Immigration and America’s Unchosen Future

Our multi-voiced social movement to change immigration policy and patterns worked to accelerate this social learning, generating a now-bulging shelf of books, reports, articles and organizational newsletters, lectures, conferences and meetings small and large, information-filled e-mails, and blogs and letters to editors.

The daily experience in American communities combined with gales of critical fact and analysis from our reduction movement’s verbalizers and communicators taught a growing majority of the public to understand that our era’s mass intake, almost half of it in violation of law, is not a welcome repeat of the familiar nation-building formula that led us to global pre-eminence. Instead, it is now a major current carrying our communities and nation to a place we and our children do not want to go—and thus deserves its place high on the national “worry and must change” list. Reductionist energies broke through in California and elsewhere in the 1990s. Then 9/11 came, and our porous border vulnerabilities increased the pressure of public dissatisfaction with the decades-long bipartisan laxity in immigration law enforcement. The immigration issue reached presidential politics within both parties in 1907-08 as a small-sized gorilla that no candidate was willing or able to dodge or turn to advantage.

This was half of the story of modern immigration politics, the half I have tried in this book to reconstruct as I saw it. As John Tanton and others had predicted in the 1970s, decades of large-scale immigration, especially when it came disproportionately from nearby Mexico, would in time generate mounting demands for a very different sort of “reform”—moving from a regime of very porous borders to essentially no borders at all.

So there has emerged, in time for the 2008 presidential election and sure to extend beyond it, two sharply different reform efforts. Perhaps both should be called social movements—one of them unlike all other American social movements, in that its foot soldiers when summoned into the streets were mostly illegal foreigners whose basic loyalties were suggested by the Mexican and Central American banners they carried.

The battle is now fully joined, at last. In 1978, founding FAIR, we did not think it would take so long for most Americans to see that this immigration era was a mistake. And I cannot recall any of us warning that the alliance responsible for mass immigration would never rest until all borders were down and immigration had no limits.

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Where is this four-decade Big Immigration era taking us? In the debate over the expansionist reforms of 1965, its sponsors assured us that the proposed new system would not make immigration flows larger, but it did and does. And that it would not change America in unwelcome ways, but it did and does.

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Otis L. Graham, Jr

Professor Emeritus of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author or editor of more than fifteen books, including “Debating American Immigration, 1882-Present” (with Roger Daniels) and “Environment Politics and Policy, 1960s to 1990s”. He lives in Santa Barbara, CA.

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