"Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America,"
the revered historian Oscar Handlin writes in the preface
of his classic The Uprooted. "Then I discovered that
the immigrants were American history." There
is little reason to expect future generations of Americans
to view our own time any differently. The United States,
with its permanently unfinished society, receives more newcomers
now than at any time since the peak immigration years of the
early twentieth century. As in the past, this country is
a powerful magnet to immigrants, whether they are skilled
professionals arriving by jetliner, refugees by boat, or undocumented
manual workers on foot. Like those before them, native-born
Americans today celebrate their immigrant past while expressing
uneasiness and even open hostility toward the latest arrivals.
In contrast to earlier waves of immigration, today’s newcomers
trace their origins not to Europe but to Asia, Latin America
and other developing nations of the Third World. By most accounts,
contemporary immigrants are more diverse geographically, racially,
culturally, and religiously than those who came before them.
Whether computer technician or farm-worker, Mexican or Vietnamese,
Islamic or Hindu, legally admitted or undocumented, immigrants
are helping to transform the social fabric of the United States.
The reasons for studying this module, then, should be all too
plain. One simply cannot understand either American development
or modern American life without knowledge of the immigrant
experience in the United States. Nor can one adequately appreciate
how forces of globalization are recasting America without
studying how it once again has emerged in recent decades as
a nation of immigrants. Just consider some of the compelling
questions addressed by this module:
What are the push-and-pull factors that lead people to
come to the United States?
know that most newcomers leave behind poverty and unemployment
of their homelands in search of better fortunes in America.
However, research on this subject suggests that the causes
of immigration are often more complex and numerous than most
assume. These include so-called “chain” or “network migration”
in which a single initial immigrant can spur a chain of new
arrivals from his or her family or community; the direct recruitment
of skilled and unskilled workers by firms, governments, or
job contractors in an increasingly transnational labor market;
the capacity of natural disasters, environmental crises, overpopulation,
wars and civil unrest to uproot and set in motion millions
of people around the globe; and refugee and asylum policies
that extend relief to some noncitizens fleeing political,
ethnic, religious, and gender persecution. This is but a
short list of the various micro- and macro-level catalysts
to mass immigration to the United States today. Evaluating
the causes of U.S. immigration can reveal a great deal about
recent immigrants, their homelands, and America’s image abroad.
What are the effects of recent waves of immigration on
the United States is a nation built upon immigration, Americans
have long debated whether it is good for the country. This
contentious issue inevitably leads various policy advocates,
officials, and scholars to examine the impact of immigration
on the nation’s economic, social, cultural, and political
life. There is little question that new immigration is making
the United States into a more multiethnic and multiracial
nation, that it is making the country more religiously and
linguistically diverse, or that it has altered the age demographics
of the U.S. population (slowing so-called “graying” trends).
the influence of immigration on the economy, politics, health
care, education, welfare programs, the environment, crime,
national security, and culture is a subject that produces
more cacophony than symphony, as immigration defenders and
critics present rival portraits of how newcomers are recasting
American life. Sorting through these arguments will not only
help you better understand and situate yourself within a heated
and important national debate, but it also will help you better
distinguish between polemics, on the one side, and sound evidence
and analysis, on the other.
What kind of environment do immigrants encounter as they
settle into U.S. communities, and what processes of incorporation
shape their adjustment to American life?
This question goes to the heart of the immigrant experience
in the United States. It considers the opportunities and constraints
newcomers encounter in terms of civil rights, education, work,
social services, and political participation. American laws,
public schools, employers and unions, religious institutions,
the welfare state, the media and popular culture, family and
community networks all shape the adjustment process.
The age, gender, educational background, job skills, family ties,
cultural background, legal status and other characteristics
of individual immigrants also profoundly influences their
relative social mobility and cultural adaptation. Furthermore,
modern transportation and telecommunications enables many
immigrants to maintain close ties with their homelands; an
unprecedented number maintain dual citizenship today. All
of these variables remind that immigrants come to the U.S.
for a variety of reasons and these rationales influence the
process of becoming American. As immigrants adopt certain
aspects of American life while retaining elements of their
native culture, they must deal with lingering ties to their
homelands, feelings of dislocation, and the political and
social frames affecting life in the U.S. Immigrant literature
-- whether Ernesto Galarza’s Barrio Boy, Mary Gordan’s
The Other Side, or Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club –
offer one engaging means to explore these issues. Interviewing
newcomers in your community offer another.
How should immigration be governed?
Unless a nation-state maintains entirely open or closed borders,
its immigrant admissions policies are inherently discriminatory.
They allow some people to establish new lives in the country,
while keeping others out. The question then becomes, on what
basis does a nation choose to discriminate among outsiders?
Current U.S. immigration policy places a premium on family
reunification, skills, education, wealth, and refugee relief.
What determines existing policies? What admissions priorities
best serve the national interest? What are the moral obligations
of advanced industrial democracies such as the United States
to necessitous strangers? American responses to these questions
have varied considerably over time.
How does the immigrant experience in the United States
today compare with those of other countries? How does it
compare with immigrant experiences of the American past?
Although many Americans like to think that the United States
is distinctive as a country forged upon immigration, the reality
is that Australia, Argentina, Canada, France and several other
nations have both received and been deeply affected by mass
immigration. Cross-national comparisons may illuminate just
how exceptional or unexceptional the immigrant experience
in the United States truly is. Likewise, there is much to
be learned by comparing the American immigrant experience
today with that of the past. In short, cross-national and
historical comparisons can provide fresh vantage points for
understanding the contemporary immigrant experience in the
module concentrates on the immigrant experience within a particular
national setting, namely, the United States. Accordingly,
it promises to offer distinctive insights about the character
of American history, culture, economics, religion, politics
and society. Yet, at the same time, it powerfully captures
how international migration has helped change each of these
realms of American life. The immigrant experience in the
United States inherently places American studies in a global
context, reminding us that international and intra-national
studies often converge.
Daniel J. Tichenor (Ph.D., Brandeis University)
has been teaching about immigration, American politics,
public policy, social movements, and political institutions
at Rutgers since 1996. He has been a Research Fellow of Governmental
Studies at the Brookings Institution, the John F. Kennedy
Foundation’s Abba Schwartz Fellow of Immigration and Refugee
Politics, an Associate Fellow of the Center for Comparative
Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego,
an organizer of the American Political Science Association’s
Organized Section on the Politics of International Migration,
and a visiting scholar at Leipzig University. His publications
related to immigration include: "The Politics of Immigration
Reform in the United States," Polity (1995); "Immigration
and Political Community," The Essential Communitarian
(1998); "Immigration and American Civic Culture," The Immigration
Reader (1999); and a new book, Dividing Lines: The
Politics of Immigration Control in America (Princeton
University Press, 2002). He also has written extensively
on the American presidency, interest groups, social movements,
and national public policy-making, with articles appearing
in Political Science Quarterly, Studies in American
Political Development, Presidential Studies Quarterly,
and numerous edited volumes.