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Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens

Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens: The Cost of Immigration Reform in the 1990s

Christina Gerken
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 352
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    Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens
    Book Description:

    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 Aliensexamines 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8629-2
    Subjects: History, Law, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction: Building a Neoliberal Consensus
    (pp. 1-18)

    Congressional debates from the mid-1990s suggest that the U.S. immigration system had reached a point of crisis. According to the dominant political rhetoric, immigration laws failed to protect U.S. citizens from an overwhelming influx of undesirable immigrants who, unlike previous generations of newcomers, were reluctant to blend in with the majority culture and contribute to the economy. Politicians frequently referred to this seemingly unprecedented crisis in their calls for immediate and drastic immigration reform measures. For example, when Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) spoke in favor of the Immigration Control and Financial Responsibility Act of 1996 (S. 1664), he argued that...

  4. 1 Exclusionary Acts: A Brief History of U.S. Immigration Laws
    (pp. 19-72)

    Immigration in the United States has had a profound impact on the nation’s political, economic, social, and cultural life. Since 1840, some sixty million persons from all over the world have migrated to the United States.¹ The volume of immigration has varied significantly in response to the economic and political situation in both the United States and foreign countries. Most scholars divide the history of U.S. immigration into four periods: During the first wave of immigration (1840–90), almost fifteen million British, Irish, German, and Scandinavian migrants arrived at America’s shores. In the second period(1891–1920), an additional eighteen million...

  5. 2 Family Values and Moral Obligations: The Logic of Congressional Rhetoric
    (pp. 73-110)

    In June 1995, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform sent its second interim report, “Legal Immigration: Setting Priorities,” to Congress.¹ In her introductory letter, Chair Barbara Jordan wrote that “the Commission recommends a significant redefinition of priorities and a reallocation of existing admission numbers to fulfill more effectively the objectives of our immigration system.” According to this bipartisan commission, the U.S. government had not only admitted too many immigrants; it had also failed to adapt admission criteria to the changing demands of the labor market.² While the commission was mindful of America’s historic commitment to family reunification, it was concerned...

  6. 3 Dehumanizing the Undocumented: The Legislative Language of Illegality
    (pp. 111-150)

    The previous chapter examined congressional discussions of the legal immigration system. In particular, the analysis focused on one noteworthy discursive strand: the controversy about family reunification. In accordance with a neoliberal project designed to impose economic rationale on governmental policies, many politicians felt that the U.S. immigration system should give preferential treatment to immigrants who had acted like self-sufficient neoliberal subjects and had the potential to develop into “net contributors” to the American economy. At the same time, politicians were also careful to buttress this economically driven logic with a humanistic discourse about heteronormative family values and moral obligations. Family-sponsored...

  7. 4 Manufacturing the Crisis: Encoded Racism in the Daily Press
    (pp. 151-194)

    In November 1996, Annette Ha of San Leandro, California, sat down to express her growing frustration with the “hysterical, mean-spirited scapegoating” that informed political debates and media representations of immigrants (San Francisco Chronicle[SFC], November 9, 1996). In a letter to theSan Francisco Chronicle, she wrote,

    I am an immigrant. According to many opponents of immigration who have received extensive coverage in the media: I am lazy; I refuse to speak English; I suck up welfare benefits; I am ungrateful; I am violent; I am uneducated. Basically, I contribute nothing to this country while taking much away from it....

  8. 5 Entrepreneurial Spirits and Individual Failures: The Neoliberal Human-Interest Story
    (pp. 195-234)

    In spring 1996, theHouston Chronicledevoted 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, theSan Francisco Chroniclecaused a public outcry with a story about a twelve-year-old Iraqi immigrant, whose family had arranged her marriage to thirty-year-old Mohammed Alsreafi. In October 1996, theHouston Chronicleran a ten-part series about four immigrant families from Mexico and El Salvador. During the same month, theNew York Timespublished a six-part series, entitled “Housing’s Hidden Crisis,” which focused on New York City’s poorest tenants, many of them...

  9. Conclusion: Legacies of Failed Reform
    (pp. 235-250)

    Fifteen years after the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), it is difficult to ignore the fact that it never achieved the goals outlined by politicians in the mid-1990s. Most notably, the IIRIRA has failed to reduce the population of undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. Quite to the contrary, the approximate number of undocumented persons has more than doubled over the last decade and a half. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates indicate that the unauthorized resident population was roughly 3.4 million as of October 1992 and growing by about three hundred...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 251-252)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 253-286)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-308)
  13. Index
    (pp. 309-329)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)