Michael Jones-Correa, Cornell University
John Mollenkopf, City University of New York
Manuel Pastor, University of Southern California

Case study researchers

Els de Graauw, Baruch College (NYC case study)
Marta Pichardo,  CUNY (NYC case study)
Juan de Lara, USC (LA & San Jose case studies)
Rhonda Ortiz, USC (LA case study)
Jennifer Tran, USC (LA & San Jose case studies)
Rachel Rosner, USC (LA case study)
Jaime Dominguez, Northwestern Univ. (Chicago case study)
Michael Jones Correa, Cornell (Charlotte case study)
Doris Marie Provine, Univ Arizona (Phoenix case study)
Paul Lewis, Arizona State (Phoenix case study)

Struggling Over Strangers?

The Immigration working group examines what contributes to successful immigrant integration and what increases conflict.

Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant integration policy is left up to the metropolitan areas where immigrants have settled into the American landscape.  Their arrival contributes to regional resilience by increasing population and job growth. Yet it also creates challenges. Today, immigrants are flocking not only to traditional hubs, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, but also to their suburbs and to other metro regions with little prior experience with immigration.

The Immigration working group develops research-based policy and program suggestions for building a local consensus about how best to integrate immigrants and the specific practices that regional leaders may adopt to create a positive dialogue about such practices. These lessons are relevant not only for local and metropolitan policymakers, but for how the federal government may also best promote naturalization, incorporation, and long-term integration.

Key findings from the research include the importance of both demographic trends and the positions local actors take when framing local political and policy responses to new immigrant communities. In addition, the group is exploring these and other issues in six case-study locations: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Charlotte, San Jose, and Phoenix.

Demographic Trends– When a sudden surge in immigration hits an area with little past experience, the issue is bound to be politically volatile, especially when recent immigrants include a significant share of unauthorized migrants.  This risk factor is heightened where the “demographic distance” is greatest between the relatively young immigrant population and the relatively old (and white) native-born population. In contrast, when the immigration flow includes significant shares of well-educated individuals in professional occupations, the risk is correspondingly lower.

Political Actors-- Demography is not necessarily destiny. The mix of political actors in the region and how they interact are equally important. When conservative populist political entrepreneurs seek electoral advantage by polarizing the issue of immigrant reception (for example, by enacting and enforcing measures against unauthorized immigrants), consensus becomes harder.

On the other hand, when the regional corporate community is willing to take a position in favor of immigrant integration, and when labor unions and community organizations advocate on their behalf, conflict lessens.

However, the levels of regional cooperation across all sites under investigation is quite low. and suburban jurisdictions often seek to shift the burden of providing immigrant services to organizations based in the urban core.

Case studies—The arrival of immigrants poses a host of challenges to metro areas. Researchers are therefore also analyzing the warmth of reception (or strength of opposition) to rapid recent immigration in both traditional hubs (New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles) and newer destinations (Charlotte, Phoenix, and San Jose).  Case studies examine:

  • Where immigrants and their children fit into changing metropolitan economic and social structures.
  • Where immigrants and their children fit into the spatial matrix of metropolitan neighborhoods, both in the central city and suburban nodes.
  • The individual or collective forms of civic engagement that are emerging from immigrant communities.
  • How native-born political figures, opinion-leaders, and the media are framing the topic of “immigration” on the local public agenda.

Hypotheses that guide the Immigration working group’s focus include:

  • Having an ethnically and economically diverse flow of immigrants will foster a warmer metropolitan reception compared to those which receive large numbers of undocumented immigrants from poorer sending countries.  Similarly, diversity in the receiving native population, with a longer history of receiving and incorporating immigrant ethnic groups, will foster warmer responses.
  • Metropolitan regions will give the coldest reception where the demographic differences between the native born older generation and the younger immigrant generations are the greatest.
  • The response of metropolitan regions will depend both on the political opportunity structures open to immigrants (and the infrastructure of immigrant-serving organizations) and the extent to which native born political actors believe they can gain influence by negatively polarizing the issue.
  • Regions that are capable of undertaking more cooperative responses on a regional basis will do a better job of facing the challenges posed by immigrant arrivals.  More fragmented regions would develop more piecemeal responses.
  • Core cities with longer histories of immigration will provide warmer welcomes; on the other hand, this can also lead to some “free riding” on the part of suburban destinations that tend to have a less developed social service infrastructure.

The group has completed an initial quantitative assessment of the case studies and a round of fieldwork and is now analyzing its findings.