Theses Doctoral

Democracy and Discrimination: Analyzing Diverging Local Responses to Immigration

Steil, Justin Peter

Over the past decade, cities have passed an unprecedented number of laws seeking to drive undocumented immigrants from their jurisdictions. At the same time, however, large numbers of cities have passed policies seeking to incorporate recent immigrants into local civic and social life, regardless of immigration status. What explains why similar cities have responded so differently?

Quantitative analysis tests the explanatory power of theories of political opportunity structure, labor market competition, demographic changes represented as threats, and the exclusionary tendencies of homeowners in predicting the passage of exclusionary and inclusionary ordinances in cities nationwide. The predictors of the passage of exclusionary ordinances are consistent with the salience of political opportunity structure, demographic changes represented as threats, and the exclusionary tendencies of homeowners. The predictors of the passage of inclusionary ordinances are most consistent with theories of political opportunity structure and the relative absence of the exclusionary tendencies of homeowners in cities with lower levels of owner-occupied housing.

Case studies in two sets of paired cities that passed diverging ordinances examine the social and political processes on the ground. This qualitative research finds that residents in exclusionary cities expressed anxieties over the effects of demographic change on home values and neighborhood character. Diverging processes of framing and mobilization emerge as central to the development of local collective identities that include or exclude new immigrant residents.

Network analysis of the connections between local civil society organizations in each of the four case study cities identifies the architecture of local civil society networks as a significant factor correlated with the divergent responses to demographic change. The networks in exclusionary cities score highly on measures of density, clustering, and closure, suggest that the network is broken into cliques and that local elites are isolated both from recent immigrants and from non-elite, native-born residents. The high levels of network closure facilitate the creation of rigid group boundaries, the high levels of clustering reinforce pre-existing beliefs within those groups, and the network density aids in the enforcement of sanctions against those who deviate from group norms. By contrast, the networks in inclusionary cities are characterized by multiple organizational bridges between immigrant and native-born communities that facilitate the creation of relationships necessary to craft inclusive policies and a sense that local resources can grow with the population.

The research suggests that the local laws seeking to drive out undocumented immigrants are an example of a broader category of exclusionary property laws. The linked social and spatial processes involved in the enactment and enforcement of these laws are one way in which categorical inequalities, such as socio-economic disparities by race, ethnicity, immigration status, or gender become embedded in place.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Marcuse, Peter
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 24, 2015