The Walls Within: The Politics of Immigration in Modern America.

AuthorLepley, John

Coleman, Sarah R. The Walls Within: The Politics of Immigration in Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021: 253 pages. Hard Copy, $35.00.

Immigration politics in the United States are fiercely contested. As Sarah R. Coleman writes in The Walls Within, these arguments extend well beyond the permeability of national borders and into the realms of state and federal policy. Two key points in immigration history bookend this study. The first is the passage of the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act, which had a significant impact on immigration patterns into the U.S. and its racial composition. The second point is the increasing contestation over the enforcement of immigration laws in the 1990s and early 2000s. These developments in immigration policy occurred within an evolving political-economic context and informed broader disputes over the welfare state, federalism, and citizenship.

This monograph's six chapters (in addition to an introduction and conclusion) are organized around a central question: "to what extent would noncitizen immigrants receive the rights given to U.S. citizens?" (p. 2) The first two chapters focus on the issue of unauthorized immigrants' access to public education in the 1970s and 1980s. While much of Coleman's research centers on governmental actors--including state and federal judiciaries, the legislative branch, and Carter and Reagan administrations--legal advocacy groups played important roles in these matters. On the one hand, East Texas Legal Services and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund challenged state laws that restricted unauthorized immigrants' access to public education. In many ways, these nongovernmental organizations approached this work as an extension of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. On the other hand, the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation characterized the subject as a matter best left to the states. These cases culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1982 Plyler decision which struck down the Texas laws on the grounds they violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Plyler case, Coleman tells us, was political as much as it was legal. It compelled the Carter and Reagan administrations (and their presidential campaigns) to take public positions on immigration and entitlements. By the mid-1980s, unemployment forced the topic of employer sanctions onto a national stage. For decades, organized labor had advocated for legislation to penalize employers that...

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