When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, my neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens was all White, or in current Census terminology, non-Hispanic White. The neighborhood was filled with homeowners who were mainly the children or grandchildren of Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants who had moved there for the relatively spacious houses with backyard gardens as well as the good schools. By now, more than fifty years later, the neighborhood has undergone a remarkable transformation, owing to a large degree to immigration. The White population has steadily shrunk as the descendants of earlier European immigrants grew old, many moved elsewhere, and few new Whites moved in. Post-1965 immigrants and their second-generation children have taken their place. By the second decade of the twenty-first century, non-Hispanic Whites were only around a third of the neighborhood’s population, which had become nearly half Asian American (mostly Chinese and Korean) and a little over 10 percent Hispanic.1
This of course is just one neighborhood in one city, but it points to a basic fact: immigration, especially from Latin America and Asia, has been a fundamental force in changing America’s cities, towns, and suburbs. In practically every city in the country, immigrants are now a visible presence—a marked difference from half a century ago. This is hardly surprising given the remarkable increase in the foreign-born population in the post-1965 years after a many decades-long hiatus in large-scale inflows. But the new demography—and geography—of immigration have also led to less expected shifts that have played a significant role in altering, and bringing renewed dynamism to, much of the nation’s urban landscape and some rural communities as well.
The astonishing growth of the foreign-born population is evident not only in traditional urban gateways like New York City and Chicago but also in places with little history, or only a distant one, of immigration. The Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington metropolitan area, to give one example, had about 34,000 immigrants in 1970; by 2014, the figure was 1.2 million. In metropolitan Orlando, Florida, in the same years, the immigrant population went from 13,000 to 391,000.2 Indeed, immigrant growth in the Sun Belt and Midwest, including rural communities and small towns as well as larger metropolitan areas, is one of the big stories of immigration since the 1990s.
These growing numbers and new settlement patterns themselves ushered in or played a role in creating additional transformations. One is the revitalization of cities, including declines in urban crime in recent decades, and another is giving new life to parts of rural America. Immigration has also led to remarkable racial and ethnic diversification nearly everywhere in the country. New ethnic neighborhoods have sprung up, replete with a range of institutions catering to immigrants from particular countries and regions. Well-off Asian ethnoburbs are new on the scene. At the same time, polyethnic neighborhoods of incredible diversity in which long-established Whites and multiple immigrant groups live in close proximity are increasingly common. In fact, the all-White neighborhood has sharply declined in metropolitan areas around the country.
And there is a further type of change in cities and local communities: established mainstream community institutions in many places have been changing in form, organization, and character as, among other things, they introduce alterations, modifications, and innovations to adjust to newcomers’ needs and demands. At first glance, some of these changes may seem relatively minor, but they should not be dismissed as trivial or simply surface-level adaptations or responses to immigration. They may well have long-lasting effects and implications. In some locations, altogether new institutions have emerged too. Certainly in the religious sphere, the mosques and temples newly created by Muslim and Hindu immigrants are notable additions in many cities and local communities. While the presence of new Muslim institutions in particular has often led to unease and sparked conflicts with long-established residents, an open question is whether eventually these institutions, like those introduced by Jews and Catholics of an earlier era, will come to be accepted as a normal feature of the religious landscape.
A New Urban Geography
The ethnic and racial changes that occurred in the New York City neighborhood of my childhood, as it went from all White in the mid-twentieth century to majority non-White today, reflect shifts in immigration patterns that have affected communities all around the country. I grew up in the years that followed many decades of low immigration levels. Together with the post–World War II baby boom (of which I was a part), this meant that in 1960, the nation was almost entirely native born—and overwhelmingly, 85 percent, non-Hispanic White. Once immigration picked up after 1970, especially in the 1990s and into the twenty-first century, traditional gateway cities like New York and Chicago saw their immigrant populations swell, in New York City going from a century low of around 1.4 million in 1970 to a little over 3 million in 2010, and in the city of Chicago increasing by roughly 70 percent between 1970 and 2000, from 374,000 to 629,000.3 Immigration’s impact on the two cities’ ethnic and racial composition was nothing short of profound, especially as many established White New Yorkers and Chicagoans were leaving at the same time. New York is now a majority-minority city where non-Hispanic Whites, who made up 63 percent of the city in 1970, are now about a third; similarly, Chicago’s non-Hispanic White population has declined in the last five decades from around 60 to 33 percent.4
But it is not just many traditional or long-standing immigrant cities that have seen their immigrant populations explode. So have cities that only began to become major immigrant destinations in the second half of the twentieth century like Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, and Washington, DC. Indeed, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, along with New York’s, are the two largest immigrant meccas, together home in 2014 to around a quarter of all the country’s immigrants. All told, the five largest metropolitan area gateways, which also included Miami, Chicago, and Houston, housed nearly 40 percent of the total immigrant population.5
FIGURE 3.1. Twenty metropolitan areas with the largest number of immigrants in 2018. Source: Budiman 2020.
Other types of cities have also attracted large numbers of immigrants, with some of the newcomers arriving directly from abroad, and others moving from places in the country where they initially had settled. Metropolitan areas that sociologist Audrey Singer labels reemerging gateways, such as Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Tampa, had many immigrants a century ago, but only again began to experience substantial immigration growth at the tail end of the twentieth century.6 A striking development, as figure 3.1 shows, is the dispersion of immigrants to rapidly growing metropolitan areas in the Sun Belt that have become significant destinations for immigrants only recently. The Atlanta metropolitan area’s foreign-born population grew by a whopping 817 percent between 1980 and 2000, from less than 50,000 to over 400,000, and by 2014 had almost doubled to 750,000. The Las Vegas area had only 35,000 immigrants in 1980; by 2000, there were about 260,000, and by 2014, there were 460,000. In the Phoenix area, the number of immigrants catapulted from 87,000 in 1980 to almost 500,000 twenty years later, and rose to over 650,000 by 2014—altogether a 653 percent increase. Whatever the exact numbers, the fact is that immigrants have been a growing fraction of the population in virtually all major metropolitan areas in the country. Moreover, in almost half of the central cities with more than 200,000 people, the foreign born represent at least 15 percent of the population.7
Today’s immigrant settlement patterns, it should be noted, differ in some important ways from those of the past. In the early twentieth century, the majority of immigrants lived in the industrializing cities of the Northeast and Midwest, with New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia among the top destinations. By 2010, metropolitan areas in the South and West had become home to more than half of all immigrants, reflecting broader population shifts in these parts of the country.8 Large numbers of immigrants now live in metropolitan areas that have had little historical experience with extensive immigration. Also in another contrast with the past, many new arrivals head to the suburbs right from the start. A hundred years ago, immigrants went to cities where they could be close to jobs, but now housing and economic opportunities draw many to the suburbs as the dispersion of new economy services has led to job growth outside urban boundaries in suburban areas. The result is that immigrants have been diversifying suburbs in many significant ways.9
As of 2010, only a third of US immigrants lived in the central cities of the hundred-largest metropolitan areas, whereas 51 percent lived in the suburbs of these cities.10 The post–World War II years witnessed a suburban explosion. This was a time when newly built and expanding suburbs became bastions for native Whites fleeing the problems and often ethnoracial diversity of central cities. What has been called Whites-only suburbanization was aided and abetted by government policies, from exclusionary local zoning ordinances to federal subsidies for subdivisons built on the condition that African Americans be barred.11 Since the 1970s, suburbia has changed a great deal. The percentage of renters has increased, and suburban poverty has grown substantially. And many predominantly White suburbs have become much more ethnically and racially diverse, in good part owing to immigrant inflows. The suburban areas on the edge of Washington, DC, to take one region, have experienced a breathtaking pace of change: a number of suburbs that had been over 90 percent White in 1970 had become majority-minority areas by 2000, including large numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America who moved there for, among other things, the relatively affordable housing.12 In metropolitan Atlanta, according to historian Mary Odem, 95 percent of the foreign born lived in the suburbs in 2005. Many Hispanic and Asian immigrants were drawn to once largely White inner-ring communities north of the central city that experienced rapid job and population growth in the 1980s and 1990s. A common path for Latin American as well as Vietnamese and Korean immigrants was to start out in less desirable suburban areas as renters in apartment complexes built in the 1970s, and later leave for better housing districts when their economic position improved; they often pooled resources with family members as a way to purchase one-and two-story ranch houses in formerly all-White subdivisions that are now home to increasingly diverse racial and ethnic populations.13
Urban and Rural Revitalization
Immigrants, it has often been said, fueled the growth of urban America at the turn of the twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1920, New York City grew by more than two million; Chicago, then the second city, grew by one million; and Philadelphia, the third-largest city, expanded by over half a million, in good part owing to huge immigrant inflows from southern, eastern, and central Europe. Immigrants literally built the roads, bridges, tunnels, and subways in these and other major cities at that time, and supplied the workforce that helped turn many into flourishing industrial economies.
In recent decades, immigrants once again have been a boon to cities and their larger metropolitan areas. They played a key role in the growth of places such as Las Vegas, Nevada, and Orlando, Florida, that were becoming major metropolitan centers for the first time. They also helped to revive a number of cities that were losing population, with a dramatic case being New York City, where the population declined precipitously in the 1970s by over 800,000 as “White flight” to the suburbs and other parts of the country escalated. From 2000 to 2006, according to the Census Bureau, without immigration the New York metropolitan area would have lost almost 600,000 in total population, while metropolitan Los Angeles would have declined by more than 200,000, San Francisco by 188,000, and Boston by 101,000. Of the ninety-one large metropolitan areas that gained population between 2010 and 2018, fifteen, including New York and Philadelphia, would have lost population were it not for immigration. At the same time, immigration helped to mitigate population decline in many smaller cities and metropolitan areas, such as Rockford, a city of around 150,000 in northern Illinois where it reduced population loss and began to revitalize an aging workforce.14
The added numbers of immigrants boosted the economies of metropolitan areas, providing labor for growing sectors and propping up some existing ones. Immigrants created an array of new businesses everywhere. They contributed to the support and expansion of public and private sector jobs because they not only provide but also purchase goods and services. In this sense, they have been an important force for change—and especially in good times, economic health and prosperity (see chapter 4).
And then there is crime. A common belief is that rising immigration leads to rising crime rates, but this is a myth, not reality. One can even say that immigration has made the United States safer. “If you want to be safe,” sociologist Robert Sampson comments, “move to an immigrant city.”15
Immigration, experts agree, was a factor behind the decline in violent crime in urban America from the late 1990s and into the early 2000s. By the second decade of the twenty-first century, murder rates in the country, the most reliable indicator of violence, were back to those of the early 1960s, and in fact like those of the tranquil 1950s. In 2014, New York City had fewer than 330 murders, then the lowest number since comparable records were kept, and despite a population larger than in 1990; violent crime in Los Angeles declined markedly too, as it did across the country.16 To be sure, a range of factors are responsible for these dramatic drops, including aggressive policing, the decline in crack cocaine use, increased prison populations, and the aging of the population. But in cities with large numbers of new arrivals, immigration is also at play.17
What accounts for immigration’s role in reducing urban violent crime? For one thing, immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes than the native born mainly because they are a favorably self-selected population predisposed to low crime: ambitious, motivated to work, and concerned with avoiding deportation. Something else is also going on at the neighborhood level, where research indicates that the presence of large numbers of immigrants seems to lower rates of crime and violence. The neighborhood context of concentrated immigration itself may have a protective effect, perhaps because of population growth and the reduction in housing vacancies—and hence more “eyes on the street” for informal neighborhood monitoring.18
Immigrants have brought other positive changes to urban neighborhoods. Many northern cities had fallen on hard times in the post–World War II years as large numbers of White residents moved away to the suburbs and the Sun Belt, and their populations declined. Without immigration, it is likely that many apartments and houses in the neighborhoods left behind would have been vulnerable to abandonment. Or to put it another way, immigrants helped many deteriorating neighborhoods make a comeback in the latter part of the twentieth and early years of the twenty-first century.
In bringing new vitality and helping to reestablish a commercial base in local areas that were in disrepair in cities like Minneapolis and Philadelphia, immigrants gave the neighborhoods a new character and critical economic boost.19 Brighton Beach is an example in New York City. By the mid-1970s, this oceanside neighborhood in the southern portion of the borough of Brooklyn was in decline; apartments stood empty as elderly eastern European Jewish immigrants who arrived in the early twentieth century died or left for Florida, and the main commercial avenue had turned into a decaying strip of old stores. The massive influx of Soviet Jews in the next two decades filled apartments and turned the avenue into a thriving commercial center, replete with Russian restaurants, nightclubs, state-of-the-art electronics stores, and clothing boutiques selling European designer clothing. In Chicago, in a not dissimilar way, Mexican immigrants breathed new life into the Little Village neighborhood on the southwest side that had suffered losses as White ethnics who had lived there for decades moved away. As the newcomers lifted the neighborhood’s population in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, they also spurred local economic growth and transformed a fading shopping district into one of the most active commercial corridors in the city.20
And we should not forget immigration’s impact in revitalizing some parts of rural America as well. Without a doubt, the story of much of rural America, as one journalist puts it, is one of relentless economic decline or, in another phrase, the intensifying ruralization of distress.21 Yet immigration is one of the bright spots, slowing the pace of population loss in many rural areas and in some cases enabling the population to grow. According to demographer Daniel Lichter, the new racial and ethnic diversity in rural America over the past few decades is one of the most important and least anticipated demographic changes in recent US history.22
This diversity has been overwhelmingly propelled by Latino (heavily foreign-born) in-migration, which rejuvenated many small towns, often in parts of the rural Midwest experiencing chronic population declines where Whites have been aging and dying, and in the case of young people, leaving for brighter prospects elsewhere.23 Latino immigrants were drawn by job opportunities in clearly defined industries such as meat-processing or meatpacking plants, which have moved to rural American areas in search of low-wage labor.24 Worthington, Minnesota, to give one example, is home to a pork-processing plant owned by JBS, one of the world’s largest meat-processing companies. Thirty years ago many feared that Worthington would become a ghost town, but instead immigrants flooded in. The number of Hispanics went from 392 in 1990 to 4,521 in 2010, or from 4 to 35 percent of the population; over half of the Hispanics in 2000 were foreign born.25 In Lexington and Schuyler, Nebraska, to mention two other towns with meatpacking plants, Hispanics are now the majority of the population. Certainly the rapid immigrant influx to towns like these has often sparked tensions with the local population, and placed demands on local services such as health and education. Still, immigrants have provided a lifeline in many distressed small towns in rural America, increasing or stabilizing the population, and providing a source of economic dynamism as they have added to the tax base, spent money locally, injected cash in housing markets, and helped keep schools viable.26
Immigration is so closely tied to ethnic and racial diversity that it is hard to separate one from the other. As I already indicated, ethnic and racial diversification is perhaps the most dramatic transformation that the post-1965 immigration has brought to America’s cities and metropolitan areas. Given that around 45 percent of the nation’s forty-five million immigrants are Hispanic and more than a quarter are Asian, this is not unexpected. Still, the extent to which immigration has led to new diversity in American cities, suburbs, and towns is remarkable. By 2010, 22 percent of the residents of central cities were Hispanic, up from 3 percent in 1970, while Asian Americans went from 1.5 to almost 8 percent over the same period; suburbs experienced a similar change, with Hispanics’ share at 15 percent and Asian Americans’ share at 6 percent in 2010—a huge increase from forty years before.27
Even in many large cities that have had substantial Hispanic populations for a long time, the numbers have exploded in the last half century owing to immigration and births; the countries of newcomers have multiplied as well. Consider just a few illustrations. Not only did New York City’s Hispanic population double between 1970 and 2015, but its ethnic makeup has been transformed. The days are gone when Hispanic meant Puerto Rican in New York City. Puerto Ricans now account for under a third of the Hispanic population, outnumbered by a combination of Dominicans, Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Colombians, and other Latin Americans, the majority of them first-generation immigrants and their second-generation children. In Chicago, Mexican inflows have mainly been responsible for the enormous growth in the Hispanic population, which went from a bit over 7 percent of the city in 1970 to 29 percent in 2019, when those of Mexican ancestry were the vast majority of all Hispanics. Chicago’s Hispanics now rival African Americans and nearly equal non-Hispanic Whites in size.28 Houston, currently the nation’s fourth-largest city, went from 18 percent Hispanic in 1980 to 44 percent in 2010, while the non-Hispanic White population shrank from 52 percent to 26 percent in the same period. Demographer William Frey predicts that the rise of Hispanics as the “major city minority” in recent decades foreshadows tomorrow’s urban America.29
Already the phrase Latinization accurately describes what has happened in a number of cities where Hispanics have grown to around half of the population, and sometimes significantly more, with much of the gain triggered by immigrant and domestic migrant inflows as well as natural increase.30 We are not just talking about cities on or close to the US-Mexican border. A striking case is Miami-Dade County, which was only about 5 percent Hispanic in 1960 (and 80 percent non-Hispanic White) and is now a Latino global metropolitan giant, with a whopping 69 percent of its population Hispanic in 2019; the city of Miami, on its own, was 73 percent Hispanic in that year.31 The mass exodus of Cubans after the 1959 revolution on the island provided the roots for a huge Cuban community that came to dominate the city economically and politically, later joined by large numbers from countries in Central and South America. The city of Los Angeles once may have been in Mexico—it became incorporated as a US city in 1850 after the Mexican-American War—but in 1960 it was less than 10 percent Hispanic (and overwhelmingly non-Hispanic White); by 2019, Hispanics, mostly of Mexican origin, were nearly half (49 percent) of the population.32 As of 2010, more than two dozen US cities over a hundred thousand were majority Hispanic, nearly all in Southern California and Texas, but also among them were two northern New Jersey cities that have attracted a mix of Caribbean, and South and Central American newcomers: Elizabeth, nearly two-thirds Hispanic, and Paterson, nearly three-fifths in 2017, with the latter also home to large numbers of Turks and Arab Americans.33
The metropolitan areas with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations are predominantly in the nation’s southeast. Among the areas with at least a hundred thousand Hispanics, Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, led the list, each of which experienced more than a 1000 percent increase in its Hispanic population in the twenty-year period between 1990 and 2010.34 The old Black-White binary that dominated the South is being altered by these growing Hispanic (as well as Asian) inflows. In 1970, virtually all the residents of Charlotte and Raleigh were either Black or White; by 2010, Hispanics were slightly more than 10 percent of the population in both cities. Latinos, as geographer Jamie Winders writes, have brought a new sonido (sound) and beat to Nashville, another Black-White city until the 1990s. Already by 1996, Nashville had almost thirty Hispanic-owned restaurants, twenty-two Hispanic soccer teams, two Spanish-language newspapers, two Spanish radio stations, and thirteen churches with Spanish-language services.35
Asian immigrants and their children have also changed the racial and ethnic landscape in the nation’s metropolitan areas. Of course, East Asian groups, most notably Chinese, have been a presence in many cities for over a century and a half—New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles among them, each with a famous old Chinatown. But the number of Chinese and other Asian Americans increased there by leaps and bounds in the post-1965 years after the severe restrictions on Asian immigration were lifted. And national origin groups that barely existed before 1970 are now part of the Asian mix. In New York City, the number of Asian Americans increased more than twentyfold between 1960 and 2015, now 14 percent (over 1 million) of the total population up from less than 1 percent (about 43,000) in 1960. Asian in New York City no longer means only Chinese, but also Indian, Korean, Filipino, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani to name the largest non-Chinese groups in the city today. Los Angeles County, with around 1.5 million Asian Americans in 2019, has the largest Asian American population of any county in the United States, with the Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese the most sizable groups. In the city of San Francisco, Asian Americans are about a third of the population, or roughly 300,000 people; the Chinese and Filipinos are the two biggest groups.
Asian Americans also have spread out to and grown in number in areas where they were hardly present half a century ago, such as Houston, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia.36 The Asian American (mostly Indian and Chinese) population of Raleigh, North Carolina, which was slightly over 17,000 in 2010, may be tiny by New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco standards, but it is a huge increase from the less than 400 Asian Americans in 1970. This is just one of many examples all around the country.
As for the impact of Black immigrants, they may represent only about 10 percent of all immigrants in the United States, but Caribbean and African immigrants, too, have added ethnic diversity to the Black populations of a number of metropolitan areas where they are substantial in number, most notably New York–Newark–Jersey City and Miami–Fort Lauderdale–West Palm Beach, where as of 2013, they were 28 and 34 percent, respectively, of the Black population; in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, 15 percent of Blacks were foreign born.37 To what extent the descendants of Black immigrants may eventually meld into and become largely indistinguishable from the African American population is hard to predict, but there is no doubt that the first generation has brought African and Caribbean sounds, flavors, and festivals to areas of the cities and suburbs where large numbers have settled, and thus are another component of immigrant-driven diversification.
This brings us to neighborhoods, where immigrants—as well as the native born—live out important aspects of their lives, from making family homes and developing friendships to going to school and frequenting houses of worship. Immigrants have transformed neighborhoods all over the United States. In the process, they have re-created old neighborhood patterns with contemporary twists and generated some altogether new arrangements.
The ethnic neighborhood, to mention one of the most familiar types, is a timeworn feature of immigrant America. Looking back in time, Manhattan’s Lower East Side has sometimes been called America’s most famous immigrant neighborhood, which at the turn of the twentieth century had become a Jewish cosmopolis. The touchstones of the eastern European shtetl were all around: synagogues, burial societies, kosher butchers, and Yiddish-language newspapers. In New York, and many other cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia, Little Italies flourished where “people speak their own language, trade in stores kept by countrymen, and put their savings in Italian banks.… The stores bear Italian names, the special bargains … are advertised in Italian, and they offer for sale the wines and olive oils, ‘pasta,’ and other favorite foods of the people.” Little Italies were further subdivided into subnational colonies as villagers from the same province or region clustered in specific locations. In South Philadelphia, migrants from the province of Catanzaro in the Calabria region clustered along Ellsworth Street, while the area around Eighth and Fitzwater Streets was home primarily to people from Abruzzi.38
Much of course is familiar about today’s immigrant ethnic neighborhoods. Even the terms to describe them sometimes echo those of the past, as the Little Italies have given way to Little Saigons in states like California, Virginia, and Texas along with a well-known (although now gentrifying) Little Haiti in Miami. The social dynamics are similar too. As in earlier immigration eras, many new arrivals from the same country, region, or ethnic group have gravitated to areas with kinfolk and friends, allowing them to find comfort, security, and support in an environment of familiar languages, stores, and cultural institutions, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, as well as housing that is affordable. They are also better shielded from prejudice and discrimination in finding a place to live and in community life.
But if contemporary ethnic neighborhoods have arisen for the same reasons and function for new arrivals in many of the same ways that they did in previous eras, cultural features and institutions within them reflect the character of today’s Latino, Asian, and Caribbean immigrant groups as well as contemporary social realities. In this sense, they represent some genuine changes in the landscape. Or one might say, ethnic neighborhoods have reemerged in the United States in modern-day guise. Among the new features are Islamic mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and Latino Pentecostal churches; cell phone companies and money transfer services; and ethnic restaurants with new cuisines that may cater beyond an ethnic clientele to serve adventurous and educated middle-class patrons searching for authenticity and a foreign culinary experience close to home.39 Whereas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, large and dense immigrant ethnic settlements in northern gateway cities typically arose in overcrowded working-class areas with substandard housing, today many have sprouted up in communities that previously had been home to middle- and lower-middle-class natives who had decamped to the suburbs and Sun Belt.40
Ethnic neighborhoods created and sustained by new arrivals are also more likely than in the past to be a suburban as well as urban phenomenon. As today’s immigrants have moved to suburban areas—which they have done in growing numbers—they have often gone to neighborhoods with those who hail from the same country or region. Langley Park / Adelphi, an inside-the-beltway suburb in Prince George’s County near the northern boundary of the District of Columbia, has been described as a Latin American enclave, with Salvadorans accounting for more than a third of the foreign-born residents, Guatemalans another 15 percent, and other Spanish-speaking immigrants an additional 12 percent in 2000: “Pupusa trucks and fruit venders line the main streets and serve a steady stream of customers on foot and in cars. Locals refer to it as the Barrio de Langley Park, and many immigrants consider the area a cultural center for the Salvadoran community.”41 Brentwood, a suburban hamlet of around sixty thousand in Suffolk County some forty miles from New York City, has such a large Salvadoran population that El Salvador has a consulate there.
As part of the immigrant suburbanization process, what social scientists label “ethnoburbs” have emerged in many metropolitan areas, especially on the two coasts. Ethnoburbs are concentrations of socioeconomically well-off coethnic immigrant families in advantaged suburbs, where immigrants frequently mix with native families of similar status. They are associated today with Asian American groups.42 In some ways, contemporary ethnoburbs are reminiscent of a type of earlier suburban community. Think of the heavily “Jewish suburbs” that developed in the mid-twentieth century, peopled by the adult second-generation children of eastern European Jewish immigrants who moved there from nearby cities in search of better housing, in owner-occupied single-family homes, and excellent schools. Affluent Great Neck, located in Nassau County, not far from the New York City border, had become majority Jewish by the 1960s; Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights, Ohio, outside Cleveland, along with the Skokie and Highland Park suburbs of Chicago, among others, were heavily Jewish and prosperous suburban communities too. Well-to-do Jews sought out these suburbs partly because they did not feel welcome elsewhere, and ethnic- and kinship-based real estate markets led more of them over time to join earlier pioneers. Economically and occupationally successful Jews also sought a sense of being at home—that is, feeling comfortable in areas where they were a majority or substantial presence, and that boasted synagogues, “Jewish” delicatessens, and neighbors with whom they shared a common bond of Jewishness. In a real sense, they were creating an affluent version of the old ethnic urban neighborhood, or as sociologist Herbert Gans put it in his 1950s study of the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, an adaptation of Jewish life to the suburban environment.43
Today, well-off Asian Americans are doing something similar, although they are bringing different cultural features with them. Also, Asian Americans in ethnoburbs are more likely to be recent immigrants as compared to the mainly second-generation, post–World War II Jewish suburbanites now that a much larger proportion of today’s Asian arrivals are highly educated and high-income earners than were Jewish immigrants of a century ago. On the East Coast, one ethnoburb is Fort Lee, New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan, where in 2018, Asian Americans (mostly Korean and Chinese) were 40 percent of the residents, while Whites constituted 43 percent (down from 97 percent in 1970).44 Asian ethnoburbs are especially noteworthy in California, where they have dramatically altered the suburban landscape, transforming communities that used to be predominantly non-Hispanic White. One account lists a dozen Chinese ethnoburbs in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas in 2010 in which Chinese Americans were a fifth or more of the population; in all but one, Asian Americans altogether were over 50 percent.45 The degree to which the Silicon Valley region is “ethnoburban,” sociologist Tomás Jiménez writes, is palpable in a drive down any of the main thoroughfares, revealing “ethnically themed strip malls that house restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, and tutoring centers.”46
Perhaps the best-known ethnoburb is Monterey Park, which has been called the first suburban Chinatown. This small suburban city of around sixty thousand east of downtown Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley was transformed from an Anglo bedroom town—99.9 percent non-Hispanic White in 1950—to a community that by the mid-1980s, had an Asian American majority and visible presence of immigrant Chinese. By 2010, nearly half the population was Chinese American, and altogether, around two-thirds were Asian American. In addition to a broad range of upscale restaurants, trendy cafés and coffeehouses, huge supermarkets, and professional parks, there are a host of Chinese language schools and ethnic institutions offering young children and youth language and cultural classes, enrichment courses in Chinese music, folk dance, and calligraphy, and preparation for SAT exams. New religious organizations, including Buddhist houses of worship and Chinese Protestant churches, have taken root. Political institutions reflect Chinese influence as well; Monterey Park has had a series of Chinese American mayors since 2006, with the first, Lily Lee Chen, born in China and brought up in Taiwan, elected in 1983.47
Also striking is the decline of all-White neighborhoods in metropolitan areas—a development in which immigration has played a significant role. Looking back in time, immigration inflows in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries gave rise to urban neighborhoods with a welter of groups from different countries, and in fact ethnically identified neighborhoods then were actually often quite diverse in terms of residents’ national origins. But as far as we know, they did not contain much of a presence of those from the then-dominant White Protestant group, which one might say were the established native Whites of their time. Today’s settlement patterns are different, with the development of many communities that are home to non-Hispanic Whites in addition to people from multiple immigrant groups.48
In metropolitan regions that have added significant numbers of immigrants in recent decades, few neighborhoods with many White residents are racially exclusive anymore, which as Alba notes, is a momentous change from the situation prevailing a half century ago.49 In a study of 24 highly diverse metropolitan regions in the year 2000, three-quarters of the neighborhoods mixed a significant presence of Whites with that of one or more minority groups.50 In nearly half of all the neighborhoods, Whites lived with substantial numbers of both Asian Americans and Hispanics, reflecting the broad impact of immigration. The change from 1980 was remarkable: of the 1,210 all-White neighborhoods in these metropolitan areas in 1980, only 333 remained all White in 2000.51
Admittedly, White flight has occurred in some of these diverse neighborhoods, especially as the proportion of minority residents has risen. Yet for Whites wanting to stay in what are now highly diverse metropolitan regions—if only because of economic opportunities there—it is increasingly hard to avoid racial and ethnic minorities in their communities altogether, even though they may be able to find a mixed neighborhood with a high percentage of Whites.52
What does the growth of neighborhood diversity mean for on-the-ground relationships? After all, living near to and seeing members of other ethnic and racial groups on the street and in public places is no guarantee of friendly relations. People in different groups may pass each other by with little recognition or interaction; they may even hunker down, distrusting their neighbors and withdrawing into mutually antagonistic subcommunities.53 In formerly all-White towns and small cities with no recent memory of immigration, the sudden upsurge in newcomers, especially undocumented and low-skilled Latinos, has given rise to fears among many longtime residents that immigrants are bringing crime and other social problems as well as undermining traditional American ways.54
Yet there are also some encouraging signs. Over time, long-established residents tend to become used to new immigrant arrivals as interaction and communication develop; greater familiarity often has a way of leading to accommodation and eventually in some instances meaningful acceptance. In general, evidence from intergroup contact studies indicates that face-to-face interpersonal contact typically reduces intergroup prejudice.55 Other research suggests that in highly diverse urban neighborhoods, ethnic and racial diversity frequently comes to be seen as a normal and taken-for-granted part of social life, or what anthropologist Susanne Wessendorf calls commonplace diversity in public space. In the super-diverse London community she studied, private relations were fairly parochial, with people’s closest ties tending to be with those most like themselves in terms of ethnicity, race, and social class. At the same time, an ethos of mixing emerged in which it came to be expected that people should mingle and interact with residents of other backgrounds in public spaces and associations.56 No doubt this situation has also developed in many diverse American neighborhoods. Interestingly, the American cities and metropolitan areas with the largest immigrant populations are often those where long-established Whites have the most positive attitudes to ethnoracial diversity; the most negative attitudes are frequently found in places such as heavily White peripheral suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas with few immigrants and low ethnoracial diversity.57
New and Changing Institutions
Changing neighborhoods go hand in hand with new or changing institutions. One domain in which this is evident is in the religious sphere. In earlier eras, the inflow of millions of Catholic and Jewish immigrants led to the establishment of a huge network of Catholic churches and hundreds of synagogues along with related institutions, prominent among them Catholic parochial schools, which by 1920, enrolled nearly two million pupils at the elementary level in local parishes around the country. The immigration of the last half century has added another layer of diversity to American religious life, giving rise to new religious institutions in many communities and altering the character of long-established congregations in others.
Given that most immigrants in the United States are Christian—about 70 percent of all the foreign born—it is not surprising that new ethnic or panethnic congregations have developed among them, from Korean American Protestant to Latino evangelical churches featuring services and programs geared to the needs of the first and second generations.58 Millions of Latino immigrants and their children, with origins in predominantly Catholic Latin America, have put their stamp on the US Catholic Church as a growing number of local churches offer masses in Spanish and some have incorporated customs such as devotional practices dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.59 The non-Christian immigrant groups have brought especially dramatic changes to the religious landscape, with Muslims and Hindus standing out; the overwhelming majority of Muslims (three-quarters) and Hindus (nearly all) in this country are immigrants or children of immigrants.60 By 2010, according to one estimate, over 2,000 Muslim mosques were scattered around the country, up from 1,200 just ten years before; there were also an estimated 235 private elementary and secondary Islamic schools in the United States.61 The number of Hindu temples had grown to more than 400 by the second decade of the twenty-first century, with many of them on the East Coast in the greater New York City area.
Admittedly, Muslims and Hindus are small in number; in 2014, each represented just 1 percent of the total US population and around 4 percent of foreign-born residents.62 Nevertheless, Muslims in particular have had an outsized impact, although this is mostly—and unhappily—owing to negative attitudes toward them. The very presence of new Muslim immigrants has been fraught in the wake of terrorist incidents in the United States and elsewhere, including the September 11, 2001, attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City as well as the widespread framing of Islam as a security threat. Anti-Muslim sentiment received a boost under President Trump, who banned visitors from several Muslim-majority countries, and stoked prejudice and fears with anti-Muslim rhetoric in tweets and speeches. Even before his presidency, a 2002–3 national survey found that about two-fifths of Americans said that they would not welcome a stronger presence of Muslims in the United States (a third said this about Hindus); four in ten Americans said that they would not be happy about a mosque being built in their neighborhood (about a third said that they would be bothered by the idea of a Hindu temple being nearby).63 In a number of places, the building of mosques has been met by open hostility, attempts to block their construction, and occasionally even violence and arson. Not only do many Americans continue to view Islam as an existential threat, but anti-Muslim sentiment could be intensified by unforeseen political events. That about one in ten adult Muslim immigrants are from sub-Saharan Africa adds further complexity since, as sociologist Tod Hamilton notes, they are likely to face threefold discrimination as Muslims, Blacks, and immigrants.64
Yet there is another, more optimistic side to the story. With greater familiarity, many long-established Americans are becoming more accustomed to Muslims and mosques in their midst. That a substantial proportion of foreign-born Muslims are well educated and middle class may also reduce hostility toward them and their institutions, and give their children advantages in getting ahead. Many Muslim immigrants and particularly their US-born children are adopting American customs and ideas, including a pride in being American, even as they have a strong Muslim identity.65 Whatever the reason, a Pew Research Center survey in 2017 found that Americans expressed more positive feelings toward Muslims (as well as Hindus) than they had in 2014, although it should be said that they remained coolest toward Muslims than any other religious group.66 As for Muslims themselves, while around two-thirds of the foreign born and 90 percent of the US born in a Pew survey said that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims, about three-quarters of foreign-born Muslims and a third of the US born said that the American people as a whole are friendly toward Muslim Americans. There are also many instances of cooperation and amicable relations between Muslims and other Americans. In discussing efforts to create an Islamic Center of New England in the Boston area, religious studies scholar Diana Eck describes “a saga of relations with non-Muslim neighbors … from the threats and arson attack [in 1990] to the zoning battles and finally the successful effort to build new bridges of relations with other communities of faith.” More than a decade later in the small south Texas city of Victoria, after a 2017 arson attack devastated a mosque and Islamic community center, local Jewish and Christian congregations responded by offering to host Muslim services in their buildings, and rallies and prayer vigils were held in the community “to reject hate.”67
There are some other hopeful developments. Despite pockets of opposition, about 40 percent of the mosques in the United States in 2010 were built in the previous decade, and no doubt more have been constructed since then. A growing number of Muslim Americans with immigrant origins have been running for electoral office; in 2019, Somali-born Ilhan Omar and second-generation Palestinian Rashida Tlaib became the first female Muslims in Congress, representing districts in Minnesota and Detroit, respectively. Surveys show a declining number of Muslims saying that all or most of their close friends are Muslim, indicating a greater branching out beyond the Muslim community.68 Looking ahead, the future will bring increased intermingling of the children of Muslim immigrants with long-established Americans in neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools, which can increase comfort with people of Muslim background and their institutions, reduce prejudice, and lead to friendships and even intermarriage.
Ultimately, a key question is whether Islam will eventually attain the charter status now occupied by Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism, and whether Muslim religious institutions will come to be seen as part of mainstream America. It is too early to tell. It is now commonplace to think of the United States as a Judeo-Christian nation and a tripartite perspective of Protestant, Catholic, and Jew, but this was hardly the case in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At that time, Protestant denominations were more or less “established” in that they dominated the public square, crowding out Catholicism and Judaism; both were the subject of deep-seated and virulent prejudice and discrimination, associated with disparaged immigrants, mainly from Ireland, Italy, and Russia, and seen by nativist observers to be incompatible with mainstream institutions and culture.69 “Catholicism was depicted not only as the enemy of God,” historian Gary Gerstle writes, “but the enemy of republicanism. To Protestant Americans, the Catholic Church stood for monarchy, aristocracy, and other reactionary forces that America was seeking to escape. Where the pope ruled, Protestants charged, the people most certainly did not. And, thus, Catholic influence had to be resisted, contained, and even eradicated.”70 It may have taken more than a century, but the United States was able to overcome its fear of the “Catholic menace.” By the mid-twentieth century, both Catholicism and Judaism had been incorporated into the system of American pluralism—a development that may be able to provide a model for the inclusion of new groups.71 We cannot rule out the possibility that eventually, many decades from now, we will, to cite Gerstle again, be talking about America as an Abrahamic civilization, a phrase joining Muslims with Jews and Christians. The United States is “at present a long way from that formulation of American national identity, but no further than it once was from the Judeo-Christian one.”72
To return to the here and now, institutional change and innovation are evident outside the religious sphere. Institutions that are less visible or controversial than Muslim mosques, and owe their existence or expansion to the post-1965 immigration, have come on the scene in many cities and local communities.
In the field of education, to give one example, contemporary immigration has spawned a new kind of public school: newcomer schools. A relatively small but growing number of newcomer middle and high schools have been set up around the country in such varied places as New York City and Philadelphia in the Northeast, Indianapolis (Indiana) as well as Columbus and Cleveland (Ohio) in the Midwest, Louisville (Kentucky) and Guilford County (North Carolina) in the Southeast, and Oakland (California) in the West. Specifically designed for recently arrived immigrant students who lack proficiency in English, some of the schools take students through to high school graduation, while others are intended to be transitional so that after a year or so students move to regular schools. In addition to teaching English, newcomer schools aim to help the students make social and emotional adjustments to the United States and learn about American culture. At Oakland International High, nearly half of the students in 2018 had arrived from El Salvador and Guatemala, many as unaccompanied minors, and nearly two-fifths of the more than four hundred students at the school had missed two or more years of formal education. Many of them attended Students with Interrupted Formal Education classes, where they could work to catch up, with the goal of getting them to grade level in English and math.73
Outside the public school system, Chinese and Korean immigrants have added a new dimension to the nation’s exam preparation and tutoring industry through the creation of hundreds of ethnic after-school institutions providing supplementary education in their communities. Chinese language schools have a long history in the United States, dating back to the 1880s in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but they have greatly expanded in number—enrolling more than a hundred thousand students around the country in 2004—and now go beyond Chinese language and cultural enrichment classes to tutoring in such subjects as math and English as well as offering preparation for college entrance exams. Since the 1970s, centers owned by Chinese Americans solely devoted to children’s education have emerged and proliferated; the 2004 Southern California Chinese Consumer Yellow Pages listed 135 academic after-school tutoring establishments. “Driving through the commercial corridor of Chinese ethnoburbs east of Los Angeles,” sociologists Min Zhou and Rebecca Kim observe, “one can easily see the … bilingual signs of these establishments such as ‘Little Harvard,’ ‘Ivy League School,’ ‘Stanford-to-Be Prep School,’ and ‘IQ180.’ ” Hagwons, a South Korean transplant, have sprung up since the 1990s in areas with large Korean populations, offering tutoring in school subjects as well as help with getting into magnet programs and honors classes, and scoring well on standardized tests like Advanced Placement and SAT exams.74
Institutional change in education, as in other arenas, is to a large extent about innovative programs, policies, and initiatives that have been incorporated into long-established mainstream community or citywide institutions. Already-existing schools have institutionalized new language programs and policies in the wake of new legal mandates in post–civil rights America and the need to provide for immigrant students who speak an array of languages. This is a clear change from the past. In the last great wave of immigration more than a hundred years ago, it was basically sink or swim in public schools for the vast majority of non-English-speaking children of European immigrants in the eastern and midwestern cities where they generally settled. True, bilingual instruction was hardly unknown at the time. Some Polish immigrant children in Chicago, to give one example, attended Catholic schools where a small amount of teaching was in the mother tongue. Public schools in several midwestern cities offered bilingual German and English programs in the late nineteenth century, although these were outlawed in many states during the anti-German hysteria of World War I. Some local school systems at the turn of the twentieth century, like those of New York City, Detroit, and Cleveland, initiated special “steamer” or “C” classes, basically structured English-immersion classes meant to allow non-English-speaking children to learn enough English to function, however haltingly, in the regular program. But these classes lasted only a short time, from six weeks to six months, and were available to only a tiny fraction of those who would have benefited. In New York City, where the C classes originated, nearly three-quarters of public school students in the first decade of the twentieth century had foreign-born parents. The C classes, however, “never exceeded 2 percent of the total school enrollment, a result of severe overcrowding, limited resources, and inertia and opposition among teachers and principals.”75 Children in New York City who spoke no English were generally put in the first grade whatever their age. Bilingualism was not an option. Yiddish and Italian were taboo in the classroom, including in the special steamer language classes. On the immigrant Lower East Side, district superintendent Julia Richman even forbade students to speak Yiddish among themselves during recess or in the halls and bathrooms. She told teachers to give demerits to those who used the hated “jargon” and encouraged them to wash out with soap the mouths of students who relapsed.76
It’s a different story now. For all the problems associated with language programs for immigrants in today’s public schools, and debates about the relative merits of different approaches, they are a distinct improvement from the past. They also represent a significant change in the organization of schools in the post-1965 period. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 paved the way for an infusion of government funds for bilingual education programs, which typically use English and the native language in teaching academic content. The 1968 Bilingual Education Act provided financial assistance for innovative bilingual educational programs, although the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act moved away from explicit support of bilingual education; instead it emphasized the attainment of English proficiency in loosely defined “language instruction educational programs,” distributing funds to states depending on enrollments of English-language-learner students, and requiring schools to show improvement in these students’ test scores.77
What this has meant on the ground for actual language programs has varied from school to school. Based on their in-depth study of immigrant students and schools in Boston and San Francisco, Carola and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and Irina Todorova concluded that “U.S. language policies are literally all over the map. Each state, each district—each school—seemed to have its own set of priorities, rules, and predilections.”78 Some bilingual programs, for example, teach content areas through the native language more than others; some programs labeled English only permit a minimal amount of assistance in a child’s native language while others completely immerse students in English. To add to the mix, dual-language immersion programs have become more common in recent years. Beginning in kindergarten or first grade and continuing through elementary school, these programs integrate native English and English second-language speakers, using each of the languages (most often English and Spanish) for various portions of the school day and developing reading skills in both. By 2019, these programs numbered about three thousand in at least forty states and the District of Columbia, up from a few hundred in 2009.79 Despite the variation in programs and practices, the bottom line is that language instruction programs geared for immigrant children with limited English-language ability have become a regular feature of the educational landscape.
Schools have been affected by immigration in an additional way. While the introduction of multicultural approaches in many of the nation’s public schools owes much to the civil rights movement, immigration has played a role as well. In New York City, where the elementary schools often serve students from well over a dozen countries, teachers are encouraged to create classrooms where, among other things, they display pictures, artwork, maps, charts, and flags representing the homelands of students and their families.80 This kind of educational approach also has been adopted elsewhere in the country as many teacher training programs and schools promote ways for teachers to create classrooms in which students learn about as well as celebrate cultural diversity, and develop respect for each other’s cultures and backgrounds.
Hospitals are another established institution in cities and local communities that have undergone changes in the context of large-scale immigration. A notable new feature is the addition of translation programs to hospitals’ organizational roster to assist immigrant patients with limited English-language ability. This is not a return to practices at the time of earlier waves of immigration. Certainly, some hospitals a hundred years ago made efforts to assist non-English-speaking immigrants. Beth Israel Hospital, for instance, founded at the turn of the twentieth century on New York City’s Lower East Side, made a point of serving kosher food, and doctors and nurses conversed with patients in Yiddish. In Chicago and New York, women’s communities of Catholic nuns involved in nursing acted as interpreters between doctors and patients who spoke different languages.81
The interpreter services in today’s hospitals, in contrast, are legally mandated by federal and state laws, and are much more extensive than in the past. They also involve new approaches that benefit from modern technology, among them interpreter services via phone, teleconference, translation software, and apps, in good part because these are so much less expensive than on-site interpreters. Although hospitals receiving federal funds like Medicaid have been required to provide interpreting services, admittedly what they offer is frequently woefully inadequate, “part of an ad-hoc system that often means if translation is provided at all, it’s likely from a bystander, family member, or friend with no idea how to say things like ‘mitral valve prolapse’ in a foreign language.”82 Still, innovative interpreter programs have become part of the organization of contemporary hospitals and are likely to persist as long as immigration remains substantial.
Quite apart from changes in schools and hospitals, many city governments—twenty-eight as of 2015—have established new immigrant affairs offices under the auspices of the mayor that, among other things, aim to coordinate and streamline city efforts to foster immigrant integration, support immigrant entrepreneurs, and nurture new community organizations serving immigrants.83 Also, at least a dozen city governments have instituted something else that is new: municipal identification cards. The introduction of municipal IDs is a response to the difficulties confronting undocumented immigrants in obtaining a valid government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, which as of 2020, was not permitted to the undocumented in thirty-five states.
New Haven, Connecticut, led the way as the first city to issue municipal ID cards in 2007; since then a number of other cities have followed suit, among them New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In New York City, which has the largest municipal ID program in the country, nearly 1.2 million people were cardholders in 2016, almost half of them immigrants. To entice nonimmigrant New Yorkers to sign up for the card and reduce any potential stigma they might carry, the card has come with free one-year memberships at or discounts to many of the city’s cultural institutions. Valid only in New York City, the cards can be used for identification with the police, public schools, and libraries as well as in stores and some banks, but cannot be used for air travel, or to prove legal age to purchase alcohol or tobacco.84
In stark contrast to municipal ID cards, and indeed the changes in local mainstream institutions I have already mentioned, are institutional changes of a different order: those explicitly meant to be punitive and that involve policing undocumented immigrants. For much of the twentieth century, US immigration enforcement was nearly exclusively about border enforcement in the Southwest. In the 1990s, partly owing to the growth and increasing dispersion of the undocumented population, the federal government for the first time “ramped up its efforts to engage states and localities in immigration enforcement on a formal, ongoing basis” deep within the American heartlands, enlisting local police and sheriffs around the country in a drive to detect and remove unauthorized immigrants.85
Just how local officials responded to the initiatives to bring them into the enforcement process varied; a series of national surveys of police chiefs and sheriffs found that responses ran the gamut from eagerness to enforce federal law to active resistance, with most falling in between. An especially egregious example of local overenforcement was Arizona’s Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, in office from 1993 to 2016, when he styled himself “America’s toughest sheriff.” Arpaio engaged over a hundred deputies to conduct raids of workplaces, neighborhood sweeps, and traffic stops of “Latino-looking” drivers, and became famous for setting up a tent city jail, with sweltering temperatures inside that could reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, and requiring inmates to wear pink underwear. At the other end of the spectrum, in 2015 over three hundred cities and counties, including Chicago and San Francisco, did not fully cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.86
Overall, the surveys of police chiefs and sheriffs revealed that a bigger immigrant population was associated with supportive policing practices; in both large and small cities with a heavy immigrant presence, law enforcement leaders were more likely to recognize that officers had to learn to serve as well as communicate with newcomers and gain their trust. When it came to restrictive city policies and harsh practices, the political leanings of the local population were key; on average, the police were more likely to crack down on suspected unauthorized immigrants by reporting or detaining them in localities where the public leaned conservative or Republican. Is this because conservative public opinion and politicians placed more pressure on police to engage in immigration enforcement? Or because law enforcement personnel in conservative localities were themselves more likely to hold conservative views on immigration? It is unclear.87 Either way, political orientations were involved. Indeed, it is hardly surprising that institutional innovations to assist the undocumented, such as municipal ID cards, have been introduced in liberal, heavily Democratic cities. With regard to local institutional and policy changes aimed at the undocumented, politics obviously matters.
In cities, towns, and suburbs all across the country, immigrants have been remaking communities so that they have changed dramatically from five decades ago—a time before the huge post-1965 influx began to take off. This process of remaking is of course an age-old one, part of the nature of immigration’s impact on American society since the nation’s founding, and so inevitably leads to questions about how the current changes are similar to those that took place in the past. Undeniably, the way immigration has now been reshaping cities and communities often resembles patterns found before. Mass immigration, now as in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has brought new ethnic, racial, and religious diversity to urban areas, for example, and given rise to new ethnic neighborhoods. There is even a strong resemblance of today’s ethnoburbs to an earlier version created by the descendants of European immigrants in mid-twentieth-century America. But to resemble is not to be exactly the same. Among other things, today’s new ethnic and multiethnic communities involve different national origin groups, cultures, and religions than in past eras of large-scale immigration so that we have been currently witnessing genuine transformations rather than just a replica of old patterns.
There are a slew of other late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century elements that give the community transformations rooted in immigration today a distinctive form and character. Many suburbs that did not even exist at the beginning of the twentieth century have been strongly impacted by the large number of contemporary immigrants and their children who now live in them; the same goes for many of the country’s largest metropolitan areas in the South, Southwest, and West, which a hundred years ago were more thinly populated and attracted few immigrants. Schools, hospitals, and local governments—these mainstream institutions have seen the introduction of entirely new programs in the wake of contemporary mass immigration, while new institutions such as Muslim mosques have come on the scene for the first time in many communities.
No matter how much the changes today resemble, or build on, those that occurred in earlier eras or are altogether new developments, one thing is clear. Without the mass immigration of the past half century, cities, towns, and suburbs in the United States would look and feel very different. Much as some Americans would like to go back to the way things were in the 1950s and early 1960s, before large-scale immigration got underway, the fact is that this is impossible. And this, in important ways, is a good thing. Immigration has been a key factor underpinning the expansion of many metropolitan areas that have been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, and has revitalized urban neighborhoods, and indeed many rural communities, that were losing people and were in decline. This changing demography is closely linked to changes in the economy—a significant part of the account to which I now turn.