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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Race to the Finish: Political Discourse and the Racialization of Immigration in the 2016 Presidential Election

  • Author(s): Perry, Amy Nicole
  • Advisor(s): Aguirre, Adalberto
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the racialization of immigrants and immigration in US political discourse, using quotes from candidates and their campaigns that were reported in three national newspapers during the 2016 presidential election. Two research questions guide this dissertation: 1) How did the candidates running for president in the 2016 presidential election extend racial meaning (i.e. engage in the process of racialization) to the topic of immigration? 2) What discursive strategies did candidates in the 2016 presidential election employ to give legitimacy to their positions and their statements on immigration? The racialization of immigrants and immigration in the political discourse was accomplished primarily through linking and conflating all immigration in the United States with Mexican and Latino immigration in particular. Themes the border and crime and criminals were thematically tied together, often co-occurring, while crime and criminals and family and community were the primary theme/counter-theme in the discursive construction of immigrants. The minor themes values, weakness and strength, and common sense, sanity, and intelligence frequently surfaced in the data as well. This data contributes to the existing literature on race, immigration, and political discourse by illustrating how presidential candidates employed themes and discursive strategies in order to argue for the existence of a particular racialized “problem,” for which their potential election was sold as the “solution.”

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