The Immigrant Rights Movement: The Battle over National Citizenship. Walter J. Nicholls, Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019.
Reviewed by: Kevin Lujan Lee, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban scholars of social movements sometimes can be too quick to embrace the local as the privileged scale for social change and to overlook the role of culture and discourse in the making of social movements. In his masterful new monograph, The Immigrant Rights Movement: The Battle Over National Citizenship, Walter Nicholls offers a deeply thoughtful corrective to both of these tendencies.
He accomplishes this by offering a detailed, sophisticated and sensitive portrait of the national immigrant rights movement in the United States. First, he traces the historical formation and various configurations of the immigrant rights movement over the past two decades. In doing so, he demonstrates how immigrant rights organizations at the local, regional and national levels constitute a sophisticated, coordinated and hierarchical interscalar social movement infrastructure. In the context of the broader movement, local organizations offer grassroots legitimacy; national organizations offer abundant financial resources, media attention and unprecedented access to policymakers; and regional organizations resolve coordination problems between the two.
Second, Nicholls studies how the national movement rhetoric became systematically entrenched in liberal-nationalist notions of citizenship, which assert how “a well-bordered nation with a strong national identity remains a precondition of a solidary, egalitarian, and democratic political community” (23). As a result, divisions were produced and reinforced between “deserving” immigrants aligned with national values and worthy of national resources, and “undeserving” immigrants deemed unworthy. Ultimately, Nicholls’ tragic diagnosis is that these ideological foundations effectively doomed the immigrant rights movement to incremental forms of inclusion of the deserving at the expense of the undeserving.
Rigorously corroborated, theoretically inspiring, and yet impressively readable, this book has much to offer students and scholars at all levels.
The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.
The reviewer may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.