Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


American Studies

Reader 1

Julie Liss

Reader 2

Suyapa Portillo

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© 2015 Hilary Slauson


This thesis explores the function and limitations of presidential immigration rhetoric, using Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as examples to show the development of rhetoric across their presidencies. Reagan and Clinton are theoretically ideologically juxtaposed, though examples found in their public speech on immigration politics show patterned language that contributed to harmful discourses, kept legislation ineffective, and promoted anti-immigration sentiment. Most persistent since Reagan’s response to the fourth and current wave of immigration to the U.S. was the description of the United States as a “nation of immigrants.” Reference to the “nation of immigrants” was often conflictingly coupled with rhetoric that promoted restrictive sentiments. Contradictory and ambiguous presidential immigration rhetoric used to appeal to multiple constituencies has left immigration legislation unproductive and has had harmful consequences for immigrant communities.