Photo by John Morton, Flickr CC
Photo by John Morton, Flickr CC

As the election edges ever closer, the phenomenon of Donald Trump continues to grow. Trump has a realistic opportunity to become the next president of the United States, but a recent jump in immigrants applying for citizenship this year might change the outcome once November comes.

Manuel Pastor, professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at USC, recently wrote an article in the LA Times about the increasing number of applications for U.S. citizenship.  From March to June of 2016, the number of immigrants who applied to become naturalized citizens is up 32% over the previous year, and many of these naturalized citizens might be eligible to vote this coming November.  A new report from the Center for the Study of Immigration Integration examined how significant an impact this increase in naturalized citizens might have if they are eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Pastor explains,

“[T]he newly naturalized voters we counted could make a difference. In Florida, they constitute more than 6% of the voting age population. In Nevada, that share is more than 5%; in Virginia, 4%; and in Arizona, 3%. The results in recent general elections in these states have been so close that these new citizens — if they are registered and turn out — could tip the tallies.”

Photo by John Walker, Flickr CC
Photo by John Walker, Flickr CC

When it comes to evaluating immigrant groups, some groups, such as Hispanics, are often derided or seen unfavorably, while other groups, such as Asian immigrants, are held in high-esteem as the “model minority.” But as described in a new article in LA magazine by sociologist Jennifer Lee, we need to rethink the way that we define “success” for America’s immigrant populations. 

As Lee and co-author Min Zhou describe in their book The Asian American Achievement Paradoxthe advantages that Asian second-generation immigrants often have over other immigrant groups is that many of their parents have college degrees. As other research has established, you are much more likely to graduate from college if your parents have. Lee and Zhou found that the proportion of Chinese second-gen immigrants who went to college is in fact the same proportion for Mexican second-gen immigrants. Lee explains,

“Graduating from college is no easy feat, but it’s far easier when your parents have paved the path before you…Often overlooked is the remarkable progress that the children of Mexican immigrants in L.A. have made. In just one generation they have doubled the high school graduation rates of their parents, doubled the college graduation rates of their fathers, and tripled that of their mothers. Factoring in where they began, the children of Mexican immigrants come out ahead of all immigrant groups.”

Unlike other immigrant groups whose parents are more likely to have college degrees, Mexican second-gen immigrants have experienced the most “success,” overcoming the odds of often being the first person in their family to attend college. 

Click to visit Hoaxmap.
Click to visit Hoaxmap.

Over a million migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015, leading many to dub this mass migration a “crisis.” Many are seeking asylum, especially those from countries experiencing considerable violence like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many Europeans have reacted to the influx with fear, spreading stories that associate refugees and migrants with crime (something social scientists like to call “crimmigration”). In response, two German women created Hoaxmap to track and dispel rumors about refugees in Germany (a country that has been particularly welcoming to immigrants, per its Chancellor Angela Merkel’s directives). Of the 40 types of rumors tracked on Hoaxmap, most pertain to theft or sexual assault.

The discrepancy between documented and rumored crimes may reflect the way rumors spread and their connections to real events that people believe are plausible. Sociologist Gary Alan Fine, recently featured in an Atlantic article, agrees: “Once you have a plausible story then the criteria for information you need in order to believe [a new story] is much lower, because you would say ‘this is like what happened elsewhere.’” In fact, almost half of the rumors about sexual assault and rape associated with the contemporary immigrants cropped up in the two months following reported New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Cologne. Sociologist Mar Warr concurs that “even a small increase in apparent risk (like a locally reported rape or rapes) can generate substantial and widespread fear.” In reality, most crime in destination locations appears to have been directed at asylum seekers, rather than perpetrated by them.

Trump at a Nevada campaign stop, 2016. Photo by Darron Birgenheier via Flickr.
Trump at a Nevada campaign stop, 2016. Photo by Darron Birgenheier via Flickr.

Tonight, we’ll see the 7th GOP Presidential Debate, but how will the public parse truth from fiction? Recently The Conversation asked four scholars to choose and fact-check one statement from the 6th GOP debate. Stealing the show was tonight’s ostensible no-show, The Donald, conflating refugees with immigrants, and both with crime.

To be fair, nearly all the candidates conflate immigrants and refugees, and, in the 6th Debate, they reduced the topics to one: national security. According to sociologist David Cook Martin, refugees are a legal category defined by United Nations, and they undergo an extensive screening process, while immigrant status is determined by U.S. law. The emphasis on immigrants and refugees as a security threat thus leaves no room for acknowledging the ways  migration has helped the U.S.:

To reduce immigration and refugee policy to a matter of national security overlooks the considerable extent to which the cultural, social and economic success of the United States has been linked to migration, including that of the families of five of [the GOP] debate participants. Immigration policy is a complex weighing of security matters, but also of geopolitical interests, economics and the diversity of people and perspectives that have informed U.S. success.

Trump also claimed that migrants coming to the U.S. are primarily “strong, powerful men,” again drawing on stereotypes of immigrants and refugees as threats (previously, he had notoriously said that Mexican immgirants, in particular, were rapists and drug dealers). Hadar Aviram, professor of law, points out that this is plain old wrong. First, of the 1,682 Syrian refugees entering the U.S. last year, 77% were women. And while immigrants are often associated in the popular imagination with criminality, scholars agree—and sociologist Ruben Rumbaut has shown time and time again—that immigrants actually commit less crime than native-born Americans. Aviram argues that Trump is distracting the public from other issues, like the tax breaks for the wealthy he plans to make and that might actually harm middle-class and working-class Americans, by drawing attention to a “demonized ‘other.’”

For many, the "American Dream" seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.
For many, the “American Dream” seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.

Immigration is a hot topic, especially with elections coming up. Donald Trump has called immigrants “rapists” and “criminals”, perpetuating anti-immigration rhetoric. Common immigration myths include that immigrants are taking Americans’ jobs, burden the economy, and refuse to speak English. The Washington Post covers a report written by a group of Harvard professors, led by sociologist Mary Waters.

  1. “Immigrants are picking up English just as quickly as their predecessors”
In fact, today’s immigrants are learning English faster than their predecessors. This is partially due to how global English is, which means that immigrants are more likely to have been exposed to it or to have taken English classes already. Additionally, American schools are becoming better at teaching English to immigrant students.
  1. “Immigrants tend to have more education than before”
Historically, immigrants were low skilled workers from southern and eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Recently, however, immigrants are more likely to have four years of education on average. Approximately, 28% of recent immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is a 19% increase since 1980.
  1. “Immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes—but they soon learn”
In fact, immigrant neighborhoods are considered to be some of the safest neighborhoods as immigrants are least likely to commit crimes. Native-born men aged 18-39 are 5 times more likely to end up in jail than immigrants. While immigrants are initially fearful of picking up criminal influences, by the second and third generation, they are more likely to engage in criminal behavior.
  1. “Immigrants are more likely to have jobs than the native-born”
Immigrants are determined to find employment, and they are more likely to be employed than their native-born counterparts. Between 2003-2013, 86% immigrants were employed compared to 82-83% native-born Americans. This also holds true for men who have not earned a high-school diploma, where 84% immigrants are employed compared to 58% native-born Americans.

While the report combats common myths about immigration, it does not give a concrete answer as to whether today’s immigrants have the same opportunities as earlier generations of new Americans, despite being educated, staying away from crime, holding jobs, and paying taxes.

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.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via

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.

Small World
Photo by Steve Ransom via

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.



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.


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.