Immigrant Suburban Settlement and the “Threat” to Middle Class Status and Identity: The Case of Farmers Branch, Texas



In the United States, the failure to achieve immigration reform at the national level has resulted in numerous responses in local communities that have been most impacted by the settlement of new immigrants. Some of these responses have emerged in suburban communities that have experienced a rapid rise in the foreign-born population during the last twenty years. This essay offers an in-depth analysis of one such community, Farmers Branch, Texas, covered nationally for a series of anti-immigrant ordinances passed by its City Council. Following a description of the history of this community, the growth of its foreign-born population, and the legal manoeuvres to control unauthorized immigration, the essay argues that anti-immigrant legislation in local places like Farmers Branch is at its core a reflection of a debate about and anxiety over American identity -- how it is defined and how it is changing. In particular, these responses are about a perceived threat to middle class status and identity. This is discussed first in relationship to issues of home ownership and income and then, in relation to cultural dimensions of class, including matters of taste and the spatializations of middle class identity. Finally, the paper unpacks the concept of “rule of law”. By invoking the claim that Americans are law abiding while unauthorized immigrants have broken the law, lawfulness becomes an exclusionary tool and gives those who support anti-immigrant ordinances a platform for legislating a certain quality of life, and de-Americanizing those who do not fit their conceptualization of what it means to be American. Rule of law becomes a weapon in the fight for middle class status and the status quo.