Tag Archives: immigration

National Numbers and North Dakota

Not pictured: oil derricks, influx of young males, Hispanic residents.

Not pictured: oil derricks, influx of young males, Hispanic residents.

The United States Census produces massive amounts of data that can be combed through to learn more about our population and how it changes over time. In her piece for US News, Danielle Kurtzleben highlights some of the major findings from the latest Census data release.

Depending on the way you look at it, Asians or Hispanics (or both!) were the fastest growing population in the United States from 2011-2012. Hispanics had the largest growth in terms of population numbers, while Asians saw the largest rate of population growth each year. Meanwhile, the white birthrate was very low. More white people died than were born, and the population would have seen a net decrease if not for immigration. Further, among the elderly (over 80 years old), nearly 80% were white. The majority of children under age two are now minorities.

And then there’s North Dakota. An outlier in the data, the “upper Dakota” is actually getting younger. It is also majority male and has the fastest growing Hispanic population in the nation. All of this is largely a result of the state’s booming oil and gas industry, coupled with its relatively low past population (increases seem bigger when they’re building on a smaller population base). The new oil rush has also shored up North Dakota’s shockingly low unemployment rate of just 3.3%. For over a century, the Census has shown a nation in flux, but right now, it’s solid old North Dakota that’s hardest to pin down.

Real Talk on Immigration

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via flickr.com.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via flickr.com.

We all appreciate some theoretical noodling now and again, but it is important to remember that social science research can still bring key information into national debates. When major policy issues are at stake, academics don’t necessarily want to build walls of complex verbiage between their research and public understanding.

Nancy Foner gives us a refreshing dose of plain language with three short bullet points on immigration reform in the National Journal’s series on demography and public policy issues. In under 300 words, Foner breaks down our understanding of the U.S.–Mexican Border, changes the conversation about immigrants’ work ethics, and gives data a reality check. Her clincher is that policymakers radically underestimate the number of children with U.S. citizenship who face instability because their parents are undocumented immigrants.

This piece is a striking example of the how researchers with a handful of key facts and a targeted understanding of where the policy talk needs to change can break down the barriers between research and practice.

Technologically Close But Still So Far Away

Small World

Photo by Steve Ransom via flickr.com

It seems a no-brainer that the internet, social media, and cellphones have made homesickness for migrants a thing of the past. But as historian Susan J. Matt reveals in a recent New York Times op-ed, previous generations have found technology no substitute for home sweet home, and today’s immigrants are no different.

More than a century ago, the technology of the day was seen as the solution to the problem. In 1898, American commentators claimed that serious cases of homesickness had “grown less common in these days of quick communication, of rapid transmission of news and of a widespread knowledge of geography.”

But such pronouncements were overly optimistic, for homesickness continued to plague many who migrated.

Today’s technologies have also failed to defeat homesickness even though studies by the Carnegie Corporation of New York show that immigrants are in closer touch with their families than before. In 2002, only 28 percent of immigrants called home at least once a week; in 2009, 66 percent did. Yet this level of contact is not enough to conquer the melancholy that frequently accompanies migration. A 2011 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that Mexican immigrants in the United States had rates of depression and anxiety 40 percent higher than nonmigrant relatives remaining in Mexico. A wealth of studies have documented that other newcomers to America also suffer from high rates of depression and “acculturative stress.”

Then why does the idea that technology can overcome homesickness persist? Matt cites a pervasive belief about mobility that many hold despite its disappointments.

The global desire to leave home arises from poverty and necessity, but it also grows out of a conviction that such mobility is possible. People who embrace this cosmopolitan outlook assume that individuals can and should be at home anywhere in the world, that they need not be tied to any particular place. This outlook was once a strange and threatening product of the Enlightenment but is now accepted as central to a globalized economy.

Technology plays a role in supporting this outlook.

 The comforting illusion of connection offered by technology makes moving seem less consequential, since one is always just a mouse click or a phone call away.

Further, Matt argues that this illusion of connection may amplify homesickness rather than cure it.

The immediacy that phone calls and the Internet provide means that those away from home can know exactly what they are missing and when it is happening. They give the illusion that one can be in two places at once but also highlight the impossibility of that proposition.

The persistence of homesickness points to the limitations of the cosmopolitan philosophy that undergirds so much of our market and society. The idea that we can and should feel at home anyplace on the globe is based on a worldview that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.

 

Reforming Immigration

expedited

Many people put off talking about immigration reform until “America regains control of its borders.”  But, according to Douglas Massey’s recent CNN article, that moment has arrived. He says:

According to estimates from the Mexican Migration Project, which I co-direct, the rate of new undocumented migration from Mexico dropped to zero in 2008 for the first time in 50 years. This remarkable event partly reflects the drop in labor demand in the context of a deep economic recession, but it also stems from a massive increase in border enforcement.  Since 1990, the size of the Border Patrol has increased by a factor of five and its budget by a factor of 13.

While this increased enforcement surely contributed to decreased immigration, it also likely decreased the outflow of immigrants who were already here.

At present, therefore, new undocumented migrants are not heading northward; former undocumented migrants are coming back in very small numbers; and settled undocumented residents are staying put.  As a result of these trends, the population of undocumented U.S. residents peaked at 12.6 million persons in 2008 and fell to 10.8 million in 2009, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Net undocumented migration is now slightly negative.

Many immigrants are also employed as guest workers; in fact, from 1990 to 2008, the number of Mexicans admitted with temporary work visas grew from 17,000 to 361,000 per year.  Many other migrants are becoming citizens.  For example, the number of legal Mexican immigrants attaining U.S. citizenship went from 18,000 in 1990 to 232,000 in 2008.

In sum, of the four principal components of comprehensive immigration reform, three have already been substantially achieved.   The border is now under control and net-undocumented migration has fallen below zero; a guest worker program has been created to bring in more than 360,000 temporary Mexican migrants per year; and legal immigrants have increasingly taken it upon themselves to “expand” the quotas by naturalizing and sponsoring the entry of immediate relatives outside of the numerical quotas.

According to Massey, one main accomplishment remains: the creation of a pathway to legalization for long-term, undocumented residents of the United States.

Somewhere around three million of these people entered the country as minors.  They did not make the decision to violate U.S. immigration law and should not be held responsibilities for choices made by their parents.  In the absence of a criminal record or other disqualifying circumstances, those who entered as minors should be given an immediate and unconditional amnesty and be allowed to proceed with their lives in the only country that most of them know.

For their part, undocumented migrants who entered as adults should be offered a temporary legalization that confers the right to live and work in the United States for some extended period, during which they would be able to accumulate points ultimately to qualify them for legal permanent residence.  Points would be awarded for socially desirable behaviors such as paying taxes, learning English, studying civics, holding a steady job, owning a home, parenting U.S. citizen children and generally staying out of trouble.  Once a certain minimum threshold of points is achieved, migrants would be allowed to pay a fine as restitution for violating the law and then, having paid their debt to society, get on with their lives as legal permanent residents of the United States.  We are much closer to the ultimate goals of immigration reform than most people realize.

 

Crime and Community

After the recent shock of a federal indictment of 29 Somali and Somali American individuals on sex trafficking charges, the New York Times reports on the Minnesota Somali community’s attempts to deal with the situation.

The allegations of organized trafficking, unsealed this month, were a deep shock for the tens of thousands of Somalis in the Minneapolis area, who fled civil war and famine to build new lives in the United States and now wonder how some of their youths could have strayed so far. Last week, in quiet murmurings over tea and in an emergency public meeting, parents and elders expressed bewilderment and sometimes outrage — anger with the authorities for not acting sooner to stop the criminals, and with themselves for not saving their young.

The indictment was the latest in a series of jolting revelations starting around 2007, when a spate of deadly shootings in the Twin Cities made it impossible to ignore the emergence of Somali gangs. Then came the discovery that more than 20 men had returned to Somalia to fight for Islamic extremists, bringing what many Somalis feel has been harsh and unfair scrutiny from law enforcement and the news media.

A sociologist weighs in on why this pattern of problems seems to be continuing:

Cawo Abdi, a Somali sociologist at the University of Minnesota, said that past surges in concern about troubled youths had not been followed up with money and programs to help them. “This is viewed as such a huge scandal and outrage,” she said of the new charges, “that it has to lead to some kind of action.”

Read the rest of the article for discussion of some of the challenges facing Somali people in the Twin Cities.

Dora Explores Cultural Change

Dora Suitcase and Backpack
As Dora the Explorer celebrates 10 years on the air, the LA Times comments on her broader social significance. The children’s show features a young Latina heroine who travels through the jungle with her friends, speaking some Spanish, and solving simple math and word problems.

The idea was to foster pride among Latino children and familiarity with Latino culture among English speakers, but only indirectly as part of an entertainment show.

“It was just about creating a show we thought kids would love,” said Chris Gifford, who created the series along with Valerie Walsh Valdes and Eric Weiner. “We didn’t begin to think how long it might go for.”

Dora, however, has grown much larger than these seemingly modest origins:

Amid these warm-hearted adventures, Dora became a pop-culture superstar, a lucrative franchise and a force that helped shift the globalized juvenile television landscape that has become increasingly multicultural and bilingual. Dora, in some eyes, also became a poster child for immigration and the target of anti-immigrant sentiment.

The animated series is now broadcast in more than 100 countries — it’s the No. 1-rated preschool show in many of them, including France — and dubbed in 30 languages, such as Russian, Mandarin and German, with Dora mostly teaching English (in some cases Spanish).

“What’s been innovative about the show is it wasn’t conceptualized or presented as a Latino-themed show,” said Chon Noriega, director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. “It was an educational series for kids that happened to have a Latino girl as the lead character. And it didn’t shy away from having a character that spoke Spanish. That allowed it to do something that was very unique.”

Dora has gone on to enjoy considerable success, culturally and economically (generating more than $11 billion in retail sales alone).

“Dora isn’t just a show; she’s DVDs, clothes, lunchboxes,” said Karen Sternheimer, an associate professor of sociology at USC and author of “It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children.” “Nickelodeon has been very savvy about getting their characters into kids’ lives through a number of different platforms. They’ve taken branding to another level.”

The main character wasn’t originally going to be Latina, but:

The idea for an ethnic rebirth sprang after Johnson [a Nickelodeon exec responsible for the program] attended an industry conference during which the underrepresentation of Latinos in media was discussed.

The 2000 census showed that Latino communities were the nation’s fastest growing — and the biggest five-year Latino age group is infants to preschoolers. Yet data have long shown that Latinos are underrepresented in prime-time TV: UCLA research found that 4% of prime-time’s regular characters in 2004 were Latino, while Latinos make up about 15% of the U.S. population.

For years, the main source for children’s multicultural TV was PBS’ “Sesame Street.” …Dora’s “success really reflects a change in the media environment for children over the years,” Sternheimer said. “It’s a great reflection of the shifting multicultural nature of our society.”

Since “Dora,” the children’s TV landscape has embraced diversity. PBS Kids revamped “Dragon Tales” in 2005 to include Enrique, who is Colombian. “Jay Jay the Jet Plane” has added a bilingual plane named Lina. “Dora” also launched a spinoff, “Go Diego Go,” starring Dora’s 8-year-old cousin, in 2005.

Sociologists are among the experts who consult for the show:

Schoolteachers, sociologists and historians are all brought in to advise on “Dora” episodes. More than 20 cultural consultants have worked on the show to make Dora’s world reflect a pan-Latino culture that’s not just tortillas and mariachi music, Johnson said. “It was important for us that Dora represented the idea that being multicultural was super cool,” she said.

Cortés, who’s serves as a cultural consultant on the show, said not giving Dora a specific heritage made that idea a reality. “Not knowing where she was from allowed her to be a source of pride for anyone of Latino background,” he said. “She’s more relatable if you don’t peg her down.”

So, is it all a rosy animated multicultural picture? A sociologist, per usual, complicates the story:

“The show definitely homogenizes the many different origin groups that are comprised within the Latino ethnicity,” said Jody Vallejo, an assistant professor of sociology at USC. “So Latino children are getting a very broad view of who they are. At the same time, it does allow people from those different origins to make her their own character, to take ownership. For non-Latinos who watch the show, it makes Latinos more relatable. It demonstrates that bilingualism is not that bad. But it makes it seem like Latinos come from a monolithic culture.”

unintended consequences of immigration

Video of the International Workers Day march in MinneapolisThe San Bernadino Sun recently reported on Louisiana State University sociologist Edward Shihadeh’s recently published research on the effect of Latino immigration on black labor market participation:

the new baby boom

33 WeeksThe Daily Mail reports that the face of the U.S. is changing rapidly in the delivery room.

America is reaching a ‘tipping point’ when the babies born to minority parents outnumber whites for the first time.

More white women than ever before are postponing having children until they are older, while minority mothers are still having babies at younger ages, according to a US study published yesterday.

Experts claim the immigration boom has accelerated the historic trend that is likely to leave whites in the minority in America by the middle of the century.

The percentage of children born to minority parents has grown significantly  in recent decades, but this study projects that more than half will be to minority parents this year.

One of the study’s authors, a sociologist, weighs in:

‘For America’s children, the future is now,’ said Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who researched many of the racial trends in the report.

‘Census projections suggest America may become a minority-majority country by the middle of the century,’ he added.

He explained that there are now more Hispanic women of prime childbearing age in the US, who tend to have more children than women of other races.

More white women are waiting until they are older to have babies, although it is not yet clear how much effect that will have on the current trend of increasing minority newborns.

The number of white women of prime childbearing age is on the decline, dropping 19 per cent from 1990.

Broken down by race, about 52 per cent of babies born in 2008 were white.

That’s compared to about 25 per cent Hispanic, 15 per cent black and 4 per cent Asian. Another 4 per cent were identified by their parents as multiracial.

What will the significance of this trend be? The Daily Mail speculates…

The numbers highlight the nation’s growing racial and age divide, seen in pockets of communities across the US, which could heighten tensions in current policy debates from immigration reform and education to health care and Social Security.

There are also strong implications for the 2010 population count, which begins in earnest next week, when more than 120 million US households receive their census forms in the post.

The Census Bureau is running public service announcements this week to improve its tally of young children, particularly minorities, who are most often missed in the once-a-decade head count.

Whites currently make up two-thirds of the total US population, and recent census estimates suggest the total number of minorities may not overtake the number of whites until 2050.

Right now, roughly one in ten of the nation’s 3,142 counties already have minority populations greater than 50 per cent.

But one in four communities have more minority children than white children or are nearing that point, according to the study, which Mr Johnson co-published.

parenting via western union

western unionAccording to the Jamaica Gleaner, University of West Indies sociologist Claudette Crawford-Brown has identified a new phenomenon: Western Union children.  She said this is replacing “barrel children” in Jamaica:

Barrel children in the past were identified as those who did not have the physical presence of their parents, but were sent goodies through shipments from overseas.  The sociologist, however, said that the barrel-children phenomenon has been surpassed by parents who give their children remittances. The difference between the two is the amount of care involved.

“You don’t have the barrel children as I highlighted seven years ago, where you had parents sending children things in a barrel. We now have what you call ‘Western Union’ children, and these are children who are parented by cellphones and they are sent the money. However, when you have a barrel child, that mother goes into K-Mart or Wal-Mart and I see them and watch them and they say: ‘I wonder if this going fit Sasha’, and she takes out the shoes with the mark out on the paper and match it with the shoes, and say this will fit her, this will fit her. You know what that shows? Some amount of care,” she said.

There are consequences of these changes in long-distance care:

Crawford-Brown pointed out even with remittances and barrels, the absence of mother in a child’s life has the same impact on youths as the absence of fathers. She noted that the absence of parental guidance leaves these children vulnerable to negative influences, where many turn to violence and drugs to cope.

According to her, many of these children who receive money through remittances are not given proper guidance, thus the money they have access to can be used to purchase drugs or facilitate their participation in illicit activities.

The noted child advocate and sociologist said many behavioural problems shown among some children are as a result of the breakdown in the family and exposure to violence. Crawford-Brown also said that Jamaica needs to tackle apathy towards murder in the society, which has trickled down to children she has worked with.

Crawford-Brown’s research on “Western Union children” was also recently featured in a column in the Jamaica Observer.

the importance of the immigrant middle class

The Los Angeles Times reports on the importance of the middle class for the city’s future, with special emphasis on middle class Latinos:

With this year’s census likely to show a Latino majority in both the city and county of Los Angeles, it’s obvious that our collective future is linked to the social health of that group of people. And if you think of Latinos only in the dysfunctional terms described in so many media reports, then a Third World L.A. seems like an inevitability.

While the experiences of poor and working-class Latino immigrants are often the focus of scholars and the media, other immigrants may go unnoticed:

You might not think about L.A.’s Latino middle class much. But USC sociologist Jody Agius Vallejo has eschewed more exotic topics to investigate its middling peculiarities.

Agius Vallejo’s research looks at the “pathways to success” that allow even people of humble immigrant origins to reach middle-class status. Her work rebuts the widespread perception that Mexican immigrants and their offspring are following what she calls a “trajectory of downward mobility into a permanent underclass.”

More on Agius Vallejo’s research:

Agius Vallejo interviewed 80 subjects who possessed at least three of these four characteristics: college educations, higher than average income, white-collar jobs and home ownership. Seventy percent of the people in her sample grew up in “disadvantaged” communities. Their parents had, on average, a sixth-grade education.

The members of this arriviste Mexican middle class might look like their white counterparts on paper, Agius Vallejo said. But in other ways they are different. Among other things, they have stronger social ties to poorer relatives.

Another of Agius Vallejo’s subjects is a lawyer who has recently visited jail (to bail out a cousin) and the social-security office (to help an uncle). Relatives turn to the lawyer in times of need because “she’s the one in the family with knowledge,” Agius Vallejo said. “She’s the one who’s made it to the middle class.”

Each person who achieves social mobility improves the overall well-being of the community. Social climbers show others behind them the way forward. “The future of the city really hinges on the mobility of immigrants,” Agius Vallejo told me.

The importance of the immigrant middle class extends beyond the city of Los Angeles, though:

A healthy middle class with Latin American roots is critical to the entire country’s future too. That’s what another USC professor, Dowell Myers, argues in his book “Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America.”

Myers, a demographer, says our aging country needs to invest in its younger, immigrant communities as an act of self-preservation. Immigrants’ incomes and rates of homeownership rise the longer they stay in this country, he writes, and provide potential members of the taxpaying middle class that will fund the retirement of the boomer generation.