What the ICE Raids Mean for Immigrant Communities

Philip KasinitzThe Trump administration’s plan to step up raids on undocumented immigrants has drawn widespread concern and backlash. We invited Presidential Professor of Sociology Philip Kasinitz, who directs The Graduate Center’s M.A. Program in International Migration Studies, to weigh in on the administration’s latest effort to arrest and deport immigrants.

Kasinitz is a prolific scholar who specializes in immigration, ethnicity, and urban social life. The author of a number of books, he regularly publishes journal articles and is often quoted in top media.

The Graduate Center: The U.S. is not alone in taking a harder line on enforcing its immigration laws and deterring undocumented immigration. What is driving this anti-immigrant sentiment? 

Kasinitz: We are seeing a growing tide of populist nationalism in many immigrant-receiving countries. While this is not always a reaction to the same things, they do share some common characteristics: unease about globalization of the economy, growing social and economic  inequality, loss of status and security by the “native” working class as well as a reaction to growing ethnic diversity in many nations. And it is  also true  that  nativist groups — particularly the most extreme nativist  groups — are now in contact  with each other across borders. Ironically the nationalists are themselves globalized and their  ideas influence each other, thanks in large part to social media.

That said, there are real differences in how nativism is expressed in various countries. For example, in the Netherlands, anti-Islamic activism is often justified by a defense of LBGT rights and same-sex marriage. In Scandinavia, anti-immigrant hostility is often paired with a defense of an expansive welfare  state. Obviously neither of these is a  common position among anti-immigrant forces in the  U.S.  

GC: The Trump administration announced raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last week to take place within major U.S. cities, including New York. What is the purpose of announcing ICE raids in advance?

Kasinitz: I have no idea what shapes ICE policies or strategies, and I can only guess  what  the administration is trying  to accomplish. That said, it certainly appears that the goal of making announcements  in advance  is to gin up support among the  anti-immigrant base while at  the same time, scaring  as many people as possible.

In the end, ICE appears to have made very few apprehensions last week, but they did scare a lot of people. And the fact  that these raids were supposed to happen in people’s homes, workplaces, and public  spaces poses a threat not just to the people with deportation orders, but to everyone who lives near them. It discourages people from using public space and participating in daily life activities. Perhaps it is an attempt to make daily life difficult and scary, not just for the people with deportation orders, but  for immigrant communities in general. 

GC: Although the mass ICE raids largely failed to materialize, ICE arrests are rising. How is this increase affecting immigrants, particularly in diverse urban areas like New York City?

Kasinitz: It makes  people less secure in their  homes and neighborhoods. It discourages them from going out in public — from going to church, from attending  meetings at the children’s schools, from using hospitals. It makes people less likely to cooperate with the police or to report crime. It makes them less likely to want to go to court. In general, it reduces people’s ability to participate in society.

GC: The growing humanitarian crisis on the U.S. southern border has precipitated proposals to launch a Marshall Plan for Central America to address the root causes of migration: growing violence and lack of opportunity.  What do you think about such an idea? Is it politically viable?

Kasinitz: It is a good idea. The U.S. bares some of responsibility for the situation in Central America and in any event a healthy Central America would be good for everyone and not just because it would greatly reduce the number  of refugees. But the problems of Central America will not be solved overnight, and in any event more investment in Central America is no excuse for inhumane treat of refugees at our border, who are requesting asylum, which, I should add is legal, and their  right  under both U.S. and international law.

GC: Applying for asylum is a right under international and U.S. law. Based on your research, once refugees are settled within the U.S. after securing legal refugee status, how do they fare?

Kasinitz: The past refugees granted asylum have done relatively well in the U.S. If granted asylum, they are entitled to more services than ordinary immigrants are (although still not much by world standards) and they can (and often do) naturalize earlier. If we look at the history of Jewish and other  refugees from the World War II era, the Hungarians, the  Cubans, the  Vietnamese, the Hmong, the Soviet Jews, the Somalis, etc., they generally integrated into U.S. society as fast or faster than comparable non-refugee immigrant groups. That said, their backgrounds and circumstances are all quite different. Largely poor, rural, and less well-educated Somalis and Cambodians, for example, do not have the same experience as largely urban and highly educated, often middle -class Russian Jews, Vietnamese, and Cubans. So, it is hard to generalize.

GC: Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Kasinitz: The question of how many immigrants to allow per year and how to select them is  a  complicated one. Personally, I think we don’t take enough. But lots of smart people feel differently; it’s a question on which reasonable people of good will can disagree. But the needlessly inhumane and cruel treatment of desperate refugees and their children is simply inexcusable. That should be something we can all agree on. I also think the larger effort of the Trump administration to criminalize the issue of immigration — to depict immigrants, even unauthorized immigrants, as evil, criminal, and a threat to our society is an appeal to our worst fears, prejudices, and insecurities. It dehumanizes people who can be seen as “different” while doing nothing to address the real issues raised by mass migration.  

Submitted on: JUL 18, 2019

Category: Faculty | General GC News | International Migration Studies | Sociology