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The Integration of Immigrants into American Society

September 24, 2015

As immigrants and their descendants become integrated into U.S. society, many aspects of their lives improve, including measurable outcomes such as educational attainment, occupational distribution, income, and language ability. Yet, a new study supported in part by the Russell Sage Foundation shows that their well-being declines in the areas of health, crime, and family patterns.

In their report, authors Mary Waters and Marissa Pineau examine the factors that impede immigrants’ integration into society. These include legal status, racial disparities in socio-economic outcomes, and low naturalization rates. As Water notes, “Integration is a twofold process that depends on the participation of immigrants and their descendants in major social institutions such as schools and the labor market, as well as their social acceptance by other Americans.”

Latino Attitudes About Spheres of Political Representation

September 22, 2015

Among the current Republican presidential candidates, immigration has arisen as a contentious talking point. Spurred by Donald Trump’s call to deport undocumented immigrants and end birthright citizenship, all GOP candidates professed strong support for strengthening the U.S.-Mexico border in their most recent CNN debate. As media commentators—including RSF author and former Visiting Scholar Karthick Ramakrishnan—have speculated, these remarks are likely to alienate Latino voters from the GOP.

The latest issue of the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences contains a new paper by RSF grantee Deborah Schildkraut (Tufts University) that examines Latino voters’ engagement with electoral politics. With support from the Foundation, Schildkraut studied how Latinos’ identification with their national origins or ethnic group impacts their beliefs about the adequacy of representative democracy in the U.S. She also examined how Latinos’ perceptions of discrimination in the U.S. shapes their beliefs about democratic representation. The abstract states:

This study examines whether ethnic attachments and concerns about Latinos as a group predict the representational priorities of Latinos, and if so, whether they make a preference for narrowly targeted spheres of representation more likely. It relies on nationally representative survey data (n = 434) and employs ordered probit statistical analysis. The results show that thinking of oneself primarily as a member of an ethnic group instead of as an American increases the importance placed on having members of Congress bring federal resources to the district and decreases the importance placed on the pursuit of national issues, and perceiving discrimination against one’s ethnic group increases the importance placed on casework and decreases the importance placed on oversight. Other factors associated with the Latino experience in the United States, including acculturation and having a Latino representative, also affect how Latinos rank spheres of representation.

New Reviews of Jamie Winders's Nashville in the New Millennium

September 18, 2015

Geographer Jamie Winders’ 2013 RSF book, Nashville in the New Millennium: Immigrant Settlement, Urban Transformation, and Social Belonging, was recently reviewed by the American Journal of Sociology and by Contemporary Sociology. In AJS, reviewer Amada Armenta (University of Pennsylvania) calls Winders’s work “meticulously researched” and a “significant addition” to a growing body of research on Latino immigration to the southeastern United States.

In Nashville in the New Millennium, Winders offers one of the first extended studies of the cultural, racial, and institutional politics of immigrant incorporation in a new urban destination. By carefully tracing the significant increase in Latino immigration to Nashville, Tennessee over the last several decades, Winders shows how Nashville’s long-term residents and its new immigrants experienced daily life as the city transformed into a multicultural destination. Because Nashville had little to no prior history of incorporating immigrants into local life, the arrival of new residents often led to community friction. As reviewer Armenta writes,

Although Latino immigrants and long-term residents lived side by side, they essentially occupied separate social worlds. For example, long-term residents and Latino immigrants had contradictory understandings of what it meant to be good neighbors. Latino immigrants thought that being neighborly required maintaining silence and avoiding interactions, whereas long-term residents expected communication based on what their neighborhood was like in the past. These local practices and understandings worked as barriers to immigrant inclusion and incorporation.

Immigration expert and RSF author Jennifer Lee, who reviewed Nashville in the New Millennium for the recent issue of Contemporary Sociology, discussed how these tensions manifested among students and teachers in Nashville’s public schools. She notes:

Winders shows that teachers have handled the new diversity by claiming not to see it, not acknowledging it, and not discussing it in their classrooms. They have sought to create a space of sameness, where everyone in the class is a child and a student despite the apparent ethno-racial, linguistic, and cultural differences among them. The teachers felt that this was especially important given burgeoning anti-immigrant rhetoric and intense debates about immigration reform at the local and national levels.

However, the teachers’ strategy of approaching diversity as sameness was challenged when they taught civil rights history to their students and had to answer questions from Latino students and Kurdish refugees about where they fit in the narrative about black/white history and relations.

New Fall 2015 Books from RSF

August 31, 2015

Below is a first look at new and forthcoming books from the Foundation for Fall 2015. The list includes Parents Without Papers, a new investigation of the barriers to Mexican immigrant integration in the U.S.; Race, Class and Affirmative Action, a comparative study of the differing affirmative action policies in the U.S. and Israel; Unequal City, an examination of how disadvantaged Chicago youth navigate their neighborhoods, life opportunities, and encounters with the law; and Fear, Anxiety, and National Identity, a volume exploring the social and political backlashes to increasing immigration in North America and Western Europe. The first two issues of RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, Severe Deprivation in America and Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 at Fifty and Beyond, will also be released this fall.

To request a printed copy of our Fall 2015 catalog, please contact Bruce Thongsack at, or view the complete list of RSF books on our publications page.

New Op-Eds by RSF Scholars

August 24, 2015

Several of the Foundation's former Visiting Scholars, and RSF Robert K. Merton Scholar Robert Solow, have recently published new op-eds detailing some of their ongoing research.

Last week, writing for the New York Times, former Visiting Scholar Mark VanLandingham outlined the factors that contributed to the high rate of return of the Vietnamese to New Orleans following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. While some commentators have attributed the post-Katrina success of the Vietnamese to cultural values specific to Asian immigrants, VanLandingham explained that their recovery was enabled by a confluence of several different advantages, including the economic and social capital they possessed prior to the hurricane. As he writes:

First, consider that Vietnamese-Americans in New Orleans represent a select group of Vietnamese. Specifically, those who came to the United States were wealthier than those who stayed behind in Vietnam. (A spot on a departing vessel was too expensive for many.) First-generation Vietnamese in New Orleans also score better on measures of general health than do their counterparts in Vietnam. Because of the forces of selection underlying migration, the Vietnamese in America are not representative of the Vietnamese overall — challenging the idea of some shared cultural superiority. Read more

Former Visiting Scholars and RSF authors Karthick Ramakrishnan and Jennifer Lee also recently penned new articles drawing from their research. Responding in the Washington Post to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments on undocumented immigrants entering the U.S., Ramakrishnan pointed out in a new op-ed that

states have become much more robustly engaged on immigration regulation, a process that started in the 1970s and has accelerated in the past decade. Federal courts have limited the scope of some of these efforts. Most notably, in 2012, the Supreme Court’s United States v. Arizona decision severely restricted how much states could independently get involved in immigration enforcement. Nevertheless, states are much more central players on immigration regulation now than, say, during the 1930s. Back then, the federal government enlisted the help of states and counties to forcibly repatriate upwards of 1 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children to Mexico. Read more

Recent Immigration to Canada and the United States: A Mixed Tale of Relative Selection

August 19, 2015

The August issue of the International Migration Review contains a new report by former Visiting Scholars Neeraj Kaushal and Yao Lu (Columbia University). During their time in residence, Kaushal and Lu compared immigrant selection and assimilation in Canada and the U.S., focusing in particular on how immigration trends in both countries have shifted since 1990. They assessed the relative selection of immigrants to both countries with respect to levels of education, host country language proficiency, and initial earnings. They also investigated the relative economic well-being of immigrants in these two countries after adjusting for different levels of immigrant selection.

Their findings are contained in the new article for IMR, which is available for free download from the Foundation's website. The abstract states:

Using large-scale census data and adjusting for sending-country fixed effect to account for changing composition of immigrants, we study relative immigrant selection to Canada and the U.S. during 1990-2006, a period characterized by diverging immigration policies in the two countries. Results show a gradual change in selection patterns in educational attainment and host-country language proficiency in favor of Canada as its post-1990 immigration policy allocated more points to the human capital of new entrants. Specifically, in 1990, new immigrants in Canada were less likely to have a B.A. degree than those in the U.S.; they were also less likely to have a highschool or lower education. By 2006, Canada surpassed the U.S. in drawing highly educated immigrants, while continuing to attract fewer low-educated immigrants. Canada also improved its edge over the U.S. in terms of host-country language proficiency of new immigrants. Entry-level earnings, however, do not reflect the same trend: Recent immigrants to Canada have experienced a wage disadvantage compared to recent immigrants to the U.S., as well as Canadian natives. One plausible explanation is that while the Canadian points system has successfully attracted more educated immigrants, it may not be effective in capturing productivity-related traits that are not easily measurable.

The Asian American Achievement Paradox in the News

August 18, 2015

The Asian American Achievement Paradox, a new RSF book by sociologists Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, recently has been cited in the news. In the wake of a renewed conversation in the media on so-called “tiger” parenting and Asian Americans’ sizeable presence at elite universities, co-author Jennifer Lee spoke with several outlets about the findings in the book, including BBC World News, BlogHer, and Inside Higher Education. As Lee explained in an interview with The Gist, while many pundits have claimed that Asian Americans’ high educational attainment reflects unique cultural values, her research with Zhou bridges sociology and social psychology to explain how immigration laws, institutions, and culture all interact to foster high educational achievement among certain Asian American groups.

Lee also expanded these points in an August op-ed for CNN, writing, “Zhou and I explain what actually fuels the achievements of some Asian American groups: U.S. immigration law, which favors highly educated, highly skilled immigrant applicants from Asian countries.” These immigrants bring with them a specific “success frame,” which requires earning a degree from an elite university and working in a high-status field. These goals are reinforced in many local Asian communities, which make resources such as college preparation courses and tutoring available to group members, including their low-income members. And, Lee noted in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Because of the hyperselectivity of Asian immigrants, Asian-American students are benefiting from this perception that all Asian-Americans are highly educated and work hard and are high-achieving. Being viewed through the lens of the positive stereotype can enhance the performance of Asian-American students.”

RSF Author Jennifer Lee Interviewed by U.S. Embassy in New Zealand

July 14, 2015

RSF author and former Visiting Scholar Jennifer Lee (University of California, Irvine) recently visited New Zealand to deliver a keynote address at the Population Association of New Zealand conference. During her time in Wellington, she participated in an interview at the U.S. Embassy and discussed diversity and population trends in America.

New Awards Approved in Russell Sage Foundation’s Core Programs

July 8, 2015

Several new research projects in the Russell Sage Foundation’s core programs were funded at the Foundation’s June meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Awards approved in the Behavioral Economics program:

Mental Accounting and Fungibility of Money: Evidence from a Retail Panel
Jesse Shapiro (Harvard University) and Justine Hastings (Brown University)

Jesse Shapiro and Justine Hastings will complete a project that provide new tests of "mental accounting," or how households represent money in their financial decision-making. They will draw from unique panel data on seven years of customer purchases from a large grocery retailer in order to glean new insights into mental accounting through a real-world scenario.

Behavioral Biases and the Design of Student Loan Repayment Schemes
Lesley J. Turner, Kathleen Abraham, Emel Filiz-Ozbay, and Erkut Ozbay (University of Maryland)

Lesley J. Turner and colleagues will investigate the factors that affect students’ loan repayments, including the relationship between students’ expected earnings and their preference for income-based repayment plans, and whether students’ repayment behavior is affected by whether they voluntarily choose income-based plan or are instead assigned to one.

RSF Author Jennifer Lee Named Chair-Elect of ASA Section on International Migration

June 17, 2015

RSF author and former Visiting Scholar Jennifer Lee (UC Irvine) has been selected as chair-elect of the American Sociological Association Section on International Migration. One of 52 special interest groups within the association, the International Migration section aims to stimulate, promote, and reward the development of original theory and research on international migration. During her term, Lee aims to make scholarly research in the field of international migration more accessible to the public audience by connecting it to pressing policy debates.

Lee was a Visiting Scholar at the Foundation during the academic year of 2011-2012. She is co-author with Frank Bean of the RSF book The Diversity Paradox (2010), and co-author with Min Zhou of the newly released RSF book The Asian American Achievement Paradox (2015). In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, Lee and Zhou offer a compelling account of the academic achievement of the children of Asian immigrants—which pundits have long attributed to unique cultural values. Drawing on in-depth interviews with the adult children of Chinese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees and survey data, Lee and Zhou bridge sociology and social psychology to correct this myth and explain how immigration laws, institutions, and culture interact to foster high achievement among certain Asian American groups.

Lee's one-year term as chair of the ASA Section on International Migration begins in August 2015.

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