Why are some cities so much better at integrating immigrants than others?

A protest in New York City. Image: Getty.

As anti-immigrant sentiment erupts in Western democracies from Germany to the United States, some cities are still finding ways to make immigrants feel at home.

I conducted hundreds of interviews with immigrants in New York, Paris and Barcelona intermittently for over a decade to understand how each city integrates – or excludes – its migrants.

My new book, A Place to Call Home explains why some cities and their residents do better at incorporating foreign-born newcomers in the local economy, culture and politics.

A feeling of belonging

On the surface, immigration in these three cities looks quite different.

Over one-third of all New Yorkers were born abroad, the majority of them in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Paris, where 20 per cent of the population is foreign-born, most immigrants and their children come from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and other former French colonies in North Africa.

Much of Barcelona’s immigrant population, around 17.8 per cent of its total population, is Latin American or Moroccan.

Despite their diverse origins, the immigrants I spoke with consistently cited the same elements as being critical to their sense of urban belonging, helping them to feel “at home” while working, socialising and raising a family in the city.

New York and Barcelona, it turns out, foster this sense of belonging more than Paris does.

Nearly 70 per cent of the first-generation Latino immigrants I interviewed in New York City feel that they are part of the community. Just under half of first-generation Moroccans in Barcelona felt that way. But only 19 per cent of North Africans in Paris feel like part of the community.

Lots of jobs

In part, interviewees told me, that’s because New York and Barcelona both have ample jobs open to immigrants in both the formal and informal sectors.

Immigrants are vital to New York City’s economy. According to the New York state comptroller’s office, immigrants account for 43 per cent of the city’s workforce and nearly one-third of its economic output.

Immigrants have a strong presence in the service sector and construction. Additionally, according to a 2016 comptroller’s report, “Many industries, such as technology, finance and information, draw on a worldwide talent pool of immigrants to maintain their competitiveness.”

Barcelona, too, has depended on immigrant labour to grow its economy. Until Europe’s 2007 economic crisis, when high unemployment slowed immigration and compelled many foreign-born workers to return to their countries of origin, immigrants were an important part of the labour force.

Employers in both cities are also generally accepting of undocumented status. Some 560,000 undocumented people live in New York City, according to a March 2018 report by the city, which is 6.3 per cent of the city’s total population. Undocumented immigrants in New York have a high labor-force participation rate – 77 per cent for people ages 16 and above.


Events and services for immigrants

Both Barcelona and New York also hold regular cultural events celebrating immigrants.

Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Parade, organised by Caribbean immigrant populations and funded partly by corporate donations, draws millions of revelers each year.

In Manhattan, the act of closing down some main avenues to host the Saint Patrick’s, Puerto Rican, Dominican or Mexican Day parades is an important sign of solidarity with foreign-born residents and their descendants.

Many local nonprofit organisations and government agencies in New York and Barcelona exist to serve immigrants’ specific needs.

In Barcelona, the Service Center for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees is a government service that provides free resources for immigrants on how to obtain legal status and eventually obtain Spanish nationality. It also provides educational, employment and housing services in seven different languages.

In New York, many different immigration organisations advocate for immigrant rights and provide numerous resources and programs throughout the city. They also aim to elect immigrants into political office and community leadership positions to improve immigrants’ public representation.

Let immigrants be

Immigrants also told me that people in New York and Barcelona just let foreign-born residents be themselves, allowing them to maintain their own identity while creating a new home.

From the point of view of immigrants, then, it’s the ratio between being specifically catered to and treated the same as anyone else that determines how welcome they feel.

The key to inclusion, in other words, seems to be to help immigrant integration without forcing it.

No city is perfect at this. In New York, Barcelona and Paris alike, I found that many immigrants were stuck in low-skilled jobs, working in restaurant kitchens, taxis and construction sites – no matter what they did back home.

All the immigrants I spoke with struggle to find affordable, quality housing in these expensive metropolises. Anti-immigrant politicians publicly decry them as “threats” to the nation.

And immigrants of color in these predominantly white countries reported being racially profiled by both police and residents, though that appears to happen much less often in New York City.

What Paris gets wrong

In my interviews, the first- and second-generation immigrants who most often reported that they struggled to feel at home were the ones who lived in Paris and its metropolitan region.

France has long embraced the idea of itself as a homogeneous secular republic. This notion endured even as the country colonised Muslim North African countries like Algeria and Tunisia in the 19th and early 20th centuries and recruited workers from those countries.

The secular ideal makes it difficult for French society to address the ways that immigrants may in fact be different than the native-born French.

France’s national census cannot ask about racial or ethnic identity, for example. So policies designed to help minorities – such as affirmative action – are not only almost impossible there but also frowned upon as discriminatory.

Racial discrimination and racist comments are not uncommon in Paris. But France’s steadfast belief that it is a “colour-blind” society means there is little interest in talking about racism.

Muslim immigrants living in Paris also told me that they felt Parisians expected them to assimilate – to abandon their home culture and become entirely and immediately “French”.

Support for ethnic and race-based organizations of the sort that proliferate in Barcelona and New York, is also seen as anti-French. As a result, immigrants in Paris typically practice their religion and cultural traditions in private. That isolates them from their neighbours and prevents most native-born French from learning about these newcomers.

The ConversationThis external pressure to conform quickly to the national culture makes immigrants feel less at home – and, based on my research, less likely to actually assimilate over time.

Ernesto Castañeda, Assistant Professor of Sociology, American University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Five ways in which the rest of the world can avoid the homelessness crisis plaguing the US

Housing for all. Image: Nicobobinus/Flickr/creative commons.

Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK, where the number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010, yet it is dwarfed by the scale of the issue in the US. More than 500,000 homeless were found across the US during just one night, compared to the UK’s 2017 count of 4,751. Changes in the definition of homelessness and flawed methodologies suggest that the true number for the US could be anywhere from 2.5 to 10.2 times greater.

Millions more live in overcrowded or slum housing, forced to choose between the damage that poor conditions do to their physical and mental health, and the street. All of the US’s housing issues – from foreclosures to evictions to poor conditions – hit communities of colour the hardest.

This is due to a legacy of discrimination, which continues to undercut any commitment to safe and decent housing for all residents, whether in the private or public sector. In my recent book, City of Segregation, I explain how the long, violent history of creating spaces for the white and privileged classes is embedded in a number of practices, which continue in US cities to this day.

Exporting inequality

As private developers and investors seek out urban land in major cities around the world to secure their fortunes, real estate patterns and practices developed within the US are increasingly being observed elsewhere.

In cities as diverse as London, Sydney and Durban, community groups which have been working for decades to improve their neighbourhoods languish with little public or private resource. Meanwhile, developers create spaces for foreign investors and new residents, who anticipate certain protections and privileges such as greater security, high quality amenities and neighbours with similar interests and backgrounds.

This is a driving force behind rising evictions and the criminalisation of homelessness, alongside gated communities, hostile architecture, “broken windows” policing with its focus on prosecuting activities such as graffiti or jaywalking and the growing privatisation of public spaces through regeneration.

But there is still time for other countries to choose a different path. The UK, in particular, can build on the legacies of the post-war political consensus that all residents should have access to quality housing, and its acknowledgement of institutional racism and some history of government anti-racist campaigning.

Both legacies should be improved, but a renewed commitment to a programme of housing and anti-racism are central to increasing equality, prosperity and well-being for all. Based on my research, I’ve come up with five steps which the UK and countries like it can follow, to ensure that future development reduces – rather than drives – homelessness and inequality.


1. Build social housing

Unlike the US, the UK acknowledges a right to a home, and within living memory provided it for a huge swathe of British society. Social housing – whether in the form of traditional council flats, cooperatives or community land trusts – provides a variety of housing types and keeps rents from rising too far beyond wages.

When social housing is widely available, it makes a huge difference to people who – for one reason or another, and often through no fault of their own – become homeless. With social housing to fall back on, homelessness is a temporary condition which can be safely resolved. Without it, homelessness can become a life-destroying downwards spiral.

2. Preserve and expand community assets

Severe segregation in the US stripped entire communities of access to quality food, jobs, education, green spaces, services, banks and loans. Poverty is endemic, and can easily tip into homelessness. While far from perfect, the UK’s post-war commitment to universal provision of services, such as education and health care, and building social housing across all neighbourhoods underpinned a surge in upward mobility.

This achievement should be salvaged from the damage done by Right To Buy – a policy which sold off social housing without replacing it – and austerity, which has prompted a sell-off of public assets and land, as well as the closure of childrens’ services, libraries and community centres.

3. Decommodify housing

A market geared towards building apartment blocks for the portfolios of investors who will never live in them cannot produce the kind of housing and neighbourhoods which residents need, much less at a price they can afford.

While London has been badly affected for some time, this trend is now spreading to other areas of the UK and Europe. Local and national governments must act to prevent global demand for housing as investments from driving prices beyond the reach of those who need real homes.

4. Build communities, not walls

Gates, bars, armed security and homeowner restrictions are all ugly traits of private housing developed within the US context of desperate inequality and racism. The UK has a long and vibrant tradition of community development, creating a supportive built environment and social infrastructure of schools, libraries and other municipal services for residents.

Community assets. Image: Helen K/Flickr/creative commons.

This kind of development, and the social mobility and growing equality it fosters, safeguards public health and safety – not big walls, barbed wire and security guards. The private rented sector in the UK should be regulated to bring it more in line with Europe, where tenants prosper with security of tenure and strong regulation of rents and rent increases.

5. Raise your voice

Those who are bearing the brunt of our current housing crisis must be at the centre of efforts to change it. From tenants’ associations and renters’ unions, to campaign groups such as Justice for Grenfell, it’s vital to support those voices advocating fairer housing rights.

This also means rejecting austerity’s constant cuts to public services, funding social support for physical and mental health and ensuring that homes are safe, decent and secure, to create a safety net for those who are working to improve their communities.

The Conversation

Andrea Gibbons, Researcher in Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.