two of a Guide to American Immigration Politics, this post provides background to Part One (130202.) We start from how the immigration issue arose in late 2012 after the November 2012 election, providing more leads to both media commentary and academic analysis. Then we sketch the complexity of the immigration issue, which includes economic, identity, and security aspects. Finally we note the historical development of academic approaches to American immigration politics: from self-congratulatory to self-critical to more neutrally analytical. As usual, readers are invited to proceed only as far as their interests take them.


(Recent progress in academic scholarship on immigration politics has been so extraordinary that we include many references to it. For the current best general political science introduction to American immigration politics, see Daniel J. Tichenor 2002Dividing lines : The politics of immigration control in America. Princeton N.J. : Princeton University Press, 378 pages.)


LATE  2012   1


The 2012 election put immigration squarely onto the Washington agenda of both parties (see Ronald Brownstein 121207 “Immigration reform is back on the agenda” at nationaljournal.com.)


Partisan tactics   1.1


The 2012 election warned the Republican party that, if it wants to win the presidency in the future, it must moderate the harsh anti-immigrant stance that radical Republicans imposed on the party and presidential candidate in 2012, contributing greatly to Romney’s loss. Even quite conservative Republicans quickly concluded that their party must adopt a more constructive attitude toward immigration reform. However, a problem soon emerged: Republicans could not agree on what reforms to pursue (Seung Min Kim 121130 “Immigration unity hits Hill reality” at politico.com).


Even former president George W. Bush made a rare public intervention, at a conference on immigration at his presidential library in Dallas. Famous for his moderate stance on immigration, Bush advised Republicans to help reform immigration in “a benevolent spirit” that recognized immigrants’ contributions to America. At the same time, several different kinds of Republican conservatives – religious, police, and business – held a strategy session in Washington on how to reform immigration. (See Julia Preston 121204 “Praising immigrants, Bush leads conservative appeal for G.O.P. to soften tone” at nytimes.com.)


As for specifics, soon after the election two Republican senators proposed an alternative to Democratic proposals for how to treat young people illegally brought to the USA as children by parents. If the undocumented young people went to college or joined the military, the USA would offer them a path to legal status – but NOT to full citizenship. That nicely avoided radical Republican objections to “amnesty,” but did not much appeal to Latinos. Nevertheless, it illustrates a possibility for compromise in coming negotiations, since Obama himself sometimes uses the phrase “path to legal status,” though usually interpreting that as “to citizenship.” Significantly, both of these senators retired at the end of 2012, and so will not pay any political price to radical Republicans for being among the earliest Republicans to make such a “moderate” proposal! (David Welna 121127 “ 'Achieve Act' A Republican answer to Dream Act” at npr.org.) Many radical Republicans continue to maintain that Republicans have little to gain by trying to appease immigrants, who will continue to vote for Democrats, regardless.


Meanwhile, the 2012 election strengthened Democratic resolve and capacity to reform immigration, reminding Democrats that they must deliver some of what they promised Latinos in 2008: “comprehensive” reform that would make the lives of undocumented immigrants easier, even though requiring them eventually to abide by American immigration laws. (Julia Preston 121130 “Young immigrants say it’s Obama’s time to act” at nytimes.com.) Democrats were unable to deliver that during Obama’s first term, due to the hesitancy of both moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans in the face of adamant radical Republican opposition to anything that could be interpreted as “amnesty” for “illegals.”


Immediately after the 2012 election, Obama vowed to proceed (Julia Preston 121114 “Obama expresses confidence in early action on immigration” on The Caucus at nytimes.com). In the legislature, moderates from both sides seized the initiative. (Sean Sullivan 121111 “Sen. Chuck Schumer says he’s restarting immigration reform talks with Sen. Graham” on The Fix at washingtonpost.com.) Hispanic supporters of Obama launched an organization to mobilize Hispanics to support – and perhaps also to force Obama to pursue? – comprehensive immigration reform (Anna Palmer and Carrie Budoff Brown 121203 “Hispanic mega-donors eye immigration” at politico.com.)


In the USA, immigration is a matter largely reserved to the national government. Nevertheless, in recent decades, immigration has also become a major issue in subnational American politics. Successive battles in successive states and localities illuminate the partisan dynamics of the issue. Here, as usual, California was in the vanguard, long since demonstrating where anti-immigrant policies can leave Republicans. In the 1990s, conservative Republicans in California (with some Democratic support) passed extremely harsh anti-immigrant state legislation – so harsh that it was overturned by federal courts. That harshness drove Latinos in California into overwhelming support for Democrats, making California now an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Recently Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia have also passed anti-immigrant state legislation. Those states will not turn Democratic anytime soon, but their actions harmed Republicans nationally in the 2012 election. (See Peter Schrag 121207 “Immigration reform: The California lesson” at scabee.com. On local immigration politics more generally, see Monica W. Varsanyi ed. 2010 Taking local control: Immigration policy activism in U.S. cities and states. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 308 pages.)


Reform  strategies    1.2


Evidently, during his first term, Obama’s strategy for eventually achieving immigration reform has been to over-perform at guaranteeing border security so that opponents of reform can’t use border insecurity as an excuse not to make progress on other aspects of reform. Obama has deported even more “illegals” than did his predecessor Bush, who claimed to be tough on border security. Meanwhile, overall, Obama frames immigration reform as economically necessary for America as a whole. He wants to improve legal procedures for providing American farmers and manufacturers with the labor they need, while holding those employers accountable for not hiring illegal migrants. Obama downplays identity goals as divisive, though affirming the values of family and education.


A dilemma for all players was whether to pursue “comprehensive reform” in the hopes of achieving a “grand bargain,” or to tackle issues one at a time. Obama has favored comprehensive reform, but has taken some piecemeal measures such as – before the election – shifting enforcement AWAY from undocumented young people. Some Republicans raised other piecemeal issues, such as granting visas to immigrants who achieve educational credentials in areas of expertise that American employers need. Many Republicans advocated treating immigration issues one at a time, and some still do – evidently to limit the scope and nature of eventual reforms. Nevertheless, so far, Obama has largely prevailed, and most reform proposals being drafted are comprehensive. (For an excellent interview with Latino strategists, see Gabriel Arana 121207 “What’s next for immigration reform?” at prospect.org.)


Like most major issues, immigration has a  “policy regime”: the set of interests and issues, institutions and individuals, that tend to be activated whenever immigration issues come up. Thus current attempts at reform immigration will replay some aspects of earlier attempts. Obama’s efforts to reform immigration during his second term will to some extent echo his failed efforts at reform during his first term, such as endorsing Schumer-Graham proposals, as he did in November 2010. Current politics will still reflect those of Bush’s failed attempt to reform immigration during HIS second term, an attempt that was scuttled by radical Republicans in the House of Representatives. Current politics will also reflect the contradictions under the 1990s Clinton administration, when Republicans ultimately failed to restrict immigrant flows but succeeded in restricting immigrant rights. Current immigration politics even reflect dynamics going back to Reagan: Negatively, current attempts are determined not to repeat a blanket “amnesty” for those already in the USA illegally; positively, current attempts recognize the need to prevent “illegals” from accumulating yet again, both by allowing legal entry and by preventing illegal entry. (For astute commentary on the immigration politics of the past several presidencies, see Philip Kretsedemas 2012The immigration crucible: Transforming race, nation, and the limits of the law.  New York NY: Columbia University Press, 213 pages.)


What all of these scenarios share in common is a clash between congressional representatives pressured by the restrictionist demands of their constituents (and national lobby groups) and an executive office facing pressure from immigrant rights constituencies (which can include foreign governments, employers who rely on migrant labor, and the advocacy networks of immigrant communities). In these situations, neoliberal administrations have tended to make decisions that do not impede the free flow of migration but that also contain overtures to both pro-and anti-immigration constituencies. (Kretsedemas 65)


These contradictory imperatives of immigration politics produce political paradox. Contrary to public perceptions, recent Democratic administrations have actually been tougher on border control and immigration enforcement than recent Republican administrations. For example, the Bush administration ostentatiously expanded border patrols, but reduced actual apprehensions, even as the number of undocumented migrants in the USA rose! Conversely Obama, ostensibly progressive on immigration matters in principle, has been surprisingly conservative in practice (for example, the deportations). (See again Kretsedemas 62-68 and 139-144). 


Policy packages   1.3


Thus several recent American presidents, regardless of party, have striven toward quite similar packages of immigration reforms. Those packages were all “centrist” in the sense of containing “something for everyone.” Obama’s White House web site succinctly states the four major elements he considers necessary forFixing the immigration system for America’s 21st century economy (under whitehouse.gov/issues).


Obama’s four elements are as follows. First, “responsibility by the federal government to secure our borders” (external enforcement of security). Second, “accountability for businesses that break the law by undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers” (internal enforcement of security goals and economic rights). Third, “strengthening our economic competitiveness by creating a legal immigration system that reflects our values and diverse needs (identity and economy). Fourth, “responsibility for people who are living in the United States illegally” (security).


Others of diverse ideologies are advancing almost identical packages. For example –  in Arizona of all places – a non-partisan group of employers recommended: Security increases on the border, Account for unauthorized immigrants through earned legalization, Necessary increases in lawful immigration and work vias, and Employment sanctions and other reforms (Posted by Alex Nowrasteh 121206 “A SANE immigration reform proposal” at cato-at-liberty.org, an ultra-conservative libertarian thinktank!) 




As we have seen, immigration can involve all three main policy sectors: security, economy, and identity. Moreover, it also can involve all three main policy levels: supranational (external security, flows across borders), national (macroeconomy, American identity), and subnational (states and localities). The national government’s own priority may shift between sectors and levels, shifting domestic preoccupations with it. The interplay of the many specific issues involved makes and unmakes diverse political coalitions.


(A masterful account of the interplay of these alternative framings of immigration politics in the course of American history is Aristide Zolberg 2006A nation by design: Immigration policy in the fashioning of America. New York NY: Russell Sage Foundation and Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 658 pages. On the interplay of identity and economy, see also Carolyn Wong 2006 Lobbying for inclusion: Rights politics and the making of immigration policy. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 255 pages. On shifts in sovereignty concerns, see

Cheryl Shanks 2001 Immigration and the politics of American sovereignty, 1890-1990. Ann Arbor MI: The University of Michigan Press, 390 pages.)


Economy   2.1


In the most practical terms, immigration involves ECONOMIC issues: employers wanting unskilled cheap labor, unskilled migrants wanting fair jobs, American workers wanting to protect THEIR jobs, and American taxpayers debating whether immigrants constitute a net gain (labor, entrepreneurship) or a net drain (education, welfare) for local economies. (Usually they provide a net gain.) Immigrants come to find jobs and usually the USA has mostly allowed them in, either formally or informally. On the one hand, the USA does make explicit provision for legal entrance of needed labor. On the other hand, usually the USA has not prevented needed labor from working illegally (except occasionally, when there was more labor than needed). This informal accommodation has resulted from an odd alliance of employers and migrants (both of whom strongly want more immigration) against average public opinion (which would prefer less immigration but seldom mobilizes to limit it). Until the last quarter of the twentieth century, this accommodation amounted to a relatively simple de facto laissez-faire policy toward immigration under a classically liberal economic regime. However, one can interpret developments since around 1975 as part of a “neoliberal” restructuring that maintains the economic free flow of labor by contriving to prevent politically necessary restrictionist measures from actually having much effect ((Kretsedemas, particularly 62-68).


In any case, at least in the American Southwest, basically immigration rises or falls depending on the rate of growth of the American economy and consequent demand for labor, regardless of ostensible national policy. In the last few years, because of the Great Recession, illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border have become fewer and fewer, at least temporarily. This makes it is somewhat paradoxical that, at the same time, illegal immigration has become a hotter and hotter political issue across more and more of the American South.


Identity   2.2


Part of the explanation is that immigration also involves IDENTITY issues: white European-Americans protecting their traditions and values against non-white Americans hoping to assert theirs. Evidently such white defensiveness reacts less to current overall flows of new immigrants and more to the total stock already deposited by previous flows, particularly to the resulting concentration of immigrants in particular localities. Identity issues can be heartfelt: For example, even in the most casual conversations, older white Southern Californians will volunteer that they resent the presence of so many Latinos and the prevalence of so much Spanish in their localities. Such identity grievances pose a constant temptation to conservative politicians willing to embrace nativism in order to mobilize voters. Conversely, some liberal commentators regard the innovations in identity being made by immigrants themselves – the construction of new “trans-national” identities – as harbingers of a future more globalized world in which even nation-states take their national borders less seriously.


(Most attention to identity implies that individuals are likely to favor RESTRICTIVE immigration policies. For an argument that, in the long run, the ideological identities of liberal democratic states favor EXPANSIONIST immigration policiessee Gary Freeman 1995 “Modes of immigration politics in liberal democratic states” in International migration review 26,4 (Winter), 881-902. He distinguishes three groups of liberal democratic states and identifies their differences on immigration. See also the accompanying critique by Rogers Brubaker. Tichenor 2002 addresses the interplay of liberal, republican, and inegalitarian ideologies in the history of American immigration policy. On emerging transnationalism, see Anne McNevin 2011Contesting citizenship : Irregular migrants and new frontiers of the political. New York, NY : Columbia University Press, 223 pages. Another sophisticated analysis of transnationalism – employing the critical perspectives of Foucault and Agamben – is Kathleen Arnold 2011American immigration after 1996 : the shifting ground of political inclusion, University Park PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 182 pages.)


Security   2.3


Increasingly, in recent years, immigration has also involved SECURITY issues: maintaining law-and-order both along national borders and within the interior. Classically whites have feared that immigrants bring crime into their localities. (In urban areas, ethnic gangs can certainly be a problem but, as individuals, immigrants actually commit crimes at a lower rate than established residents.) Such fears are now reinforced by the need to prevent the entrance into the USA of drug dealers or even terrorists. Again, undoubtedly those are real problems. Nevertheless, some liberal critics of the resulting  “securitization” of immigration policy view the security measures taken to solve security problems as mostly producing still more insecurity, leading to more measures, and so on.  “External enforcement” strategies of trying to stop illegal entrants at the border don’t work: The border is long and much of it is not adequately patrolled, so migrants always find some way to get in, albeit at increasing risk to themselves. “Internal enforcement” is more feasible: requiring employers to ascertain – using government-provided databases – whether prospective workers are legal or not and then punishing employers who hire workers who are “out of status.” However, this too increases insecurity, among both workers and employers, both of whom may be caught in a government enforcement raid. 


(For the critique of securitization, see Ariane Chebel d'Appollonia 2012  Frontiers of fear : Immigration and insecurity in the United States and Europe. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 320 pages. On the personal insecurities of the migrants themselves, see Deirdre Moloney  2012 National insecurities : Immigrants and U.S. deportation policy since 1882, Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 315 pages. For a grounding of identity and economic aspects in security concerns, see Mikhail A. Alexseev 2006  Immigration phobia and the security dilemma : Russia, Europe, and the United States, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 286 pages. On including identity aspects in security analyses, see Christopher Rudolph 2006 National security and immigration : Policy development in the United States and Western Europe since 1945, Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 268 pages.)




Historically, from the point of view of Europeans, North America had vast resources and sparse population. So immigration has always been constitutive of America: demographically, economically, culturally, and politically. Historically, North America has always needed immigrant labor. So governments have usually allowed a substantial number of immigrants legal entry. This was particularly so from about 1870-1920 and again, to a lesser extent, since about 1970. Nevertheless, the USA has always placed some restrictions on immigration, particularly from about 1920 to about 1970. Moreover the USA has often been reluctant to extend social, cultural, and political rights to immigrant labor.


Broadly speaking, postwar American academic accounts of American immigration have progressed through three interpretations: what I will call mid-twentieth century CLASSIC COMPLACENCY, late twentieth century REVISIONIST CRITIQUE, and early-twenty-first century “HISTORICAL INSTITUTIONALISM.”


Classic complacency   3.1


In the mid-twentieth century, the mainstream postwar account of American immigration history recognized the struggles of immigrants, but celebrated America as a “melting pot” that welcomed them and helped them succeed. The old identities of immigrants  were melted down and forged into a new American identity. This account regards all of this as a mostly “natural” social process, with little state intervention. The simpler version was that immigrants were “assimilated” to “Americanism”: America’s foundational culture, which notionally was religious but liberal. A more complex version was that immigrants were, one might say, “alloyed” into a continually evolving and increasingly multi-cultural American mainstream.


Certainly both of those processes have occurred, and continue. Moreover, in comparative perspective, the relative success of those processes in the USA has been exceptional: How many other countries have truly incorporated alien nationalities into their own national identity, and continue to do so? If this involved some difficulties, that should come as little surprise. However, in American politics of immigration, a basic dynamic has been to forget the difficulties with past waves of immigrants, in order to emphasize difficulties with the current wave of immigrants. Repeatedly American immigration politics has started from an assumption that the current batch of immigrants is particularly – even uniquely – problematic. Currently the problematic batch are Latinos. (Asians are now mostly welcome.) 


More recent academic approaches to past immigration politics have become more critical. Younger generations of the general public are becoming more accepting of immigrants and multiculturalism. Nevertheless, it is worth noting the somewhat restrictive informal “terms” of that acceptance. Mainstream American public discourse is happy to embrace immigrants and celebrate their success, so long as they confirm the continuing efficacy of “the American Dream”: starting with nothing and achieving success through hard work. That is how Obama presented himself. So too several of the current rising stars within the Republican party (Marco Rubio of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Ted Cruz of Texas). On the other hand, perhaps not surprisingly, even very intelligent mainstream American media still do NOT welcome immigrant rants against the injustices immigrants have suffered and the iniquities of mainstream immigration policies and practices.


Revisionist critique   3.2


By the late twentieth century, a revisionist academic account of American immigration history emphasized the extent to which earlier settlers RESISTED later immigration and stressed how SELECTIVE American immigration policy has been. This account pays close attention to the actual immigration practices of the American state, but regards those policies as largely the outcome of popular politics. The key actors were the earliest settlers, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males who early established the terms on which later immigrants could be admitted and assimilated. The most fundamental category was RACE: non whites were problematic (above all black slaves, but also Latino migrant labor). ETHNICITY also mattered: The original settlers greatly preferred Western and Northern Europeans (Germanic and Scandinavian) to Southern and Eastern Europeans (Italians and Poles). RELIGION was also important: non-Protestants were problematic (Catholics, Jews, now Muslims). This may seem gratuitous prejudice, but the original Protestant settlers emerged out of murderous geopolitical struggles in Europe between Protestants and Catholics. Even GENDER is problematic: women have been more vulnerable to exclusion or deportation than men. (On the interaction of gender with race and other categories, see again Deirdre Moloney  2012 National insecurities : immigrants and U.S. deportation policy since 1882, Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 315 pages.)


Again, these difficulties should come as little surprise – certainly not to Chinese, who arrived on the wrong side of all these dichotomies! Most of these biases in American immigration policy have long been identified and critiqued by those affected by them (e.g., Ronald Takaki 1993A different mirror : A history of multicultural America, Boston MA: Little, Brown, 508 pages.) However, the authoritative statement of this revisionist critique that finally went mainstream – because based on exhaustive research on the guidelines actually used by American immigration authorities – is Rogers Smith 1999Civic ideals: Conflicting visions of citizenship in U.S. history New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 719 pages.)


Historical institutionalism   3.3


In the early twenty-first century, “historical institutionalists” within American political science are finally bringing their approach to the topic of immigration politics. The HISTORICAL part of their slogan demands that an account of a current policy domain situate it in the entire history of that policy domain and its role in overall American political development. The INSTITUTIONAL  part of their slogan shifts attention away from societal influences and toward the relatively autonomous role of “the state” (i.e., national government) and its institutions, which to some extent pursue their own objectives. These include foreign policy objectives that have little to do with domestic political pressures about immigration. Moreover, not only different national states, but also different levels of American government, may have different objectives. Overall, by the late twentieth century, immigration policy emerges increasingly NOT from diffuse mass sentiment but rather from the interplay of “centralized state actors, organized social groups, and policy experts” (Tichenor 14).


(On American immigration policy as an aspect of foreign policy, see Donna R. Gabaccia 2012  Foreign relations : American immigration in global perspective.  Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 271 pages.) For comparative perspective, see again Christopher Rudolph 2006 National security and immigration: Policy development in the United States and Western Europe since 1945. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 268 pages. Rudolph says state security interests include defense, wealth, and stability.


In institutionalist accounts, successive American political regimes produced the immigration policies to which contemporaneous “institutional and ideological orderings” were prone (Tichenor 2002). Americans even got mostly the immigration policies that their governments imposed. In this last vein, historical institutionalists and others have recently called attention to the growing role of Executive Orders and Judicial Review in shaping current American immigration policy. The executive branch has always had a legitimate concern for national security, recently heightened by the threat of international terrorism, of course. That concern has resulted in increasing assertions by the executive of authority to decide immigration policy, not only without consulting other branches or the public, but sometimes even without informing them of the result! Meanwhile, in the judicial branch, immigration courts are taking over a rising proportion of enforcements of deportation from the border patrol. (See Kretsedemas 47-72 and 140-141.)   

A further current effort by American scholars is to put American immigration policy into comparative and global perspective. There has long been a strong literature on immigration politics in Western Europe and on comparison of Europe with the USA. (See a succinct essay by James Hollifield, “The politics of immigration and the rise of the migration state: Comparative and historical perspectives,” in Reed Ueda ed. 2006 A companion to American immigration, Malden MA and Oxford UK: Blackwell, 570 pages, at pages 132-158.)








Importance of Post: ***** Big development. **** Small development. *** Continuing trend.

Scope of  Post:  USA only. USA-PRC. USA-other.

Type of Process:  Elite power struggle. Elite policy politics. Mass participation.

Type of Treatment:  Current commentary. Comprehensive background. Academic analysis.




Policy  Sectors:  Security. Economy. Identity

Spatial  Levels:  Supranational. National. Subnational

Temporal  Periods:  Shortrun. Midrun. Longrun








Presidency (national security team)

Homeland security

State coercion: Police & Prisons

Citizen violence: Collective riots & Individual harm



Climate change

Trade & Investment

Fiscal policy


Energy & Environment


Employment & Income






Race & Ethnicity

Gender & Age

Moral regulation

Alternative lifestyles




United Nations

International regimes

Subglobal regions

Major foreign powers

Neighboring countries

Cross-border regions







Interest groups


Public opinion



Subational regions


Metropolitan regions



Communities & Associations

Citizen participation (elections, activism)


SHORTRUN (Current dynamics)

This week

Past few weeks

Next few weeks

Past few months

Next few months

Past few years

Next few years


MIDRUN (Foreseeable future)

Regime shift

Regime change







LONGRUN (History, evolution)

American political development

Comparative political development

Longrun economic growth

Longrun social history

Longrun cultural change

Major civilizations

Human evolution






71篇文章 1次访问 8年前更新

Edwin A. Winckler (韦爱德) is an American political scientist (Harvard BA, MA, and PhD) who has taught mostly in the sociology departments at Columbia and Harvard. He has been researching China for a half century, publishing books about Taiwan’s political economy (Sharpe, 1988), China’s post-Mao reforms (Rienner, 1999), and China’s population policy (Stanford, 2005, with Susan Greenhalgh). Recently he has begun also explaining American politics to Chinese. So the purpose of this Blog is to call attention to the best American media commentary on current American politics and to relate that to the best recent American academic scholarship on American politics. Winckler’s long-term institutional base remains the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University in New York City. However he and his research have now retreated to picturesque rural Central New York.