"One People without Borders": The Lost Roots of the Immigrants' Rights Movement, 1954-2006
Access is limited until:
Why, this dissertation asks, did the same Mexican American groups who in the 1950s warned about a “wetback invasion,” come, in the span of only two decades, to take up the cause of the undocumented—even to see themselves and undocumented immigrants as “one people without borders”? And why did this shift occur at a time of economic recession and restructuring, when the significance of unsanctioned migration was most pressing for Mexican Americans?
This project argues that the dreaded “invasion” of undocumented immigrants was the very force that ultimately produced a vibrant Mexican American-led immigrants’ rights movement. It shows that from the late 1960s to the mid-2000s, U.S.-born Mexican American activists came to understand immigration policy and debates as central to their own struggle for both civil rights and human rights.
As they did so, these activists came to fight on various fronts and to use numerous strategies. They took direct action. They built antiracist networks. They fostered alliances with (and articulated the importance of) transnational, working-class labor movements. They developed self-help organizations. They waged legal battles locally and nationally. And they engaged human rights discourses learned from other global struggles.
Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing over the next several decades, these organizers and advocates were able to convince ethnic leaders, labor unions, and allies on the left that supporting immigrants was, in the long run, in the interest of all marginalized people and all workers. Indeed, the immigrants’ rights movement as it exists today is the product of that half-century of transformation.
As it traces that transformation and the understudied roots of the modern immigrants’ rights movement, the dissertation also makes broader contributions to our understanding of the historical significance of immigration in the twentieth-century United States. Blending various methodological approaches—including archival research, oral history, and policy analysis—it shows that debates about immigration have sparked fierce intra-ethnic debates, destabilized traditional political ideologies and coalitions, and revealed fundamental paradoxes of American social and political life.
Namely, this work highlights how tensions between cultural anxieties and capital’s insatiable hunger for cheap labor resulted in both mass migration of indispensable but unwanted foreign workers and Draconian restrictionism and a resurgent nativism, and how this problem, in turn, forced Mexican Americans, organized labor, and leftist activists to rethink their positions and strategies on immigration.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Rights for Collection: Duke Dissertations