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Dualistic Discourse and Immigration Policy

Dell P. Champlin and Janet T. Knoedler

Journal of Economic Issues, 2020, vol. 54, issue 1, 38-53

Abstract: The central question in immigration policy is whether to support less immigration through more “restrictive” laws and procedures or whether to support more immigration through a “relaxation” of existing laws. Recently, however, a second debate has arisen on one side of this debate regarding the appropriate types of arguments that may be used to support “restrictive” immigration. Ross Douthat refers to this dispute as the “race versus economics” question: using “race-based” arguments is not legitimate; while an “economic” or a “fact-based” argument is regarded as legitimate. We argue that this distinction in anti-immigration rhetoric is more apparent than real. Using the two most common historical “tropes” in immigration policy, “criminal” and “worker,” we find that racist, anti-ethnic, and classist assumptions pervade U.S. immigration law and policy and have been far more influential in formulating actual policy than either economic or “fact-based” analysis. The central problem with restrictive immigration policy is that its primary purpose is to determine who is eligible to be an American, and who is not; in other words, immigration policy is, by its fundamental intent, invidious. The question is whether it is possible to exclude individuals on these “legitimate” grounds without relying on “illegitimate” invidious distinctions?

Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1080/00213624.2020.1720562

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