by Carol Swain (ed). New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 328pp. Hardback. $70.00/£38.00. ISBN: 9780521875608. Paperback. $19.99/£13.99. ISBN: 9780521698665. eBook format. $16.00. ISBN: 9780511282706.

Reviewed by John C. Blakeman, Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Email: John.Blakeman [at]


Carol Swain’s edited collection of essays entitled DEBATING IMMIGRATION touches upon important and pressing immigration policy issues. The book is an outstanding compilation, and presents a diversity of views in a balanced manner. From essays on religion and immigration, and empirical assessments of how illegal immigrant employment affects native employment, to essays on immigration and population change in the United States, and immigration in European states, Swain’s book “collectively explore[s] the nuances of contemporary immigration and citizenship affecting the United States and Europe” (p.3). All of the chapters, except for two, study immigration solely in an American context, so its comparative focus is not always evident. Nonetheless its broad focus addresses issues of immigration through the lenses of religion and philosophy, law and policy, demography, economics, race and ethnicity. With such a range of disciplinary approaches, the book shows that debates over immigration policy should not be confined to arguments over walls and borders and immigration controls – the issues that seem to dominate the debate in the United States.

The volume starts with Peter Schuck’s chapter, “The Disconnect between Public Attitudes and Policy Outcomes in Immigration,” where he discusses the divide between the American public’s restrictive view of immigration and interest groups and legal scholars who typically advocate for expansionist immigration policies. For Schuck, this disconnect helps explain what he terms the “immigration policy earthquakes” that have occurred over the past decade – political backlashes based on voter anger directed against unresponsive policymakers who do not acknowledge the political and social issues associated with expanding immigration. Schuck’s essay is followed by Elizabeth Cohen’s chapter, “Carved From the Inside Out: Immigration and America’s Public Philosophy of Citizenship,” where she addresses why America has been unable to compose a “well-articulated public philosophy of immigration” that allows us to address modern immigration issues in a coherent way. For Cohen, one answer lies in that argument that American public law focuses on citizenship, especially a citizenship based on internal differences such as race-based distinctions. Thus, our citizenship-based approach to immigration forces us to deal with immigration problems from a legal foundation that “has more to say about how to distinguish between people of different races and nationalities than it does about the question of how to make immigration law” (p.45). [*914]

James R. Edwards next discusses immigration through a Biblical lens with his chapter, “A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy.” Edwards offers an interpretation of the Bible that defines a just immigration policy based on policing the nation’s borders as well as arresting and deporting illegal immigrants. By his own admission this argument counters the open borders argument made by “liberal Christians;” thus Edwards implicitly points out a fundamental dilemma when Biblical interpretation is used to public policy ends, that of divergent interpretations of the same textual source by well-trained, well-meaning Biblical scholars. However, whether Edwards interprets the Bible correctly (or properly?) is not the point; he presents a well reasoned interpretation that no doubt reflects the views of many Americans who have a certain Christian based outlook on governance. It is a political voice that is often heard at the ballot box, but is more often ignored in the interim in policy debate. Edwards’ Biblical perspective is followed by Steven Macedo’s piece, “The Moral Dilemma of U.S. Immigration Policy: Open Borders versus Social Justice,” which focuses on a distributive justice account of immigration that holds that, as “members or co-participants in self-governing political communities . . . we have special obligations to our fellow members” (p.64). Thus, if high levels of immigration have a negative impact on fellow citizens, especially the least well off, that is enough reason to restrict immigration. This short review cannot do justice to Edwards’ or Macedo’s arguments. Importantly, both add philosophical and religious dimensions to debates over immigration law and policy that are often lacking.

Subsequent chapters turn away from philosophy and religion and center on issues of immigration law, economics and demography. Linda Bosniak’s chapter, “The Undocumented Immigration: Contending Policy Choices,” suggests that policy debate about illegal immigrants is shaped by opposing regulatory regimes of federal immigration law on border immigration control and state and federal alienage laws that center on labor issues, worker rights, drivers licenses and other public benefits. Noah Pickus and Peter Skerry offer an essay that suggests we look at immigration policy not solely in the context of citizenship, which establishes a vertical relationship between individuals and government based on status, but also in the context of horizontal relationships that exist from neighbor to neighbor. As they put it, focusing on citizenship overlooks the most central concerns that Americans have about immigrants and their ability to be responsible community members. Rogers Smith’s essay, “Alien Rights, Citizen Rights, and the Politics of Restriction,” places current debate over immigration against the backdrop of the war on terror. For Smith, the Post-9/11 war on terrorism has helped legitimize discriminatory policies against immigrants and less protection for their legal rights.

Douglas S. Massey’s chapter, “Borderline Madness: America’s Counterproductive Immigration Policy,” offers an empirical look at how US border control policies over the past decade have become increasingly repressive. As a result the border still remains porous, yet fewer immigrants engage in return migration where they work in the US for a time and then [*915] return to their home state, and instead are pushed towards more permanent residence. Indeed, as Massey notes, the militarization of the Mexican-US border has dramatically cut the number of illegal immigrants who seek to return to their homeland once they make it into the United States and work for a period of time. Steve Camarota’s chapter, “Immigrant Employment Gains and Native Losses, 2000-2004,” considers the impact that illegal immigrant employment has on job loss by native workers. Camarota notes that all employment losses in that time frame were absorbed by native workers, and coupled with some direct evidence that immigration has negatively affected native workers in some regions of the United States, Camarota concludes that a real possibility exists that immigration harms native employment. Other chapters offering economic and demographic analysis of immigration follow Camarota’s. Peter Brimelow echoes some of the concerns raised by Camarota. Brimelow argues that American economists tend to overlook (if not overestimate) the overall economic benefits of immigration. For Brimelow, mass immigration now contributes nothing to native born Americans, and in fact mass immigration is most likely an economic loss for native born workers. Charles Westhoff argues that the immigration debate typically ignores the effect of immigration on population size and growth. To counteract that, Westhoff shows the scale of potential population growth and demographic change.

The final two sections of the book focus on linkages between race, ethnicity and immigration, and immigration policy in European states. Carol Swain’s chapter, “The Congressional Black Caucus and the Impact of Immigration on African American Unemployment,” examines the CBC role in immigration debate, and concludes that it does not adequately represent the concerns of African Americans on immigration issues. Amitai Etzioni’s “Hispanic and Asian Immigrants: American’s Last Hope” argues that the current wave of immigration from Mexico and South American countries, and to a lesser degree from Asia, may well make American society more communitarian “by fostering a stronger commitment to family, community, and nation, as well as respect for authority and moderate religious-moral values” (p.189). Although not a direct response to Etzioni’s chapter, Jonathan Tilove posits that one hidden appeal of immigration, and one animating force behind liberal immigration policies, is that it “can and will help relieve the United States of its special obligation to black Americans” (p.208). Tilove notes that Etzioni’s argument that Hispanic and Asian immigrants will “encourage a sense of connectedness” and “reinforce America’s core value of social and economic stability . . . and decrease racial tensions” may or may not work. For Tilove, it is possible that the black/white divide in America may become something else, with a new black/non-black divide growing larger, and with African Americans “becoming even more isolated from the otherwise increasingly exclusive beige mainstream” (p.218).

Finally, the book offers two interesting chapters on immigration policy in European states. Randall Hansen’s chapter on “The Free Economy and the Jacobin State” points out that although [*916] many European states, with the exception of France, did not base their identities on immigration, most are now “changing their rhetoric, attitude, and policy toward immigration” because of their need of “much more immigration to stave off population decline” (p.223), given the aging societies and generous welfare states that typify much of European politics. Hansen briefly surveys immigration policies in several European states in the context of how new immigrants are incorporated economically and culturally and notes sharp differences between Europe and the United States. For economic integration, and supporting his argument with important data, the United States integrates immigrants into the workforce, but Europe (with a few exceptions) integrates them into the welfare state. With cultural integration, most European states pursue a laissez-faire approach, with the exception of France which stands out for being “famously uncompromising in its suspicion of claims for religious or cultural differences in public institutions” (p.236). For Hansen, then, “large scale immigration policies work when migrants are channeled into work and kept out of welfare, and integration works when the receiving countries have a clear integration framework reflecting values that they confidently hold” (p.236). Hansen’s piece is followed by Marc Morje Howard’s chapter on “The Politics of Immigration and Citizenship in Europe,” which empirically assesses the “historical and contemporary variations in citizenship policies” in core EU states. Howard argues that liberalization of immigration and citizenship policies often occurs without much public discussion, and conversely when public opinion is mobilized on immigration issues, liberal reforms are usually blocked. Interestingly, Howard notes that nondemocratic elite-driven processes often lead to liberalized immigration reforms, whereas Far Right political parties and movements, and the use of referenda or other popular initiatives often lead to more restrictive citizenship and immigration policies.

Nathan Glazer pens a short concluding essay in which he summarizes several of the disparate issues that the individual chapters raise. He also provides his own concluding observations and suggests other issues and avenues for studying the politics of immigration.

DEBATING IMMIGRATION arrives on the academic book market at just the right time. As the 2008 presidential campaign unfolds, candidates are addressing immigration policies with a wide range of proposals. As well, Congress has recently debated immigration reform without much tangible success. State and local governments are also becoming more assertive in crafting more localized policies to address the rising tide of immigrants – legal and not – who are entering the workforce and making use of public services. The wide range of analyses and arguments offered by Swain’s book – from biblical and ethical perspectives on immigration to comparative approaches focusing on Europe – shows that the immigration debate in the United States is not just over walls and borders and illegal migrant workers. It is a multifaceted policy debate in which nuances are often overlooked and creative policy angles are often not explored. The book to a large extent may help correct that and enlarge our debates over immigration [*917] policy.

The book can be used in many academic settings, from public policy courses that focus on immigration policy, to law related courses that include segments on immigration, to even courses on religion and politics and comparative politics courses that also include sections on immigration policy. No doubt there are other disciplinary courses – history, sociology, economics, to name a few – for which the book would be well suited too. But why stop in college classrooms? Arguably the book is appropriate for non-academic audiences as well. It could be used in community reading groups or in university continuing education to reach a wider non-academic audience in order to raise awareness about the wide range of policy issues that the immigration debate encompasses.

© Copyright 2007 by the author, John C. Blakeman.