Panel Paper: Partnership, Freeriding, or Fear: Metropolitan Officials’ Responses to Immigrants

Thursday, July 19, 2018
Building 3, Room 209 (ITAM)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Abigail Fisher Williamson, Trinity College

For nearly three decades, the United States has experienced increasing immigrant dispersion, coupled with congressional gridlock on the question of comprehensive immigration reform. In this context, municipalities nationwide – whether central cities, suburbs, or rural areas – are playing an increasingly important role in shaping policies addressing immigrant residents. Some scholars have identified a trend in which suburban leaders partner with immigrant organizations to serve the foreign-born. Others have argued that suburbs may be particularly inactive or even restrictive when it comes to addressing immigrant populations. Suburbs may be inclined to freeride on services to immigrants that neighboring cities provide; or they may place an especially high value on quality of life issues and home values, leading to concern about foreign-born newcomers’ presence. With immigrant populations growing more quickly in suburbs than cities, this paper investigates whether suburbs respond distinctively to immigrants, why they might do so, and identifies the consequences of these trends for metropolitan regions. The paper draws on two original surveys of municipal officials conducted in 2014 and 2016 to demonstrate that large cities are especially accommodating in their responses to immigrants, while suburbs are consistently less accommodating and more restrictive, holding constant other factors. The paper draws on interviews with local officials and analysis of other variables differentiating types of suburbs to better understand when suburban officials respond to immigrants in a restrictive manner and how these choices affect the broader metropolitan context of reception.