Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die

The E-book version of the book is now available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

On September 12, Empowering Latino Futures/Latino Literacy Now! announced that Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die had been selected as the first place winner for the 2020 International Latino Book Awards Best Political/Current Affairs book. The virtual awards program in its entirety can be viewed by clicking here, and an article about the program, which referred to the book as “one of the most eagerly-awaited books” of the season can be found by clicking here.

On March 20, 2020, Foreword Reviews, the book industry’s leading reviewer of books from small, independent, and university presses announced that Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die was selected as a finalist for the 2019 INDIES Book of the Year in Nonfiction History; see the books selected for this prestigious recognition by clicking here.

On March 5, the author was quoted and the book was discussed in a feature article in both the print and online editions of the New York Times. Read the article by clicking here.


“Official Washington” has pushed for immigration reform legislation on four occasions over the last 20 years and failed each time. Like generals fighting the last war, lawmakers, advocates, and pundits tend to focus on fixing what went wrong in past battles. Their prescriptions—partisans call for election of more of their own, scholars push pet policy ideas, political scientists urge institutional reforms, moderates demand greater willingness to compromise, and activists demand more protests and demonstrations— often amount to just more of the same.

Instead of analyzing past failures, one might look for guidance to the last successful comprehensive immigration bill: the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Relatively little has been written about how the bill came to be, and even less well documented are the roles that key lawmakers and advocacy organizations played in the process. The IRCA debate also saw the birth and growth of potent pro- and anti-immigrant movements. Immigrant rights advocates are centered in the Democratic Party, while immigration naysayers are concentrated among self-identified conservatives in the GOP that propelled the initially implausible candidacy of Donald Trump to a stunning victory in 2016. 

Looking to this history to inform the future raises key questions:

  • What strategies did Latino groups and their pro-immigrant allies use to shape reforms that eventually legalized more than three million previously undocumented immigrants and nearly doubled levels of legal immigration?  
  • How did lawmakers & advocacy groups navigate the thicket of contradictory interests to produce major immigration reforms?
  • What lessons from the passage of the last major set of comprehensive reforms might be applicable to breaking the current impasse on immigration policy? 

The answers to these and a host of related questions can be found in Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die, a book of narrative history. 

In the early 1980s, author Charles Kamasaki was thrust into the unlikely role as the point person on immigration policy for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR, now UnidosUS), a Latino civil rights organization. He joined a small group of advocates—The Group—that had first coalesced to oppose immigration legislation, but then pivoted to shape and facilitate passage of the bill. His direct experience lobbying the last successful immigration reforms, juxtaposed with his current vantage point as a “senior statesman” in both the Hispanic civil rights and immigrant rights movements makes him uniquely qualified to tell the story of IRCA’s passage, and to divine its lessons for the next generation of would-be reformers. Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die is the single indispensable book for everyone seeking to truly understand the origins of the legislative maneuverings, policy ideas, and political forces that underlie the debates over immigration reform today and will for generations to come.