A political scientist explains how the American immigration system ran off the rails -- and proposes a bold plan for reform
Under the Trump administration, US immigration agencies terrorize the undocumented, target people who are here legally, and even threaten the constitutional rights of American citizens. How did we get to this point?
In Illegal, Elizabeth F. Cohen reveals that our current crisis has roots in early twentieth century white nationalist politics, which began to reemerge in the 1980s. Since then, ICE and CBP have acquired bigger budgets and more power than any other law enforcement agency. Now, Trump has unleashed them. If we want to reverse the rising tide of abuse, Cohen argues that we must act quickly to rein in the powers of the current immigration regime and revive saner approaches based on existing law. Going beyond the headlines, Illegal makes clear that if we don't act now all of us, citizen and not, are at risk.
Syracuse University political science professor Cohen (The Political Value of Time) indicts the "racist nativism" that drives the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws in this searing polemic. Arguing that the Trump administration's "Muslim ban" and family separation policy are nothing new in the history of political efforts to protect America's white majority, Cohen references the 1924 National Origins Act, which effectively stopped immigration from all countries outside of northern Europe, and the emergence in the 1980s of well-funded, ultraconservative organizations that sought to convince the public that immigrants were "likely to be criminals, terrorists, and freeloaders." Cohen debunks such claims ("overall, violent-crime rates decline as immigration rises") and convincingly demonstrates that federal agencies enforcing immigration laws operate without sufficient oversight and hold detainees under "subhuman" conditions in facilities where physical and sexual assault are prevalent. Her suggested reforms include repealing laws that mandate the detention of undocumented immigrants, creating a path to citizenship for those who have lived and worked in the country for years, and reorganizing enforcement agencies to rein in their abuses. Cohen draws on a wealth of historical evidence to present her dire portrait of America's immigration system, and her commonsense solutions feel both necessary and attainable. Progressive readers will heed this trenchant call to action.