Immigration has been a major topic of national debate since the 2016 election. This reached a new level when President Trump’s administration implemented the policy of separating children from their parents at the border as an immigration “deterrent.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 1,995 minors were separated from their parents and guardians by the American government between April 19 and the end of May. This was quickly followed by the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision to uphold President Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries. Both events set off protest and public debate about the current policy and more broadly, the history and present of US immigration.

While the child separation policy has been discontinued, the national conversation has not. The news cycle has often treated the violence of the child separation policy as a new phenomenon. But academics, historians, and scholars of immigration provide us with a fuller picture of how recent events—both policies and protests—fit into the United State’s broader immigration history and present. Here are some of those perspectives. 

American Outlooks on Immigration

Why The GOP’s Anti-Immigration Politics are Here to Stay, Tyler Reny for the London School of Economics’ U.S. Centre Blog

Politicians’ eagerness to make immigration a central part of their campaigns depends on their states’ Latino populations, UCLA PhD candidate Tyler Reny has found. Writing for the London School of Economics’ U.S. Centre Blog, Reny unpacks the demographic predictors of political immigration rhetoric. He argues that politicians’ attitudes toward immigration are determined by party, with Democrats more likely to take a positive view toward immigration and Republicans a nativist one, and by the immigrant populations of politicians’ states. While Republicans are likely to take a nativist stance in states with growing Latino populations, this effect is only visible to a certain threshold of population growth. When a state’s population of first, second, or third generation Americans has grown past a certain point, anti-immigration rhetoric becomes a political liability.

Americans Are Not As Divided or Conservative on Immigration as You Might Think, Deborah Schildkraut for The Conversation

While much of the news cycle emphasizes a sharp divide in Americans’ sentiments about immigration, Tufts Professor of Political Science Deborah Schildkraut argues that Americans’ views on immigration may not diverge as much as popular perception holds. Since 2013, the majority of Americans across the political spectrum have consistently supported a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, according to CBS/New York Times surveys—and that number has increased since the beginning of the Trump presidency. Schildkraut also describes her own research, in which she and colleagues found that the only group who had a positive reaction to more restrictive immigration policies were conservative whites. This group makes up only 35% of white people and even less of the general population.

What is “American”?, L.D. Burnett for the U.S. Intellectual History Blog

What is American civilization? It’s an enduring question, and one that L.D. Burnett addresses in her revisitation of Merle Curti’s landmark 1943 work, The Growth of American Thought. While, Burnett argues, Curti’s perspective on race was racist from a contemporary perspective, his argument that American civilization was a primarily multicultural one, drawing from European, African, and indigenous intellectual traditions, was groundbreaking and remains relevent today. Burnett argues that by reconsidering this classic, we can better appreciate the evolution of American thought and the myriad perspectives and cultures that shaped the United States.

Family Separation and Reunification

For Many Immigrant Families, the Fight for Reunification is Just the Beginning, Maria Zug for The Conversation

Writing in The Conversation, scholar Marcia Zug writes that even following the discontinuation of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, families and children will face a difficult path toward reunification. She details the challenges facing immigrant families who have been detained and writes that “One thing few people currently realize – despite reassuring words from the administration – is many of these families will most likely never be reunited.” This policy has a long history. Zug writes:

Immigrant parents have the same legal right to the care and custody of their children as American citizens. Without a finding of unfitness, immigrant parents should be granted reunification with their children. However, history shows courts frequently use a parent’s immigration status as a proxy for fitness. State court reunification decisions are also highly influenced by the parents’ residency in a violent country and the child’s opportunity for adoption in the United States.

Migrant Children and Family Separation in the United States, Westenley Alcenat for Black Perspectives 

Writing for the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society, Westenley Alcenat contests the notion that the Trump administration’s family separation policy is unprecedented—or that it’s a uniquely Republican phenomenon. Alcenat revisits the history of children in slavery, arguing that the treatment of black slaves in the United States was, in effect, the cruelest and most long-standing child separation policy. The splintering of families by slave owners and the curtailing of slaves’ mobility and personhood by the government was routine. Revisiting archival materials from children fleeing Haiti who were detained by the United States government in the early 1990s, Alcena argues that race has long been implicit in how children are treated by the American government. As one Haitian child detained by the U.S. government was quoted as saying, “Maybe if I shed my skin, I’ll be treated differently” by the authorities.

Visualizing the Data On U.S. Immigration

How Cities Help Immigrants Feel at Home: 4 ChartsErnesto Castañeda for The Conversation

How does the United States stack up to Europe in terms of immigrants’ perceptions of identity and belonging? In four useful charts, Ernesto Castañeda, Assistant Professor of Sociology at American University, helps us visualize the findings of his research on how included (or excluded) immigrants feel in the United States and various European countries. He surveys Latino people in New York City, North Africans in Paris, and Moroccan people in Barcelona and finds that consistently, Latino Americans experience a greater sense of integration and belonging than their European immigrant counterparts. 

200 Years of Immigration to the U.S., Talia Bronshtein’s Insightful Interaction

Data journalist, researcher, and consultant Talia Bronshtein translates 200 years worth of data on the national backgrounds of U.S. immigrants into one colorful, informative, and interactive chart.

Featured Image: Marine LCPL Donald Kenley, Camp Lejuene, North Carolina carries one of the Haitian refugee children on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, July 1992. US Department of Defense, Wikimedia Commons.

About The Author

Reina is a writer and researcher with a focus on gender, social justice, and contemporary India. Reina is a weekly columnist for Feministing and her work on sex, consent, and social movements has appeared at Time, Bitch, and The Washington Post. Reina received her BA in comparative literature and gender studies from Harvard, where she wrote a thesis on lesbianism in contemporary Bollywood. She continued working on this topic as a Fulbright Research Fellow at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where she was awarded an MA in Arts and Aesthetics in 2018.