Academic journal article Social Justice

Whose Backyard? Boundary Making in NIMBY Opposition to Immigrant Services

Academic journal article Social Justice

Whose Backyard? Boundary Making in NIMBY Opposition to Immigrant Services

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH THE UNITED STATES IS A COUNTRY BUILT ON IMMIGRATION, MANY U.S. immigration policies and practices, particularly in the 20th century, have been framed around overt and covert prejudice, the shifting demands of a labor market for the accumulation of capital, and the principle of family unity. Historically, people of color have experienced institutionalized cultural and economic racism in the United States. For immigrants, issues such as legal status, class, gender, ethnicity, and race intersect in complex ways as they negotiate their day-to-day lives and economic livelihoods in the United States. Constructed as "the other" by the state and by those segments of the dominant group interested in maintaining the status quo, these immigrants experience considerable discrimination. They encounter borders and boundaries in accessing resources, opportunities, safe public spaces, and services.

Municipalities throughout the United States have witnessed strong, organized opposition to meeting the increasing need for affordable housing, quality jobs, and safe public spaces for marginalized and vulnerable immigrant populations. One form this opposition takes is popularly known as NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard). Dear (1992) defines NIMBYism as "the protectionist attitudes and exclusionary/ opposition tactics adopted by community groups facing an unwelcome development in their neighborhood." Responses to NIMBY movements require the attention of action researchers interested in social justice. The impact of NIMBY opposition has serious consequences. It can lead to increased financial costs, delays in and even the denial of affordable housing, safe public spaces, and services for those in need. It exacerbates tensions and hostilities among groups and communities in neighborhoods. It perpetuates common myths and stereotypes that contribute to oppressive policies and practices toward marginal and vulnerable populations. Addressing NIMBYism also helps us to examine how communities are defined in neighborhoods. What are the values and priorities of these communities? What types of power and control do communities exercise in supporting or hindering the access of ethnic minorities (particularly poor immigrant women and men) to safe public spaces and services?

Community-based organizations that support ethnic minority immigrant victims/survivors of domestic violence and workers participating in day labor markets frequently encounter the problem of NIMBYism. Policy discourses that portray immigrants as criminal, dangerous, and undeserving of sympathy or services reinforce and rationalize concerns over declining property values, increased taxes, rising unemployment, higher crime rates, and diminished quality of life. Racial and class segregation, the transient nature of shelter residence and temporary employment, and the use of spaces in unexpected ways fuel mistrust and misunderstanding of those perceived as outsiders belonging to unfamiliar cultures. These cultural and structural obstacles impede the efforts of community-based organizations to provide neighborhood-friendly housing and official hiring sites that promote the human security of shelter residents and day laborers in these communities.

Drawn from an ongoing collaborative action research project, this article explores the problem of NIMBYism encountered in two cases where community organizations, the New York Asian Women's Center and the Workplace Project, sought to create spaces and services for immigrants. Using a contextual analysis, we address major forms of NIMBYism, which is conceptualized as the informal policing of physical and symbolic boundaries to maintain places of domination and control. In both cases, opponents sought to impose physical boundaries indirectly through pressuring politicians and directly through endangering the safety of immigrants. To legitimate their opposition, opponents also constructed discourses of victimization that presented immigrants either as oppressive or as oppressed persons whose status victimized residents. …

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