Urban Politics and the Assimilation of Immigrant Voters

39 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2013 Last revised: 11 Sep 2013

See all articles by Rick Su

Rick Su

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2012


Despite the growing strength of immigrant voters in the U.S., immigrants continue to participate at the polls in much lower rates than not only native voters, but also immigrants in the past. What accounts for this disparity? Looking beyond the characteristics of the immigrants themselves, this essay argues that a major reason lies in the different political structure that immigrants face upon their arrival, especially at the local level. Tracing the evolution of big city politics alongside, and in response to, the three major waves of foreign immigration to the U.S., this essay outlines three competing models of immigrant political assimilation. Each of these models corresponds with a specific era of urban politics: (1) the machine cities of the mid- to late-nineteenth century, (2) the reform cities of the early twentieth century, and (3) the fragmented cities of today. Not only are these models useful for understanding the political behavior of immigrants in different eras of American history, they also shed light on contemporary debates on citizenship, immigration policymaking, and conditions for political participation.

Keywords: Immigrant Political Assimilation, Urban Politics, Immigration, Immigrant Voting, Machine Politics, Municipal Reforms, Local Fragmentation

Suggested Citation

Su, Rick, Urban Politics and the Assimilation of Immigrant Voters (December 1, 2012). William & Mary Bill of Rights, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2012, SUNY Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-049, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2280502

Rick Su (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

160 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
(919) 962-5106 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.unc.edu/faculty/directory/surick

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