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A Nation by Design

A Nation by Design

Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America

Aristide R. Zolberg

ISBN 9780674030749

Publication date: 12/15/2008

According to the national mythology, the United States has long opened its doors to people from across the globe, providing a port in a storm and opportunity for any who seek it. Yet the history of immigration to the United States is far different. Even before the xenophobic reaction against European and Asian immigrants in the late nineteenth century, social and economic interest groups worked to manipulate immigration policy to serve their needs. In A Nation by Design, Aristide Zolberg explores American immigration policy from the colonial period to the present, discussing how it has been used as a tool of nation building.

A Nation by Design argues that the engineering of immigration policy has been prevalent since early American history. However, it has gone largely unnoticed since it took place primarily on the local and state levels, owing to constitutional limits on federal power during the slavery era. Zolberg profiles the vacillating currents of opinion on immigration throughout American history, examining separately the roles played by business interests, labor unions, ethnic lobbies, and nativist ideologues in shaping policy. He then examines how three different types of migration--legal migration, illegal migration to fill low-wage jobs, and asylum-seeking--are shaping contemporary arguments over immigration to the United States.

A Nation by Design is a thorough, authoritative account of American immigration history and the political and social factors that brought it about. With rich detail and impeccable scholarship, Zolberg's book shows how America has struggled to shape the immigration process to construct the kind of population it desires.


  • A Nation by Design is the first comprehensive account of American immigration policy from the colonial period to the present. One of its great strengths is that it places American developments in a cross-national and comparative perspective. Professor Zolberg's breadth of knowledge and the range of his reading are remarkable. The book abounds in fresh insights and interpretations, comprehensiveness and richness of detail. This is a magnum opus.

    —George Fredrickson, Stanford University


  • Aristide R. Zolberg was Walter P. Eberstadt Professor of Political Science and University in Exile Professor, Emeritus, at the New School for Social Research.

Book Details

  • 672 pages
  • 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press