Engaging Immigrants in American Democracy: Assessing the Civic Implications of Lacking Residency Documentation
28 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 26 Aug 2012
Date Written: 2012
Few political scientists would dispute the notion that government policies and administrative practices do much to shape the contours of mass democratic engagement. Yet little is known about how federal regulations concerning migration status in the United States influence the political behavior of the foreign-born. At present, nearly forty million residents of the U.S. emigrated from abroad; over one-fourth of this population is thought to lack residency authorization. Drawing from original surveys of Mexicans in the U.S. and data from the Pew Hispanic Center, we assess the civic implications of undocumentedness. We find that compared to naturalized citizens and legal residents, unauthorized immigrants are less attentive to politics and less likely to participate in electoral campaigns, but are more involved in social movement activity. These distinctions fade, however, in the face of multivariate statistical controls for socioeconomic resources. This suggests that for immigrants today, formal legal barriers to civic incorporation are not as profound as the SES divide.
Keywords: Latino Politics, immigration, documentation status, political participation
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