Top recent sociology on immigration

With President Obama’s recently announced executive action protecting some immigrant families from deportation, and the pending political battle with Congress, it’s a good time to brush up on the recent sociology of immigration. So here are the most cited articles on immigration from the last five years in three leading sociology journals: American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, and Social Forces. Based on their high impact in the short time since publication, these are likely to be influential themes in the coming years.

Photo by Omar Bárcena
Photo by Omar Bárcena

1. What does nationality mean?

The Sources and Consequences of National Identification,” by Robert M. Kunovich. American Sociological Review (2009).

The nature and content of national identity matters for how citizens feel about immigrants and thus for a nation’s immigration policy. Kunovich tests competing models of national identity across 31 countries and identifies the consequences of different definitions of national identity for public policy, especially immigration policy. He finds two clusters of national identity attributes. People define national identity according to civic behaviors, or according to ethnicity. Higher socioeconomic status more often leads to the civic concept of national identity, and that approach is more often favored in developed countries that are more integrated into the global economy. Crucially, preference for the civic concept of national identity is associated with a political preference for less restrictive policies for immigration, citizenship, and assimilation.

2. U.S. immigration policy treats unauthorized immigrants like criminals

Legal Violence: Immigration Law and the Lives of Central American Immigrants,” by Cecilia Menjivar and Leisy J. Abrego. American Journal of Sociology (2012).

Based on interviews with Central American immigrants and people living in Central America, Menjivar and Abrego argue that the field of immigration law is increasingly becoming intertwined with criminal law, leading to “legal violence.” Examples include federal programs run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that blur the lines between immigrants with and without criminal records; the growing danger in the border crossing from Mexico due to new border-control practices; and the constant fear of deportation and separation from their families. In the end, such legal violence is both structural (“exerted without identifiable perpetrators”) and symbolic because it’s imposed so thoroughly as to become normalized.

3. When immigrants move in, Whites move out (still)

Neighborhood immigration and native out-migration,” by Kyle Crowder, Matthew Hall, and Stewart E. Tolnay. American Sociological Review (2011).

Despite some evidence of progress toward residential racial integration, Latinos’ and Asians’ segregation from Whites has remained stable in recent decades. Crowder and colleagues tackle one part of this the problem: U.S.-born Whites moving away from growing immigrant populations. They show that larger immigrant populations are associated with U.S.-born residents leaving the neighborhood, and this pattern has not changed much since the 1960s even as the immigrant population has grown.

4. U.S. immigration policy contributes to Black disadvantage

Latino Employment and Black Violence: The Unintended Consequence of U.S. Immigration Policy,” by Edward S. Shihadeh and Raymond E. Barranco. Social Forces (2010).

Research has linked Black urban violence to middle class Blacks moving away from cities, residential segregation, and rising income inequality. Shihadeh and Barranco explore the implications of immigration policy for low-skilled Black workers and violence. The flow of low-skilled Latinos to the U.S. has increased competition for low-wage jobs. Using data from the 2000 Census and FBI crime reports, the authors link Latino immigration to violent crime through Black unemployment, but only under certain conditions. Black violence is only higher in areas where Blacks are losing ground to Latinos in the low-skill labor market in agriculture, manufacturing, and construction jobs – and then only when these particular jobs are in short supply. This doesn’t support the common assumption that immigration always hurts low-skilled U.S. workers, but it does point to possible points of impact. One suggestions the authors make is to allow for greater migration flow between the U.S. and Latin America so migrant workers can travel to their sending countries to work without fear of being unable to come back.

5. Asian advantage depends on generation

Have Asian American Men Achieved Labor Market Parity with White Men?,” by ChangHwan Kim and Arthur Sakamoto. American Sociological Review (2010).

Is Asian American success in the labor market proof that White privilege doesn’t exist, as Bill O’Reilly and others claim? Kim and Sakamoto compare Asian American versus White labor market outcomes. They break Asian American immigrants down according to generational status by how much of their schooling they received outside of the U.S. The 1.5-generation Asian American men (who grew up and were schooled in the U.S.) are the only group of Asian American men who have achieved earnings parity with White men, while 1.25-generation (who completed their schooling outside of the U.S.) and native-born Asian American men have lower earnings than White men. The authors conclude that despite notable progress, racial discrimination against Asian Americans persists.

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