The politics of immigration and immigration policy seem more critical now than ever. Public debates about immigration have roiled nations around the world, and disagreements about how immigration should be regulated, who should have the right to migrate, what political rights immigrants should have once they cross a border, and how immigrants should participate in the economy have strained political alliances and upended norms of political discourse. In some cases, conflicts over immigration debates have been used to justify the overhaul of political institutions. However, these are not new. The history of migration is long, and the disputes about migration just as old. In the modern era – defined here as the mid-19th century onward – debates about migration have returned over and over to a consistent set of themes, and have often been as heated and as strident as they are today.
These debates have engaged head-on with issues of economic equity and distribution of wealth, national identity, and the allocation of power in a society. Their connection to the actual empirics of migration, however, has been more tenuous. While the political discourse is framed in terms of immigration policy, the political contests have had more to do with tensions around economic transformation and dislocation, with concerns about national security, and with changes in social norms than they have had to do with the actual observed facts of immigration. Despite this slippage, these debates have had stakes that are very high. The policies they have produced have affected migrants profoundly, often upending their social and economic lives.
The course considers these debates, their relationship to the empirics of migration, and the policy outcomes that they produce. These issues are considered from several angles: the labor-market incorporation of immigrants and their families; the construction and militarization of borders, and the enforcement of the distinction made between refugees and immigrants; the possibilities for connection among communities, economies, and political categories that migration represents; and new aspects of migration as security concerns and climate change come to the fore. For each of these topics, the course reaches back to find their historical expressions, and brings the insights and questions from the past to bear on the present.
To explore these issues, the course considers immigration in local and global contexts. Because of the historical component to the course, the emphasis is on migration flows to Europe and North America. The course reviews the impact of those migration flows on countries of origin and investigates whether migration can be a vector for economic development. The exploration of those issues brings the global South into the course, and that investigation is deepened through a consideration of a subset of South-South migration flows and of the policy questions they generate.
This course meets every other spring.