The United States and Australia Compared
Monash Studies in Global Movements series
Edited by John Higley, John Nieuwenhuysen and Stine Neerup
Chapter 10: Harder Times and Meaner Politics in the US, but Mass Immigration Keeps Rolling Along
Gary P. Freeman and Stuart M. Tendler Immigration policy is always a central feature of American life, but it is not always at the forefront of the electorate’s preoccupations, nor the government’s agenda. Immigration rarely makes an appearance during presidential campaigns and even important immigration programme reforms, such as the 1990 Immigration Act, can be adopted with little public notice and scant conflict. From time to time, however, public anxiety about immigration flares up and opens a wider and often rancorous struggle. The US is currently embroiled in such contention and it has obviously been worsened by the steep economic recession and crisis in the global financial system. However, national controversy over immigration broke out much earlier than the onset of the recession in September 2008. It reflects historically large numbers of legal admissions—in excess of one million annually—and massive illegal entries that average half a million per year and have produced a total illegal population of 11.5 million. High immigration figures were stimulated by the booming American economy. When the bubble burst and the economy soured after September 2008 the massive migration numbers did not fall commensurately. Consequently, they were all the more difficult to ignore. Our task in this chapter is to ask how the worsening economic crisis exacerbated an already turbulent political climate in which immigration policy was being fought out. While partisan warfare, interest-group combat, electoral posturing and grass-roots anger and mobilization are key elements in the story, US immigration law and practice make...
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