Redefining American: The Shifting Politics of Immigration Policy at the End of the 20th Century
Sarah Coleman’s dissertation, Redefining American: The Shifting Politics of Immigration Policy at the End of the 20th Century, explores how politicians, activists, citizens and the courts competed to define the rights of immigrant persons in the U.S. who did not have American citizenship status in the last quarter of the twentieth-century. With the passage of the landmark Hart-Celler Act in 1965, the United States entered a new era of immigration. This period of massive immigration led to a fierce struggle, which has been at the heart of contemporary American political history, between activists who fought to ensure rights and benefits for these newcomers and those who opposed open borders and sought to limit the rights of immigrants. Battles over education, health, welfare, and civil liberties were deeply influenced by this influx of immigration. This phase in the longer struggle over the rights of immigrants began in the mid-1970s when a network of liberal activists, who had roots in the civil rights movement, successfully fought in the courts to expand the rights of non-citizens to include protection from workplace discrimination, the benefits of the welfare state, and the right to education and other social services. Coleman’s dissertation then looks at the politics of immigration policy that followed these revolutionary court decisions through to the early twenty first century. In doing so, she traces the development of a movement, within both political parties, to limit the expansion of these rights. She focuses on some of their success but also on the challenges and obstacles that they have encountered in rolling back the changes that took place since 1965.