Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

A Successful Experience of Immigrant Integration: Evidence from Utah

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

A Successful Experience of Immigrant Integration: Evidence from Utah

Article excerpt

Abstract: Immigration and the role of immigrants in U.S. society continue to be contested, though the effects of the 2012 Presidential election may lessen the national polarization. The experience of Utah both illustrates the tension in immigrant integration and offers insights into a successful attempt to address the issues. The Utah stance toward migrants has been and continues to be "blurred." Several policies are quite welcoming, and the principles in the Utah Compact have provided a basis for measured discussion and have stopped new antiimmigrant legislation from being passed. The end result has been a relatively successful integration process that has melded the native attitudes toward immigrants, with the immigrants' capabilities and efforts to integrate. So in contrast with other states, such as Arizona or Alabama, the mutual benefits that immigration offers have been largely realized.

Most importantly, the immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have actively pursued integration with Utah society on a whole series of dimensions, from obtaining driver privilege cards to participating in political activity. They may be transnational actors, but they clearly exhibit a commitment to their new physical location. As such they have been quite active participants in brokering the boundaries between them and the wider Utah society. This, along with the evolution of policy and attitudes in the state, has led to very positive results in terms of their social mobility and health outcomes, exactly as we would expect from the history of a nation of immigrants.

Key-words: immigration, integration, undocumented, brokered boundaries, demography

1. Introduction

President Kennedy's book, A Nation of Immigrants (1964) will soon be 50 years old, and its title is more true today than at that time. The immigrant flow into the US in the 1950s when Kennedy actually wrote the book was 1.7 percent of the existing population. In the 2000's it had risen to 5.7 percent.

The 2011 Utah Legislature passed an enforcement only immigration law already challenged in court. It also passed a proposed guest worker program to be run by the state, and which the Federal government is likely to challenge. These seemingly contradictory steps evidence not only the difficulty in formulating coherent state policy in this arena but also the continued evolution of Utah's stance toward the challenge of integrating. Utah has been much more successful in integrating immigrants than most of the states that had rapid increases in immigrants. The complex dimensions of that success are the subject of this paper.

Utah is a "new immigrant destination" being ranked sixth among states in the percent increase of foreign born during the 1990s, 174 percent (Stewart and Jameson, 2010, 2). The rate of increase slowed after 2000 but was double the national rate, resulting in 8.3 percent of the state's population being foreign born. Over half of them were from Latin America, predominantly Mexico, and an estimated 101,000 of the 226,000 foreign born are undocumented (Warren, 2011).

Utah policy at the end of the 1990's was quite accommodating, even to the undocumented. In 1999 they were allowed to obtain driver licenses using a tax number rather than a social security number. Since 2002 undocumented high school graduates have been allowed to pay in-state tuition at state institutions of higher education, consistent with the aspirations of the national DREAM Act. Over the decade, however, policy has hardened, e.g. in 2005 the driver license became a "driving privilege card" (DPC) that could not be used for other identification purposes. And every year sees legislative proposals to repeal both programs.

Nonetheless, the policy debate on immigration took a very interesting turn in Utah in 2011 when a new narrative on immigration and immigrants became a central factor in the debate. This was the "Utah Compact," brought forward by a coalition of religious groups, business people, and respected politicians. …

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