Funding Immigrant Organizations: Suburban Free-Riding and Local Civic Presence
52 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 13 Sep 2014
Date Written: 2012
Community-based organizations have been central to providing publicly-funded services to poor populations since the War on Poverty and they have long been at the heart of immigrant integration in traditional gateway cities. But given a “new geography” of poverty and immigration in the United States, how are newer immigrant gateway cities and suburbs responding to foreign-born residents, especially the disadvantaged? Existing research focuses on political exchange models to explain public-private partnerships: local officials make rational funding decisions to achieve political goals, and localities differ based on whether they are politically progressive or more conservative. This paper goes beyond political calculations and ideology to argue that taken-for-granted notions of deservingness and legitimacy affect funding, even in politically progressive places. Comparing a traditional immigrant gateway city, a 21st century gateway city, and two suburbs in the San Francisco Bay Area, we use Community Development Block Grant data and a database of formally registered nonprofit organizations to document significant inequality in resource allocation across these three types of destinations. To understand the mechanisms behind these inequalities, we draw on documentary evidence and 142 interviews with local government officials and leaders of community-based organizations. We outline how a history of continuous migration builds norms of inclusion and civic capacity for public-private partnerships. We also identify the phenomenon of “suburban free-riding,” a strategy whereby suburban officials rely on the resources and services of central cities to rationalize the absence of partnerships with their own foreign-born residents. The analysis affirms the importance of distinguishing between types of immigrant destinations, but argues that this should be done through a regional lens, as proximity to central cities provides even progressive suburban officials with opportunities for free-riding.
Keywords: immigrant, nonprofit, city, suburb, social services, government, CDBG
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