Published by EH.NET (October 2001)

Roger Daniels and Otis L. Graham, Debating American Immigration, 1882 –

Present. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001. vii + 231 pp. $65

(hardcover), ISBN: 0-8476-9409-7; $17.95 (textbook binding), ISBN:


Reviewed for EH.NET Barry R. Chiswick, Department of Economics, University of

Illinois at Chicago.

Debating American Immigration, 1882-Present is an unusual book. The

“co-authors” Roger Daniels and Otis Graham are not co-authors in the usual

sense, but are sole authors of separate essays purposely bound in a single

volume. This book is part of a series, Debating 20th Century America,

in which each volume has two essays that have an opposite approach to the

topic. The intent of the series, according to series editor James T. Patterson

is to offer two different perspectives about an important issue, event, or

trend in twentieth-century American history to demonstrate that there is no

simple truth. “Our understanding of the events of history depends considerably

on the way that historians interpret them” writes Patterson (p.vii).

This objective is admirably fulfilled in Debating American Immigration.

Daniels and Graham are both established historians with expertise in

immigration history. Daniels is Charles Phelps Taft Professor of History at

the University of Cincinnati and a former president of the Immigration History

Society. Graham is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of

California, Santa Barbara and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the

University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He is a former chairman of the board

of the Center for Immigration Studies, a research center with a

restrictionist orientation. The essays are lively reading. One has the sense

that they enjoyed writing a history of immigration for a sophisticated but

non-professional audience in which they were obligated to express explicitly

their personal views.

The authors’ perspectives are presented up front in the essay titles. Daniels’

“Two Cheers for Immigration” is the shorter of the two essays (68 pages),

presents more numbers, and is unapologetically pro-immigration. Indeed, he

repeatedly lets the reader know he is a political liberal on economic and

social issues. One should not, however, assume that pro-immigration and

political liberalism go hand in hand. Many of the supporters of open

immigration are political conservatives who are “economic liberals” or

nineteenth-century liberals who oppose government regulations, including the

restriction on the free movement of peoples.

Graham’s essay (96 pages) “The Unfinished Reform: Regulating Immigration in

the National Interest” reflects his “restrictionist” approach. His political

inclinations aside from immigration and the environment are less obvious. It

should be noted that restrictionists include individuals who on other issues

can be either political liberals or conservatives. Indeed restrictionists

include liberal environmentalists and conservative nativists.

The two essays nominally cover the same period, although the treatments

differ, with Daniels providing more data, but Graham providing more

interpretation. Graham presents more of both sides of the issues, although the

reader knows very clearly on which side he stands. For example, they both

discuss in some detail the 1965 Immigration Amendments that abolished the

national origins quota system and resulted in increased immigration,

especially from Asia and Latin America. They both agree that these

consequences were unanticipated. Both document that the Administration and

Congressional supporters of the act felt that the emphasis on kinship ties in

issuing visas would largely keep the distribution of immigrants by source

countries unchanged. This is an example of the law of unintended consequences

in immigration policy. Yet they disagree sharply about the desirability of the

1965 legislation. Daniels, ever the political liberal, writes that the 1965

Act, “along with the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, marked the high watermark

of late twentieth century American liberalism” (p. 42-43). Graham, an

immigrant control environmentalist, writes “For the 1965 law, and subsequent

policy, shifted the nation from a population-stabilization to a

population-growth path, with far-reaching consequences, all of them negative”

(p. 150).

On the other issues the authors diverge sharply on the extent of coverage. For

example, Daniels discusses the issue of the admission of German Jewish

refugees to the US in the 1930s (pp. 26-29). He is apologetic for the

Roosevelt Admistration, and criticizes Roosevelt’s critics as writing “through

the prism of the Holocaust.” Graham’s discussion is briefer (p. 136-137),

emphasizes the numbers admitted (even mentioning prominent refugees admitted

by name), is less apologetic and harsher in tone — “It is a hard truth that

countries that generously accept refugees encourage the production of more

refugees, creating a problem as they attempt to solve one” (p. 137).

Graham emphasizes the negative effects of low-skilled immigration on the

earnings of low-skilled workers in the United States in both periods of mass

immigration (1880s to 1920s and post-1965). He reminds the reader that

minorities in the US, especially African Americans, have paid the highest

price. He also emphasizes the population growth due to immigration and what he

perceives to be the negative effect on the environment of population growth

due to high levels of immigration. Daniels ignores the environmental issues

but mentions the former in passing in a dismissive way: “. . . the stringent

economic conditions of the late Carter and early Reagan years created a

climate in which many, particularly among the disadvantaged, sought scapegoats

and found immigrants a convenient target. It has been traditional for trade

unionists and labor economists to blame the economic problems of working

people in general and trade unions in particular on immigrants” (p.49). I have

yet to see such strident comments by a labor economist, but most agree that

low skilled immigration is a contributing factor.

Each essay is followed by a series of documents. Daniels presents data tables,

major provisions of immigration law and, two excerpts, including an excerpt

from Lyndon Johnson’s remarks at the base of the Statue of Liberty on the

signing of the 1965 Immigration Amendments. Graham’s documents are primarily

excerpts from the writings or speeches of notable Americans ranging in time

from Booker T. Washington to Bill Clinton. These documents nicely complement

each other and the text and add to the value of this volume.

One of the disappointments in the essays is that whereas one author is “pro”

and the other author us “anti” immigration, we are never told how “pro” or how

“anti.” Neither is explicit on what he sees as an optimal immigration policy

based on humanitarian, economic and environmental concerns for the United

States at the start of the twenty-first century. It would be interesting to

know, rhetoric aside, how far apart they would really be regarding the various

dimensions of immigration policy.

Overall this is an outstanding volume that fulfills its objectives. It is not

a treatise for the specialist but it is a successful way of presenting the two

sides of the immigration debate over the past 120 years. It leaves it to the

reader to decide on which side, or where in between, he or she stands. I

anticipate that it would work well in undergraduate courses on American

history or, regardless of discipline, on immigration.

Barry R. Chiswick, a specialist in immigration research for nearly

twenty-five years, has written extensively on the determinants and

consequences of immigration and immigration policy in the U.S. and other major

immigration receiving countries. He received the Carleton C. Qualey Article

Award from the Immigration History Society in 1989, and his most recent paper

is “A Model of Destination Language Acquisition,” (co-author Paul W. Miller)

published in Demography (2001).