Theme Panel: Undesirable Citizens and Unwanted Immigrants in American Politics

Undesirable Citizens and Unwanted Immigrants in American Politics

Co-sponsored by Division 7: Politics and History

(Chair) Carol Nackenoff, Swarthmore College; (Presenter) Gary M. Reich, University of Kansas; (Presenter) Ethan Blue, University of Western Australia (M204); (Presenter) A Hunnewell Frost, American University; (Presenter) Julie L. Novkov, University at Albany, SUNY; (Presenter) Carol Nackenoff, Swarthmore College

Session Description:
Fears of danger and contagion coming from outside the U.S. have shaped American politics in important ways—not only in battles over the extent of executive authority in fighting COVID or other infectious diseases or in borderlines between federal and state authority.  At various points in American history, unwanted immigrants and undesirable citizens have been treated as if they posed existential threats to the body politic — threats to what it means to be American (a meaning that also changes).  This panel brings together authors of four books on immigration published in 2021 in law, history, and political science that look at some less examined historical and contemporary dimensions of exclusion and who has, and has had, the authority to exclude. Authors will discuss and explore each other’s contributions and seek areas where removing undesirables compares to other types of casting out (where policies may copy perceived policy successes in other arenas).  We will develop questions and issues for discussion in advance that will allow us to think about dealing with unwanted immigrants in relation to American political development. Some authors explore efforts to expel, deport, imprison, denaturalize, and strip certain Americans of their citizenship.  Amanda Frost, Professor at Washington College of Law, American University, in You are Not American: Citizenship Stripping from Dred Scott to the Dreamers (Beacon Press), and Ethan Blue, Senior Lecturer in History at University of Western Australia, author of The Deportation Express: A History of America through Forced Removal (U. California) examine citizenship stripping or denial and forced removal through stories about the unwanted.  Blue’s study is the first to study deportation trains that made circuits around the nation, gathering up “undesirable aliens” identified by their poverty, criminality, mental illness, or radicalism, and conveying them to ports for exile overseas. Gary Reich, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Kansas, brings another often-ignored dimension of the politics of immigration to the fore, namely, immigration federalism and an examination of how some states enact more punitive immigrant policies while others are more likely to treat immigrants as de facto citizens—what explains this variance?  In The Politics of Immigration Across the United States: Every State a Border State? (Routledge), diverging demographic trends among the states are shown to help fuel polarization over immigration. Quite a few dimensions of immigrant incorporation or exclusion happen at the state level.  Finally, Carol Nackenoff (Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Swarthmore College) and Julie Novkov (Professor of Political Science/Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Rockefeller College, University at Albany), in American by Birth: Wong Kim Ark and the Battle for Citizenship (Kansas) consider ways in which different branches of the federal government exert certain kinds of control over unwanted immigrants and explore claims about the power to end birthright citizenship after Wong Kim Ark.  There are many kinds of reminders that citizenship can be experienced quite differently for those seen as not really American, and that it may offer fewer protections than one might expect. We will set aside time for engagement with audience members.

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