Shifting the Boundaries of Inclusion: Immigrant Rights in the 20th-Century United States

AHA Session 97
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Sutton Center (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
S. Deborah Kang, California State University, San Marcos
S. Deborah Kang, California State University, San Marcos

Session Abstract

“Shifting the Boundaries of Inclusion: Immigrant Rights in the Twentieth Century United States” consists of three papers that consider how different groups - religious organizations, civil rights groups, international human rights activists, and immigration restrictionists - sought to define immigrants rights in the late 20th century United States. At the core of the panel, is a historical analysis of the nature of American identity in the post-Civil Rights Era. The panel examines competing claims of citizenship. It expands our understanding of citizenship and belonging by placing efforts to define immigrant rights within the larger context of battles over the meaning and nature of the US’s social contract. In so doing, the panel contributes to emerging scholarship on the immigrant rights movement, as well as the post 1960s US political landscape.

Taken together, these three papers reveal the contested battles to expand and restrict the circle of inclusion in the 20th century United States. Elmore’s paper highlights how immigrant rights activists attempted to use the language of human rights to secure justice for undocumented immigrants. Gonzalez reveals how religious organizations took the lead in providing sanctuary for Central American refugees, creating a political movement in which people of faith challenged the limitations of US refugee and asylee policies. Coleman’s paper traces the convergence immigrant restrictionists and welfare reformers whose efforts ultimately ushered in a new era in US immigration policy. Collectively, these papers reveal the legal, social, and political challenges that immigrants and their advocates have faced in attempting to secure immigrants’ inclusion into the broader social fabric of the United States.

Our panel also raises questions about the relationship between the state and the non citizen residents. To what rights are immigrants in the United States entitled? What responsibilities does the state have to noncitizen residents - both documented and undocumented? In what ways have immigrant rights groups and immigration restrictionists sought to expand or limit the boundaries of inclusion? How might this history help us to better understand contemporary debates about the status of undocumented peoples and immigration restriction? S. Deborah Kang, whose recent scholarship highlights the relationship between law and society at the nation’s borders, will provide the comment and chair the panel.

See more of: AHA Sessions