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Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die

Updated: Jun 27, 2019



Charles Kamasaki has painstakingly written a book that provides invaluable insight into the labyrinthian process of enacting major social legislation: original intent, coalition building, public engagement, leadership personalities, the interplay of ideals and compromises. And because the legislation he chronicles involves the contentious subject of immigration, the book goes far beyond a narrative of law-making. Kamasaki captures the evolution of public attitudes, the human and economic costs, and the hardening positions which have transformed immigration into one of the most conflictive issues in modern America. This is legislative history intertwined with social history in one powerful volume.

Henry Cisneros, Chairman, City View, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Kamasaki tells a compelling and true story of American politics through the eyes of a participant, the mind of a scholar and the voice of a novelist.

He transports the reader with vivid portrayals of people and moments as a historic reform debate unfolded in the Congress, and the country. If readers

want to understand the fundamental character of the politics of immigration then and now, how Washington can fail over and over again yet still rise to achieve historic reforms, and how the 1980s illuminate paths ahead in the Age of Trump--then read this book. Trust me. I was there.

Rick Swartz, Founder, National Immigration Forum

What Americans don't know about how immigration policy is made could fill a book. Finally, that book--about how the “corpse” of immigration reform once rose from the dead and could be revived again--has been written, by someone who knows where all the bodies are buried. The definitive chronicle of immigration reform; destined to be a classic legislative case study.

Raul Yzaguirre, President Emeritus, UnidosUS (formerly NCLR)

With this stirring, brilliant, and comprehensive look at the history of the Latino civil rights movement through the lens of immigration, Charles Kamasaki cements his legacy as one of the most knowledgeable and effective advocates for the Hispanic community over the last forty years. And if there was a “Game of Thrones” about how IRCA passed, this book would be the script!

Janet Murguía, President and CEO, UnidosUS

Charles Kamasaki provides us with a poignant, evocative and timely look into the national debate of immigration. We couldn’t be luckier for this book. In Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die, Kamasaki traces the roots of the perpetual racial divide by inviting us into a front row seat to a pivotal moment when he helped shape the comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform widely known as IRCA in 1986. At a time when these issues loom even larger, dominated by anger, xenophobia, nativism - emotions underscored by the siren call for a Wall - Immigration Reform is a must read. It provides valuable lessons on how we got here and how to get out of the logjam that’s challenging the core foundation of a nation of immigrants.

Alfredo Corchado, Dallas Morning News Mexico Correspondent and author of Midnight in Mexico and Homelands

Charles Kamasaki’s archly titled “Immigration Reform, the Corpse that Will Not Die” is compelling history for any American trying to understand the ever-expanding policy pothole that is our broken immigration system - and the polarizing politics that have paralyzed progress. It is a timely reflection on the web of contingencies that often inform the fate of national issues. For reform advocates who have been struggling for decades to enshrine a more inclusive vision of America in our immigration laws, it provides encouragement to keep fighting and important insights about the need for an all of the above approach to securing landmark legislation: crafty inside lobbying, street heat in communities across the country, fresh communication and policy strategies, lawmakers willing to put real skin in the game, openness to compromise, and an unwavering moral compass. Amidst one of the most relentless attacks on immigrants and immigration in a generation, these words of wisdom from a legend in the field provide a hopeful reminder that reform is not dead – and will not die.

Marshall Fitz, Managing Director, Immigration, The Emerson Collective

From his role in the cast of the drama, Charles Kamasaki gives us a masterful, sweeping account of the enactment in 1986 of landmark immigration legislation that reverberates through our immigration debates today. His telling – in highly readable, storytelling style – connects major American cultural and political themes, from U.S.-Mexican relations to the origins of key social justice movements to the influence of southern lawmakers in American politics, with the nation’s immigration history. But ultimately, the book shows how history and change are about the individuals who are in the fray and what they do to get to “yes” from deeply different places. Would that such actors were on the stage again today.

Doris Meissner, former INS Commissioner and Director, US Migration Policy, Migration Policy Institute

"Who gets to be a citizen of America and who gets to decide is a defining challenge for our nation. The immigration policy debate continues to roil our politics and our elections, and some believe it is our country's most difficult policy issue to resolve. This book is the origin story of this modern-day showdown. Written by a warrior who was in the room at every stage, and who, along with his fellow advocates, helped shape one of modern America’s monumental and improbable legislative breakthroughs, this book offers a remarkable view into the dynamics of the immigration reform debate, the challenges of making legislative sausage, and the contending forces that compete and cooperate to produce either political paralysis or, this case, historic change." Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice

The most incisive and comprehensive analysis and history of a process that has changed America in fundamental ways.

Representative Howard Berman (ret.)

Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die is a timely and important achievement! Immigration policy remains one of our most vexing national issues. Kamasaki offers an insightful analysis of the factors that helped produce the nation’s last comprehensive immigration act 30 years ago. However, its greater contribution may be in what it says about the challenges facing us today. The fact that the story is viewed through the lens of the Latino civil rights movement makes the book all the more significant. Bravo!

Wade Henderson, Immediate Past President, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Charles Kamasaki’s book Immigration Reform is both a rare insider’s view on how the country’s last major immigration reform got done in Congress — with unique insight on how outside groups shape major policy changes — and a masterful feat of storytelling, engaging and enjoyable from beginning to end. He seamless weaves together the interests, the politics, and the personalities that shaped the reform effort in a way that makes it both a great story and an essential historical account that has important lessons for today’s immigration debates.

Andrew Selee, PhD, President, Migration Policy Institute (MPI)

Nearly everyone regards the US immigration system as "broken," yet the nation is so divided on the subject that it seemingly can't be fixed. It's the "corpse that will not die" of Charles Kamasaki's magisterial recounting of dozens of failed attempts to bring it alive. Yet, in 1986, Congress and the Reagan administration did pass a comprehensive immigration reform--pushed by a small group of activists who succeeded against all odds. Kamasaki was at the center of that struggle and tells in detail how it happened. His tale is instructive for current-day leaders and citizens: if reform could happen three decades ago, why not now?

Mort Kondracke, columnist and TV commentator

“In this deeply researched and beautifully written insider account of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Charles Kamasaki has formulated a clear, compelling narrative that is highly relevant to the ongoing struggle to advance immigrants’ rights today. Everyone who is engaged in the debate about the future of immigration reform should read this book.” -Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union

Essential reading for anyone who is at all curious about how the country’s always-challenging immigration debate got to where it is. In this account, expertly told by an acute observer of policy and the humans who shape it, you will learn about history, about race, and about how our democracy works almost before you realize that it’s happening. No journalist should attempt to cover immigration without reading this book!

Cecilia Muñoz , Vice President, New America, and past Domestic Policy Director, Obama Administration

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