Federal and Subnational Attempts at Immigration Control: Why the United States Fails to Control its Borders

Publication Year



Politics, government, immigration, border security, United States


American Politics | Immigration Law | National Security Law | Political Science | United States History


In an age of rapid change throughout the world, the most surprising things are often those which remain the same. The twentieth century politics of immigration policy and administration in the United States certainly present to exception. Beginning in the 1920s, and throughout the 20th century, rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate became focused upon the idea that the United States had "lost control of the border." That is, more immigrants were arriving than were generally desired by the native citizens. In 1994, using almost identical language, California Governor Pete Wilson filed a law suit against the Federal government for failing to "secure" the nation's border against undocumented immigrants. Population Reference Bureau estimates of the undocumented population indicate that the border is indeed porous: the number may range from one to eight million. Wilson estimates that the majority of this group resides in California, and that they pose an unbearable fiscal drain upon the state. The Federal government, Wilson claims, can and must stop 'illegal" immigration. This paper will review recent literature on immigration control to examine Wilson's claim and the larger perception that the U.S border remains out of control.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status

Political Science

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