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Immigrating Into America

Immigrating Into America

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Published by Thalia Sanders
Strayer University
Strayer University

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Published by: Thalia Sanders on Mar 12, 2013
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10/19/2013

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30
may8, 2006
Ǡ
the newrepublic
card status,and this was enough for itsopponents to cry “amnesty,”which isanathema to House Republicans.Still,the ideas that inspired McCain-Kennedy may not be dead.With massiveand moving demonstrations throughoutthe country,immigrants have won in-creased public sympathy;and in the faceof the voting power that they may beginto exercise,hard-line stances such asthose adopted by House Republicanscould backfire politically.But even if immigration reform does happen,manyconcessions will have to be made to na-tivist sentiment as the price for givingillegals a fair chance to become legal.There is little doubt that the Americanmood toward immigration these days ismore restrictive than it is welcoming.It is not just the rhetoric surround-ing it that makes immigration differentfrom all other political issues.On someissues that have captured public atten-tion—Terri Schiavo,stem cells—the pub-lic is more moderate than the ideology-driven zealotry of America’s leaders.Butnot immigration.On this issue,traces of bipartisan compromise can be found inWashington,while a deep polarizationexists outside the Beltway.Like abortion,immigration raises pro-found moral questions about our obliga-tions to the weak and the vulnerable;butunlike abortion,it also carries with it eco-nomic consequences that directly involvebusiness and labor.As with any foreignpolicy issue,immigration touches on ourrelations with allies and enemies;but itis discussed almost exclusively in termsof its effects at home,irrespective of itsconsequences abroad.The Bush tax cutsdivided people along ideological lines,but in contrast to tax cuts,the lines withrespect to immigration are so imprecisethat conservatives and liberals find them-selves on one side fighting furiouslyagainst conservatives and liberals on theother side.Compared with Social Secu-rity reform or the war in Iraq,immi-gration affects fewer Americans in anydirect way (and does not result in signifi-cant loss of life for those it does affect),but unlike those issues,it breaks once sol-id political parties into warring factionsand is capable of shifting the balance of power from one party to the other.
I
mmigration,in sum,stands
alone among the questions urgentlyfacing American society,with itsown coalitions,ideological appeals,voting patterns,and history.No wonder,then,that the debate over immigrationis anything but straightforward.Nothingin either the House or Senate bills saysanything about religion,but the CatholicChurch is deeply engaged in the issue,evangelical Protestants are split over it,and Jews carry historical memories thatflood their minds every time the sub- ject comes up.Immigration is frequentlyviewed as a civil rights issue—the re-forms of 1965 were passed in the wakeof the Civil Rights Act of the previousyear—but African Americans have nev-er been strong supporters of expandedimmigration.Those who talk aboutstates’ rights will become strong advo-cates of national authority if state gov-ernments,responsive to agricultural andbusiness interests,look the other waywhen illegal immigrants attend publicschools,receive welfare,and apply fordrivers’ licenses.Liberals and Democratswill wax enthusiastically about Amer-ica’s commitment to Latinos while gut-ting immigration reform to reducetheir political vulnerability.ThroughoutAmerican history,immigration has beenopposed by eugenicists and population-control enthusiasts,and analogous (andobviously less odious) concerns aboutthe environment have replaced them,leading such organizations as the SierraClub to be either hostile to or dividedover immigration reform.Recent im-migrants themselves cannot always becounted on to support greater immigra-tion,even of their own ethnic and racialgroups.And,as Peter Beinart has point-ed out in these pages,conservatives whotrumpet the power of the market anddenigrate government routinely call ongovernment to prevent the market fromfunctioning when the commodity inquestion is immigrant labor rather thanbananas or softwood lumber.When it comes to immigration,theonly surprise is surprise itself.There islittle in the biography of any particularpolitician—not party,not ideology,notgeography,not even family history—thatcan readily predict his or her stance oncontrolling America’s borders.(BesidesRohrabacher,the other major opponentof immigration in Congress is a man
ANation byDesign:Immigration Policyin theFashioning of America 
By Aristide R. Zolberg
(Harvard University Press,658 pp., $39.95)
I.
I
would hope the American
people are smart enough tosmell the foul odor that’s com-ing out of the United StatesSenate....Those people in theSenate who are basically looking out forthe interests of somebody else other thanthe American people will have to paythe political price and I’m sure SenatorMcCain,when he runs for president,willfind that out.So spoke RepresentativeDana Rohrabacher in response to a re-cent bipartisan Senate effort to pass animmigration bill less harsh than the dra-conian one he,and most of his HouseRepublican colleagues,favored.(Thiswas before Rohrabacher went on to urgethat we use prisoners rather than immi-grants to harvest California’s crops.) In just a few words,Rohrabacher touchedon every one of American nativism’s ele-ments:the fawning populism,the threatsof blackmail and reprisal,the unusuallyugly language.Immigration debates arelike that.No other issue (except,of course,race) brings out so prominentlythe demagogues among us.If you findthis an exaggeration,watch any televi-sion program featuring Lou Dobbs.Interestingly enough,the bill thatRohrabacher opposed—named after itsunlikely co-sponsors Senators John Mc-Cain and Edward Kennedy—would easi-ly have fallen into the category of restric-tive legislation if it had been launchedinto a different political environment.After all,this more liberal bill called forincreased spending on border enforce-ment,limited future visas to 400,000 peryear,established procedures designed toencourage immigrants to return to theircountries of origin,and increased finesfor the hiring of illegal immigrants.ButMcCain-Kennedy did allow illegal immi-grants currently in the United States tobegin a laborious journey toward green-
 Alan Wolfe
Getting In
 
the newrepublic
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may8, 2006
31
America finally did become a nation,waves of immigrants—large numbersof whom were neither Protestant norEnglish-speaking—raised complicatedquestions about what kind of nation itwas going to be.Americans love to de-bate their identity precisely becausetheir identity is sufficiently flexible tobe debatable.And so immigration deserves thepassion,the polarization,and sometimeseven the excessive rhetoric associatedwith it.True,such debates fuel a poli-tics of symbolism ripe with opportuni-ties for demagoguery.But symbolic poli-tics are not some epiphenomenon thatfills in the gap when “real”issues suchas Medicare or energy policy lose theirsaliency.People may not consume sym-bols,but they are often willing to die forthem.Nations,moreover,not only havesymbols,they also are symbols.Whenpeople say they are proud to be Ameri-cans—or these days when,exasperatedby George W.Bush,they say the oppo-site—they are not talking about howmuch money they make or whether thetrains run on time.(In this country,theyare especially not talking about how thetrains run on time.) People take pride in,or express shame over,what their coun-try stands for.If it symbolizes freedomand democracy,they beam.If it is seento represent imperial overreach,theyblanch.
E
nter the terrain of symbols,
the traditional preserve of an-thropologists and sociologistsrather than political scientists,and before long the question of culturewill arise.Most nations define them-selves through their culture:the lan-guage they speak,the literature and mu-sic they produce,the history they share,the monuments they treasure.Yet whilethere clearly is such a thing as Americanculture,this country,because it refash-ions its identify so frequently,does notattach its identity to its culture to theextent that most other nations do.Sam-uel P.Huntington thinks otherwise,of course;in
Who Are We?
,his recent booklamenting America’s relatively liberalimmigration policies,he argued that aculture shaped by dissenting Protestantsin the seventeenth and eighteenth cen-turies is in danger from arrivals fromMexico.But Aristide Zolberg will havenone of that.Although his method isscholarly and his tone frequently dispas-sionate,Zolberg dismisses Huntingtonnamed Tancredo.) On this issue,the talk-ing points have not yet been writtenand the focus groups have not yet fo-cused.Immigration policy is for peoplewho love their politics raw and unscript-ed.It is as if debates over immigrationconstitute a vast thought-experiment,re-peated test cases designed to tell Amer-icans who they are and,more important-ly,who they want to be.
II.
I
f you want to understand why
the politics of immigration takethe form they do,read Aristide R.Zolberg’s richly informative bookimmediately.Zolberg,a political scientistformerly known for his work on Africaand Europe,has become increasinglyfascinated by what scholars in his fieldcall “American political development.”Fashioned as an attempt to restore topolitical science a concern with the realworld that rational choice theory left be-hind (although lately there are efforts tobring these approaches together),Amer-ican political development favors historyover economics as the first cousin of po-litical science.Political scientists inspiredby this approach want to know howthe American state formed itself,devel-oped its authority,adopted particularpolicies in the face of domestic and inter-national transformations,responded toand in turn influenced legal regimes,andspawned constellations of parties and in-terest groups.The field of American political devel-opment promises answers to questionssuch as these:is America exceptional,and if so,how? What policy options to-day were foreclosed by policy decisionstaken in previous times? Are practicesand procedures we tend to consideras well-established—a competitive two-party system,federalism,separation of powers—really contingent and thereforeamenable to future changes? An inter-est in American political developmentcauses many a political scientist to spendunusual amounts of time in archives—not just to tell a story,but also to ponderwhy organized labor is weaker in theUnited States than in other comparablecountries,how wars have shaped thedistribution of political authority,whichgroups obtain and use suffrage andwhich do not,and why the American ad-ministrative bureaucracy lacks effectivecoordination.American political development hasproduced a number of major works,in-cluding Richard Bensel’s
The Political Economy of American Industrialization,1877–1900
,Rogers M.Smiths
Civic Ideals:Conflicting Visions of Citizenshipin U.S.History
,Stephen Skowronek’s
Building a New American State:TheExpansion of National AdministrativeCapacities
,and Sidney M.Milkis’s
ThePresident and the Parties:The Transfor-mation of the American Party SystemSince the New Deal 
.These are impor-tant and valuable books—but it has tobe said that,in all,American politicaldevelopment has not yet delivered onmany of its promises.Nobody has quiteresolved whether the United Statesreally is exceptional;European welfarestates are being cut back in ways simi-lar to American retrenchment and thequestion of why there is no socialism inthe United States has been replaced bythe question of why there is no socialismanywhere.The notion of “path depen-dency”enthralls nearly all students of American political development,butpointing out how certain options wereforeclosed when others were chosen isnot much of a theoretical insight.Histo-ry does help to explain why the Ameri-can state has the special properties that itdoes,but it cannot help much in explain-ing why Republicans are now in powerrather than Democrats—or why Repub-licans,despite their anti-statist ideology,inevitably expand government’s size andreach.One reason for the mixed success of American political development is that,in their efforts to explain the Americannation-state,political scientists have paida great deal of attention to the state andrelatively little to the nation.Policies,parties,procedures:they all influenceand are influenced by government.Butgovernment exists within a nation whoseidentity,at least in this country,is ascontingent as the policies that govern-ment adopts.Americans did not create anation by inheriting a conception of whothey were from some mystic past andthen asking new arrivals to adopt to it.Instead,we barely began as a nation atall.Although the United States declaredits independence from Great Britain in1776 and adopted the Constitution in1787,it did not become a nation untilthe ratification of the Thirteenth,Four-teenth,and Fifteenth Amendments inthe wake of the Civil War.(Before theCivil War,leaders spoke about theUnion,not the nation.) And even when
 
32
may8, 2006
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migration hither,and raising the condi-tions of new Appropriations of Lands.”This was not a pre-ordained complaint;the American colonies could have con-tinued to accept whomever the Britishsent,content to allow the shape of theirpolitical system to be determined byforces outside of their borders.But theychose to become their own country byallowing people from other countries toenter,a paradox that has defined Ameri-can immigration policy ever since.Once the decision was made to ac-quire more people,the question of whatkind of people they should be took pri-ority.From the start,prominent voicesurged that the new country should notadmit everyone who wanted to come—or,in the colonial situation,everyonewho was sent.“Thou art called ourMOTHER COUNTRY,BenjaminFranklin wrote in 1751,“but what goodMother ever sent Thieves and Villainsto accompany her Children;to corruptsome with their infectious Vices,andmurder the rest?”Franklin would spendthe rest of his life in opposition to capa-cious immigration,including not onlycriminals and paupers in his categoryof the unwanted,but Germans and othernon-native English speakers.Read Franklin today,and you mightconclude that nativism was as Ameri-can as apple pie.But the truth is that theforces pushing for a generous conceptionof American citizenship were too power-ful to resist.America’s first great nation-builder,Alexander Hamilton,knew fullwell—as,by the way,did Franklin him-self—that if the United States was to de-velop industry rather than settle for agri-culture,it would need to open itself tothe importation of workers hoping tobetter their lives.Hamilton’s concerns,like those of business lobbyists today,were practical more than theoretical.Asif anticipating what economists wouldlater call “dual labor markets,Hamiltonenvisioned a system in which low-wageworkers from abroad would work in thenewly emerging factories,leading native-born Americans of means to becomeembodiments of republican virtue byavoiding the degradation of industrialemployment.An economic panic in 1792 stymiedHamiltonianism,as did the endorsementby Federalists of the Alien and SeditionActs (the forerunners of today’s PatriotAct).But Hamiltonianism would inspireimmigration policy as it did foreign anddomestic policy.Whenever industrial ex-pansion beckoned,legions of workerswould appear in American ports.
O
pposition to immigration
also ran into practical con-siderations from the start.Thomas Jefferson’s agrarianrepublicanism was in theory hostile toimmigration,but when the FederalistParty turned nativist with the Alien Act,Jefferson saw an opportunity to winvoters to his side;and Irish immigrantsin New York may well have sealed hisvictory in 1800.While Hamilton,defend-ing his party,began to argue against im-migrants’ receiving the vote immediatelyupon arrival,Jefferson started to movein the other direction.As their mutualflip-flop suggests,economic needs andopportunistic politics left little room forintellectual consistency on the immigra-tion question.No one expressed the ambivalencetoward immigration in the early years of the American republic better than TenchCoxe,an economic adviser to both Ham-ilton and Jefferson.In a paper read be-fore the Society for Political Enquiries in1787,Coxe declared that “the present sit-uation of America renders it necessaryto promote the influx of people;and itis equally clear,that we have a right torestrain that influx,whenever it is likelyto prove hurtful to us.”There is a ten-dency to view battles over immigrationas fights between nativists wanting toclose the borders and cosmopolitanswanting to keep them open.Somethinkers and activists fit easily into oneor the other of these camps:Tom Painewas as welcoming to immigrants as BenFranklin was hostile.But even thoughthe United States was founded by lead-ers trained in philosophy and adept atpublic argument,Coxe’s inability to landon one side or the other reflected a re-ality in which philosophy took secondplace to state-building.Immigration,in other words,did notfollow from a preconceived idea of theform that the American state shouldtake.On the contrary,the Americanstate was formed out of clashes overeconomics and politics,and Americanimmigration was held hostage to thoseclashes.For this reason,Zolberg’s titleis somewhat misleading.America is “anation by design”in the sense that it didnot spring full-blown out of nature.Butits design was haphazard;no single archi-tect drew up the plans.Debates overimmigration tended to be retrospective;as advancing “an unimaginative revivalof ancient nativist stereotypes”littledifferent from those of earlier isolation-ists such as Henry Cabot Lodge.Zolberg is the anti-Huntington of ourtime,and the reason is not hard to find.If there is anything exceptional aboutthe United States,it lies in the country’sartificiality—or,if less derogatory im-plications are warranted,its artifice.Diverse from the start,we have neverdefined our identity biologically.But nei-ther have we replaced biology with aconception of culture meant to appearunchanging and beyond the control of the people who shape it.A capacity toadopt the culture we want has been es-pecially true of our more expansive peri-ods,when we welcomed immigrantsfrom quite different cultures with enthu-siasm.But it is even true of our most re-strictive periods,when,fixed on protect-ing a racial balance favoring whites ora religious balance favoring Christians,we nonetheless brought people to ourshores who both assimilated to the cul-ture they found and changed the culturethey found through their assimilation.There is a tendency,when discussingimmigration,to define some periods asnormal and to view others as conform-ing to or deviating from the norm.AsZolberg rightly points out,there is notnow,and there never has been,a normthat provides a definitive statement of the reciprocal obligations owed by pre-sent Americans to future ones.Immigra-tion policy is always improvised,doneon the fly.For that very reason,immi-gration,rather than fiscal policy or state-craft,is the best subject for utilizing thetools of American political development.What we discuss when we talk aboutimmigration is the political developmentof America.
III.
S
o how,then,did America de-
velop? Because we were a landbefore we were a nation,andbecause the land we inhabitedwas sparsely populated,we debated im-migration policy even when we were aBritish colony.Among the many chargesthat Americans leveled against GeorgeIII in their Declaration of Independence,there was this:“He has endeavored toprevent the Population of these States;for that purpose obstructing the Lawsfor Naturalization of Foreigners;refus-ing to pass others to encourage their

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