Immigration is a contentious topic in the United States today. Even now, the Presidential Debates are full of discussion of immigration and the suggestion of immigration reform; in the last months of his presidency, President Obama seems intent on discussing and passing new immigration reform legislation as well. Immigration is a difficult topic in the United States because the country has literally been built on the backs of immigrants; however, there is also a long history of xenophobic thought and nationalistic sentiment in the United States as a whole.
The history of immigration is even more contentious in places that have been historically insular, like Texas; however, Texas also has a relatively high rate of immigration because of the border it shares with Mexico. Immigration is a complex topic, which means that there are few absolutes regarding the appropriate political, economic, and social stance to take on immigration issues. The spread of the general immigrant population to the suburbs is a topic discussed by all three authors in the assigned readings, although the details of this migration are understood differently by Brettell and Nibbs, Jones-Correa, and Massey and Capoferro; each author also ascribes different potential outcomes for this suburban migration of the American immigrant population to the suburbs, while simultaneously noting that there has been significant push back against these immigration trends.
Brettell and Nibbs suggest that immigration reform has played a significant role in the ways that different communities react to and understand immigrant populations in their midst. Of course, there are urban centers in most states that have always had a high level of immigrants in the population; these urban centers, by their nature, are more transitory and invisible than suburban areas. Suburban centers, according to Brettell and Nibbs, have less anonymity and thus are more aware of immigrant changes in population when they occur (Brettell and Nibbs 1-2). Lack of immigration reform has not only plagued the nation in recent years, it has become a topic of national interest: more people are aware of the issue of immigration and immigration reform, and the effort to reclaim the American national identity has become centered around the issue of immigration and immigration reform (Brettell and Nibbs, 2).
Brettell and Nibbs note the case of a small suburban community called Farmer’s Branch, located in Texas; the suburb of Dallas is also home to a large number of Hispanic immigrants (Brettell and Nibbs 5). The population of the town was in flux for a number of years, and it suddenly became apparent in 2007 that the foreign-born population of the suburb was larger than the American-born population, and much of the American-born population was over the age of thirty-five (Brettell and Nibbs 7). The anti-immigrant policies that were enacted in this suburb, the authors suggest, were quite reactionary; the changing nature of the town and the desire for cultural heritage drove the people of the suburb to try to establish their culture as the hegemonic culture by law. In practical terms, this came in the form of the establishment of an official language and restrictions on immigrants within the suburban center (Brettell and Nibbs 7-8). These policies reflect fear of immigrants and immigration, as well as a general fear that somehow the life and culture of the citizens of this suburb are being threatened.
Brettell and Nibbs suggest that there is a dialogue and discourse in American society that suggests that the middle class is declining and the power of the immigrant is rising. The reactionary policies of Farmer’s Branch are a single case study in a sea of towns and cities that are galvanizing against a growing immigrant population. Jones-Correa, on the other hand, notes a completely different demographic shift and policy shift in the United States (Jones-Correa 311). Instead of noting a conservative demographic shift, Jones-Correa notes that the educational system in the Washington D.C. suburban centers has shifted towards inclusiveness and policies of inclusiveness with this demographic change.
Of course, this demographic change and the accompanying policy shifts are not completely unexpected: certain parts of the United States have always been more conservative and more prone to reactionary policies than other states. Indeed, Texas has always been a state that is particularly harsh to outsiders, and Washington D.C. is a district that is inclusive by nature, because of its proximity to a large, international city center. Jones-Correa suggests that understanding the transformational shifts in states like Maryland and Virginia is predicated on understanding the financial flow of tax monies in each state; when immigrants are perceived to be freeloaders or are considered to be invasive into the American middle class’ success, they become a threat to the suburban way of life. For instance, Jones-Correa discusses a case in Virginia in which many immigrant families choose not to become involved in the school system because they must prove they have legal residency; these kinds of restrictions force immigrant families into a continual cycle of poverty and low education levels (Jones-Correa 316-317).
Massey and Capoferro note that while immigration has been steadily important and common in the United States since her inception, there has been a “diversification” in immigrant target destinations in recent years (Massey and Capoferro 27). Massey and Capoferro write, “A salient characteristic of immigration throughout the world is its geographic concentration. Immigrants tend not to disperse randomly throughout destination nations, but to move disproportionately to places where people of the same nationality have already settled. To a large extent, this selective channeling of immigrants to specific destination areas reflects the influence of migrant networks” (Massey and Capoferro 25). Through a detailed examination of national restrictions on and allowances for immigration and immigrants, Massey and Capoferro suggest that there are both economic and policy structures that impact whether or not immigration will increase in a particular area. The potential impact of different anti-immigrant policies can be quite far-reaching, which is important for states and the national government when considering new legislation in this realm (Massey and Capoferro 33).
Massey and Capoferro note that new restrictions—both economic and policy—as well as new opportunities—change the face of immigration in the United States. The movement of immigrants to “flyover” states like Kansas and Arkansas reflects the way that policy and economics can drive immigrants to certain locales (Massey and Capoferro 37). Indeed, in many of the major “immigrant” states, like Texas and California, immigration is slowing in comparison to other locations like Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (Massey and Capoferro 36-37).
The Massey and Capoferro text focuses quite heavily on quantitative analysis of the changes occurring in immigrant populations around the United States, and this text is significantly more nationally-minded than the other two discussions. The Brettell and Nibbs text, as well as the Jones-Correa text, focus more heavily on one region and the effects of immigration changes in this one particular region. When understood in tandem, these three texts describe the situation on a local, regional, and national level. However, there are also problems associated with these texts, and none of the texts have developed a perfect understanding of the immigration situation in the United States, nor have any of these texts proposed a coherent solution for systemic problems in suburbia.
Suburban communities are notoriously cloistered and exclusionary. While the idea of suburban sprawl has changed over the years, the fact remains that the suburban areas of the United States generally do not accept change or difference very readily. Instead, these regions demand conformity in many cases. Although the data collected by each of these authors is accurate, and the painting each author gives of his or her respective region is accurate, there is some sense, after reading each piece, that these authors have resigned themselves to the inevitability of restrictive and reactionary policies in the United States.
In addition, each author writes about “immigrants” as a monolithic block of people, as though each experiences the same thing upon entering a community; Brettell and Nibbs and Jones-Correa particularly suggest this. However, race is only one factor when determining how an immigrant will succeed in a community; class also plays a significant role, and it is mentioned as secondary, if at all, in all of the texts. While there can be no complaints about the accuracy of the texts, the scope leaves something to be desired; an immigration discussion without a clear understanding and discussion of the idea of class and ethnicity seems to be lacking, somehow.
Brettell, Caroline B., and Faith G. Nibbs. "Immigrant suburban settlement and the “threat” to middle class status and identity: The case of Farmers Branch, Texas." International Migration 49.1 (2011): 1-30.
Jones-Correa, Michael. "Race to the top? The politics of immigrant education in suburbia." New faces in new places: The changing geography of American immigration (2008): 308-340.
Massey, Douglas S., and Chiara Capoferro. "The geographic diversification of American immigration." New faces in new places: The changing geography of American immigration (2008): 25-50.