Skip to Content

Immigrants’ Rights and the Battle over Welfare in the 90s

Coleman lecture image - CA Times Photo

Sarah Coleman


To Reward the Wrong Way Is Not the American Way:
Immigrants’ Rights and the Battle over Welfare in the 90s


Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Brazos Hall | 12:00 pm

Coleman lecture image - Prop 187 Phhoto

Sarah Coleman PhotographSarah Coleman is a historian of 20th century America. Her research is focused on immigration, race and rights in the United States, particularly through the intersection of politics, public policy, social movements. Her teaching focuses on political, social and policy history. Her first book, The Walls Within (under contract with Princeton University Press) traces the struggle of politicians, activists, interest groups, communities and the courts to define the rights of immigrants in the United States after the Hart-Celler Act of 1965.

This presentation focuses on a broad shift in immigrants’ rights and welfare policy in the 1990s. In the GOP, conservatives—including the newly elected Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich—used Proposition 187 in the “Contract with America” and more broadly harness the ballot initiative’s electoral popularity to push the Republican Party toward a restrictionist immigration policy. Within the Clinton White House, concerns about California in the 1996 presidential election grew after seeing Proposition 187, giving strength to those pushing centrist ideas of welfare reform and immigration restriction. These shifts enabled the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which included provisions that removed millions of authorized immigrants from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps and other programs. The welfare reform act signaled the emergence of a new period of immigration policy.