Robert L. Tsai


This essay places the Trump administration’s immigration and refugee policy in the context of a resurgent ethnonationalist movement in America as well as the constitutional politics of the past. In particular, it argues that Trumpism’s suspicion of foreigners who are Hispanic or Muslim, its move toward indefinite detention and separation of families, and its disdain for so-called “chain migration” are best understood as part of an assault on the political settlement of the 1960s. These efforts at demographic control are being pursued unilaterally, however, without sufficient evidence there is a broad and lasting desire on the part of the people to alter the fundamental values generated during that period. In order to withstand Trumpism’s challenges, we will have to better understand the Immigration and Naturalization Act’s origins as an integral component of the civil rights revolution. When we revisit this history, we learn that this settlement introduced three principles into the immigration context: equality, a presumption of cultural compatibility, and family integrity. These crucial principles must be made part of any judicial evaluation of a president’s policies—especially those conducted unilaterally.

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