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Talent for Citizenship and the American Dream: the USA as Outlier in the Global Race for Talent

Abstract

The failed 2007 US Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA) included a “points-based system,” a proposal to shift toward supply-driven, merit-based selection. In an intensely polemic environment, this largely Republican initiative was opposed strongly by Democrats who argued that skill-based selection would weaken the traditional moral foundation of the USA, enshrined in its policy of family reunification. Through critical discourse analysis of policy documents and political rhetoric on the floor of the Senate during the CIRA debate, I explore the complexity of the relationship between neoliberalism, race, and immigration policy in the USA. I argue that the points-based system, which would severely disadvantage immigrants from the global south, became a foil for talk about Latino migration. The CIRA debate demonstrates the conflict in the USA between a need for (unskilled) labor and a nation-building project that excludes Latino migrants.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although the term Hispanic was commonly used in the CIRA debate, I use the terms Latino/a. I recognize that these are contested terms, with different meanings for different groups, and have been variously contested and championed over time (see Alcoff 2005).

  2. 2.

    The family-reunification policy itself has always been designed to exclude certain types of families (poor families, “non-heterosexual families,” or any family deemed “likely to become a public charge” (Hwang and Parrenas 2010, p. 100).

  3. 3.

    This discrepancy has remained consistent over time, with Mexican immigrants exhibiting considerably lower naturalization rates, even when meeting the requirements for citizenship.

  4. 4.

    The proposal also included a second tier “z visa” point system designed to evaluate undocumented migrants for naturalization based on their employment in an agricultural field, work experience, home ownership, and medical insurance (Wasem and Haddal 2007, p. 15).

  5. 5.

    It is important to note, however, that although the Latino vote was a central part of the Obama campaign, it is not clear whether his strong position on the PBS was purely political strategy, founded on his own long-held beliefs about immigration, or a combination of these. To be sure, during this debate, Barack Obama was heavily engaged in the so-called “battle for Latinos,” attempting to lure the Latino vote away from his principal opponent in the race for the democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton (D–New York) (who was conspicuously absent from the floor during the merit debate). The African American and Latino vote are crucial for the Democratic ticket, and Clinton, a frontrunner at the time, held a strong grasp of the latter's support. Thus, not only was the Latino vote significant in Obama's home state of Illinois (12.3 % of the population), but also, looming ahead of the 2007 Immigration Reform Bill was a much larger prize: the Democratic nomination and the White House.

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Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Audrey Kobayashi for her contribution to the ideas expressed here, as well as the anonymous reviewers and Dan Hiebert for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Yolande Pottie-Sherman.

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Pottie-Sherman, Y. Talent for Citizenship and the American Dream: the USA as Outlier in the Global Race for Talent. Int. Migration & Integration 14, 557–575 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-012-0255-3

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Keywords

  • Neoliberalism
  • Immigration
  • Race
  • Illegality
  • US
  • Nation building