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How immigration has shaped the presidential debate, from Reagan to Trump




How presidents and presidential candidates talk about immigration has changed over the years and today still forms an emotionally-charged issue.
How presidents and presidential candidates talk about immigration has changed over the years and today still forms an emotionally-charged issue.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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Former President Ronald Reagan famously called for an "open border" between the US and Mexico, urging a step forward in the "recognition" of "mutual problems" between the two neighbors in order to pave the way for immigrants.

This, he said, would "make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit—and then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back."

But that came in 1984, during a debate with then-candidate George H. W. Bush.

Much has changed since then, proving how enduring – and how controversial – the immigration debate has become to the presidential race.

(US President and Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan addresses the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Dallas on August 23, 1984.)

Yesterday Jorge Ramos, a journalist with Univision, was thrown out of a press conference with Donald Trump, after challenging the Republican contender on his immigration policies. He later returned and asked the question.

Others from the GOP and Democratic fields have scrambled to weigh in – it's a topic that crosses party lines.

But how has immigration been taken up differently in past presidential elections? Are there constant themes?

We're joined by two guests:

Manuel Pastor, co-director of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at USC.

Erika Lee is the director of the Immigration Research History Center at the University of Minnesota, and author of "The Making of Asian America: A History."