Enforcement or Embrace? The Determinants of State-Level Immigration Policy in New Immigrant Destinations

Awarded Scholars:
Jennifer Jones, University of Notre Dame
Hana Brown, Wake Forest University
Project Date:
Mar 2014
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

Over the last twenty years, immigration settlement patterns have transformed, as they have increasingly moved to new destination areas like the South and Midwest. Many new destination states have responded by proposing laws to curtail the social and legal rights of unauthorized immigrants. These efforts have succeeded in some states, but failed in others. Why have some new destination states adopted anti-immigrant policies while others have been more supportive?

Sociologists Hana Brown and Jennifer Jones will compare immigration policy outcomes in two new destination states: Mississippi and Alabama. Given their similar racial demographics, recent increases in their foreign born and Latino populations, and political and racial conservatism, existing theories of state and local-level immigration politics would predict that both would adopt restrictive anti-immigrant legislation. However, while Alabama was among the first states to enact the country’s strictest anti-immigrant legislation, Mississippi failed to enact similar laws.

Combining archival, media, and interview data, this project will evaluate the effects of interracial coalitions, immigrant civic capacity, and racial political context on immigration policy outcomes in Alabama and Mississippi. The authors hypothesize that a cohesive interracial coalition thwarted efforts to pass anti-immigration policies in Mississippi but the absence of such organizing was unable to stop passage in Alabama. They also posit that unless part of a larger matrix of civic groups advocated for supportive reforms, activism by immigrant community organizations prompted policy backlash. Drawing on previous work, they also speculate that racial divides and tensions spilled over into immigration debates in Alabama, prompting residents and policymakers to view new immigrant arrivals as a racial threat.


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