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Civic Hopes and Political Realities

Civic Hopes and Political Realities: Immigrants, Community Organizations, and Political Engagement

S. Karthick Ramakrishnan
Irene Bloemraad
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Civic Hopes and Political Realities
    Book Description:

    For many Americans, participation in community organizations lays the groundwork for future political engagement. But how does this traditional model of civic life relate to the experiences of today’s immigrants? Do community organizations help immigrants gain political influence in their neighborhoods and cities? In Civic Hopes and Political Realities, experts from a wide range of disciplines explore the way civic groups across the country and around the world are shaping immigrants’ quest for political effectiveness. Civic Hopes and Political Realities shows that while immigrant organizations play an important role in the lives of members, their impact is often compromised by political marginalization and a severe lack of resources. S. Karthick Ramakrishnan and Irene Bloemraad examine community organizations in six cities in California and find that even in areas with high rates of immigrant organizing, policymakers remain unaware of local ethnic organizations. Looking at new immigrant destinations, Kristi Andersen finds that community organizations often serve as the primary vehicle for political incorporation—a role once played by the major political parties. Floris Vermeulen and Maria Berger show how policies in two European cities lead to very different outcomes for ethnic organizations. Amsterdam’s more welcoming multicultural policies help immigrant community groups attain a level of political clout that similar organizations in Berlin lack. Janelle Wong, Kathy Rim, and Haven Perez report on a study of Latino and Asian American evangelical churches. While the church shapes members’ political views on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, church members may also question the evangelical movement’s position on such issues as civil rights and immigration. Els de Graauw finds that many non-profit organizations without explicitly political agendas nonetheless play a crucial role in advancing the political interests of their immigrant members. Recent cuts in funding for such organizations, she argues, block not only the provision of key social services, but also an important avenue for political voice. Looking at community organizing in a suburban community, Sofya Aptekar finds that even when immigrant organizations have considerable resources and highly educated members, they tend to be excluded from town politics. Some observers worry that America’s increasing diversity is detrimental to civic life and political engagement. Civic Hopes and Political Realities boldly advances an alternative understanding of the ways in which immigrants are enriching America’s civic and political realms—even in the face of often challenging circumstances.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-464-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction: Civic and Political Inequalities
    (pp. 1-42)
    S. Karthick Ramakrishnan and Irene Bloemraad

    In the spring of 2006, the United States experienced some of the largest, most widespread protest marches in its history, from massive demonstrations of a half million people or more in large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas to unprecedented rallies in places like Schuyker, Nebraska, and towns across South Carolina. In total, several million demonstrators, with estimates ranging from 3.5 to 5 million, waved banners and walked in pro-immigration rallies from March 10 to May 1 (Bada, Fox, and Selee 2006; Wang and Winn 2006). The public, politicians, and even advocates for immigrant rights were taken unaware...

  6. Part I The Importance of Place

    • Chapter 2 Making Organizations Count: Immigrant Civic Engagement in California Cities
      (pp. 45-76)
      S. Karthick Ramakrishnan and Irene Bloemraad

      The past decade has seen a spate of studies on civic volunteerism and its relationship to political participation (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995; Putnam 2000; Skocpol 2003). At the same time, the number of immigrants living in the United States has grown dramatically, from an estimated 24 million in 1995 to 37 million a decade later (U.S. Census Bureau 2000; Passel 2006). Despite increasing numbers, studies of civic participation among immigrant residents are rare, and rarer still are studies of immigrant community organizations and their relationship to politics (Wong 2006). As we argued in the introduction, questions of civic and...

    • Chapter 3 Parties, Organizations, and Political Incorporation: Immigrants in Six U.S. Cities
      (pp. 77-106)
      Kristi Andersen

      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...

    • Chapter 4 Organizing for Immigrant Labor Rights: Latino Immigrants in San Jose and Houston
      (pp. 107-133)
      Shannon Gleeson

      Federal labor standards, ranging from wage and overtime guarantees to workplace safety, generally are meant to protect all workers in the United States, regardless of immigrant status. States can enact statutes that improve upon these standards, but must at least enforce these basic protections. Such provisions take on an added importance in the context of declining unionization rates. Foreign-born workers are less likely than native-born to be represented by a union, and, overall, Latinos have the lowest levels of unionization.¹ Given increasing levels of Latino migration, how do low-wage Latino workers, especially those who are undocumented immigrants, ensure and advocate...

    • Chapter 5 Inclusion Versus Exclusion: Caribbeans in Britain and France
      (pp. 134-159)
      Rahsaan Maxwell

      This chapter examines how national contexts influence migrant political organization dynamics. Its focus is on Caribbeans in Britain and France, who have similar migration histories as well as similar social and economic integration outcomes, but different patterns of national-level political organization. In many ways, some difference in political organization is to be expected, because there are many political, economic, and cultural differences between Britain and France likely to shape migrant organizational dynamics in the two countries. The different patterns of national-level political organization among Caribbeans in Britain and France pose an interesting puzzle, however, because they are the opposite of...

    • Chapter 6 Civic Networks and Political Behavior: Turks in Amsterdam and Berlin
      (pp. 160-192)
      Floris Vermeulen and Maria Berger

      Immigrant organizations play a central role in the political behavior of immigrants in host societies. Local organizations often serve as a bridge between local authorities and immigrant constituencies, providing authorities with access to the immigrant communities and representing collective interests of immigrants. The organizing process of immigrants is therefore of particular importance to understanding the political behavior and political positions of immigrant communities.

      Meindert Fennema and Jean Tillie (1999, 2001; Fennema 2004; Tillie 2004) have suggested that immigrant groups with a relatively high number of ethnic organizations, which are well connected through a dense network, can be characterized as more...

  7. Part II Variations Across Ethnic Groups

    • Chapter 7 “Communities of Practice” for Civic and Political Engagement: Asian Indian and Vietnamese Immigrant Organizations in a Southwest Metropolis
      (pp. 195-221)
      Caroline B. Brettell and Deborah Reed-Danahay

      The voluntary immigrant associations that provide the context for the events described in the vignettes that follow are important to processes of political incorporation and good citizenship because it is often through such organizations that immigrants become aware of the problems and possibilities of American civic life and participation in the public sphere—that is, the realm between the private and that of governmental institutions (Habermas 1989).

      On April 21, 2006, the Irving DFW Indian Lion’s Club held its annual fundraising banquet. About 300 people, the majority of them Asian Indians, were in attendance. The formal part of the evening...

    • Chapter 8 Highly Skilled but Unwelcome in Politics: Asian Indians and Chinese in a New Jersey Suburb
      (pp. 222-243)
      Sofya Aptekar

      Declining civic participation is decried in academic and popular media alike as endangering American democracy. Meanwhile, like native-born Americans, immigrants start clubs, leagues, and societies. In this chapter, I consider the role of civic organizations in the political incorporation of immigrants in one suburban community in New Jersey. These highly skilled immigrants have educational and material resources that rival those of native-born white residents and yet, as I show, their organizations are largely excluded from the local power circles. This happens despite greater potential openness and flexibility that exists in smaller municipalities compared to large cities. I analyze the local...

    • Chapter 9 Selective Service: Indians, Poles, and Mexicans in Chicago
      (pp. 244-268)
      Laurencio Sanguino

      Immigration and immigrant participation have been among the hallmark features of civic and political life in Chicago for more than a century, from the era of Irish-dominated machines and central European migration in the early twentieth century to the contemporary period, with a weaker and more diverse political machine and immigrants from Mexico, Poland, India, and several other Asian and Latin American countries. Just as in the rest of the United States, immigration to Illinois and the Chicago area grew considerably in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of foreign-born residents in...

  8. Part III Variations by Organization Type

    • Chapter 10 Protestant Churches and Conservative Politics: Latinos and Asians in the United States
      (pp. 271-299)
      Janelle Wong, Kathy Rim and Haven Perez

      This chapter is part of a larger project that, focusing on Asian Americans and Latinos, examines the role of growing numbers of evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic (EPC) Christian immigrants in American politics and in conservative Christian political movements in particular. The primary question animating the project asks whether growing numbers of evangelical and Pentecostal Asians and Latinos will strengthen or undermine the political influence and policy positions of politically conservative Christians in the United States. We argue that the future role of Asian American and Latino EPC Christians in the political sphere depends in large part on two factors: the...

    • Chapter 11 Immigrants At Work: Labor Unions and Noncitizen Members
      (pp. 300-322)
      Rebecca Hamlin

      Organized labor is an inherently political institution. This is true, not simply in the abstract sense in which worker movements take on political meaning through their very existence, but also in a tangible, day-to-day sense that is intimately connected to their survival. To fulfill their raison d’être—to improve the workplace conditions and socioeconomic status of their members—unions must not only succeed at collective bargaining and contract negotiations, but also sustain victories at an earlier stage, ensuring that policies impacting basic union activities and the lives of working families are shaped in a favorable manner. To that end, American...

    • Chapter 12 Nonprofit Organizations: Agents of Immigrant Political Incorporation in Urban America
      (pp. 323-350)
      Els de Graauw

      Throughout American history, the religious, charitable, and educational organizations that constitute the category of 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations have been important providers of services to the poor and other disadvantaged populations in American society. Three developments in the four decades since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 help explain why these organizations have become more prominent as providers of various socioeconomic services to immigrants in particular. First, after the act renewed large-scale immigration to the United States, there was an increased need and demand for newcomer services. With political machines largely vanished, local party organizations not interested in reaching out...

    • Chapter 13 Civic Engagement Across Borders: Mexicans in Southern California
      (pp. 351-382)
      Celia Viramontes

      In the spring of 2006, cities across the United States organized one of the largest public demonstrations in American history to challenge federal immigration legislation proposed by Congressman James Sensenbrenner in December 2005. The content of the Sensenbrenner-King bill, HR 4437, called for—among other things—the criminalization of undocumented immigrants in the United States as well as the individuals and institutions who assist them. This provision was perceived by immigrant rights advocates as outright hostile to immigrant communities across the country. The local level response to this legislation was the mobilization of millions of migrants across various American cities...

  9. Index
    (pp. 383-398)