Reform and Control: Immigration, Gender and Race in U.S. Law and Culture, 1981-2001

Leah Perry

Major Professor: Paul Smith

Committee Members: Roger Lancaster, Alison Landsberg, Matthew Jacobson

Johnson Center, Room 240A
November 09, 2009, 07:00 PM to 07:00 PM


"Reform and Control: Immigration, Gender and Race in U.S. Law and Culture, 1981-2001" investigates the social, economic, and cultural significance of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). After five years of heated congressional debate, IRCA was passed. Designed to reconcile conflicting economic, political, civic and cultural interests, the law included amnesty for undocumented workers, increased border control, sanctions for employers who hired undocumented workers, and welfare restrictions. Through an analysis of legal documents, congressional debates, and mass culture, I argue that IRCA and the laws that it influenced mitigated conflicting demands for inexpensive immigrant labor and immigration restriction by creating gender and racially-based ideologies. More specifically, IRCA , its legacy, and mass culture produced gendered differences between Latin American, Asian, and white ethnic European immigrants and their children in order to stimulate productivity and profitability without disrupting the status quo. Those ideologies prevailed until September 11, 2001 when issues of terrorism took precedence in immigration debates. This study exposes the racialized gender politics underscoring immigration during a period of increasing globalization, and contributes to debates about immigration, identity formation, and democratic justice in the U.S.

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