Satellite cities for immigrants – The Korea Times

By Bernard Rowan


For readers who’ve followed recent events, the ferment over American immigration has reached full bore. Immigrants arrive on buses in major cities in the United States. They’re “dropped off” by other cities and states that deny their responsibilities. Red and Blue — Republican and Democratic — governors and mayors vie for attention and moral outrage. Congress does nothing, pinioned by division and a speaker craven to the Trumpists in his party.

This recurring nightmare in the American body politic wants an exorcism. It should involve taking notes from South Korea and turning them into public policies at all three levels of government. The lesson is to build satellite cities. While many immigrants wander the streets and their children live in portable toilets and shelters, some resort to criminal endeavors. But other countries know better.

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on satellite cities as well as a companion page listing the world’s major satellite cities. Satellite cities aren’t suburbs, of which America’s major cities tend to have loads. They represent the conscious efforts of urban planners to address overpopulation, crowding and unmet needs of people at a scale that has influence.

South Korea has many satellite cities on the list. America has one: Hempstead, New York. Many of us may have visited or lived or worked in the cities on the list, including Suwon and Goyang, both in Gyeonggi Province, or one of the other 11 listed. Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and a host of other countries have spawned satellites. It’s not a novel or new idea. Satellites require investment and planning.

America is a grand experiment. Its federal structure divides governmental power, unlike most states on Earth with unitary governments. This means addressing a local problem with national capabilities requires coordination and effort, not scapegoating and buck-passing. America these days is subjecting its immigrants to nothing less than the latter.

The United States of America is, in many respects, an immigrant nation. Its “long-standing citizens” primarily arrived here from distant lands and places to begin again, as do today’s immigrants. In the past, large cities served as intake systems with local wards and districts providing access to housing, food, work and the necessities of life. Today’s “sanctuary cities” should resemble those days of old but instead are glorified dumping grounds.

Hundreds of new Americans enter this country on a daily basis. The answer isn’t primarily about national or state security, fences or walls. For every legal immigrant to the U.S., there are as many or more undocumented immigrants. National policies should distinguish the two and treat them differently, but there are some objective facts. Whoever an immigrant may be, the U.S. and her states aren’t doing much for them other than pivot to charity.

The nation should accept these facts aren’t changing soon. The presence of tens of thousands of new Americans requires infrastructure and processes to incorporate families into the American way of life. Creating one to several satellite areas abetting the major zones of influx should happen. The short-term costs would pale by comparison to near- and long-term benefits in savings to public coffers and accruals to the fundamental causes of human rights and justice.

Students of American immigration know immigrants benefit their new societies long-term much more than they “cost” if the intaking society receives and addresses the immigrants’ needs. And that, of course, is the rub. This tends not to happen when citizens, divided by partisanship, think less about the plight of immigrants and more about their own grievances. The American political culture remains rooted in Puritanism, which distinguishes between “good” and “bad” people. This tends to raise its head in matters of faith and private belief. This becomes more prevalent when people in America want access to scarce resources, public programs, benefits owed to citizens and persons and the like.

Many Americans discriminate against immigrants because they don’t have the access that many immigrants discover and avail themselves of. Scapegoating assumes class, racial, gender and ethnic dimensions. Many “good Americans” say, “I never received any assistance” or “They don’t deserve to have for free what I’ve had to earn” and other similar statements. Public policy stasis today is occasioned by a roughly equal divide between those who know better and those who scapegoat or worse. Collectively, there is inaction.

I hope some of the presidential, congressional and state candidates for office will address the immigration morass this election cycle. Progress ought to involve the technology of satellite cities. This won’t happen without leadership and the willingness to put America’s money where its immigrants’ mouths are — increasingly these days.


Bernard Rowan ( is associate provost for contract administration and academic services and professor of political science at Chicago State University. He is a past fellow of the Korea Foundation and former visiting professor at Hanyang University.

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