(U.S.) Immigration for Dummies
July 7, 2010 3:59 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to have a better understanding of the history of immigration in the United States, the U.S.'s current immigration policies, and proposals for reform. I'd prefer recommendations for books on the subject, but am open to other forms of information. In particular, I'd love 2 or 3 books that present competing views on the subject - from liberal and conservative viewpoints, insofar as there is a clear ideological divide on the subject. Bonus for books that provide some narrative regarding the experience of illegal immigrants across socioeconomic classes, geographic area in the U.S., and age ranges (kids and adults). Thanks!
posted by slide to Law & Government (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America by Mae Ngai is intended for an academic audience, and is not overtly political, though it's clear that she is critical (from a "liberal" perspective) of US immigration policy.

Ngai uses examples from Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Mexican migrants to the US during the era of the Immigration Act of 1924 (which remained in place until 1965).
posted by dhens at 4:36 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know very little about immigration, but one thing that's important to note is that it took place in a series of waves, and that each successive wave faced some resentment from those who had gone before.

The viewpoints presented today, if they could be said to fall into "conservative" and "liberal" viewpoints, are very different from how they were during some of the earlier immigration waves in the first few decades of the 20th century. For example, I'm fairly certain Republicans would have been more supportive of immigration than Democrats (although this is honestly just a guess).

Although it's a very limited scope of the discussion, you can't be the entertainment value of the Know Nothing nativist movement of the 1840s-1850s (mostly against the Irish, I think). Any well-written book on the subject (of which I have read none) is bound to be worthwhile.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:11 PM on July 7, 2010

The Ngai book linked above is wonderful. I'd also suggest:

Evelyn Nakano Glenn's Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor - a good overview of recent scholarship

Erika Lee, At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943
posted by susanvance at 5:12 PM on July 7, 2010

Not sure this is what you need, but Do They Hear You When You Cry? is the story of a Muslim African woman who flees her country to escape female circumcision and seeks political asylum in the US. A lot of the book details her horrible immigration experience (outdated laws, ineffective "judges", apathetic prison staff). Since she was at the forefront of female circumcision's inclusion in the criteria for asylum, one glaring message is that "the system" needs a lot of work.
posted by alice ayres at 6:17 PM on July 7, 2010

Best answer: I highly recommend Hiroshi Motomura's Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States. It is very readable and addresses not just immigration but how immigrants have historically transitioned to U.S. citizenship. I think it would be a good background to more policy-based reading.
posted by bbq_ribs at 6:53 PM on July 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the recommendations so far - this is exactly what I'm looking for. I went to the Tenement Museum in New York this weekend and found it fascinating and realize more and more it is an area in which I am woefully ignorant. I plan to go back on another tour and ask them for some recommendations as well, but have a vacation coming up and could use some reading material.
posted by slide at 6:58 PM on July 7, 2010

I havwe no book to suggest but I do note here that most of these comments are really about legal immigration, or refugee status rather than illegals coming into the country. Illegals came in early on --to harvest crops etc., and they were given work because they worked hard and worked for very little. The govt turned a blind eye to this sort of thing and presto, we now have 12 milliion illegals and we don't know what to do about it.
posted by Postroad at 7:34 PM on July 7, 2010

I went to the Tenement Museum in New York this weekend

If you're in or near NYC, the exhibits at Ellis Island are very good - it's worth a visit.
posted by yarrow at 7:47 PM on July 7, 2010

Postroad, the reason that most of these books talk about legal immigration is that the poster wants to understand the history of immigration, and historically in the US, there was no such thing as illegal immigration. All immigration was legal until the early 20th century, so it doesn't make sense to talk about illegal immigration before that time.
posted by decathecting at 8:23 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never read it, but I gather Leo Chavez's The Latino Threat is a good anthropological treatment of claims about immigration. It doesn't appear to be a direct account of immigrants' experiences, but I'm sure his previous ethnographic work is a background to his dissection of "myths" about Latino immigration.

For a popular/semi-scholarly and highly controversial (even to his erstwhile fans) conservative approach to immigration, you could look at Samuel Huntington's Who Are We?
posted by col_pogo at 1:42 AM on July 8, 2010

Tichenor's Dividing Lines is excellent. It's an academic work, but clearly written and accessible to a broader audience.

He deals with both legal and illegal immigration from the early days of the US to the 1990s. His goal is explaining why immigration policy is sometimes expansionist and welcoming of immigrants, and sometimes restrictive.
posted by foodmapper at 7:32 AM on July 8, 2010

Response by poster: I really liked the Hiroshi Motomura book, though it was a bit more goal-oriented than I would have preferred; but a great book. Thanks for the rec bbq_ribs.
posted by slide at 2:21 PM on September 18, 2010

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