Graduation Year


Document Type

Senior Thesis


Bachelor of Arts

Primary Major

Political Science

Primary Minor

Latin American Studies

Second Minor


Thesis Advisor

Alison Howard, MA


The United States is known as the “land of opportunity” where many seek safety, economic prosperity, and freedom. The U.S is a nation built by immigrants. While achieving the American Dream has never been easy, the U.S has a population of over 45 million migrants. Immigration policy is a federal responsibility and, as such, requires presidential leadership. Presidents have had to address the issue and have done so differently. For example, during one of the 1980 Republican primary debates, George H.W Bush and Ronald Reagan both agreed that building a relationship with its Mexican neighbor was important for the United States to do. Yet, in 2016, Donald Trump entered into the presidential election using anti-immigration rhetoric, calling Mexican migrants criminals and rapists and blaming Mexico for sending them to the United States. Research has shown the use and power of presidential rhetoric. Understanding how presidents have talked about the issue of immigration is important and this thesis asks: How have presidents both as candidates and once in office talked about immigration policy? Using content analysis, I examine inaugural addresses, policy speeches, presidential debates and statements from 1981 to 2020 to understand how Democratic and Republican presidents have talked about immigration policy as candidates and once in office.