Immigration

Less than human: The human costs of socially labeling migrants

This article uses three works: one looking at the theoretical reasons for initial and sustained migration patterns; one qualitatively explaining the North African and Eastern European mass migration to France during the country’s reconstruction period following WWII; and the other body of work is a quantitative study examining residential patterns of French neighborhoods between 1968-2007.

Utilizing the three works combined, I have thread a narrative about the ill-effects of labeling migrants. Whether labels are given based upon the proliferation of migrant laborers in a particular job or industry, or due to the dramatization of ghettoizing migrant communities, each of these social labels – or mislabels – have a human toll.

I highly encourage watching the documentary, Immigrant Memories: North African Inheritance, which is broken up into three segments in order to capture the different migration experiences of fathers, mothers, and children. If you would like to read more on the study or migration theories, please follow the links in the references.

As always, happy reading!

Feature Image: “Over 120,000 immigrants from North Africa, like this man near the Arc de Triomphe de la Place d’Aix, can make Marseille feel like a Sahara on the sea” (NYT).

Image credit: Tomas van Houtryve for The New York Times

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There are several parallels between migrant testimonies within the documentary, Immigrant Memories: North African Inheritance, empirical findings from the study, “Forty years of immigrant segregation in France, 1968–2007. How different is the new immigration?” and international migration theories as presented in “Theories of international migration: A review and appraisal.”

When comparing the three works, an important insight comes to mind: there is a difference between the spatial incorporation of migrants and socio-economic and cultural acceptance of migrants in host communities. Evidence in the study discovered that there are high levels of socio-spatial dispersion of immigrants of all origins in France, suggesting, “most non-European immigrants in France have been residentially incorporated” (Shon and Verdugo, 2015, p. 16). However, the study confounds spatial incorporation with true integration of migrants, and it would be a slippery slope to suggest that the characteristics of long-term stay (i.e. lower spatial segregation of migrants) are the same thing as true integration. On the contrary, accounts and experiences of migrant laborers in Immigrant Memories: North African Inheritance portends the social separation of migrant workers from their French native counterparts. One migrant worker from Northern Africa recalled that even after learning French and trying to integrate himself into French culture, the native people still treated him indifferently (Dupuis-Mendel & Benguigui, 1997). Essentially, he and others like him were forever branded as unwanted outsiders.

There is a difference between the spatial incorporation of migrants and socio-economic and cultural acceptance of migrants in host communities.

‘Social labeling’ is an important socioeconomic factor that can potentially be affected by the cumulative manner of international migration (Massey et al., 1993), but it is important to understand the human costs of social labeling. In the Mother’s Experience segment of the documentary, an Algerian woman recalled reading in the paper once that migrant men were not treated as men, they were treated as machines (Dupuis-Mendel & Benguigui, 1997). In other words, when immigrants were recruited by the French into manufacturing occupations in significant numbers, the social meaning of work changed in France due to international migration. Those jobs became culturally labeled as “immigrant jobs,” and thusly less desirable by natives. Moreover, immigrant workers were perceived by natives as mere functions and products. They were socially labeled as less than human. So, when confronted with issues of family reunification, the French government was reluctant to intervene, and even more reluctant to confront the real harms social labeling had done to migrants and migrant communities.

Immigrant workers were perceived by natives as mere functions and products. They were socially labeled as less than human.

Social labels attributed to migrants in receiving areas can be difficult to overcome no matter how long migrants remain in host countries. As indicated in the study, today it would be unreasonable to say that France has ethnically concentrated ghettos like in the U.S. because, contrary to common stereotyping, there are no mono-ethnic communities that could lead to the existence of ghettos in France (Shon and Verdugo, 2015). However, excessive dramatization of immigrant segregation persists in France, thus also perpetuating the importunity of socially mislabeling immigrant communities. The study notes that mischaracterization could stem from natives being unaware of the extent of heterogeneity of their communities. It also notes that the focus of public discourse on the most segregated and deprived communities distorts their pervasiveness (Shon and Verdugo, 2015). Falsely ghettoizing immigrant communities is dangerous for migrants because such labels can potentially perpetuate the social segregation of natives and migrants even in demographically heterogeneous communities.

Falsely ghettoizing immigrant communities is dangerous for migrants because such labels can potentially perpetuate the social segregation of natives and migrants even in demographically heterogeneous communities.

When migrants and migrant communities are spatially incorporated silently over decades, their true character may not be able to drown out the social labels – “immigrant jobs,” “immigrant machines,” or “immigrant ghettos” – of their past. noun_766494-1

 

References

Dupuis-Mendel, P. (Producer), & Benguigui, Y. (Director). (1997). Immigrant memories: North African Inheritance [Documentary]. Paris: Canal Plus/Bandits.

Massey, D. S., Arango, J., Hugo, G., Kouaouci, A., Pellegrino, A., and Taylor, J. E. (1993). “Theories of international migration: A review and appraisal.” Population and development review:431-66. Retrieved from Link

Shon, J.-L. P. K. and Verdugo, G. (2015). “Forty years of immigrant segregation in France, 1968–2007. How different is the new immigration?” Urban Studies 52(5): 823-840. Retrieved from Link

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