Parties, organizations, and political incorporation: Immigrants in Six U.S. cities

Kristi Andersen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

New arrivals to the United States settle in places with varied political and social characteristics. This paper is concerned with how immigrants move toward a situation where they have a place at the table in local politics: where their organizations and their leaders are consulted, where their members are seen as valuable constituents, where their interests are seen as part of the political calculus. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the United States is currently home to about 31 million foreign-born adults over eighteen (2004). Approximately 59 percent of those are noncitizens, none of whom can vote except in local elections in few places1 and many of whom are reluctant to participate in almost any sort of political activity for fear of drawing the attention of federal agencies, a particular danger in the post-9/11 world. Imagine placing these foreign-born denizens on a continuum from, at one extreme, undocumented, short-term or circular immigrants to, at the other, long-naturalized citizens. Reasonable people might disagree about where to draw the line, but most Americans would agree that our political system is benefited if the people toward the latter end of this continuum are full participants in American political and civic life. Conversely, the political system's stability and democratic values are threatened if high rates of immigration produce large numbers of nonparticipating, unrepresented, disengaged residents. 2 This research examines six medium-sized American cities in 2004 and asks first whether political incorporation of immigrants appears to be taking place at a similar pace and in a similar manner in these places. I then investigate the role of parties in working to naturalize, register, and mobilize immigrant groups in these cities-and ask if, as suggested by the research, parties are basically absent, in what ways are other organizations stepping up to connect members of immigrant groups to local (and state and national) political machinery? What can comparisons among these cities suggest about the conditions under which the local organizational context works or doesn't work to incorporate immigrants? Some of the aspects of place that may differentially shape immigrant incorporation include the political and geographical isolation of the city; the historical existence of a significant refugee stream among the city's immigrants; and the types and strengths of the connections between immigrant-related organizations and between these organizations and other civic and political organizations in the community. I suggest that the fundamental step of naturalization is facilitated by community organizational capacity which is sometimes based partially on organizational spillover from refugee programs. The next step of group representation in decision making seems to be related to the strength of connections between immigrant groups and the larger community-in the form of political allies and supportive organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCivic Hopes and Political Realities
Subtitle of host publicationImmigrants, Community Organizations, and Political Engagement
PublisherRussell Sage Foundation
Pages77-106
Number of pages30
ISBN (Print)9780871547019
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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    Andersen, K. (2008). Parties, organizations, and political incorporation: Immigrants in Six U.S. cities. In Civic Hopes and Political Realities: Immigrants, Community Organizations, and Political Engagement (pp. 77-106). Russell Sage Foundation.