Magazine article The Christian Century

Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

Magazine article The Christian Century

Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

Article excerpt

Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

By Richard Alba and Nancy Foner

Princeton University Press, 332 pp., $35.00

While I was writing this review, Pope Francis denounced the exploitation of migrant workers in a "throwaway economy"; Great Britain sought to curtail illegal entry through the Channel Tunnel; and Donald Trump, calling the United States "a dumping ground for everyone else's problems," vowed to build "a great wall" along the Mexican border if he is elected president. The timeliness of Strangers No More is indisputable. The strangers of the title are mainly low-status immigrants and their children: Mexicans in the United States, "visible minorities" in Canada, Pakistanis in Great Britain, North Africans in France, Surinamese in the Netherlands, and Turks in Germany--all of whom experience marginal membership in their host societies.

Readers can expect much from this book, but they should not expect too much. Richard Alba and Nancy Foner, seasoned sociologists from the City University of New York, know the limitations of their data, which at times cannot support a conclusion, and at other times can support only a qualified one. Questions like "Which country is most successful in integrating its immigrant population?" have no simple answers. There are too many variables for researchers to make such broad determinations, and thus "there are no clear-cut winners or losers: each society fails and succeeds in different ways."

The authors do not shy away from identifying specific failures; for instance, the situation of undocumented immigrants in the United States is a "scandal." Still, reality is complicated, and given the methodological constraints of sociological analysis, this may be one of the most important conclusions of Strangers No More.

So what is really happening? A few examples illustrate the range of immigrant experiences and statuses.

In all six countries discussed, low-status immigrant groups are underrepresented at all levels of elective office, but their representation in the national legislatures is highest by far in the Netherlands and Canada. Again in all six countries, low-status immigrants tend to settle in disadvantaged neighborhoods, where opportunities for improvement for themselves and their children are limited. Yet residential segregation rates vary widely--they are relatively high in the United States and Great Britain and much lower in Germany.

Financial backing for education creates opportunities for social advancement for immigrants' children. The United States fares poorly in this regard, with its heavy reliance on localized--and thus inherently unequal--funding, whereas France and the Netherlands extend supplemental support to schools with immigrant children. …

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