Archive | Immigration

Political Inclusion of Latino Immigrants in the United States: The Limited Effects of Naturalization on Political Participation

Continuing our new series of collaborations with political science journals, we are pleased to present the following guest post from University of Georgia political scientist Ines Levin discussing her article “Political Inclusion of Latino Immigrants: Becoming a Citizen and Political Participation” that appears in the current issue of American Politics Research.  In conjunction with this post, SAGE will make the article freely available to all for the next 30 days; you can download it here.


The ongoing debate on the Senate immigration bill raises important questions for political science. In particular, what are the consequences of providing a path to citizenship for the economic and political advancement of immigrants? Just as it is often taken for granted that legal status and citizenship contribute to economic mobility, the notion that acquisition of citizenship contributes to the political incorporation of immigrants is often taken as a self-evident truth. Acquiring citizenship is certainly necessary for the political inclusion of immigrants, since it is the only way for individuals to gain access to basic forms of political participation in a democracy, such voting and contributing to electoral campaigns. But is citizenship sufficient for ensuring broad political incorporation?  If this were the case, one would expect naturalized immigrants to be more deeply engaged than their non-citizen counterparts when it comes to non-electoral community and political activities open to all immigrants. These questions are addressed in my current article in American Politics Research.

Levin - figure 1

A naïve comparison of the behavior of naturalized and non-naturalized immigrants based on data from the 2006 Latino National Survey indicates that acquisition of citizenship might indeed stimulate involvement beyond the ballot box. While both naturalized and non-naturalized Latino immigrants are very likely to say that they would work with others through groups or organizations to deal with issues that need to be addressed, the naturalized are more likely to report that they participated in the activities of a group, tried to contact a government official, or volunteered at their child’s school. In particular, the naturalized are more likely to say that they participated in the activities of groups including non-Latino members or that they contacted non-Latino officials relative to their non-naturalized counterparts.

Levin-Figure 2

But the unequal involvement of naturalized and non-naturalized immigrants is not necessarily caused by differences in citizenship status. Immigrants who have and have-not acquired citizenship come from different countries (and also from different regions within the home country, in the case of Mexican immigrants), settle in different areas of the U.S., and have different levels of pre-immigration political involvement. Both types of immigrants also have unequal access to politically relevant resources long thought to affect political participation such as educational attainment, income, and English language skills. Moreover, the naturalized have usually spent more years in U.S. (and in their current homes) and are typically older. Differences like these might explain both observed inequalities in non-electoral participation and differences in citizenship status. Indeed, the probability of acquiring citizenship conditional on the above-mentioned attributes is considerably lower among the non-naturalized than among the naturalized, suggesting that the process of assignment to citizenship status is anything but random.

Levin - Figure 3

One way to address the question of whether differences in political engagement are driven by citizenship itself, or by differences between the kind of people who have naturalized and those who have not, is to “match” the research subjects on measures such as length of residence. After using propensity score matching to control for observable differences between naturalized and non-naturalized immigrants, inequalities in political participation are greatly reduced. While the naturalized are still more likely to participate in most non-electoral activities than similar non-citizens, differences are small and no longer significant. The exception is contacting government officials, although a sensitivity analysis indicates that differences in propensity to contact are highly sensitive to bias that could have been caused by differences in unobserved factors between both immigrant types.

Levin - Figure 4

In sum, when one compares similar naturalized and non-naturalized immigrants, the resulting evidence lends little support to the hypothesis that naturalization leads to greater political involvement. Although it seems intuitive that going through the naturalization process should lead to greater attachment to the American identity and principles – including a sense of the importance of fulfilling one’s civic duty – a number of factors might reduce the effectiveness of naturalization for making more involved citizens, including: absence of civic infrastructure in settlement areas, experiences of discrimination, and inadequate access to resources. As long as immigrants are exposed to some of these limiting factors, the provision of a path to citizenship might not be enough to ensure that the naturalization process produces civically engaged citizens who are capable of bearing participation costs.

Note: I thank Sean Ingham and Alex Street for their very useful comments on this blog post.

Continue Reading

How to Explain the Seeming Gap between Public Opinion and Immigration Reforms in Congress?

Continuing our new series of collaborations with political science journals, we are pleased to present the following guest post from University of British Columbia political scientist Gyung-Ho Jeong to discuss his article “Congressional Politics of U.S. Immigration Reforms: Legislative Outcomes Under Multidimensional Negotiations” that appears in the current issue of Political Research Quarterly.  In conjunction with this post, Sage Publications will make the article freely available to all for the next 30 days; you can download it here.


According to Gallup polls, less than a quarter of the American public supports expansive immigration policies, while more than three quarters of people prefer the status quo or more restrictive policies. However, as illustrated by the past legislation (and recent debates) over the legalization of undocumented immigrants and increased level of legal immigration, immigration reforms tend to produce legislative outcomes that are not consistent with public opinion. Why?

While the conventional view explains this gap by citing the dominant role of organized pro-immigration interest groups—such as business interests and ethnic groups—in immigration policymaking, in a current article in Political Research Quarterly I present an alternative view that focuses on the nature of immigration debates in Congress.

Examining the politics of immigration reform in 1986, Artistide Zolberg observed that the conflict over immigration created “strange bedfellows” that cut across the ideological alignment of left and right. The reason is that immigration affects two different sets of concerns: economic and social/cultural. Economically, immigration affects the supply of labor, creating conflicts of interest between employers and employees. Socially, immigration affects national identity, culture, and ethnicity, pitting social liberals against social conservatives. In this article, I take this multidimensionality of immigration politics as a starting point to explain the gap between public opinion and legislative outcomes. In short, I demonstrate that the multidimensionality of immigration debates has allowed minorities of legislators to increase their influence by alternately forming coalitions with different groups. This has contributed to the seeming gap between public opinion and legislative outcomes even when legislators were not captured by pro-immigration groups.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

An Anxious August for Immigration Reform

This is a guest post by political scientists Bethany Albertson and Shana Kushner Gadarian.


The immigration reform bill that the Senate passed has stalled in the House. As members of Congress head home to their districts over the recess, pundits speculate about whether August 2013 will reprise the heated town halls of 2009.  The public is divided on the Senate’s bill, which included both a path to citizenship and increased border spending, with 55% of Democrats supporting it and 62% of Republicans opposed. Some proponents of immigration reform express renewed optimism, while others see reform prospects as doomed. Mark Kennedy, a former Republican member of Congress, argues that immigration will be won or lost over the August recess. In a policy area that is often surrounded by emotional rhetoric, the prospects for reform depend, in part, on the emotional tenor of the debate.  A debate that generates anxiety tends to favors opponents of comprehensive immigration reform. Anxiety about immigration leads both Democrats and Republicans to trust the Republican Party to handle immigration and to support a more restrictive immigration policy.

As part of a forthcoming book on anxiety and politics, we conducted an experiment in which we showed people an anti-immigration advertisement modeled on California Governor Pete Wilson’s 1994 advertisements. The ad highlighted three main concerns about immigration: that immigrants take American jobs, that open borders bring crime and threaten national security, and that immigrants take healthcare, education, and welfare funding from Americans. Although every person heard the same message, we varied the music and visuals. One version of the ad had threatening visuals and scary music, while the other vision had neutral visuals and no music. We expected that the threatening music and images would increase respondents’ level of anxiety, and that is what happened.

Anxious people seek reassurance, and because the Republican Party is traditionally seen as stronger on immigration, anxiety drove citizens toward Republicans. After watching the ad with the threatening music and images, both Democrats and Republicans expressed more trust in the Republican Party to handle immigration, relative to the group that saw the other ad.  Republicans also expressed less trust in both Obama and the Democratic Party.


When Americans are anxious about immigration, our research shows another consequence: that they also become more supportive of more punitive immigration policies, including making immigrants ineligible for public services as well as increased spending on border security.

What does this mean for supporters of comprehensive immigration reform?  It will not be easy to change the fact that Republicans are seen as owning the issue, nor will it be easy to prevent opponents from trying to stoke anxieties about immigrants.  Better options for supporters are to focus on the economic benefits, which could make for a less emotional debate, or to produce a different emotional narrative, perhaps one that focuses on the plight of some immigrants.  Other research shows that evoking humanitarian concerns makes people more sympathetic to immigrants—and that these concerns can even override perceptions of threat.

Continue Reading

The Republicans and Immigration Reform Redux

Now, perhaps there are unforeseen events that will permanently help the GOP among Latinos and that have nothing to do with immigration reform politics in 2013.  But if I’m the GOP, what I’d bet on is this: “We’ll be more likely to win presidential elections if we win more Latino votes.”  (And if that seems obvious, read Sean Trende’s counterpoint. Not everyone agrees.)  And supporting immigration reform, in turn, will make that more likely.

That was from yesterday’s post on why I think the GOP is better off getting behind immigration reform.  In response, Jay Cost and Sean Trende tweeted:


Cost is right in his initial tweet.  That was sloppy writing on my part about Trende’s argument about Latinos, which he has elaborated here and here.  But, despite the fact that the three of us are all skeptics that Democratic dynasty in the White House is imminent, I do think our opinions differ here—enough that I was surprised that both agreed with my post.  Here is where I think we differ:

1) While we agree that Latinos are not yet “locked in” as part of the Democratic base, Trende and Cost are more sanguine about the need for the GOP to appeal to Latinos.  Both Cost and Trende have emphasized that a (the?) key to understanding 2012 is what they allege are “missing white voters.” Thus, they argue, the GOP can succeed in national electoral politics—for at least a while—by shoring up its support among white voters and betting that black turnout will decline without Obama on the ticket.  (See Trende here.  Cost agrees here.  See also this rejoinder from Nate Cohn and two rejoinders from Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz.)  But I think a broader appeal to Latinos is a better bet for ensuring Republican electoral success in the long run—and it will take work on the GOP’s part beginning now.

2) Trende downplays the significance of immigration to Hispanics, arguing that other issues matter more to them and that not all Hispanics even agree with the liberal or Democratic view on immigration reform.  He suggests that Hispanics will affiliate with a party in similar ways as white voters, and not because of each party’s immigration policies per se.  I am less sure of that.  My post hypothesized a different causal process—one in which Latino voters, many of whom are unaffiliated with a party, take signals from opinion leaders about which party “stands with them.”  (I should note that voters of all ethnicities take signals from opinion leaders about all kinds of things, so I am not suggesting that Latinos are unique here.  What makes them unique is that, like many immigrant populations, more of them have weaker partisan attachments to begin with.)  In general, I don’t think most voters make decisions based on calculations about the details of policy.  But I do think that they often respond to broader “symbolic” messages—in this case, “is that party for us or against us?”

I’m not suggesting that all Latinos will end up believing the GOP is against them.  I’m not suggesting that there aren’t some Latinos who now identify or will identify as Republicans for other reasons.  I’m not suggesting that the GOP won’t win larger numbers of Latino voters in individual elections than they did in 2012 because of cyclical factors like the economy or idiosyncratic factors like the particular candidates who are running.  I’m just suggesting that the GOP should be asking itself, “How do we convert some of these unaffiliated Latino voters into habitual Republican voters?”  And that takes more than economic growth or, say, nominating Marco Rubio.

3) Thus, I think that supporting comprehensive immigration reform is a necessary, though not sufficient, step for the GOP to accomplish that goal.  Immigration may not be every Latino’s highest priority but, again, I see that issue as important to winning over at least some Latino voters and many Latino opinion leaders.  I don’t perceive that Cost and Trende oppose immigration reform per se, although Cost is certainly opposed to the Senate bill.  I just see them as assigning immigration reform a relatively low priority.  Here is Trende:

The GOP and Democrats should pursue the policies they believe are best for the country. If they govern competently, the coalitions will take care of themselves.

Right now, the the majority of Republicans in Congress seems to think that the best policy is not comprehensive immigration reform as it is currently envisioned—e.g., with a path to citizenship, etc.  (That could be wrong, however, for the reasons Jon Bernstein suggests.) So if I’m interpreting Trende and Cost correctly, they are giving the GOP license to do something that I think is more likely to hurt the GOP’s appeal among Latinos than help it.

Continue Reading

Could the GOP Lose Generations of Latino Voters?

The handful of studies on Latino party identification tends to emphasize its variability across elections as a result of the candidate position-taking on key issues, and the fact that parental socialization of American politics is nonexistent for immigrants (Wong 2000; Alvarez and Bedolla 2003; Nicholson and Segura 2005; Uhlaner and Garcia 2005).  A common understanding in the scholarly research on partisanship is that today’s immigrants do not have fixed or set party allegiances.  There is no research to date that non-citizen immigrants have pre-existing party attachment that they take with to their naturalization ceremony. Rather, immigrants are seen as responsive to the political environment in which they find themselves and develop party attachment as they become citizens, register, and start voting.

In fact, an empirical look at the data confirms this theory.

That is Adrian Pantoja writing over at the Latino Decisions blog.  Their polling shows that 71% of non-citizen Latinos identify as independent or with a minor party, or have no attachment of any kind.  There is a large number of Latinos who, once naturalized, will seemingly be up for grabs.

This gets at my concern about what would happen to the GOP if immigration reform fails.  I am not someone who believes that the 2008 and 2012 elections—and Obama’s success in winning Latinos votes—mean we are heading to a Democratic dynasty in the White House.   There are plenty of other reasons why Republicans may win presidential elections and other elections even if they do not immediately broaden their appeal to Latino voters.

But part of my skepticism about the Democratic dynasty is predicated on the notion that, over the longer run, parties aren’t irrational.  They adapt to secular trends in the country—shifting public attitudes on certain issues (like gay marriage), shifting demographics, etc.  Or they adapt enough that those trends won’t prove fatal and then they can go on to win (or lose) elections based on other things, like the cyclical trends in economic fundamentals.  This prevents dynasties from occurring.

If I were the GOP, I’d be thinking about the long game.  They don’t need to win the majority of Latino votes now or even in the near future.  But, other things equal, they should want to shape the “political environment,” to use Pantoja’s term, so that many of these unaffiliated Latinos will, once naturalized, view the GOP as a party that could represent them.

One prominent theory of party identification is that people identify with the party that they associate with social groups they like or belong to.  So it’s not so much about policy, or what the parties “stand for.”  It’s who the parties “stand with.”  The challenge for the GOP is that even if it supports other policies that many Latinos support, its hostility to immigration reform may be the driving force behind a broader impression: that the Democrats are “the party of Latinos.”  And once those impressions are formed, they are very difficult to change.  As I’ve noted, the perception that the GOP is the “party of the rich” really has not changed for 60 years.

Now, how firmly established is any impression that the GOP is not “the party of Latinos”?  Probably not that firmly established, especially in the minds of Latinos that are not yet citizens.  Most are unaffiliated, as noted, and only 25% identify as Democrats and 3% as Republicans.  But among those that are naturalized citizens? Nearly half, 44%, identify as Democrats and only 15% as Republicans.  In other words, the 22-point advantage Democrats have among non-citizen Latinos becomes 29 points among Latino citizens.  This, to me, suggests that the “political environment” is not currently working in Republicans’ favor.

And if immigration reform were to fail, it is hard for me to see the environment becoming any more favorable.  Think of the “meso-layer” of Latino opinion leaders—the priests, the Spanish-language media personalities, activists, etc.  These are the people that Latinos who may not follow politics closely hear day in and day out, in the pew and on the radio while driving and on their television sets.  What are they going to say if reform fails?  I think the indications are they’ll blame the Republicans, especially if this sort of frame dominates Spanish-language media:

La frase ya se está haciendo recurrente en el Capitolio: “No me gustaría estar en los zapatos del presidente de la Cámara de Representantes John Boehner (R-OH)”. En un lado tiene al extremo de su partido que no acepta nada que se acerque a la legalización. En el otro, enfrenta las amenazas que auguran un futuro político fatídico si no permite un voto con esta opción.

How is the GOP going to be able to get information in front of Latinos that helps them view the party in favorable ways if Latino opinion leaders won’t provide it?

Now, perhaps there are unforeseen events that will permanently help the GOP among Latinos and that have nothing to do with immigration reform politics in 2013.  But if I’m the GOP, what I’d bet on is this: “We’ll be more likely to win presidential elections if we win more Latino votes.”  (And if that seems obvious, read Sean Trende’s counterpoint. Not everyone agrees.)  And supporting immigration reform, in turn, will make that more likely.

That’s a not a sure bet, of course.  But it strikes me as the safer one.

Continue Reading

Californians Support a Path to Citizenship (with Conditions)

First, advocates of a path to legalization of illegal immigrants should take heart that a steady majority supports that idea, even when weaker alternatives are proposed, and that among Republicans, a plurality backs the notion that Dreamers deserve a shot at becoming citizens.

On the other hand, reformers should take heed that even in strongly Democratic California, a large majority supports border security, electronic verification, and the deportation of illegal immigrants who fail to meet the conditions for a pathway program. Such reservations in a pro-immigration state probably will be echoed elsewhere in the nation.

From new California poll data reported here by Berkeley political scientists Jack Citrin and Morris Levy.


Continue Reading

What Makes People Flee Conflict?

The fifth largest city in Jordan is the Zaatari refugee camp, where approximately 175,000 Syrians fleeing their country’s war now live.  This is but a fraction of the 500,000 Syrians who have fled to Jordan, and an even smaller fraction of Syrians who have fled their own homes and now live in other countries or elsewhere within Syria.  Obviously, the displacement of civilians depends in part on presence or threat of violence.  But what else may explain whether citizens flee conflict?

In his doctoral research—supported in part by the National Science Foundation—Prakash Adhikari studied the factors that led civilians to flee in a different conflict, the Nepalese Civil War, that displaced approximately 50,000 people from their homes.  A survey of both displaced and non-displaced Nepalese revealed not only the role of violence, but the importance of economic infrastructure (and its destruction).  People who lived in villages with an industry present—in this case, one that employed 10 or more people—were less likely to flee.  People who lost crops, animals, or land were more likely to flee.

None of these findings is surprising on its face.  But Adhikari’s work suggests that the logic of displacement is more than just about violence or physical threat.  And—though Nepal and Syria are in no way strictly analogous (the juxtaposition here is mine, not his)—Adhikari’s work suggests how the United States and the rest of the international community might be able to prevent large-scale forced migration: not only by working to reduce the threat of violence, but by supporting the economic and social infrastructure of affected communities.  Foreign governments and NGOs already do this, of course, but Adhikari’s work shows that such efforts can be consequential.

Moreover, given how displacement only adds to the human toll and political destabilization caused by civil war, and given that the United States frequently assists in ending civil wars or at least mitigating their effects, I think this research also happens to meet Senator Coburn’s stated criterion that federally funded research serve the national security of the United States.

The article is here.

[This post is part of this week’s presentation of NSF-funded political science research.]

Continue Reading

IQ and the Nativist Movement

We welcome back Diego von Vacano for a guest post on the purported low IQ of immigrants.


The academic and policy worlds have been roiled by last week’s announcement that a Heritage Foundation study on the cost of immigration reform was co-authored by Jason Richwine, who wrote a dissertation on the purported low IQ of immigrants. It beyond belief that, in the year 2013, there are still some that want to posit that there is a genetic basis for race. Even more surprisingly, these arguments come endorsed with a seal of approval by some of the nation’s top universities, like Harvard in this case. As an alumnus of the Kennedy School and a scholar of race and Hispanic identity, I feel obliged to provide a response.

Having spent last week with some of the world’s premier scholars of race at a workshop on “Reconsidering Race” at Texas A&M University, in which we examined the interface of social science and genetics/genomics and health (, I am stunned by the lack of rigor and intellectual depth evinced by Richwine’s dissertation. The work makes extremely simplistic assumptions about “race,” immigration, and the link between IQ and genetics.  Even a neophyte in matters of genetics/genomics can see the gaping holes in Richwine’s logic. One would have expected his advisors, Professors George Borjas, Richard Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jencks to have been more cognizant of the complex nature of terms such as “race”, “Hispanic,” and “white,” as well as their tenuous links to genetics (assuming they actually read the dissertation). Richwine claimed in his Harvard dissertation that “the material environment and genes probably make the greatest contributions to IQ differences” (p. 4) and that “today’s immigrants are not as intelligent on average as white natives” (p. 134). 

There are three basic points that have to be made to remind these scholars that such shoddy work should not easily pass at the doctoral level—or any level for that matter. One is the basic idea that “Hispanics” can be of any race (a concept that Richwine references in passing in his dissertation), so that it is not possible to simply oppose “Hispanic” and “white” as if they were mutually exclusive categories (a dichotomy that is crucial to his argument). In fact, Pope Francis is Hispanic; so is Rigoberta Menchu. The term is a politically- and socially-constructed category that has been shaped through historical ties between the US, Latin America, and the Iberian peninsula. There is nothing inherent, natural, or ‘genetic’ in the category of “Hispanic.” There are many people of European ancestry in Latin America, but there are also many of Amerindian origins, African descent, and a vast majority whose origins are a mix of ethnicities, including East Asian, Jewish, Arab, and practically every other group in the world (I myself, for example, am of Aymara, Spanish, German, and Portuguese origin).

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

Partisan effects of immigration reform

Alex Engler writes:

I just finished an article for the Georgetown Public Policy Review that you might be interested in. I took a thorough look at the influence of the Hispanic vote in congressional races in 2012, and how the party balance in the House changes under different levels of Hispanic party support. I used this to gain some insight into the prospects for immigration reform, and the results are really interesting. There’s also a few nice graphs and maps.

From the article: “the Republican Party has a great deal to gain from successful bipartisan immigration reform, House Democrats face little benefit and even, paradoxically, the possibility of significant losses.”

I have to say that I’m suspicious of analyses where the rebound is bigger than the main effect, but that’s just a hunch on my part, not a serious analysis.

Continue Reading