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Immigration and the American BacklashImmigration and the American Backlash

John Tirman


Book published by The MIT Press


Illegal immigration continues to roil American politics. The right-wing media stir up panic over “anchor babies,” job stealing, welfare dependence, bilingualism, al-Qaeda terrorists disguised as Latinos, even a conspiracy by Latinos to “retake” the Southwest. State and local governments have passed more than 300 laws that attempt to restrict undocumented immigrants’ access to hospitals, schools, food stamps, and driver’s licenses. Federal immigration authorities stage factory raids that result in arrests, deportations, and broken families—and leave owners scrambling to fill suddenly open jobs. The DREAM Act, which would grant permanent residency to high school graduates brought here as minors, is described as “amnesty.” And yet polls show that a majority of Americans support some kind of path to citizenship for those here illegally. What is going on? In this book, John Tirman shows how the resistance to immigration in America is more cultural than political. Although cloaked in language about jobs and secure borders, the cultural resistance to immigration expresses a fear that immigrants are changing the dominant white, Protestant, “real American” culture.

Tirman describes the “raid mentality” of our response to immigration, which seeks violent solutions for a social phenomenon. He considers the culture clash over Chicano ethnic studies in Tucson, examines the consequences of an immigration raid in New Bedford, and explores the civil rights activism of young “Dreamers.” The current “round them up, deport them, militarize the border” approach, Tirman shows, solves nothing.

REVIEWS:

“No book could be more timely. Combining first-hand reporting and nuanced analysis, John Tirman has produced an essential primer that explains immigration in the context of American politics and the global economy.”

—Derek Shearer, former United States Ambassador to Finland; Chevalier Professor of Diplomacy, Director, McKinnon Center for Global Affairs, Occidental College

“Tirman argues that both sides in the immigration debate are 'dream chasers,' driven by contrasting premises of what is just, fair, and legitimate. This original cultural analysis allows him to explain why the debate is so intractable, and why reform opponents are often so mean-spirited, contradicting even their own economic interests. Most crucially, he foretells the calamity to come — presaged in the fall of 2014 by the second-longest run of civil rights protests in US history — if we dither much longer in response to the (pro-reform) dreamers' call to action.”

—Charles R. Hale, Director, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, University of Texas at Austin

“In John Tirman's lively and fresh scorecard of the eternal immigration game in the United States, it's the 'Dreamers' — brought faultless as babies two or more decades ago, typically from Mexico and Central America — who catch the spirit of theory and practice evolving. 'We've paid our way into your schools and workplaces' is their effective line. 'We're harder workers and more zealous communitarians than most of the natives. We're as American as you are, and by now you know it!”

—Christopher Lydon, host of Open Source, a broadcast and podcast from WBUR, Boston

“Bravely wades into the complexities of this mosaic to offer a tessellated, theoretical understanding informed by social science research. Few studies could be more politically timely, as both Democrats and Republicans stake out balkanised positions in which compromise is a fool's dream.”

Times Higher Education

“Anyone struggling to come to grips with immigration reform will gain insight from this thoughtful book, which sheds light on the nuances about immigration that hide behind the headlines.”

Los Angeles Daily Journal





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