Since 1991, the Foundation’s program of research on Immigration has looked beyond the immediate costs and benefits of immigration to the United States to examine how well immigrants and their children are adapting socially, politically, and economically to life in the United States. At the start of the twentieth century, immigrant families struggled in low-wage jobs and lived in segregated neighborhoods, but within several generations they not only caught up to native-born Americans educationally and economically but had successfully integrated into U.S. society. Whatever the costs the early arrivals may have imposed on American society were repaid many times over by the productivity and creativity of subsequent generations.
Can we expect today’s immigrants to follow a path similar path to their twentieth-century predecessors? Some analysts worry that the progress of immigrants will be slower and more uneven than in the past. Manufacturing employment that once provided high wages for immigrant workers is no longer a major share of the American labor market. Success in today’s economy requires a good education, but public schools have deteriorated in many of the poor inner-city neighborhoods where immigrants now settle. Moreover, today’s immigrants, who arrive primarily from Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean, face racial discrimination that may be more severe than earlier waves of immigrants from Europe.
In order to address such concerns, the Foundation has sponsored a wide range of innovative research projects about the long-range progress of today’s immigrants, including three large survey-based studies of second-generation immigrants. The first, The Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS), which began in 1992-93 and included follow-ups three and nine years later, tracked second generation high school students in Miami and San Diego as they made their way through school and entered young adulthood. The results, co-published by the Foundation and the University of California Press in 2001 as Legacies: The Story of the New Second Generations and Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America, provide an authoritative picture of English language proficiency, school achievement, social identity, and family background of high school students from a wide cross-section of immigrant groups. Many of the CILS findings refute long-standing presumptions about how today’s immigrants are faring. Among second-generation students surveyed, almost 90 percent say that English is their preferred language, and fluency in English is high. More worrisome are the significant differences in academic achievement across immigrant groups: children of Mexican immigrants, for example, do much worse in school than other groups, even after taking into account such factors as parental education, family income, and single parenthood.
The Foundation’s second major study of second generation immigrants, The Immigrant Second Generation in Metropolitan New York, led by Philip Kasinitz of Hunter College, John Mollenkopf of the CUNY Graduate Center, and Mary C. Waters of Harvard University, was initiated in 1998. The study combined three distinct methods of inquiry: a large telephone survey of over 3,500 immigrant households in six different immigrant groups and three native-born comparison groups, followed by a set of in-depth interviews with a subset of the survey respondents and half a dozen ethnographic field studies. Completed in early 2000, the survey addressed basic questions about the schooling, job history, earnings, marriage patterns, and career goals of young second generation adults aged 18 to 32. Results from the household survey were published by the Foundation as Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age (2008), and the in-depth interviews and ethnographic field studies were compiled and published as Becoming New Yorkers (2004). The findings presented in the companion books indicate that today’s second generation immigrants are generally faring better than their parents, and every second-generation group is doing better—in many cases, significantly so—than their native-born ethnic peers in educational attainment, earnings, and career success.
In 2004, the Foundation mounted a counterpart to the New York study, Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA), a large-scale survey examining the lives and work experiences of the offspring of Asian and Latino immigrants in the five-county metropolitan Los Angeles area. Since Mexicans account for over 25 percent of the U.S. immigrant population, but were under-represented in the New York survey, IIMMLA had the significant benefit of capturing survey data on L.A.’s sizeable Mexican immigrant population. IIMMLA compared these young adults to their native-born peers along several dimensions, including education, income, jobs and professional advancement, residential assimilation, and interaction with the criminal justice system.
The three large surveys which anchored the first phase of the Foundation’s Immigration program focused on immigrant progress with regard to how individuals are adapting to life in the United States. But immigrant success is not only about individual achievement, it is also a matter of how immigrant groups work collectively to advance their interests in the political arena, as well as how the communities in which they settle adjust to the newcomers in their midst. To better understand these issues, the program has turned to two new primary areas of research: one on the entry of immigrants into the civic and political life of the nation, and another exploring how immigrants are faring as they settle in new destinations outside of traditional immigrant gateway cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Miami.
Immigrant Political Incorporation
To what degree do immigrant populations take part in elections, campaigns, protests, community organizing, or other political activities? Where do they align themselves on issues? How important are mobilizing agents in incorporating immigrants into politics? How do home-country affiliations affect immigrants’ beliefs and activities in the political domain? By supporting research on such topics, this initiative aims to understand better the conditions under which immigrants to the United States begin to become politically influential, the ways in which they may experience exclusion from civic and political life, and the policies that impact their political participation.
In 2004, the Foundation issued an RFP to develop a new line of research on the ways in which recent immigrants are entering into American political life. To date, RSF has funded 37 proposals on topics ranging from the role of community organizations and school associations as vehicles for immigrant political involvement, to the effects of continued political involvement with the home country on political activity in the United States, the role of pan-ethnic identities in forming political alliances, and the political impact of immigrant mobilization in local elections. The RSF volume Civic Hopes and Political Realities (2008), edited by S. Karthick Ramakrishnan (University of California, Riverside) and Irene Bloemraad (University of California, Berkeley), brings together research findings on a variety of these topics to show how today’s immigrants are learning to use the American political process to further their group interests. Research from the book demonstrates that participation in local civic groups and neighborhood organizations often serves as an important first step in giving immigrants a voice in the allocation of community resources. But even in areas with high rates of immigrant organizing, local and national policymakers often remain unaware – and therefore unresponsive to – the interests of immigrants. This problem was brought vividly to life in 2006 with the passage of a bill by the U.S. House of Representatives that would criminalize undocumented status. In a rare show of national political mobilization, immigrant groups were instrumental in launching high-profile nationwide protests against the bill, which later died in the Senate.
New Immigrant Destinations
Immigrants have traditionally entered the United States through one of a handful of gateway cities, but today’s immigrants are increasingly settling in areas that have historically had little immigrant presence. The decline of big city manufacturing jobs over the last thirty years and subsequent industrial restructuring has led many immigrant groups to seek jobs in areas with a booming construction industry of plentiful low-wage manufacturers. The introduction of immigrants to small cities and towns and rural areas raises the question of how newcomers will be received by communities that have rarely dealt with people of different cultural backgrounds. In 2005, the Foundation hosted a conference where twenty papers were presented on topics such as inter-group relations in the new South, and immigrant settlement in new metropolises. The resulting RSF volume, New Faces in New Places: The Changing Geography of American Immigration(2008), edited by Douglas S. Massey of Princeton University, employs census data and other population surveys to illustrate the many ways that communities across the nation are reacting to the arrival of immigrant newcomers.
The book paints a mixed picture of immigrant experience in new destinations. The type of reception immigrants receive appears to depend largely on the cultural diversity of the local population, the way political leaders respond to the arrival of new groups, and whether or not the new arrivals are regarded as competitors for scarce housing and jobs. Some studies find evidence that native-born residents fear that immigrant newcomers bring crime, economic competition, and an increased tax burden to the communities in which they settle. Many native whites are also concerned that immigrants are not assimilating culturally — that they are not learning English or doing things the “American” way. Survey data show that such perceptions are strongest among native-born citizens with the least education living outside of major metropolitan areas. Other studies suggest that in some places immigrants are being met with more welcoming attitudes. One local survey reports that native whites generally express positive feelings toward Hispanic immigrants, and two-thirds agree that Hispanics make a contribution to the local economy. Another study details how Hispanic men initially recruited to work in agriculture and food processing have moved into a wider variety of occupations, and some local employers have shifted from grudging acceptance of immigrant workers to active efforts to hire more. The current economic recession throws some of these more positive findings into question since the economic downturn increases the possibility that immigrants will be viewed as unwanted competitors for scarce jobs. In short, the overall picture indicates a high degree of ambivalence toward the new arrivals, with a gradual increase in levels of acceptance based primarily on the degree of contact with the new groups.
Should you have any questions about the Immigration program, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, all information on applying for a research award in the Immigration program can be found on our How to Apply page.