Reaction: Research Report

“Contested Ground: Immigration in the United States” by Michael Jones-Correa

In a recent publication from the Immigration Policy Institute (July 2012), Michael Jones-Correa of Cornell University discusses the assumed and actual demographic landscape and changing nature of immigration flows. He notes four trends in immigration from the 1970s to 2010: 1) increase in number of immigrants, 2) shift in the country of origin of immigrants to the US (from Europe in the 1970s to primarily Asian and Latin American countries by the 2000s), 3) an increasing proportion of undocumented immigration, and 4) a dispersal of immigrant to new destinations (including North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Nebraska and Tennessee).

 Much of media and public information supports the idea that the contemporary immigrant is Mexican. Not only that, but that these immigrants are undocumented. The construction of ‘illegality,’ as Nicholas de Genova describes, is built on the idea of temporality, disposability of labor, and deportability of bodies– only enforced by what Leo Chavez terms the ‘spectacle of the border.’ Resultantly, Mexicans are characterized as illegals, and illegality is racialized as a Latino problem. Contrary to popular knowledge, not all Latinos are Mexican, not all Latino immigration is unauthorized, and not all unauthorized immigration stems from the Latin American countries.

Though a great majority of immigration has primarily come from Mexico, Jones-Correa reiterates the findings of David Fitzgerald from UC San Diego who attributes much of the Mexican migration decline into the United States to the economic instability in the U.S. and increase in economic stability in the country of origin. Along with the belief that immigration is a Latino trend, many are also under the impression that immigrants pose a threat to national unity and are a detriment to our success in the international market. Jones-Correa (2012) states,

“… [O]ne recent study indicates that there is no proof that immigrants crowd out US-born workers in the short or long run, and that over the long run immigration actually increases income per worker. The study found that immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with 6.6 to 9.9 percent increase in real income per worker. Similarly, there is evidence that higher proportions of the foreign born and new immigrants appear to decrease, not increase, robbery and homicide rates. Countering concerns that English will be taken over by Spanish, all the data on language acquisition indicates that immigrants and their children learn English, and, indeed, that within a single generation the children of immigrants use English as their primary and often only language” (7).

I know it seems as if these are broad generalizations, especially given that there are no direct citations provided. However, study after study finds that these statements are true. As a sociologist, I found this report to be interesting for various reasons. The shift in migrants’ country of origin is nothing new to scholarship (In fact, I think almost every article/book I’ve read on the topic starts off by noting this shift). The four trends the author notes should not really come as a surprise to those who follow immigration trends, policies or movements. As a graduate student seeking to engage in conversations of immigrant integration and notions of identity formation, emplacement and belonging (concepts I recently gained a new perspective on thanks to Beyond the Borderlands by Debra Lattanzi Shutika), I am struck by implications of the conjunction of the findings. The following statement primarily intrigues me,

“… much contemporary policy ignores the fact that the demographic changes taking place across the United States today are driven as much or more by the children of immigrants as by immigrants themselves” (Jones-Correa 2012, 14).

Thinking in terms of the four noted trends, primarily the increase in destinations, coupled with the reality that children of immigrants are going to have a greater long term impact on our social demography than immigrants themselves, I believe it is critical that scholars and community leaders continue to shift their focus onto matters of the youth and young-adult generation. Transitions into adulthood is a topic touched on in many fields (sociology, psychology, social work, anthropology, etc.); transitions into adulthood when race, class, and cultural diversity are present and at the forefront in new geographic destinations that have not developed networks and support centers in the way traditional immigrant destinations have will surely complicate lived realities (does that make sense?). This, to me, was the most compelling contribution of this IPC Report. Just last week I read a news article stating that more Central American children and youth are entering the United States unaccompanied by adults. The following report also highlights trends of immigrant children and children of immigrants (http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/?q=node/333). On the one hand we have an increasing number of immigrants, from increasingly diverse places of origin, arriving in new immigrant destinations. All of this is happening in a time where we have a greater number of immigrant children and  youth and children of immigrants to account for. How will these communities look without an immigrant social structure? How will the youth come of age in a global, yet socially restricted society? (Perhaps these questions are answered by the research contributions of Robert Courtney Smith and Debra Lattanzi Shutika)

This is not to say that the study of the immigrant generation is no longer vital to scholarship or general matters of knowledge and discussion. I’m simply suggesting that that there is a need to think in terms of the younger immigrant generations and the ways in which the intersection of the noted immigration trends politically, socially, economically, culturally affect the coming of age of these young people and the progression of our nation.

If there are approximately 5 million undocumented children and young adults in the U.S., why aren’t we urgently seeking long-term solutions to their full integration into our society? Furthermore, if 24% (or 1.1 million) of these undocumented folks are living in the state of California alone, shouldn’t we be more fervently fighting the fight of social justice, inclusion, incorporation, and belonging? Jones-Correa concludes, “For all the public handwringing about immigration’s impact on American culture and society, there is a curious absence of creative public policy framing a constructive response” (2012, 15). The initiation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals tomorrow, August 15th, is only a limited and temporary to solution to the youth and young-adult question. I look forward to seeing how this policy changes the lives of those to whom is directly and indirectly applies (no pun intended).

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