The Immigrant Rights Movement
The Battle over National Citizenship
Walter J. Nicholls


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The introduction provides readers with a basic overview of the book's central concepts and arguments. It suggests that today's immigrant rights movement has its roots in local battles scattered throughout the country. It maps out how these local fights emerged and goes on to discuss their aggregation into a national social movement.

1 The Rights of Immigrants in the Nation
chapter abstract

Some scholars have argued that globalization and transnational migration have weakened the importance of national citizenship. This theoretical chapter addresses this central issue. It suggests that national citizenship is still very much intact and constrains how immigrant rights activists develop their claims and demands. By engaging with various literatures including citizenship studies, social movement, and immigration, the chapter aims to explain the continued caging powers of the nation state over the thoughts, words, and actions of activists.

2 Suburbia Must be Defended
chapter abstract

The chapter explores the local conditions that helped give rise to ethnonational arguments by examining local responses to immigrant day laborers. By drawing on materials from the 1990s, the chapter maintains that the public assembly of Latino immigrants on street corners disrupted the everyday life suburban residents. Such disruptions propelled thousands of people to step in and debate the meanings of citizenship. From this cauldron of conflicting passions emerged a particular understanding of citizenship that was ethnonationalist, exclusionary, and revanchist. This was an ethnic understanding of citizenship backed by an increasingly violent and exclusionary state.

3 Resisting Ethnonationalism, One Town at a Time
chapter abstract

The chapter examines how pro-immigrant groups bubbled up in suburban towns around the county and pushed back on their anti-immigrant neighbors. It does so by first describing early resistances by day laborers and their diverse range of supporters. The chapter goes on to describe how some local mobilizations snow-balled into sizeable struggles mostly anchored by regional immigrant rights organizations. The chapter finishes by showing how many campaigns succeeded in stopping many restrictive ordinances.

4 Regionalizing the Fight for Immigrant Rights: The Case of Los Angeles
chapter abstract

Metropolitan Los Angeles is used as a case to illustrate how immigrant rights activism shifted to the regional scale. The chapter begins with a very local conflict over day laborers in the suburb of Pasadena. It examines how highly precarious immigrants stepped out of the proverbial shadows to resist their criminalization in the city. Following this discussion, the chapter proceeds to a discussion of the regionalization of the struggle. Center for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) played a pivotal role in connecting and coordinating battles unfolding across the metropolitan area.

5 The Resurgent Nation State
chapter abstract

From the mid 1990s onwards, the federal government became increasingly active in the area of immigration. It passed more restrictive laws and policies and invested more money in enforcement. Moreover, elected officials began to talk more about immigration and immigration reform than ever. The federal government's symbolic and legal power were overwhelming in shaping the parameters of national citizenship. For immigrant rights activists who had spent their formative years in local political trenches, it became increasingly important to shift scale and enter national politics.

6 Entering the Field of National Citizenship
chapter abstract

The chapter addresses the shift to national politics by examining the creation of a countrywide social movement infrastructure. Well-endowed and politically connected national organizations worked with prominent local organizations to form a string of new coalitions with national-level reach. The primary goal of these coalitions was to create a vehicle to pursue comprehensive immigration reform. Washington D.C.-based organizations sat at the helm of the coalitions and reached out to local organizations in immigrant rich metropolitan areas. These organizations co-sponsored meetings, trainings, and other events. The coalitions fashioned new instruments (organizations, networks, communication networks, trainings and workshops) to transmit understandings about rights, immigration reform, and citizenship from the centers of power (Washington D.C.) to immigrant communities around the country.

7 Money Makes the Movement
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The funding pie grew much larger in the 2000s and 2010s. The financial bounty enabled leading organizations to create the infrastructure underlying the mainstream immigrant rights movement. They could afford to undertake costly communications research. They had the resources to generate training materials and run local workshops in localities across the country. Well-resourced organizations could afford to lobby national politicians and develop relations with political elite. The infusion of money enabled an unprecedented level of coordination, but the wealth and professionalization of national organizations contributed to sharpening inequalities and a veritable class divide in the social movement.

8 A Seat at the Table
chapter abstract

The Obama administration provided advocacy organizations extraordinary access. The leading organizations had many meetings with White House officials and congressional leaders. Strong ties with federal policymakers and politicians also provided movement leaders with direct access to valuable information. Access did not, however, result in much political influence. During a period of unprecedented access, the Obama White House did not prioritize comprehensive immigration reform during its first term. The White House and its Senate allies believed that they needed to burnish their deportation credentials in order to win broad support from reluctant Republicans. Between 2009 and 2013, the Obama administration removed approximately 400,000 unauthorized immigrants a year. Thus, in spite of its enormous reservoirs of political capital, the leadership of the immigrant rights movement was not able exercise great influence over federal immigration policy.

9 Making Immigrants American
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This chapter examine how the movement generated public representations of immigrants in their battle for comprehensive immigration reform. Entry into the national field precipitated a process of selecting one master frame (liberal nationalism) over others (territorial personhood, postnationalism). Following the failure to pass immigration reform in 2007, the leadership initiated a broad campaign to change how Americans viewed immigrants. They set out to generate a disciplined message that would resonate with hearts and minds of average Americans. Liberal nationalism provided advocates with the language, ideas, sentiments, and narratives to effectively construct a message of immigrant deservingness. America was, they argued, a nation of immigrants and immigrants possessed essential attributes (assimilated in norms and culture, contributing, innocent) that made them deserving of membership.

Conclusion: Where We Stand
chapter abstract

The concluding chapter assesses the challenges facing the immigrant rights movement in the Trump era. It suggests that new political challenges have contributed to further splintering the movement. The chapter also describes how the new difficulties are rooted in problems that had metastasized over the previous fifteen years.