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Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Controversies over “zero tolerance” have exploded recently in two very distinct contexts: the Trump administration’s policy for undocumented border-crossers, dramatized most starkly in its separation of migrant children from their parents, and the #MeToo debate over how firm policies should be toward men who press themselves on women, highlighted by liberals’ torment over the resignation of Senator Al Franken.

traffic stop

Zero tolerance controversies pop up in other places as well, such as over strict drug and alcohol policy (should one lapse lose a worker his or her job?), enforcement of discipline in schools (is it creating a school-to-jail pipeline?), and the “broken windows” policing strategy (is alienating a community a long-term losing strategy for law enforcement?).

Across a wide range of public policies, however, Americans do not support zero tolerance–even when American lives are stake. Indeed, it is not clear that societies could function well with zero tolerance.

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Chain Migration

What’s an ivory-tower social scientist to do when he looks up from his cluttered desk and realizes that a handy but obscure academic term has become a mortar round in the culture wars? “Chain migration” used to have a serviceable technical meaning. Then, anti-immigration forces–anti-legal immigration forces–now joined by President Trump decided that chain migration is a tidal wave of foreigners submerging the American Way of Life (although more Norwegians would be OK). And it did not help that Senator Durbin further confused matters by saying that the phrase hurts the feelings of African Americans whose ancestors came in chains.

Here’s what immigration scholars have meant by the term: “People immigrate to locations where they find connections and a measure of familiarity.” “Migrants who already live in the destination…. help their friends and relatives by providing them information, money, and place to stay, perhaps a job, and emotional support.”

Immigration restrictors use the term, however, to refer to a specific version of chain migration: family reconstitution, the process by which naturalized American citizens can bring in extended kin who can bring in extended kin who can… etc. The idea is that each legal immigrant will, especially once a citizen, open the door to dozens of others. In fact, this is, as is well explained by an article in Vox, a great exaggeration. Each immigrant brings in very few extended kin and even those arrivals usually take decades.

But this post is about what real chain migration brought to America over the course of our history. Here is a pretty common story: A teenage boy sails into New York City to join and room with his older sister and her husband; they had made the trip two years earlier. Not speaking English, he nonetheless quickly gets a job from another immigrant of the same origin. He lives for several years in a neighborhood that is an enclave of aliens from his home region. Years later, after much adventure, he returns a wealthy man to his city of origin and brings a wife from there back to New York. This successful man is a link in a chain of migration. This man is Fredrick Trump, the president’s grandfather. (A recent Politico story looks at the family histories of other anti-immigrant activists.)

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According a Los Angeles Times story on the new Administration’s immigration and refugee orders, “Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment … to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.”

(Chicago Tribune)

(Chicago Tribune)

Here we are, once again, with vigorous efforts to block or to drive out “unassimilable” immigrants. (Ironically, American society is remarkably assimilating and today’s newcomers are no more likely to maintain their cultural differences than did the supposed unassimilables who came before them.) As shocking as these moves may seem to some, history shows that Americans have long resisted immigrants and refugees, often fiercely. The news is that Americans are, the current administration notwithstanding, becoming more rather than less welcoming.

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First names matter, experimental research has shown. If job resumes are sent to employers or student profiles presented to teachers, identical except for racially-tinged first names–say, Greg vs. Jamal–“white” names more often get positive responses than do “black” names. If students evaluate presidential candidates on paper, identical except for the gender of the presumed candidate–say, Brian vs. Karen–the “male” candidate gets higher approval than the “female” one.

Italian Immig

Italian Immigrants

In a recent study of historical data, “From Patrick to John F.: Ethnic Names and Occupational Success in the Last Era of Mass Migration,” Joshua R. Goldstein and Guy Stecklov found that immigrants a century or so ago who gave their sons less ethnic-sounding and more mainstream-sounding names added, on average, a few percentage points a year to their sons’ incomes–although one immigrant group was an exception. (more…)

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Current Wall (source)

Current Wall (source)

A key Donald Trump pledge is to stop the inflow of undocumented Mexican immigrants by building a border wall so much higher and wider than the one we have now that none could enter the U.S. illegally. One oddity of this pledge is that the inflow of undocumented Mexicans has already stopped. For the last roughly seven years, the illicit migration across our southern border has been zero or even negative.

There is another oddity about this proposal. From 1986 to 2008, the U.S. vastly boosted border control forces, technology, and barriers. Did this immense crackdown impede or slow down border-crossing? Not really. One thing it did do, however, was to increase–by about 4 million–the number of undocumented migrants who settled down in the U.S.

That is the conclusion of a comprehensive analysis recently published by Douglas Massey, Jorge Durand, and Karen Pren in the March issue of American Journal of Sociology, titled “Why Border Enforcement Backfired.”

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Immig Cartoon

Cartoon re Irish and Chinese Immigrants, S.F., 1860s

The 1965 Immigration Act literally changed the face of America, creating a much more diverse society and bringing the proportion of foreign-born in the country back to levels not seen since about 1910. Today, roughly 13 percent of the population was born elsewhere; add in their children and close to one in four residents are immigrants or second-generation. In this 50th-anniversary year for the Hart-Cellar Act, the National Academy of Sciences–our nation’s official authority on matters scientific–is issuing two reports summarizing years of research on what followed from that act. The first report, focusing on the social implications of recent immigration, is out; another, focusing on the economic implications, will be issued soon.

The Integration of Immigrants into American Society (pdf) presents no dramatic revelations for those who have followed the accumulating research. (That Mexican immigration has so sharply tailed off recently that Asian newcomers now outnumber Latin ones may be a revelation to some.) The short story is that immigrants and their children seem to be assimilating, becoming American, at about the same rate and in about the same ways as earlier generations of immigrants. Becoming more American, however, is not always a good thing.

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Killing at the hands of an illegal alien spurs furious debate about closing borders and deporting the undocumented. It is the year before a presidential election and candidates denounce undocumented immigrants as the conveyors of Mexican violence into our country. When Robert J. Sampson, Harvard sociologist and criminologist, wrote about this news, he was not writing about the death of young Kate Steinle in San Francisco in 2015, but about murders in New Jersey in 2007. And he wrote to say that his research and that of others showed that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to commit murder and “that immigration—even if illegal—is associated with lower crime rates….” He had previously made similar claims in The New York Times and had gotten vituperation in response.

Popular skepticism toward Sampson might be expected given the media coverage of sensational crimes like the one on Pier 14 and of Mexico’s drug wars. But behind the headlines, the daily reality on the streets of the U.S. seems to be that immigrants bring less crime. Indeed, scholars like Sampson have suggested that the surge of Latino immigration, documented and not, may partly explain the great drop in violent crime in American cities since the 1980s.

Now, two presidential cycles since the Sampson article, we have new studies and more technically sophisticated ones on the topic. What do they say about the effects of immigration on crime and violence?

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Family Farms vs. Americanism

Although much of today’s debates around immigration reform is, on the surface, about legalities and economics and human rights, we know that below the surface–and sometimes above it–a lot of it is about cultural assimilation. Resisters worry that recent immigrants, usually meaning those from south of the border rather than those from, say, Europe, will not assimilate to mainstream American culture. And some on the immigrants’ side worry, at least privately, that the new arrivals or their children will assimilate too much and abandon their native cultures.

An earlier post reported evidence that recent arrivals from Spanish-speaking nations were assimilating at least as fast as those who had come from Europe a century earlier. Now, a new paper in Rural Sociology addresses the issue of immigrant assimilation from a wholly different angle: the continuing cultural distinctiveness of German-American farmers in the Midwest.

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Postcard from Paris

Bastille Day — July 14, 2013

Spending a bit of time in Paris turns your correspondent’s thoughts to America. (It’s an occupational preoccupation). I was particularly struck by these posters in the Metro:

Ancestres

Quatre

The first reads, roughly, “Our ancestors were not all Gauls”; the second, “One French person in four derives from immigration.” Yet another placard shows a 19th-century bricklayer at work overlain with the legend, “Your grandfather in a museum.” The posters are part of a public relations campaign just launched by the French Museum of Immigration History to press the notion that “the history of immigration is every [French person’s] history.” More broadly, these posters appear to be part of  French elites’ larger effort to diffuse severe tensions around current third-world immigration by normalizing it, by casting today’s newcomers as just more of what came before. This is an historical stretch and the campaign has already ticked off the xenophobic right which focuses attention on crimes by Arab- and Sub-Saharan African immigrants against “real” Europeans.

That France seems in need of a campaign to instill there what has here been a long accepted cliché, endorsed by both left and right, that we are a “nation of immigrants,”says a lot about the difference between America and Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And it says something else about that difference today.

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In the debates over social policies, one often hears historical claims roughly along these lines: “Minorities these days want it easy. When my ancestors came they got no help and just did it on their own.” Arguments like this have been raised against programs designed to help African Americans. In his classic 1981 study, A Piece of the Pie: Blacks and White Immigrants Since 1880, Stanley Lieberson showed that, however hard many of the European immigrants had it a century or so ago, they faced nothing like the discrimination and repression American blacks did; the comparison is a false one.

Bread Line, Bowery, NY, c. 1910 (source)

Bread Line, Bowery, NY City, c. 1910 (source)

Today’s debates over immigrant policy evoke similar sorts of historical assertions: that unlike immigrants today, immigrants of the past were legal, learned English, and took no handouts on their route to the American Dream. In fact, however, many immigrants in earlier periods were allowed across the border with little regulation and many others were indeed illegal. (Arthur Miller’s classic play, A View from the Bridge, is about “undocumented” Italian immigrants to the Red Hook section of Brooklyn in the 1950s.) In an earlier post, I discussed how immigrants a century ago actually learned English more slowly than immigrants do today. As to “handouts,” Cybelle Fox in a recent article and in her well-received 2012 book, Three Worlds of Relief: Race, Immigration, and the American Welfare State from the Progressive Era to the New Deal, shows that we’ve misunderstood the welfare history, too. The Europeans got many a hand up.

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