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Immigrants and the American City

Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 384
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    Immigrants and the American City
    Book Description:

    American immigrants are often considered symbols of hope and promise. Presidential candidates point to their immigrant roots, Ellis Island is celebrated as a national monument, and the melting pot remains a popular, if somewhat tarnished, American analogy. At the same time, images of impoverished Mexicans swarming across the Mexican-American border and boatloads of desperate Haitian and Cuban refugees depict America as a nation under siege. While governments and business interests generally welcome aliens for the economic benefits they generate, the success of these groups paradoxically stirs distrust and envy, leading to discrimination, oppression, and, in some cases, eviction. Surveying the political and economic history of American immigration, Thomas Muller compellingly argues that the clamor at America's gate should be a cause of pride, not anxiety; a sign of vigor, not an omen of decline. Illustrating that recent waves of immigration have facilitated urban renewal, Muller emphasizes the many ways in which aliens have lessened our cities' social problems rather than contributing to them. Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and San Francisco, traditional gateways to other continents, have all benefited from the contributions of immigrants. To assess perceived and actual costs of absorbing the new immigrants, Muller examines their impact on city income, housing, minority jobs, public services, and wages. But Muller argues that noneconomic concerns (such as recent attempts to formalize English as the country's official language) frequently mirror deeply-rooted fears that could explain the cyclical pattern of American attitudes toward immigrants over the last three centuries. The nation, he contends, may again be turning inward, initiating a period of growing hostility toward the foreign-born. Nonetheless, higher entry levels for skilled immigrants would improve the technological standing of the U.S., increase the standard of living for the middle class, and facilitate the resurgence of our inner cities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6106-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Richard C. Leone

    America has been a work in progress for most of its history. Yet Americans always have been ambivalent about change. Almost from colonial times, there has been a yearning for a lyrical past, when we were a less diverse, simpler country. All highly industrialized nations, of course, have experienced immense shifts of population from rural to urban areas. But only the United States has achieved a farm efficiency that requires just 2 percent of the population to work the land. So, it is not surprising that there is a nostalgia for all the small towns that have been left behind....

  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    For centuries, nations receiving immigrants have experienced a fundamental tension. On one hand, governments and business interests generally welcome aliens for the economic benefits they can generate. On the other, a large influx of foreigners can be highly disruptive, weakening a nation's sense of cohesiveness. Since the Middle Ages, nations intent on invigorating their economies have invited such enterprising ethnic groups as the Chinese, Jews, and Germans. Often, however, the economic success of these groups has stirred distrust and envy, leading to discrimination, oppression, and, in some cases, eviction. English sovereigns and American presidents seeking economic expansion have tended to...

  6. 2 The Unending Debate
    (pp. 13-68)

    The Old Testament adage “there is nothing new under the sun” is particularly apt in regard to immigration. Each generation appears to rediscover the same positions and restate like arguments for and against the admission of aliens.

    American immigration policy can be said to span four centuries, its roots planted in Elizabethan England before the first colonists arrived in the New World. During this period, some were eager to expel recent immigrants from the domain. Although the Crown supported their presence, the English populace remained intolerant of those of foreign birth.

    The political leaders of the American colonies, and later...

  7. 3 Immigrants and the Prosperity of Cities
    (pp. 69-110)

    The rapid rise of America’s cities from a few modest settlements along the Atlantic coast to the world’s leading industrial centers cannot be separated from the saga of mass immigration. Nowhere else, in fact, have the economic consequences of transnational migration been more pronounced. Migration to cities is not a new phenomenon, of course. Since the dawn of civilization, peasants and farmers have moved to urban centers in search of refuge or better economic opportunities. In England and Western Europe, the Industrial Revolution triggered a continuous flow of landless peasants to burgeoning manufacturing centers. In these cases, however, the flow...

  8. 4 The Immigrant Contribution to the Revitalization of Cities
    (pp. 111-160)

    Immigration has had its deepest and most sustained impact on what can be called “gateway cities.” The most important examples of these are Los Angeles County, Miami/Dade County, New York City, and the city of San Francisco; Washington, D.C., and possibly Chicago qualify as second-tier gateways.² These cities share several important demographic characteristics. Their population growth since the 1970s is attributable exclusively to immigration. As shown in Table 4-1, the majority of the population in each city is some combination of Asian, black, and Hispanic, with only two of every five residents a non-Hispanic white. Immigrants have flocked to the...

  9. 5 The Price of Immigration
    (pp. 161-220)

    Recent immigrants have delivered the same kinds of economic benefits to cities as did immigrants who arrived in earlier waves. If the overall economic health of cities were the only concern, there could be few objections to a policy of virtually unrestricted admission of immigrants with skills. But a realistic immigration policy must also take into account citizen perceptions of immigrant contributions as well as the way in which benefits are distributed.

    In an ideal economic environment, all natives would either benefit or at least not be hurt by immigration. The alternative situation would be a zero-sum game—the benefits...

  10. 6 Social and Political Stability
    (pp. 221-262)

    The last chapter assessed the costs of immigration and came to the conclusion that, on balance, the inflow of up to fifteen million persons from abroad during the 1970s and 1980s was an economic plus. Virtually all studies by economists indicate that adverse effects on native-born workers have been minor and offset by positive contributions to the American standard of living. The majority of the public, however, sees immigration, particularly illegal immigration, as a serious concern. Do other social scientists perceive the effects of immigrants as do economists, or do their views more closely reflect general public attitudes? As shown...

  11. 7 More Immigration: An Economic Windfall?
    (pp. 263-290)

    Overpopulation, ethnic tension, rapid social and cultural change—all clearly limit the nation’s tolerance for increased immigration. But there has never been a time in American history when immigrants were welcomed on the grounds that their presence would promote cultural pluralism or social diversity. Immigration policy has always been based on other criteria—at times humanitarian and political concerns, but mostly economic considerations. With entry laws and rules now subject to constant congressional scrutiny and buffeted by political pressures, it is ever more essential for the United States to define clearly how its interests are served by immigration. At this...

  12. 8 Immigrants and America’s Future
    (pp. 291-324)

    Immigration has played a critical role in shaping America, particularly its cities, and will continue to do so in the future. What that role will be, however, depends on the laws we adopt and whether we are willing to rigorously enforce them. Should current policies be maintained? Care must be taken in implementing changes because any sudden shift in course—any drastic opening or closing of the door—would be disruptive and could stir unrest.

    Following the passage of what some consider a landmark immigration law in 1990, Congress appeared unlikely to contemplate curtailment of immigration levels. Although the struggle...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 325-348)
  14. Index
    (pp. 349-372)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 373-373)