Migration and Inequality A Structural Approach

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Ron Hayduk


Migrants are omnipresent in cosmopolitan societies.  Propelled from their homelands by poverty, violence, and environmental disasters—and the promise of better opportunities and security—migrants have found their way into metropolitan regions. At the same time, we see steep increases in economic inequality. These changes, which are intrinsically connected to the rise of neoliberal polices, have pushed immigration to the top of the political agenda for both the political right and left in many nations. The right seeks to erect walls, restrict immigration, and deport the undocumented. The left seeks amnesty, sanctuary policies and other measures to advance human rights in response to the migration crisis. Yet neither approach addresses the underlying causes of migration nor growing inequalities that together animate populist revolts on both the left and right across the globe. 

In this paper, I employ a framework that foregrounds capitalist accumulation at the center of these processes. Focusing on urban areas in the US, I highlight the ways economic, social and political structures contribute to growing inequalities between immigrants and the native born -- as well as sharp inequalities within each group -- which, in turn, affect patterns of immigrant incorporation, politics and options for reform.  The paper examines US immigration and immigrant policy, assessing their impacts on inequality and immigrant incorporation processes and outcomes.  I conclude by pointing to contemporary social movements and evolving political alignments, which have the potential to achieve more egalitarian outcomes capable of sustaining social cohesion in metropolitan regions, as well as more stable and robust democratic systems across borders. Given that immigrants and their offspring comprise nearly one in four people in the U.S., addressing such inequalities is theoretically important and a pressing political concern. 

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