Lecture 8 Migration and Inequality

Migration and Inequality
Urban Studies 101
The myth of immigrant assimilation
Assimilation means incorporation into mainstream
American society and culture.
The concept of immigrant assimilation is best
captured by the metaphor of the “melting pot.”
But the melting pot metaphor does not accurately
capture immigrant experience, old or new.
Immigrants are rarely individuals who simply give up
their countries of origin and its culture to settle in
Perhaps it is best to think of people who have just
arrived in the United States as “transnational
migrants,” not immigrants.
What is transnationalism?
Takes into consideration global economic realities
(globalization) and global inequalities
Migrants operate transnationally -- they participate in
cultural, economic and political activity in connection
with countries of origin and settlement.
The process by which migrants “forge and sustain
multi-stranded social relations that link together their
societies of origin and settlement” (Basch et al.
Transnational Links
Transmigrants, past and present, maintain links to
their home societies at the same time that they
established ties and connections to their new
 Security: Migrants establish transnational links to
hedge their bets in times of economic and/or
political insecurity in both places.
 Migrants buy property, work, send money to
family and invested money in both their countries
of origin and settlement.
Involvement in Home Country
 Immigrant Remittances from the U.S. –
Countries like the DR, the Philippines,
Haiti rely on this money
 Political:
 Voting rights to dual citizens. This helps
to maintain alliances with those who have
Return Migration
Many migrants plan to return to their countries of
origin, in part due to:
 Economic insecurity and miserable working
conditions in America
 E.G., 60% of Italians who came to the United
States at the end of the 19th century returned to
 Lack of acceptance in America (a.k.a racism) often
stimulates a desire to return for many migrants.
Why do some migrants stay?
Refugees and those who come because of
religious or political persecution are
sometimes the exception.
 E.G., Eastern European Jews who came at
the end of the 19th century were
persecuted in Russia;
 Gay and lesbian migrants from some
Latin American and African countries
have been granted political asylum in
recent years.
Global Transnationalism Today:
While there are many continuities between migration
in the past and present, there are also new aspects of
transnationalism under globalization.
 Globalized Economy
 New transportation and communication
technologies have made it easier for
immigrants to maintain transnational
Global Economic Integration
More immigrants are involved in economic activities
that span national borders.
 Affluent, professional-class transmigrants run
factories in countries of origin and settlement
 U.S. immigration laws have encouraged
immigration of people with more advanced
educational and professional skills than in the past.
“Legal” vs. “Illegal” Immigrants
Legal Immigrant
 People with family ties or who can buy their way into
the country.
 Because they are able to fit narrow INS policies that
require economic self-sufficiency before their right to
immigration is granted); or
 Family members of earlier immigrants.
Undocumented Worker
Most undocumented immigrants are people who
came this country legally but who allowed their
paperwork to lapse.
Others are unable to find work in their countries of
origin, so they take significant risks to cross borders
and seek employment in places where they have no
legal status.
Many Immigrants Today are Refugees of the
Global Economy. Globalization forces people to
migrate because of economic inequalities between
Myth #1 about Undocumented Workers
They steal jobs from American workers.
Actually, undocumented workers typically fill jobs
that native born Americans refuse to take.
Employers take advantage of powerless status of
immigrants; their excuse to lower wages and
intimidate workers to prevent unionizing
 These jobs become so undesirable that no one
else will accept them
Two-tiered Labor Market
Two tiers: undocumented immigrant workers
and U.S.-born workers
Undocumented workers are subjected to worse
working conditions and less pay, driving down
labor standards for everyone
Caused by systematic exploitation by
employers; immigrants are not to blame
Bolstering rights of immigrants in the
workplace would increase labor standards
and wages for all Americans!
Immigrants actually bolster the
Middle Class
The middle class relies on goods & services that
immigrants produce—immigrants hold up the
Immigrants contribute about $37 billion/year to the
U.S. economy
Often start small businesses and attract investment
capital from countries of origin
Eliminating the nation’s undocumented workforce
would result in the loss of an estimated $651
billion in annual economic output and 8.1 million
lost jobs (the Perryman Group 2008).
Myth #2 about Undocumented Workers
They come to America despite government and
corporate policies designed to discourage their
 Many corporations rely on undocumented workers.
For example, agribusiness in California regularly
employs them in large numbers.
 Corporations regularly put pressure on the U.S.
government not to impede the flow of
undocumented workers.
 Some corporations actively recruit people from
other countries to work as undocumented laborers.
Myth #3 about Undocumented
U.S. immigration policy is designed to limit
illegal immigration
Actually, the U.S. government has very
contradictory policies towards undocumented
Most undocumented workers also pay social
security taxes (approx. $7 billion/year) but
never receive the benefits.
Myth #4 about Undocumented
They don’t pay taxes
Actually, at least 75% of undocumented
immigrants pay payroll taxes
Most undocumented workers also pay social
security taxes (approx. $7 billion/year) but
never receive the benefits.
Undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes
than the value of what they receive in
government services.
Model Minority
Usually associated with Asians
Has also historically been associated with
Jews, other immigrant groups
The Myth of the Model Minority
A Racial or ethnic group that achieves
upward mobility through
hard work,
 perseverance,
 delayed gratification,
 the prioritization of education, and
 intra-ethnic cooperation—
defined in opposition to Black radicalism
History of the Myth
The myth of the model minority was
popularized in the 1960s - 1980s
Backlash to the Civil Rights movement,
which resulted in policies that increased
welfare programs & implemented
affirmative action
Flipside of Asians as “Model Minority:”
Vietnam War 1955-1975
Racial slurs: “Gook”—term to describe
Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese
1800s to 1940s “Yellow Peril”
Asia threatens Western dominance, thus
Asians should be feared
Model Minority Used to Maintain
Racial Hierarchy and Support the
Idea that Racism is Irrelevant
Anti-black racism major part of U.S. history
Model Minority Myth: Asians (and Jews, etc.)
made it—therefore racism no longer relevant
Creates a wedge between people of color
Promotes idea that people of color shouldn’t fight
Racial Triangulation
Racial triangulation occurs with most immigrant
groups, and with Native Americans
(Concept from Claire Jean Kim's piece on Asian Americans).
In racial hierarchies, white people on the top and
black people on the bottom but both groups are
considered "insiders."
Asians, Jews, and other immigrants, on the other
hand, fall somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy
but are considered "outsiders," hence, they're racially
The Model Minority Myth Is Not True
Class divisions in Asian communities—Tenants in
Chinatown and Southeast Asian refugees in the Bronx
are very poor, for example.
Asian immigrants tend to live in east and west coast
Higher incomes and higher expenses.
Don’t have better living conditions than other immigrants
Racism still an issue
Language barriers
Migrant Workers –
Personal Prejudice AND
Institutional/Structural Racism
Immigrants work in low wage service sector
jobs, e.g. food service and domestic work
Low wage work keep products and services cheap
They "belong" in these jobs—we don’t question
WHY immigrants came here in the first place
Myth that immigrants take away jobs
Institutional Racism
Arizona SB 1070 passed by Gov Jan Brewer
on April 23, 2010
Strictest Anti-Immigration law in generations
Made it legal for any cop to ask a person for
immigration documents
Crime to not carry documents
Has been criticized as legalized racial profiling,
especially of Mexican and Latino migrants
Law would allow immigrant students
to eventually become U.S. citizens after
Graduating from U.S. high school
 Living in the U.S. for five years
 Completing two years in college
Neoliberalism: Global System
Promoting Migration
Economic policies – started in late 1970s/1980
promoting free markets
Rights of companies valued over rights of people
Privatization - economic development and
Global capitalism - Reduced barriers between
countries to move capital
Economic development valued over democracy
Majority rule threatens markets, e.g. organizing by workers
Main Points of Neoliberalism: