- Between punishment and discipline: comparing strategies to control unauthorized immigration in the United States
- Citizenship Studies
- Volume | Issue number
- 18 | 6-7
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
Immigration scholars have noted the rise of a distinctive discourse concerning immigrants in the United States. The ‘immigrant threat’ discourse is said to portray immigrants as an existential threat to the country and contributes to highly restrictive enforcement policies. Through a close examination of national political debates concerning comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) (2005-2007), the paper shows that most politicians involved in this debate (from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans) agreed with the basic assumptions of this general discourse. But the paper also identifies important variants on the ‘threat’ discourse and associated strategies. Hardline conservatives stressed that the essential ‘illegalness’ of immigrants posed a threat to the country. Protecting the nation state from this threat required policies to totally banish all undocumented immigrants from the country, irrespective of their ‘good’ conduct or exceptional circumstances. Moderate and liberal reform advocates agreed with the idea that undocumented immigrants posed a threat to the country. However, they believed that banishment alone could not address the threat. Instead they advocated a strategy of risk management whereby the population would be differentiated according to levels of risk (high to low priority) and policies of inclusion and exclusion would be adjusted accordingly. This would allow the government to incorporate low risk/priority immigrants while freeing government resources to target the ‘truly threatening’ groups (i.e., criminals, delinquents, homeless, repeat unauthorized entries, etc.). Thus, while both sides conceded that undocumented immigrants were a threat to the country, they developed important variants on the discourse and contrasting policy solutions to exert control over the population.
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