Immigration has always been integral to economic development in American society. But unlike the past, today most foreign-born residents are not from Europe and many of them have unpredictable settling patterns. With the majority of its new immigrants hailing primarily from Asia and Latin America, the United States is experiencing a major shift in demographics. Furthermore, the burgeoning population of residents living in or entering the country illegally challenges our society’s integration and national identity.
These issues were the focus of the Institute for the Social Sciences’ (ISS) three-year theme project Immigration: Settlement, Integration and Membership, which wrapped up with a capstone lecture April 3.
“We’re at the peak of one of these great waves of immigration in the United States, part of a larger movement of people around the world,” said the project’s leader, Michael Jones-Correa, professor of government. “We have as many people living in the U.S. as immigrants … in total numbers greater than we’ve ever had.”
Settlement patterns have shifted, creating greater challenges to identity than they have in the past, he said.
“[Many immigrants today] are not settling in the old magnet areas of California, New York and Florida,” Jones-Correa said. Especially after the 1990s, there has been “dispersal immigration in areas with little historical experience in immigration, [particularly] in the South and the Midwest.”
Many laborers living in the country illegally do not enjoy the full rights that their counterparts with legal status enjoy, which Jones-Correa said is a system of “imperfect rights” that “are very much fragmented and have gaps in them which lead to real disparities, for instance, in the workplace.”
He continued, “[There is] no clear pathway to gaining those full rights. There’s been a shift in the way that immigrants are treated in the world, [with] undocumented immigrants in particular, increasingly being criminalized.”
From 2011-2012 the ISS team hosted four workshops to further their research and to educate people on immigration issues, both in the U.S. and internationally. And over the past three years, the Immigration group received $788,000 in additional funding for related projects, many of them centered on socioeconomic and political incorporation of immigrants in the United States.
Although the theme project has officially ended, the ISS, together with the Latino Studies Program and the Cornell Institute for European Studies continue to sponsor a series of presentations and guest lectures at Cornell, culminating in an April 19th event with President David Skorton, UCLA law professor Hiroshi Motomura, Stephen Yale-Loehr of Cornell Law School, and Jones-Correa and on current efforts toward immigration reform.
In the longer run, “[o]ne of the purposes of these ISS projects is to think about the institutional legacies that the projects leave,” Jones-Correa said. “It is meant to find ways to continue this conversation that was very much on our minds when we got into this. The work that we’re most interested in is how to build institutional foundations for an immigration network here at Cornell.”
Jacques Diec ’15 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.
Kick-off Lecture: Contested Global Landscapes
The Institute for the Social Science’s Contested Global Landscapes theme project will give a kickoff lecture introducing the project April 10,4:30-6 p.m., 423 ILR Conference Center. The team’s faculty co-leaders, Charles Geisler and Wendy Wolford, both in the Department of Development Sociology, will discuss the team’s key research questions, specific research projects and public activities. Team members will be on hand for a Q&A session following the lecture. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, visit <http://www.socialsciences.cornell.edu/1215/Land_Lectures.html>.