Immigration as Urban Policy

By Su, Rick | Fordham Urban Law Journal, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Immigration as Urban Policy


Su, Rick, Fordham Urban Law Journal


ABSTRACT

Immigration has done more to shape the physical and social landscape of many of America's largest cities than almost any other economic or cultural force. Indeed, immigration is so central to urban development in the United States that it is a wonder why immigration is not explicitly discussed as an aspect of urban policy. Yet in the national conversation over immigration, one would strain to hear it described in this manner. This essay addresses this oversight by making the case for a reorientation of immigration toward urban policy; and it does so by advocating for an immigration regime that both explicitly recognizes the role of immigration as an instrument of urban development, and sees urban policy as a vital complement to our federal immigration regime. As this essay outlines, there are good reasons for such an urban policy reorientation from the perspective of both urban and immigration policymakers. At the same time, significant obstacles exist, not only in the structure of our immigration laws, but also the prevailing organization of our local governments. Thus, the essay concludes by proposing a reform to our immigration regime that advances the aims of reorienting immigration toward urban policy, addresses the structural obstacles that stand in the way, and suggests further avenues of reform going forward.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Abstract
Introduction

  I. The Reasons for Immigration as Urban Policy
       A. Why Immigration Should Matter to Urban Policymakers
       B. Why Urban Development Should Matter to Immigration
          Policymakers

 II. The Legal Limits to Immigration as Urban Policy
       A. Why Federal Preemption is No Obstacle
       B. The Legal Limits of Regional Considerations in
          Immigration Law
       C. Deficiencies in the Structure of Regional Decision-making

III. Empowering Immigration as Urban Policy: A Modest Proposal
       A. The Proposal
       B. Room for Expansion
       C. Addressing Potential Concerns
Conclusion

INTRODUCTION

Immigration has done more to shape the physical and social landscape of many of America's largest cities than almost any other economic or cultural force. Its effect on established immigration gateways is clear: New York City, a traditional reception area for newcomers to the United States, continues to be an ever-shifting palette of immigrant neighborhoods and cross-ethnic interactions; (1) Los Angeles, with an Anglo population of more than seventy percent in the 1970s, (2) is now both derisively and admiringly called the "Capital of the Third World"; (3) Miami, with its large number of Latino residents and concentration of Cuban financiers, embraces its demographic makeup not only as a source of cultural pride, but also in its bid as the financial gateway to Latin America. (4) At the same time, interest in immigration is quickly spreading to other metropolitan regions as well. With the immigrant population soaring in "boomtown" cities like Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, and others in the Sun Belt, (5) the impact of immigration on the newest wave of urban development seems to parallel the immigrant-driven urbanization of earlier eras. All the while, immigration is drawing attention in regions without significant immigration inflows at all; many Rust Belt cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit have raised the prospect of immigration as an urban revitalization strategy. (6)

Indeed, immigration appears to be so central to urban development in the United States that it is a wonder why immigration is not explicitly discussed as an aspect of urban policy. Yet in the national conversation over immigration, one would strain to hear it described in this manner. Despite the significant impact of immigration on our metropolitan regions and the importance of urban development to this nation's social and economic prosperity, there is still a distinct sense that urban interests are one step below the "national" concerns that guide the development of immigration laws. …

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