Making Immigration Matter
AUGUST 25, 2021 BY REVIEW BY VIRAL MISTRY
Immigration Matters: Movements, Visions, and Strategies for a Progressive Future
Ruth Milkman, Deepak Bhargava, and Penny Lewis, eds.
The New Press, 2021, 336pp., $18.98 paperback.
Posted on the Democratic Left blog.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Emma Lazarus’s famous words, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty and at one time taught to every U.S. schoolchild, present one picture of this country. The reality, as many immigration activists and leftists are increasingly aware, is far from those hopeful words. The year before Lazarus’s poem was penned, the Chinese Exclusion Act became law—the first direct ethnic immigration restriction law of any major industrial country. The decades that followed saw an increase in nativist sentiment that ultimately led to a series of immigration restriction laws in the 1910s and early 1920s, capped off with quotas that essentially halted non-Western European immigration to the United States.
The 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act replaced those laws with a new liberal vision that tried to recast the United States as a “nation of immigrants.” But the new policies, though more progressive than their predecessors, set the stage for the modern immigration detention state by refusing to directly challenge the nativist sentiment from which they emerged. As immigration from Global South nations increased, a bipartisan anti-immigrant consensus took hold, with new border policing and criminalization statutes coming down in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Decades of expanded border patrols, partial border fences, and new bureaucratic structures like the formation of the Department of Homeland Security gave Donald Trump all the tools he needed to build a political coalition primarily centered around anti-immigrant hostility and xenophobia. But the end of the Trump administration and the rise of the new Biden administration pose a difficult question for the broad coalition that opposed Trump and his open racist and nativist rhetoric: what do we actually do about immigration policy in the United States?
At its core, Immigration Matters struggles with this question. A collection of essays by progressive figures, it attempts to survey a broad range of perspectives for activists and policy makers. It starts by surveying the long, painful history of oppression inherent in our immigration laws. Alongside that history of state violence and repression, however, is an equal and opposite history of resistance and struggle for freedom driven by and for immigrants. From labor organizing to electoral involvement to targeted campaigns against complicit corporations, the book documents the diverse tactics people have taken to protect and empower immigrants. From there, various essays chart visions for the future. What strategies and tactics can we use to protect immigrants? What should be the nature of our immigration system? What would it look like to dismantle organizations such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? What concessions can we win in the here and now, and what should be our approach moving forward? And how do we break the xenophobic electoral coalition that has united rural white folk with the corporate ruling class through their combined distrust and hatred for immigration from the Global South?