College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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Imigration, Think tanks, Nativism, Discourse, Public Policy


Immigration is an issue that has sparked heated debate throughout U.S. history. Old immigration narratives continue to inform the debate, reminding us that we are a "nation of immigrants," but also cautioning against uncontrolled "floods" of immigration. These narratives are commonly employed to promote specific policies, and fuel both backlashes against immigration and celebration of our immigrant heritage. Think tanks, whose success depends upon their reputation as reliable sources of scholarly policy analysis, are often regarded as providing exactly that. This study examines the writing of three prominent conservative think tanks - the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute - to investigate how they portray immigrants and immigration in the United States. This study finds that these influential institutions repackage and mobilize old immigration narratives in their work to actively promote specific ideologies. Given their access to policymakers and media, these findings suggest that think tanks' “scholarly" work should be scrutinized for ideological messaging as closely as any avowedly ideological interest groups' work.