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Political discourse on immigration in the UK and the USA from the 1950s to the 1980s

Samuel Malby
p. 15-32

Résumé

Despite having vastly different historical and geographical experiences with immigration, both the United Kingdom and the United States of America now have political parties that express similar anti-immigrant political rhetoric and have implemented or attempted to implement comparable policy responses to immigration in recent years. The purpose of this article will be to explore and compare historical political discourse to provide a better understanding of British and American immigration. The focus will be on the post-World War II era up to the 1980s, with political party manifestos and party platforms from late 1970s and 1980s elections, as well as speeches, interviews, and press conferences by national leaders. Claims that the borders are broken and out of control, as well as recent criticisms of immigration by political parties and leaders in both the United Kingdom and the United States, while often fiercer than before, are simply a continuation of decades of anti-immigrant hostility, with periods of openness and restrictionism in both.

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Introduction

  • 1 Morris, S. « Nationality and Borders Bill: Government faces Conservative rebellion over controversi (...)
  • 2 Simon, Caroline. « Democrats emphasize border security as midterms loom », Roll Call. 22 mars 2022 (...)

1During debates over the Nationality and Borders Bill in early 2022, a British government minister asserted that the measure would provide a “firm but fair” approach that would allow the country to “take full control of its borders”1 At the same time, American Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham claimed last month that “We need to secure our border before it is too late,” He added that “Our border [the US-Mexico border] is completely broken, terrorists can come across, drugs are flowing at the highest level in history.”2 Despite the fact that the United Kingdom and the United States of America have very different historical and geographical experiences with immigration, both countries now have political parties that express similar anti-immigrant political rhetoric and have implemented or attempted to implement analogous policy responses to immigration in recent years. The aim of this article will be to examine and compare political rhetoric from an earlier time in order to create a better understanding of British and American immigration policies. The emphasis will be on the post-World War II era up to the 1980s, using political party manifestos and party platforms for late 1970s and 1980s elections, as well as a number of speeches, interviews, and press conferences by political leaders.

  • 3 For a more detailed presentation of US immigration trends see: <https://www.prb.org/resources/trend (...)
  • 4 Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: a history of immigration and ethnicity in American life. 2e éd. (...)
  • 5 Ricci, Chiara. « “They Might Feel Rather Swamped”: Understanding the Roots of Cultural Arguments in (...)

2The United Kingdom's experience with immigration, particularly non-white immigration from former colonies (including the Caribbean, Africa, and portions of Asia), did not begin on a large scale until after World War II. By contrast, the United States of America was founded by the descendants of European immigrants and since then it has gone through several eras of immigration openness and restrictionism.3 In the United States, historian Roger Daniels contends that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 gave birth to restrictionist immigration policy.4 Immigration rules controlled who may lawfully enter the United States and under what conditions, thereby touching on the heart of what makes and defines American identity. During the 1970s, the majority of immigrants' origins shifted from Europe to Latin America and Asia. The civil rights movement and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 set the political and legal framework for a broader immigration policy, but it was the booming American economy in the 1980s and 1990s that spurred immigration levels to new heights. The free market policies of the Reagan and Clinton administrations made the U.S. increasingly immigrant friendly. In the United Kingdom, there is an older history of immigration control, beginning in 1905 with the Aliens Act, which was introduced to control the flow of Jewish migrants into Britain, and continuing through the post-1945 legislation that aimed to address the issue of immigration beyond legislation. However, narratives about race and culture had a significant influence in shaping discourses about migration and national identity in the United Kingdom after World War ll. Black immigration from the Commonwealth and the Colonies was depicted as a danger to the nation's racial and cultural purity. Chiara Ricci demonstrated in a 2016 essay how the media and important public figures utilised the 1958 race riots to generate and expand the “racialisation of anti-immigrant narratives” and the formation of a “black-immigration problem” in an era of decolonization.5 The laws that followed gradually imposed tight restrictions on Commonwealth nationals' admittance into the United Kingdom, and typically favoured immigrants from former colonies with a mostly white population (Canada, Australia, etc.) over those who did not (although in practice few Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, etc. actually settled in the UK).

3Fears of “cultural swamping” and the growth of a multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic society were not unique to post-war Britain or the United States. It is a phenomenon that has been observed in most Western nations, often combined with concerns about employment competition. In the last two decades, both the United Kingdom and the United States have witnessed anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation. But this rhetoric, as this paper will show, has a long history and can be traced back to at least the post-WWII era.

The 1950s and 1960s

  • 6 There were also anti-black riots in Liverpool in 1948 as well as anti-Jewish riots in 1947.
  • 7 Times [London], September 18, 1958. “Colour Bar As Election Issue.” Times Newspaper Archive.
  • 8 Karapin, R. « The Politics of Immigration Control in Britain and Germany: Subnational Politicians a (...)
  • 9 Key moments in Race relations Equality Legislation in the UK - Gloucestershire County Council. En l (...)
  • 10 Ibid.

4In 1958, antiblack riots in two cities in the United Kingdom (Nottingham, and Notting Hill in London) put the issue of immigration control on the political agenda for the first time since World War II.6 In the aftermath of the riots, The Times reported that Michael Webster, an Independent candidate in the 1959 general election, had declared that a multi-racial society was a “biological sacrilege” and that “‘Negroes’ were (…) lowering the standard of the English people.”7 Yet the riots also directed the attention of national party leaders to opinion polls which showed that 80 percent of the public supported immigration controls.8 As the demand for jobs dried up, there was a corresponding increase in calls for immigration control. Effective controls on the immigration of people from the Commonwealth began in 1962 with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. Hugh Gaitskell, the Labour Party's leader in Parliament at the time (and leader of the opposition), called the legislation “cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation”.9 Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist Claudia Jones described it at the time as “a deliberate attempt to restrict the flow of people of colour to the UK from British colonies.”10

  • 11 Karapin, R. Op. cit. p. 431

5The West Midlands seat of Smethwick received national media attention in 1964. During that year's general election, Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths, who had run a vehemently anti-immigrant campaign, defeated Labour's Patrick Gordon Walker, who had been a prominent pro-immigrant spokesperson. The Smethwick outcome was viewed as an indication of widespread support for immigration restriction.11

6The policies developed at this time were heavily dependent on what became known as the “numbers game.” Essentially, the ‘numbers game’ works on the premise that the fewer black people live in Britain, the better race relations will be. The assumption that black people, rather than white people's reactions to black people, are the basis of racial conflict is implicit in this view. Historian Robert Moore has argued that:

  • 12 Bhat, A., Carr-Hill, R., et Ohri, S., (eds.), Britain’s Black Population. 1993, p. 272.

Once the debate is about numbers there are no issues of principle to be discussed, only how many? . . . The argument about numbers is unwinnable because however many you decide upon there will always be someone to campaign for less and others for whom one is too many. Since you have admitted that black people are a problem in themselves, it is impossible to resist the argument for less of them.12

7In 1968, Enoch Powell, a Conservative MP and Shadow Defence Secretary at the time, drew widespread attention and criticism for his Rivers of Blood speech. Powell condemned the amount of immigration into the UK, particularly from the New Commonwealth, and opposed anti-discrimination legislation. He famously declared that:

We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.13

8Powell's speech, while officially denounced by the leadership of the party, helped to highlight the Conservative Party's and the broader public's anti-immigrant sentiment. A few months later, in December 1968, Conservative Political Centre analysts were astonished by the results of a private study aimed to ascertain the views of 412 constituency groups:

  • 14 Bhat, A., Carr-Hill, R., et Ohri, S (eds.). Op. cit. p. 273

327 wanted all immigration stopped indefinitely. A further 55 wanted ‘strictly limited’ input of dependants of people already in Britain, combined with a five year halt on immigration.14

9The 1950s and 1960s were the era of the civil rights movement in the United States. It was a period of significant social and political transformation that resulted in the passage of three important civil rights Acts:

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin illegal

  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed racial discrimination in voting

  • The Open Housing Act of 1968, which banned discrimination in the rental and sale of houses.

  • 15 FitzGerald, D. et Cook-Martín, D. Culling the masses: the democratic origins of racist immigration (...)

10Along with these domestic changes, Congress passed the Hart-Celler Act, which abolished racial national-origin quotas that had been in place since the 1920s, implemented a family reunification policy, and established an immigration strategy that rewarded highly skilled professionals. The Hart-Celler Act was built on the assumption that the repeal of nation-based quotas would have little effect on the number and origin of immigration. However, the law had a significant impact on America's racial and ethnic makeup. It resulted in a considerable rise in legal immigration from Asia (typically skilled professionals who brought their families with them), as well as increasing movement of undocumented workers across the US. Border with Mexico.15 For the first time, quotas were imposed on the Western Hemisphere whereas neighbouring economies, Canada and Mexico had unrestricted visas prior to 1965. Shortly after the Hart-Celler Act, Latin America experienced an economic crisis, which also increased immigration to the United States.

The 1970s

11By the 1970s, both the United Kingdom and the United States were grappling with race issues. While the UK government was aiming to minimise or at least limit the number of black migrants in the country, the United States was establishing policies aimed at ending segregation and racial discrimination. Looking at party-political platforms during election seasons provides an interesting perspective on the role of immigration at the time.

12During the 1970 election, the Labour Party claimed that:

The rate of immigration [was] under firm control and much lower than in past years, we shall be able still more to concentrate our resources in the major task of securing good race relations.16

13The Conservatives, however had a harsher stance on migration:

Our policies will reduce the causes of racial tension, and we will ensure that there will be no further large scale permanent immigration.17

  • 18 The right of abode gives a person the unrestricted right to enter and live in the UK
  • 19 Patrial definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. En ligne : <https://www.collinsdiction (...)
  • 20 Desai, N., “Revisiting the 1972 Expulsion of Asians from Uganda” Indian Foreign Affairs Journal. 20 (...)

14The Conservatives won the election that year, and passed the 1971 Immigration Act against the combined opposition of the Labour and Liberal Parties. Through an essentially symbolic scheme (“Voluntary Repatriation”) it provided assistance for immigrants who wished to return home and above all virtually ended black ‘primary’ immigration. It also introduced the concepts of right of abode and patriality.18 A patrial, by definition is a “native of any country who, by virtue of the birth of a parent or grandparent in Great Britain, has citizenship and residency rights there.”19 The following year, the United Kindom had to deal with the expulsion of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin.20 In August that year, President Amin ordered the 55,000-strong Asian population to leave the nation within 90 days. Further Asian influxes from Kenya to Britain also caused strain between the white British population and the incoming Asian population.

15In the United States, the 1972 election came on the heels of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This was apparent in both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms, both calling for the end to segregation in schools. Immigration was not a major issue, but the Republicans emphasized the need to tackle illegal immigration: “The immigration process must be just and orderly, and we will increase our efforts to halt the illegal entry of aliens into the United States.”21

16The Democratic Party focused on the importance of improving the economic situation in Mexico, in order to eliminate the push factors that led Mexicans to travel across the border into the USA:

[we will] conduct substantial programs to raise the economic level on both sides of the border. This should remove the economic reasons which contribute to illegal immigration and discourage run-away industries, in addition, language requirements for citizenship should be removed.22

17Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate, won the election.

18In their February 1974 manifesto, the Conservatives claimed they

have provided [through the Immigration Act] the country with the necessary means for preventing any further large scale permanent immigration and also with important new powers for preventing illegal immigration.23

19Their platform clearly shows them using the numbers game to explain why, in their opinion, balance is required for good race relations:

  • 24 Ibid.

When we came to power in 1970, there were about 1.5 million coloured people lawfully and permanently settled in this country. The great majority are here to stay. Their children are being born and brought up here and Britain is the only country they know as their own. The harmony of our society in the future depends to an important extent on the white majority and the coloured minority living and working together on equal terms and with equal opportunities. We shall therefore pursue positive policies to promote good race relations.
The first need for this purpose was to reassure everyone that new immigration was being brought down to a small and inescapable minimum.24

20Labour had little to say on immigration, simply promising to review Nationality legislation in order to ensure that “immigration policies are based on citizenship, and in particular to eliminate discrimination on grounds of colour,” as well as stating that they opposed “all forms of racial discrimination and colonialism.”25 Harold Wilson led the Labour Party to victory in both the February and October elections, albeit with minority governments. That same year, an amnesty was offered to illegal entrants who were Commonwealth citizens or citizens of Pakistan and who had arrived in the country before January 1, 1973.26 This was followed by a second amnesty four years later.

21In the Conservative Party’s Policy Statement: The Right Approach, published in 1976, the Tories focused on the need to reduce immigration numbers:

our capacity to provide a home and future for immigrants and their families is not limitless. (…) the maintenance of racial harmony requires an immigration policy which can fulfil the two following criteria. First, there must be an immediate reduction in immigration. Second, there must be a clearly defined limit to the numbers of those to be allowed into this country.27

22In the United States, immigration fell off the agenda, as neither the Republican nor the Democrat party platforms for the 1976 presidential elections dealt with the issue of immigration. The Democratic Party won the election, with Jimmy Carter entering the White House.

  • 28 Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., et al. Policing the crisis: mugging, the state and law and o (...)
  • 29 Rees, M. « Illegal Immigrants (Written Answers, House of Commons, 19 January 1978) ». En ligne : ht (...)
  • 30 Ibid.
  • 31 Thatcher, M. « Speech to Young Conservative Conference »., February 12, 1978. En ligne : <https://w (...)

23In the United Kingdom, the Daily Mail ran in May 1976 a front-page story about Enoch Powell’s disclosure, in the House of Commons, of a confidential report on Asian immigration, named the Hawley Report.28 The report showed that an increasing number of immigrants were entering the country illegally, both by abusing the system and by fabricating the necessary documents. This led to further calls for further restrictions on immigration. However, the following year, in November 1977 an amnesty was offered to certain immigrants who had “entered the United Kingdom illegally by deception before 1976”.29 According to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Merlyn Rees, “between 29th November 1977 and 17th January 1978 25 people applied,” of which fewer than half had been given amnesty by the latter date.30 The final deadline for both amnesties was the end of 1978. In February 1978, Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the Conservative Party, criticized the amnesties, stating that “They did not help to uphold the law and they were not fair to those waiting in the queue.”31 She also declared the need for an end to immigration in the UK:

  • 32 Ibid.

I do not believe we have any hope of promoting the sort of society which we want unless we are to follow a policy which is clearly designed to work towards an end of immigration as we have seen it in this country in the postwar years. I believe there can be honestly no question other than facing this harsh and realistic fact. That is why we have to speak out loudly and clearly. We have to work towards the ending of immigration in this country and we have to have the policies designed to do so.32

24This speech followed the notorious Margaret Thatcher interview in a few days earlier, in which she claimed that the “British people were afraid that they might be ‘rather swamped by people with a different culture.”33 She also said in the same interview that

Every country can take some small minorities and in many ways they add to the richness and variety of this country. The moment the minority threatens to become a big one, people get frightened.

25In a speech to the Conservative Party Conference later that year, she declared that

It is true that Conservatives are going to cut the number of new immigrants coming into this country, and cut it substantially, because racial harmony is inseparable from control of the numbers coming in.34

26Immigration was at the forefront of British politics, and Thatcher was at the head of the anti-immigration fight.

The 1980s

  • 35 In the early weeks of Thatcher's tenure, the British merchant ships Sibonga and Roachbank operating (...)

27By the turn of the 1980s, immigration had come back to the fore in both the USA and the UK, with the major parties of both nations including significant discussions of the issue in their party platforms. One major issue was the large numbers of refugees from Vietnam.35 In 1979, after several years of Labour rule, the Conservative Manifesto called for strong immigration restrictions:

The rights of all British citizens legally settled here are equal before the law whatever their race, colour or creed. And their opportunities ought to be equal too. The ethnic minorities have already made a valuable contribution to the life of our nation. But firm immigration control for the future is essential if we are to achieve good community relations. It will end persistent fears about levels of immigration and will remove from those settled, and in many cases born here, the label of ‘immigrant’.36

28They insisted on the necessity of a number of measures, including:

  • Redefining British Citizenship

  • Limiting the entry of family members to a small number of urgent compassionate cases.

  • Restricting work permits

  • The introduction of a quota system for those outside the European Community

  • Taking firm action against illegal immigrants and overstayers

  • Helping those immigrants who genuinely wished to leave the country

  • 37 Ibid.

29The manifesto again linked immigration numbers and racial cohesion: “effective control of immigration (…) is essential for racial harmony in Britain today.”37 Labour, on the other hand, took a much more measured approach, focusing instead on anti-discrimination efforts:

Large-scale migration to this country is ending, but we still have some major commitments to fulfil. Labour will honour these. A quota would merely cause even longer delays for dependants.
(…)
Labour has already strengthened the legislation protecting minorities. The next Labour Government will continue to protect the community against discrimination and racialism.38

30The Conservatives won the 1979 election, with Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister.

  • 39 Borjas, G. J. « The Economics of Immigration », Journal of Economic Literature. 1994, vol.32 no 4. (...)

31Across the Atlantic, the 1980 election pitted Republican nominee Ronald Reagan against incumbent President Jimmy Carter, and it came on the heels of several significant immigration related episodes. In his 1979 and 1980 State of the Union addresses, Jimmy Carter failed to mention immigration. However, in 1981, after his defeat to Ronald Reagan, but before leaving office, Carter used a significant portion of his State of the Union to talk about refugees and humanitarian aid. A large number of refugees fled Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The migration and humanitarian crisis peaked in 1978 and 1979, but it persisted into the early 1990s. In 1980, the Mariel boatlift was a mass exodus of Cuban nationals who travelled from Cuba to the United States between April and October. The arrival of the refugees in the United States created political problems for US President Jimmy Carter. In late October 1980, the two governments reached an agreement to halt the Mariel boatlift. But by then, up to 125,000 Cubans had arrived in the country.39 The Republican Party Platform in 1980 was reasonably friendly towards immigrants, and acknowledged the importance of American “hospitality” towards them, while maintaining the importance of the need for immigrants to adapt to the American way of life:

our people have opened their arms and hearts to strangers from abroad and we favor an immigration and refugee policy which is consistent with this tradition.”
(…):
We believe that to the fullest extent possible those immigrants should be admitted who will make a positive contribution to America and who are willing to accept the fundamental American values and way of life.40

32The Democratic platform, added that

America’s roots are found in the immigrants and refugees who have come to our shores to build new lives in a new world.41

33At the same time, Democrats acknowledged that all hospitality must have its limits:

  • 42 Ibid.

United States immigration and refugee policy must reflect the interests of our national security and economic well-being. Immigration into this country must not be determined solely by foreign governments or even by the millions of people around the world who wish to come to America. The federal government has a duty to adopt immigration laws and follow enforcement procedures which will fairly and effectively implement the immigration policy desired by the American people.42

34The Democrats, on the defensive on the issue of immigration, insisted on the importance of the 1980 Refugee Act but also wished to

  • 43 Ibid.

to resolve the difficult problems presented by the immigration from Haiti and (…) Cuba. (…) we must ensure that there is no discrimination in the treatment afforded to the Cubans or Haitians. We must also work to ensure that future Cuban immigration is handled in an orderly way, consistent with our laws.43

35Ronald Reagan comfortably defeated his opponent and launched 12 years of uninterrupted Republican White House occupancy. (Reagan for two terms, and George H. W. Bush for one term).

36In his Inaugural Address, in 1981, Reagan made no reference to immigration. The focus of his speech was on reducing the role of government. He declared that “in this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”44

37Shortly after taking office, in an interview, Reagan discussed Mexican immigration, and had a rather nuanced vision of immigration and its importance for both the United States and for Mexico:

  • 45 Reagan, R. « Excerpts from an Interview with Walter Cronkite of CBS News ». En ligne : https://www. (...)

We have to remember we have a neighbor and a friendly nation on an almost 2,000-mile border down there. And they have an unemployment rate that is far beyond anything—a safety valve has to be some of that that we’re calling “illegal immigration” right now. What these Governors have come up with—and I’m very intrigued with it—is a proposal that we and the Mexican Government get together and legalize this and grant visas, because it is to our interest also that that safety valve is not shut off and that we might have a breaking of the stability south of the border.45

38In a Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy from July 1981, the Reagan administration promised to continue to welcome “peoples from other countries” while ensuring “adequate legal authority to establish control over immigration”. They promised to

  • 46 Reagan R.. « Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy ». En ligne : https://www.re (...)

work towards a new and realistic immigration policy, a policy that will be fair to our own citizens while it opens the door of opportunity for those who seek a new life in America.46

39This ultimately led to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).

40The United Kingdom’s Conservative Party, in 1983, called for “Firm and Fair” policies on immigration and continued its insistence on the importance of “good community relations”, which is only possible, according to them, through “effective immigration control”.47 The 1983 election came on the heels of a number of race riots, in particular in 1981. The party denounced racial discrimination and having passed the British Nationality Act in 1981, as promised, they claimed to “have created a secure system of rights and a sound basis for control in the future (and promised to) continue to pursue policies which are strict but fair.”48 Furthermore, they were proud that

  • 49 Ibid.

immigration for settlement has dropped sharply to the lowest level since control of immigration from the Commonwealth began more than twenty years ago.49

41The Labour Party, however attacked the Conservatives for the 1981 British Nationality Act, declaring that

Through their immigration and nationality laws, the Tories have divided families and caused immense suffering in the immigrant communities. We accept the need for immigration controls. But we will repeal the 1971 Immigration Act and the 1981 British Nationality Act and replace them with a citizenship law that does not discriminate against either women or black and Asian Britons.50

42In 1985, during a Press Conference in Sri Lanka, Margaret Thatcher restated her policy:

We laid down a policy on immigration when we came into power. As you know, we have a very very densely populated country and we have not wavered from that policy, and we shall not waver from it.51

43In the USA, the 1984 election pitted President Reagan against Democratic challenger Walter Mondale. Both parties insisted on the importance of immigration in the American nation. The Democrats stated that “America's roots are found in the immigrants and refugees who have come to our shores to build new lives in a new world.”52 Whereas the Republicans, while applauding American history as “a story about immigrants,” insisted heavily on the need to control national borders. Furthermore, they made a distinction that continues to be made over time between doing it the “right way” versus doing it the “wrong way”:

We affirm our country's absolute fight to control its borders. Those desiring to enter must comply with our immigration laws. Failure to do so not only is an offense to the American people but is fundamentally unjust to those in foreign lands patiently waiting for legal entry. We will preserve the principle of family reunification.
With the estimates of the number of illegal aliens in the United States ranging as high as 12 million and better than one million more entering each year, we believe it is critical that responsible reforms of our immigration laws be made to enable us to regain control of our borders.53

  • 54 « Debate Between President Ronald Regan and Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale ». En ligne : h (...)
  • 55 Ibid.
  • 56 Hollifield, J. F. « American Immigration Politics: An Unending Controversy », Revue européenne des (...)

44The Democrats 1984 message, however, mostly ignored immigration, focusing instead on discrimination. During one of the presidential debates, the issue of illegal immigration was raised and both candidates supported strengthening the border. President Reagan admitted that “it is true our borders are out of control. It is also true that this has been a situation on our borders back through a number of administrations.”54 Interestingly, he also added that “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”55 Overall, Reagan tended to characterise the relationship between the United States and Mexico favourably, and he supported amnesty for long-term undocumented migrants. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Congress passed IRCA in an attempt to regain control of immigration, especially illegal immigration. IRCA, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, was the result of a compromise between “restrictionists” and “admissionists”.56 The agreement provided amnesty for illegal immigrants in exchange for sanctions against businesses that intentionally employed illegal immigrants. Over 2.7 million undocumented immigrants benefited from the amnesty. IRCA is seen by some as the origins of the modern American immigration system.

45During the 1987 general election in the UK, the Tories combined the need for harmonious race relations, with the need for greater control and solving the issue of fraudulent entry:

Immigration for settlement is now at its lowest level since control of Commonwealth immigration first began in 1962. Firm but fair immigration controls are essential for harmonious and improving community relations.
(…)
We will tighten the existing law to ensure that the control over settlement becomes even more effective.57

46Labour, on the other hand, focused primarily on the need to promote racial equality, including their calls for immigration control:

All the people of this country - whatever their race, colour or religion - must enjoy the full rights of citizenship.
In addition, Labour will take firm action to promote racial equality, to attack racial discrimination and to encourage contract compliance and other positive means of ensuring equity for all citizens. We will strengthen the law on public order to combat racial hatred and take firm action against the growing menace of racial attacks. We will make prosecution easier in order to encourage the reporting of offences.58

Labour's policy of firm and fair immigration control aimed to ensure that the law did not discriminate on the basis of race, colour or sex. The Conservatives won again and would continue to do so until 1997. However anti discrimination legislation was not downgraded - the legislation established earlier by Labour governments remained in place, and during that period anti-discrimination policies developed significantly in Labour-controlled local authorities.

The question in the United Kingdom then became about the role of immigration controls in a single European market with relaxed border controls. In 1988, Thatcher declared that the United Kingdom must keep its border controls:

you must keep them [border controls] for immigration purposes. You really cannot have someone, say, coming into Italy, say from Bangladesh, and then being able to travel freely right across Europe and enter straight across our immigration controls without us knowing. We have got to keep those immigration controls for every country against people from countries outside the Community, so that they just cannot flout our immigration laws, and we are considering how best to do that.59

47Immigration and free movement of people inside the EU were issues for the country from the moment it entered until it left after the 2016 Brexit Vote.

48Across the Atlantic, the 1988 Presidential election opposed Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis. The Republicans took a softer tone on immigration. While insisting on the “absolute right to control its borders,” they called upon other nations to “join us in the responsibility shared by all democratic nations for resettlement of refugees, especially those fleeing communism in Southeast Asia.”60 The Democratic Party, in a similar vein to their Labour counterparts in the UK called for an end to discrimination and equality for all:

WE BELIEVE (…) that our machinery for civil rights enforcement and legal services to the poor should be rebuilt and vigorously utilized; and that our immigration policy should be reformed to promote fairness, non-discrimination and family reunification and to reflect our constitutional freedoms of speech, association and travel. We further believe that the voting rights of all minorities should be protected, the recent surge in hate violence and negative stereotyping combatted, the discriminatory English-only pressure groups resisted, our treaty commitments with Native Americans enforced by culturally sensitive officials, and the lingering effects of past discrimination eliminated by affirmative action, including goals, timetables, and procurement set-asides.61

49George H. W. Bush won the election, winning the Electoral College and the popular vote by sizable margins, though Democrats had majorities in both the House and Senate. In 1990 he signed into law the Immigration Act which aimed to make immigration easier stating, “I am also pleased to note that this Act facilitates immigration not just in numerical terms, but also in terms of basic entry rights of those beyond our borders.”62 In fact, it was not until Bill Clinton, a Democrat, entered the White House, that significant restrictionist laws were passed, notably the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

50As suggested in this article, claims that the borders are broken and out of control, as well as recent criticisms of immigration by political parties and leaders in both the United Kingdom and the United States, while often fiercer than before, are simply a continuation of decades of anti-immigrant hostility, with periods of openness and restrictionism in both.

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Bibliographie

Bhat, A., Carr-Hill, R., et Ohri, S., (eds.), Britain’s Black Population. 1993.

Borjas, G. J. « The Economics of Immigration », Journal of Economic Literature. 1994, vol.32 no 4. p. 1698.

Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: a history of immigration and ethnicity in American life. 2e éd. New York. Perennial. 2002. 515 p.

Desai, N., “Revisiting the 1972 Expulsion of Asians from Uganda” Indian Foreign Affairs Journal. 2012, vol.7 no 4. p. 446‑458.

Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., et al. Policing the crisis: mugging, the state and law and order, 2019. p. 329‑330.

Hollifield, J. F. « American Immigration Politics: An Unending Controversy », Revue européenne des migrations internationales. 1 décembre 2016, vol.32 no 3‑4. p. 271‑296.

Karapin, R. « The Politics of Immigration Control in Britain and Germany: Subnational Politicians and Social Movements », Comparative Politics 1999, vol.31 no 4. p. 428‑429.

Morris, Sophie. « Nationality and Borders Bill: Government faces Conservative rebellion over controversial asylum and immigration reforms », Sky News. 22 mars 2022 . En ligne : https://news.sky.com/story/nationality-and-borders-bill-government-faces-conservative-rebellion-over-controversial-asylum-and-immigration-reforms-12572348 [consulté le 31 août 2022].

Ricci, Chiara. « “They Might Feel Rather Swamped”: Understanding the Roots of Cultural Arguments in Anti- Immigration Rhetoric in 1950s – 1980s Britain », Global Histories: A Student Journal. 10 octobre 2016, vol.2 no 1. En ligne : https://www.globalhistories.com/index.php/GHSJ/article/view/53 [consulté le 17 février 2022].

Simon, Caroline. « Democrats emphasize border security as midterms loom », Roll Call, 22 mars 2022 . En ligne : https://rollcall.com/2022/03/22/democrats-emphasize-border-security-as-midterms-loom/ [consulté le 31 août 2022].

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Notes

1 Morris, S. « Nationality and Borders Bill: Government faces Conservative rebellion over controversial asylum and immigration reforms », Sky News. 22 mars 2022 . En ligne : https://news.sky.com/story/nationality-and-borders-bill-government-faces-conservative-rebellion-over-controversial-asylum-and-immigration-reforms-12572348 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

2 Simon, Caroline. « Democrats emphasize border security as midterms loom », Roll Call. 22 mars 2022 . En ligne : < https://rollcall.com/2022/03/22/democrats-emphasize-border-security-as-midterms-loom>, retrieved on 30 August 2022.

3 For a more detailed presentation of US immigration trends see: <https://www.prb.org/resources/trends-in-migration-to-the-u-s/>, retrieved on 30 August 2022.

4 Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: a history of immigration and ethnicity in American life. 2e éd. New York : Perennial, 2002. 515 p.

5 Ricci, Chiara. « “They Might Feel Rather Swamped”: Understanding the Roots of Cultural Arguments in Anti- Immigration Rhetoric in 1950s – 1980s Britain », Global Histories: A Student Journal. 10 octobre 2016, vol.2 no 1. En ligne : https://www.globalhistories.com/index.php/GHSJ/article/view/53 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

6 There were also anti-black riots in Liverpool in 1948 as well as anti-Jewish riots in 1947.

7 Times [London], September 18, 1958. “Colour Bar As Election Issue.” Times Newspaper Archive.

8 Karapin, R. « The Politics of Immigration Control in Britain and Germany: Subnational Politicians and Social Movements », Comparative Politics. 1999, vol.31 no 4. p. 428‑429.

9 Key moments in Race relations Equality Legislation in the UK - Gloucestershire County Council. En ligne : https://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/your-community/black-history-month/black-history-month-2020/race-equality-in-the-uk/key-moments-in-race-relations-equality-legislation-in-the-uk/>, retrieved on 30 August 2022.

10 Ibid.

11 Karapin, R. Op. cit. p. 431

12 Bhat, A., Carr-Hill, R., et Ohri, S., (eds.), Britain’s Black Population. 1993, p. 272.

13 Powell, E. « Rivers of Blood ». En ligne : <https://anth1001.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/enoch-powell_speech.pdf>, retrieved on 30 August 2022.

14 Bhat, A., Carr-Hill, R., et Ohri, S (eds.). Op. cit. p. 273

15 FitzGerald, D. et Cook-Martín, D. Culling the masses: the democratic origins of racist immigration policy in the Americas, 2014, p. 121.

16 « 1970 Labour Party Manifesto ». En ligne : https://web.archive.org/web/20110808143501/http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1970/1970-labour-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

17 « 1970 Conservative Party Manifesto ». En ligne : http://www.conservativemanifesto.com/1970/1970-conservative-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

18 The right of abode gives a person the unrestricted right to enter and live in the UK

19 Patrial definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. En ligne : <https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/patrial>, consulté le 11 septembre 2022

20 Desai, N., “Revisiting the 1972 Expulsion of Asians from Uganda” Indian Foreign Affairs Journal. 2012, vol.7 no 4. p. 446‑458.

21 « Republican Party Platform of 1972 ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/republican-party-platform-1972 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

22 « 1972 Democratic Party Platform ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/1972-democratic-party-platform retrieved on 30 August 2022.

23 « 1974 (February) Conservative Party Manifesto ». En ligne : http://www.conservativemanifesto.com/1974/Feb/february-1974-conservative-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

24 Ibid.

25 « 1974 (February) Labour Party Manifesto ». En ligne : <https://web.archive.org/web/20150323062844/http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1974/Feb/1974-feb-labour-manifesto.shtml [consulté le 18 février 2022]>, retrieved on 30 August 2022.

26 The Home Secretary made an announcement in reply to a written question in the House of Commons on 11 April 1974.

27 The Right Approach (Conservative policy statement), October 4 1976. En ligne : https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/109439 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

28 Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., et al. Policing the crisis: mugging, the state and law and order., 2019. p. 329‑330.

29 Rees, M. « Illegal Immigrants (Written Answers, House of Commons, 19 January 1978) ». En ligne : https://hansard.parliament.uk//commons/1978-01-19/debates/1c05bb42-592a-4ca0-ae77-08395e5ff346/IllegalImmigrants consulté le 13 mars 2022

30 Ibid.

31 Thatcher, M. « Speech to Young Conservative Conference »., February 12, 1978. En ligne : <https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103487>, retrieved on 30 August 2022.

32 Ibid.

33 Thatcher, M. « TV Interview for Granada World in Action ». En ligne : https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103485 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

34 Thatcher, M. « Speech to Conservative Party Conference ». En ligne : https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103764 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

35 In the early weeks of Thatcher's tenure, the British merchant ships Sibonga and Roachbank operating in the South China Seas picked up approximately 1200 refugees between them, including a substantial number of children and sick people. The United States eventually took 823,000 refugees, Australia and Canada each took 137,000, and France 96,000. Under international pressure, Britain eventually accepted 19,000 refugees, much exceeding Thatcher's first proposal of 1,500.

36 « 1979 Conservative Party Manifesto ». En ligne : http://www.conservativemanifesto.com/1979/1979-conservative-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

37 Ibid.

38 « 1979 Labour Party Manifesto ». En ligne : https://web.archive.org/web/20150307035209/ http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1979/1979-labour-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

39 Borjas, G. J. « The Economics of Immigration », Journal of Economic Literature. 1994, vol.32 no 4. p. 1698.

40 « Republican Party Platform of 1980 ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/republican-party-platform-1980 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

41 « 1980 Democratic Party Platform ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/1980-democratic-party-platform retrieved on 30 August 2022.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 Reagan, R. « 1981 Inaugural Address ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/inaugural-address-11 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

45 Reagan, R. « Excerpts from an Interview with Walter Cronkite of CBS News ». En ligne : https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/excerpts-interview-walter-cronkite-cbs-news retrieved on 30 August 2022.

46 Reagan R.. « Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy ». En ligne : https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/statement-united-states-immigration-and-refugee-policy, consulté le 31 août 2022

47 « 1983 Conservative Party Manifesto ». En ligne : http://www.conservativemanifesto.com/1983/1983-conservative-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 « 1983 Labour Party Manifesto ». En ligne : https://web.archive.org/web/20150312120432/ http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1983/1983-labour-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

51 Thatcher, M. « Press Conference in Sri Lanka ». En ligne : https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106022 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

52 « 1984 Democratic Party Platform ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/1984-democratic-party-platform retrieved on 30 August 2022.

53 « Republican Party Platform of 1984 ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/republican-party-platform-1984 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

54 « Debate Between President Ronald Regan and Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/debate-between-the-president-and-former-vice-president-walter-f-mondale-kansas-city retrieved on 30 August 2022.

55 Ibid.

56 Hollifield, J. F. « American Immigration Politics: An Unending Controversy », Revue européenne des migrations internationales. 1 décembre 2016, vol.32 no 3‑4. p. 271‑296.

57 « 1987 Conservative Party Manifesto ». En ligne : http://www.conservativemanifesto.com/1987/1987-conservative-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

58 « 1987 Labour Party Manifesto ». En ligne : http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1987/1987-labour-manifesto.shtml retrieved on 30 August 2022.

59 Thatcher, M. « TV Interview for ITN (Hanover European Council) ». En ligne : https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107278 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

60 « Republican Party Platform of 1988 ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/republican-party-platform-1988 consulté le 31 août 2022

61 « 1988 Democratic Party Platform ». En ligne : https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/1988-democratic-party-platform retrieved on 30 August 2022.

62 Bush, G. H. W.. « Statement on Signing the Immigration Act of 1990 ». En ligne : https://bush41library.tamu.edu/archives/public-papers/2514 retrieved on 30 August 2022.

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Samuel Malby, « Political discourse on immigration in the UK and the USA from the 1950s to the 1980s »Observatoire de la société britannique, 29 | 2022, 15-32.

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Samuel Malby, « Political discourse on immigration in the UK and the USA from the 1950s to the 1980s »Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 29 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2023, consulté le 21 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/osb/5776 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/osb.5776

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Samuel Malby

Doctorant en civilisation britannique et américaine à l’Université Toulouse - Jean Jaurès

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