Immigration has become an issue often framed with reference to the protection of external borders, welfare state, cultural and ethnic identity, increased risk of terrorism in most of the major receiving countries in Europe. Yet, despite restrictive immigration controls and exclusionary rhetoric in these countries, population inflows continue. Building on the literature which points out that migration policies often ‘fail’ to achieve restrictive objectives due to various institutional constraints preventing governments to realise their electoral promises (Boswell 2003; Calavita 2004; Castles 2004a, 2004b; Freeman 1995; Geddes 2008), this paper analyses the relation between policy debates and policy-making in migration domain. The processes through which immigration debates and policies evolved in Italy are analysed by drawing on qualitative data for the period covering 1996 to 2010. The paper elaborates on how, faced with the so-called immigration pressures, different discursive categories of immigrants and immigration are created by the right-wing political parties in Italy, the extent to which nodal points of the right-wing immigration debates were reflected in the design of immigration control tools and what the link between rhetoric and practice reveals about the processes shaping politics of immigration control.