Sarah R. Coleman, "The Walls Within: The Politics of Immigration in Modern America" (Princeton UP, 2023)


Sarah Coleman, an historian at Texas State University, is the author of an important and topical book about immigration policy in the United States. The Walls Within: The Politics of Immigration in Modern America (Princeton UP, 2023) focuses much less on the often-discussed physical border between the United States and other countries, and more so on the internal touchpoints where immigration federalism takes place. Coleman does a number of things in this book, including providing a fascinating overview of immigration policies and prohibitions throughout U.S. history, but not in a linear mode—instead, she integrates the historical record into the discussion of the domestic policies that were developed over the past 70 years. These policies are the central focus of the book, since it is the structure, execution, and implementation of these policies that constrain and impact citizens and non-citizens in the United States. The Walls Within examines education policy and court decisions, labor policy and the debate about employer sanctions, welfare policy and questions of immigrant contributions and benefits, and, finally, civil liberties and localized immigration enforcement regimes.

Given the current political debate around immigration, the complexity of the politics within and around that debate, and the constantly looming image of “the wall” at the southern border, Coleman’s book explains and clarifies so much of the history, political conversations, policies, and implementation of immigration inside the United States. Sifting through demographic changes, economic shifts, congressional legislation, and court challenges, Coleman weaves together the different policies and outcomes, and the different forms of enforcement. This is what contributes to immigration federalism, since restrictions, prohibitions, and denial of opportunities generally happen at a state or local level. Thus, where immigration policy is actually touching people—citizens and non-citizens alike—is not, per se, where a Border Control officer examines a passport or a document, but in implementing sanctions against employers or in denying a second-grader breakfast before school. The exploration of these touchpoints highlights the themes running through The Walls Within: political culture, electoral politics, and political economy. Coleman notes that there are approximately 24 million immigrants in the United States, and about half that number are unauthorized. Most of the unauthorized immigrants are not coming across either the northern or southern border of the United States but are overstaying visas. Thus, the imaginary that often wraps around these questions is disconnected from the reality of authorized and unauthorized immigration in the United States. The Walls Within: The Politics of Immigration in Modern America works to clarify our current situation and how we ended up where we are, while also explaining the policies and actions that were put into place along the way and how those policies and actions shape the actual immigration landscape in the U.S.

Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-host of the New Books in Political Science channel at the New Books Network. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012). She can be reached

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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