The Politics of Immigration
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018
From Jamestown to DACA, there has been a near constant tension within American political life between an understanding of the Republic as a transformative ‘nation of immigrants’ and more ethno-nationalist notions of White Christian dominion. On the one hand, immigration has been crucial to the growth of American capitalism and democracy and yet, on the other, a persistent nativism recurs in xenophobic policy proposals and expressions: selective quotas, travel bans, aggressive deportations, struggles over the definition of “whiteness” up to and including Trump’s promised border wall. Immigration provokes such strong feelings on both sides in part because these policies are built on ideologies of race, citizenship, opportunity, and equality. Who is a citizen? Who is entitled to the benefits and resources of the nation-state? Should the citizen be privileged over the human?
In this course, we will seek to understand our own political moment within the larger history of immigration in the United States. Looking at four broad periods, we will denaturalize the current legal and political regime by excavating its origins in layers of American policy. We’ll examine the period of “open” immigration, which fueled industrialization even as nativism, Chinese exclusion, and anti-black racism divided workers in the struggle between labor and capital. We’ll study 20th-century immigration policies, interrogating the sometimes surprising links between the Red Scare, white supremacist reaction, and the Civil Rights movement. And finally, we’ll ask together: What are the benefits of citizenship, and have they been distributed at the expense of immigrant and racial others? How have nativist politics hindered labor’s challenge to capital? Is a rational immigration policy possible outside of the racialized ideologies of our political discourse? Readings will include primary sources from political debates, immigrant activists, and their opponents as well as analyses by scholars including W.E.B. Du Bois, Randolph Bourne, Hannah Arendt, John Pocock, Oscar Handlin, William Novak, and Mae Ngai.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 01 — March 22, 2018