Creating welcoming communities: Refugees, migrant civil society, and scale in the rural Midwest

Authors: Christopher Strunk*, Augustana College
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Political Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: immigration; refugees; migrant civil society; austerity urbanism; placemaking
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Galerie 1, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines how Midwestern cities and towns are defining community and multiculturalism in an era of exclusionary nationalism and anti-immigrant and refugee sentiment. Almost ten years after the largest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history in Postville, Iowa, many small cities and towns have embraced welcoming state and local histories to develop a variety of local initiatives that seek to attract and integrate new immigrants and refugees. At the same time, newcomers still encounter barriers to participation in local civic and economic institutions. Communities remain traumatized by the local social and economic impacts of immigration enforcement, while austerity urbanism and restrictive immigration policies at multiple scales have caused newcomers to be represented both as permanent outsiders and individually responsible for assimilating to local cultural norms or revitalizing small towns. In this paper, I examine how local officials, migrant civil society organizations, and newcomers in the Midwest are challenging dominant narratives around immigration and refugee settlement through local and extra-local networks. I argue that debates over migrant incorporation in the rural Midwest reflect struggles around the construction of place-based identities in the context of economic restructuring and decline, austerity, and cultural change at multiple scales.

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