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Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens

The Cost of Immigration Reform in the 1990s

2013
Author:

Christina Gerken

Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens

Reveals how watershed 1990s legislation foregrounded neoliberal ideals while disguising racial fears

Christina Gerken examines the changing debates around immigration that surrounded the passage of landmark legislation by Congress in the mid-1990s, arguing that it represented a new, neoliberal way of thinking and talking about immigration. She 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.

Christina Gerken has hold of a crucial issue, and her fine book makes clear that we have to confront the neoliberal paradigm to address questions of immigrant rights.

Rachel Ida Buff, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

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 Aliens examines 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.

Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens

Christina Gerken is assistant professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Indiana University South Bend.

Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens

Christina Gerken has hold of a crucial issue, and her fine book makes clear that we have to confront the neoliberal paradigm to address questions of immigrant rights.

Rachel Ida Buff, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

A major contribution to the study of immigration reform in the United States. A must read for those interested in the recent developments in American immigration and restriction, the evolution of neoliberalism, and the complexity of American multiculturalism at the turn of the twentieth century.

Political Science Quarterly

Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens is meticulously researched and remarkably accessible, and it promises to make a critical contribution to scholarship on immigration policy in an era of “post-racial” politics.

International Migration Review

Christina Gerken makes a critical contribution to our knowledge of the debate over immigration reform in the recent past. Her detailed and richly documented analysis of the content and social implications of the debate that led to critical changes to the American immigration system provides the most detailed discussion to date of the immigration reform discourse of the mid-1990s.

Political Science Quarterly

Model Immigrants and Undesirable Aliens

Contents

Introduction: Building a Neoliberal Consensus
1. Exclusionary Acts: A Brief History of U.S. Immigration Laws
2. Family Values and Moral Obligations: The Logic of Congressional Rhetoric
3. Dehumanizing the Undocumented: The Legislative Language of Illegality
4. Manufacturing the Crisis: Encoded Racism in the Daily Press
5. Entrepreneurial Spirits and Individual Failures: The Neoliberal Human Interest Story
Conclusion: Legacies of Failed Reform

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index