Immigration: History, Law, and Controversy


"In its first words on the subject of citizenship, Congress in 1790 restricted naturalization to 'white persons.' . . . [T]his racial prerequisite to citizenship endured for over a century and a half, remaining in force until 1952. From the earliest years of this country until just a generation ago, being a "white person" was a condition for acquiring citizenship." -- Ian Haney Lopez, White By Law, 1.

Most people do not realize that the notion of the United States as a "European" nation is a construction of law. We tell ourselves we're "a nation of immigrants," and we usually tell European stories to explain that phrase. So, how does our understanding of immigration history and law change if we shift our view from Ellis Island in New York's harbor to the American West? There, the experience of Mexicans, Latin Americans and Chinese doesn't fit the sentimentalized story now commonly told about European immigrants - a story of gradual acceptance and assimilation. In this two-quarter program, we'll look at the widely varied histories of immigrant groups in the United States, at nativist and immigrant-rights movements, and at the way the law has determined who gets to be an "American." Most immigrants came looking for work. How did unions and working class organizations respond to their presence, and how were unions, in turn, shaped by immigrants?

The focus of Fall's work will be immigration history, particularly the view from the West, and the history of immigration laws up through 1965. Students will develop some basic legal skills through reading and researching important cases as they trace these histories. In Winter, we'll look at the issues that have arisen in the last two decades and at current controversies about immigration, immigrant workers, labor movements, and the varied ways communities respond to the most recent immigration boom.

Fall Books:
White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race, by Ian F. Haney Lopez (10th Anniversary edition) NYU Press, 2006
Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans, by Jean Pfaelzer, University of California Press; 2008
Manifest Destinies: The making of the Mexican-American race, by Laura Gomez, NYU Press, 2008
Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, by Mai M. Ngai, Princeton University Press, 2005
Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell, by David S. Weissbrodt, Laura Danielson, West Group Publishing, 2005