Migrants and Refugees in the Americas


The Border. The Ban. The Wall. Raids. Deportations. Separation of Families. Immigrant Rights. Sanctuary. Refugee Resettlement. These words – usually confined to policy, enforcement, and activism related to migrants and refugees – have recently exploded into the public view and entered into constant use. The current political administration made migratory and refugee enforcement, and of migration more generally, a centerpiece of its electoral campaign and the subject of its first executive orders, generating broad public controversy. Most migration to the US is from Latin America, by far the largest single migrant population is from Mexico, and the rise of Central American migration has proved enduring. Focusing on south-north migration from these Latin American regions, this class argues that it is impossible to understand the current political situation in the US without studying the relatively lesser-known history of migrant and refugee human rights over the last three decades, including massive protests, movements for sanctuary, and attempts at reform and enforcement. The class takes into account shifting global demographics, changing reasons for migration, rapid legal and political changes, complex enforcement policies and practices, and powerful community movements for reform, which are often forgotten with the opening and closing of a given news cycle. The class also argues that migrant and refugee voices matter and are critical to understanding migration as an historical and current problem. The course includes migrant, refugee, and activist narratives, and an array of historical, legal, political, and other primary sources. Its goal is to create a more complete historical understanding of Latin American-origin migration in the contemporary U.S. context.


Required Readings:

Walter L. Coleman, Elvira’s Faith and Barack’s Challenge: The Grassroots Struggle for the Rights of Undocumented Families

Reece Jones, Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move

Timothy J. Henderson, Beyond Borders: A History of Mexican Migration to the United States

Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions

Óscar Martínez, The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail

Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America

José Orozco, Receive Our Memories: The Letters of Luz Moreno, 1950-1952



Week 1: Introduction to Migrants and Refugees in the Americas

  1. T September 3: First Class: Introduction to Migrants and Refugees in the Americas

Pew Research Center, “Unauthorized Immigrant Population Trends for States, Birth Countries and Regions,” Pew Research Center, June 12, 2019.



Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, “U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Total Lowest in a Decade,” Pew, November 27, 2018.



Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, “Number of Unauthorized Immigrants in US Lower in 2015 Than 2009,” Pew, April 25, 2017.



  1. TH September 5: Current/Recent Migration to the US: Mexico and Central America

Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, “Mexicans Decline to Less Than Half the U.S. Undocumented Immigrant Population,” Pew, June 12, 2019.



Ana Gonzalez-Barrera and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “What We Know About Illegal Immigration from Mexico,” Pew, December 3, 2018.



Jeffrey S. Passel, D’Vera Cohn, and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, “Immigration From Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador Up,” Pew, December 7, 2017.



Week 2: Family Separation and the Lives of Migrant Children

  1. T September 10: Narrating the Lives of Migrant Children

Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, Introduction, Sections I-II, pp. 1-54


“Trump Administration Threatens Jail and Separating Children From Parents for Those Who Illegally Cross Southwest Border,” New York Times, May 7, 2018



“Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks Discussing the Immigration Enforcement Actions of the Trump Administration,” May 7, 2018



“Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” June 20, 2018



  1. TH September 12: Narrating Family Separation

Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends, Sections III-IV, Coda, 55-106


“Trump Retreats on Separating Families, but Thousands May Remain Apart,” NYT, June 20, 2018



“How Trump’s Policy Change Separated Migrant Children From Their Parents,” NYT, June 20, 2018



“No More Family Separations, Except These 900,” NYT, July 30, 2019



“Trump Policy Favors Wealthier Immigrants for Green Cards,” NYT, August 12, 2019



Week 3: Citizenship, Migration, and “Illegal” versus “Undocumented” Migration to the US

  1. T September 17: Unauthorized Migration as THE Central Problem in US Immigration Policy

Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, Note, Forward, Introduction, Introduction to Part I, and Chapter 1


  1. TH September 19: The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, Quotas, Borders, Patrol, and the INS

Ngai, Impossible Subjects, Chapter 2

“The Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924,” pp. 153-70

USCIS, “Overview of INS History,” 2012, pp. 1-12



Week 4: War and Post-War Immigration Policy and the Endurance of Quotas

  1. T September 24: The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 and the Universalization of Quotas

Ngai, Impossible Subjects, Chapter 7 and Epilogue

“The Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965,” pp. 911-22


  1. TH September 26: Asian and Pacific Migration to the US: Exclusion, Undesirability, and Internment

Ngai, Impossible Subjects, Introductions to Parts II and III, and 2 of the following Chapters 3, 5, or 6

“The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882”


Week 5: Mexican Migration to the US: Mexican-American War to the Bracero Program

  1. T October 1: Borderlands, Revolution, Migration, Braceros, and Deportation

Ngai, Impossible Subjects, Chapter 4; Review Chapter 2

Timothy J. Henderson, Beyond Borders: A History of Mexican Migration to the United States, Introduction, Chapter 1


  1. TH October 3: Restriction After Revolution and the Bracero Program

Henderson, Beyond Borders, Chapters 2-3


Jürgen Buchenau, “The Limits of the Cosmic Race: Immigrant and Nation in Mexico, 1850-1950,” in Immigration and National Identities in Latin America, ed. by Nicola Foote, and Michael Goebel (2014), pp. 66-88


Weeks 6-7: Receive Our Memories: Migrant Voices in the Post-War and Bracero Era

  1. T October 8: From San Miguel el Alto, Jalisco, to Stockton, California, and Back

José Orozco, Receive Our Memories: The Letters of Luz Moreno, 1950-1952, Introduction, Chapter 1, and Introduction to Chapter 2


  1. TH October 10: Memories from Afar and the Voices of Return Migration

Orozco, Receive Our Memories, Letters in Chapters 2-3


Fall Break, October 14-15


  1. TH October 17: Religion, Faith, Spirituality, the Apocalypse, and Poverty in Migration; Reading, Writing, Anxiety, and Death in Migration

Orozco, Receive Our Memories, Chapters 4-6, and Afterward


Week 8: Migration History and Migrant Voices Beyond Revolution, Braceros, and 9/11

  1. T October 22: Migration After the Bracero Program: Mexican and Global Reasons for Migration

Henderson, Beyond Borders, Chapters 4-5

John Womack, Jr., “A Very Short History of Maravatío,” in Walter L. Coleman, Elvira’s Faith and Barack’s Challenge: The Grassroots Struggle for the Rights of Undocumented Families, pp. 291-303


  1. TH October 24: From Maravatío, Michoacán to Chicago, Illinois, and Back

Elvira Arellano, “Testimonies,” in Coleman, Elvira’s Faith, Chapters 1, 3, 5, and 7, pp. 39-40

“Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986,” pp. 3359-3444


Mid-term presentations in class with topic, outline, and sources on October 22 and 24


Weeks 9-10: Elvira Arellano, The Rise of the Immigrant Rights Movement, and Sanctuary; Immigration Law, Homeland Security, ICE, and Reform

  1. T October 29: Rise of the Immigrant Rights Movement; Reform and Security

Coleman, Elvira’s Faith, Preface, Chapters 2, 4, 6-9

“Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA),” pp. 546-725

“Homeland Security Act of 2002,” pp. 2135-2321, Focus on Titles IV-V


  1. TH October 31: 9/11, The Immigrant Mobilizations of 2006, and Elvira’s Sanctuary

Elvira Arellano, “Statement on Entering Sanctuary” and “Statement on Leaving Sanctuary,” in Coleman, Elvira’s Faith, pp. 321-24

Coleman, Elvira’s Faith, Chapters 10-13

Sensenbrenner House Bill 4437, “The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005”


  1. T November 5: Immigrant Movements and Attempts at Comprehensive Reform

Coleman, Elvira’s Faith, Chapters 14-23

Schumer Senate Bill 744, “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013”


  1. TH November 7: Faith in Defeat of Movements, Reform, and Executive Orders

Coleman, Elvira’s Faith, Chapters 24-29, 31-32


Obama Executive Order of November 2014; Trump Orders of January 25 and April 18, 2017:


Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Immigration,” November 20, 2014



Donald Trump, Executive Orders: “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” January 25, 2017



Week 11: Global Human Rights and National Refugee Laws

  1. T November 12: The Globalization of Human Rights for Refugees

Review: Ngai, Impossible Subjects, Chapter 7, pp. 233-37

Peter Gatrell, The Making of the Modern Refugee, Introduction

UN, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” 1948, especially Articles 9, 13-15

UNHCR, “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” 1951, 1-37


  1. TH November 14: The Nationalization of Rights for Refugee Relief

“Displaced Persons Act of 1948,” pp. 1009-14

“Refugee Relief Act of 1953,” pp. 400-07

“Refugee Act of 1980,” pp. 102-18


“White House Weighs Lowering Refugee Quota to Below 50,000,” NYT, September 12, 2017



Trump Executive Orders of January 27, 2017 and March 6, 2017:

“Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” January 27, 2017 and March 6, 2017




Weeks 12-13: Violent Borders: The Global Refugee Crisis

  1. T November 19: Middle Eastern/European versus Latin American/US Borders

Reece Jones, Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move, Preface, Introduction, Chapters 1-2


  1. TH November 21: Global Poverty, Global Borders

Jones, Violent Borders, Chapters 3-4


  1. T November 26: Border Infrastructure, Labor, the Environment, and Migration

Jones, Violent Borders, Chapters 5-7, Conclusion


Thanksgiving November 28-29


Weeks 14-15: Central American Migration to the US: Violent Borders and Migration Paths

  1. T December 3: Central America and Reasons for Migration

Coatsworth, “The Cold War in Central America, 1975-1991,” Cambridge History of the Cold War, pp. 201-21


Óscar Martínez, The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, Ch. 1-4


  1. TH December 5: Drug Wars and the US’s and Mexico’s Central American Migration and Refugee Crisis

Martínez, The Beast, Chapters, 5-7


Congressional Research Service, “Central American Migration: Root Causes and U.S. Policy,” March 27, 2019



  1. T December 10: Migration Today: Mexican, Central American, Latin American/Latino, and Global Migration

Martínez, The Beast, Chapters, 8-11


  1. TH December 12: Migrants and Refugees in Global Perspective

Martínez, The Beast, Chapters 12-14


Final Paper Presentations, December 5 and 10

Final Papers Due, December 12

Photo: Shadows of group of people walking through the sunny streets with painted United States of America flag on the floor | Shutterstock
Published on October 29, 2019


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