American Immigration Policy, White Nationalism, and Immigrant Well-Being

Milton Vickerman, University of Virginia

Immigrant well-being is a laudable goal and intrinsic to the act of migration itself: people migrate to better their lives; specifically, in the U.S., they seek the “American dream” – a concept that is freighted with overwhelming positivity. But the very act of migration also often creates opposition to the fulfilment of this dream, since the state jealously guards its borders against migrants’ unrelenting search for self-betterment. This conceptual conundrum becomes even more complex and hurtful to newcomers when malice enters the field. American immigration policy has become increasingly punitive since its humanistic turn in the mid-1960s. Growing numbers of immigrants from non-white source countries are altering American society and its demography, spurring conspiratorial fears of a “great replacement” of whites by non-whites. Once confined only to the far reaches of white nationalist rhetoric, this idea, now a mantra, argues that the presence of immigrants is inimical to “the good society,” and prescribes extreme action to remove them from the United States. Ominously, these white nationalist principles merged with pre-existing anti-immigrant state policies during the Trump presidency, leveraging the federal government’s power to accomplish goals white nationalists had long merely wished for. I analyze this combination’s impact on immigrant well-being in the present theory-focused paper. I argue that they likely face prolonged adversity despite the ostensible decoupling of immigration policy and white nationalism under the Biden administration. Immigration policy, particularly that directed at refugees and the undocumented, remains punitive, and the white nationalist movement’s desire for an ethno-state is unabated.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 81. Exclusion and Inclusion