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

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

McCann, James A. and Nishikawa, Katsuo A., Engaging Immigrants in American Democracy: Assessing the Civic Implications of Lacking Residency Documentation (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2107820

James A. McCann (Contact Author)

Purdue University ( email )

Department of Political Science
Beering Hall
West Lafayette, IN 47907
United States

Katsuo A. Nishikawa

Trinity University ( email )

San Antonio, TX 78212
United States
210 999 8345 (Phone)

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