Since the 1950s, political leaders and scholars have tended to treat race, immigration, and citizenship as separate arenas of policy. Prior to that, however, these topics had been closely connected. For example:
- The US Constitution excluded Native Americans from citizenship.
- The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted naturalized citizenship to “free white persons.”
- The key decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) was that no person of African descent, whether slave or free, was a citizen of the United States.
- Starting in the late 19th century, a series of laws shut down the immigration of Asians into the United States.
Race-based immigration preferences made the United States “a nation by design,” in the words of political scientist Aristide Zolberg. Combine those preferences with slavery and Jim Crow laws, and we can understand why many people came to regard the United States as “a white man’s country.”
Policies governing race, immigration, and citizenship started to change after WWII, beginning with a 1952 law that eliminated the 1790 “whites-only” requirement. Later, the 1964 Civil Rights Act reduced discrimination against African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans; the 1965 Voting Rights Act increased the political power of those groups; and the 1965 Immigration Reform Act led to a dramatic increase in immigration into the US from Asia. The resulting demographic changes have shifted our national palette from black-and-white to color. Those changes also have produced feelings of anxiety and anger among those who have benefited from centuries of white supremacy.
Donald Trump became the champion of those who want this country to return to an earlier understanding of the connection among race, immigration, and citizenship. Trump has stated repeatedly that people of certain religious, national, and racial backgrounds should not be allowed to immigrate into the US, and he has challenged the policy of birthright citizenship. His attitudes have had major consequences – the “Muslim ban,” for example – and they add urgency to the issues covered in this course.
The course will be organized around three broad themes:
- PRESENT. Where are we in 2020 with respect to issues of race, immigration, and citizenship? What are the policies, the economic conditions, and the social dynamics that are shaping the current political moment? Each of you will have a unique perspective based on your studies, personal experiences, and family stories. The first couple of class sessions are about you – about what you know and how you feel about the current situation.
- PAST. How did we get here? In this portion of the course, we will rely heavily on original texts to learn how policies about race, immigration, and citizenship evolved over the centuries. Readings will include Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia,” the US Constitution, the Dred Scott case, the Civil War Amendments, and the Supreme Court’s interpretations of those amendments. We will study the intents and effects of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1965 Immigration Reform Act. Along the way, we will gain insights into both process and outcomes, and into the roles that individuals and institutions play in making public policy.
- FUTURE. Where should we go from here? Policymaking is about the future. It requires anticipating where this country be a year or a generation from now if we continue on the current course, then deciding whether and how to change direction. For example, how will demographic change affect policy options and political coalitions?