Separate Destinations: Migration, Immigration and the Politics of Places

Separate Destinations: Migration, Immigration and the Politics of Places

Jones-Correa, Michael

Separate Destinations: Migration, Immigration and the Politics of Places. By James G. Gimpel. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Pp. 403. $57.50.


Harvard University

Political science has ignored, for the most part, the possible connections between population movement and political outcomes. Particularly in a highly mobile society like the United States, in which about ten percent of the population are first generation immigrants, and where the Census Bureau finds that about fifteen percent of the population moves in any given year, the absence of any serious examination of the impact of population mobility on American politics is puzzling. James Gimpel’s book Separate Destinations sets about to remedy this oversight.

Separate Destinations is made up of detailed analyses of population movements within seven states – California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania. These states can be grouped in a classic two-by-two table: those with high/low immigration growth rates, and those with high/low internal migration rates. California and Florida, for example, have both high rates of internal and international migration, while New York and Pennsylvania have low rates of migration overall. Each state is analyzed in its own chapter.

While Gimpel provides a great deal of information on population movements within these seven states, it is less clear what the findings from these seven cases add up to. Basically, Gimpel argues that immigration from abroad and migrations within the U.S. have profound impacts on American politics, largely because these population movements are unevenly distributed, not only across states, but also within states. Because migration streams tend to settle in homogeneous areas – internal migrants in largely white suburban regions, and new immigrants to urban areas populated largely by other ethnic minorities – the unevenness of settlement movements leads, Gimpel writes, to “political balkanization.”

Political balkanization Gimpel defines as “political inequalities across space in the propensity to vote or identify with one party or the other” (p. 3). As the result of migration, some areas will lean more Democratic than Republican, or vice versa. In particular, Gimpel emphasizes that immigrant concentration in urban areas reinforces cities’ bias toward the Democratic Party. But this “balkanization” apparently has other insidious effects as well. As areas become more homogeneous politically, turnout declines. As turnout declines, and meaningful political choices for voters are curtailed, elected representatives become less accountable to their constituents (p. 14). The solution, as Gimpel sees it, is two-fold: first, political districts should be drawn to emphasize partisan diversity, thus ensuring competitive twoparty districts (putting aside the Voting Rights Act’s attempts to preserve majorityminority districts along the way). Second, immigration policy should be re-prioritized to favor immigrants with greater education and/or economic means, since these immigrants are more likely to disperse into the suburbs, assimilating more quickly (as measured by indicators like the acquisition of citizenship) into the American mainstream.

Setting aside the practicability of Gimpel’s recommendations, some questions arise. First, it is unclear why Gimpel sees the concentration of minorities in urban areas as more problematic, on the face of it, than the concentration of white Republicans in suburbs. Surely these two are mirror images of one another, and indeed, while minorities, particularly immigrants, settle in urban areas due to economic constraints, whites often settle in suburbs precisely to distance themselves from the problems they perceive as arising from urban minorities. The behavior of suburbanites should be, in principle, more problematic than that of urban minorities, but these are downplayed. Second, Gimpel makes a great deal out the fact that immigrants in suburbs naturalize at higher rates then those concentrated in ethnic urban areas. But it is never clear whether this is a reflection of the effects of spatial dispersion, or whether immigrants living in suburbs are already a self-selected group, by education and income, who would be more likely to naturalize regardless of where they lived. Third, Gimpel is disturbed that urban minorities should gravitate to the Democratic Party, but rather than blaming individuals for their political choices, one might ask what accounts for the absence of competing parties: granting Gimpel’s premise, why is it that the Republican Party seems to have written off a largely minority urban electorate? This observation highlights a deeper problem with the book: individual choices are rarely placed in the context of institutions and policies; politics are seen solely through the eyes of demography. Fourth, suggesting that the U.S. dispense with drawing ethnically concentrated districts, as it has for the last thirty-five years under the Voting Rights Act, ignores the fact that minority candidates have had great difficulty in being elected by white voters. The reasons that minorities might have for residential clustering, and for electing co-ethnics to office, escapes Gimpel’s attention.

In short, Separate Destinations addresses a real lacuna in the social science literature the political effects of population movements at the state and local level – raising some intriguing questions along the way, but its theoretical framework and policy proposals offer only some initial steps in what promises to be a complex and contentious discussion.

Copyright Center for Migration Studies Spring 2001

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