Irene Bloemraad

Overview of Research Projects

Underlying all my work is a concern and interest in how people become incorporated in political bodies, the processes through which incorporation takes place, and the (potential) tension between democratic civic equality and communal membership based on ethnicity, race, religion or some other seemingly organic membership. My particular focus is on immigrants since the arrival of "foreigners" into political body raises significant tensions between democratic ideals and the desire to creating national communities of identity around an "us" that is distinct and different from those outside the geo-political boundaries of that community.

Recently Published Research and Publications

I recently published the book Becoming a Citizen: Incorporating Immigrants and Refugees in the United States and Canada, with the University of California Press (2006).

(From the back cover jacket:)

How can societies that welcome immigrants from around the world create civic cohesion and political community out of ethnic and racial diversity? This thought-provoking book is the first to provide a comparative perspective on how the United States and Canada encourage foreigners to become citizens. Based on vivid in-depth interviews with Portuguese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees in Boston and Toronto and on statistical analysis and documentary data, Becoming a Citizen shows that greater state support for settlement and an official government policy of multiculturalism in Canada increase citizenship acquisition and political participation among the foreign born. The United States, long a successful example of immigrant integration, today has greater problems incorporating newcomers into the polity. While many previous accounts suggest that differences in naturalization and political involvement stem from differences in immigrants' political skills and interests, Irene Bloemraad argues that foreigners' political incorporation is not just a question of the type of people countries receive, but also fundamentally of the reception given to them. She discusses the implications of her findings for other countries, including Australia and immigrant nations in Europe.

I have also been publishing articles in a variety of academic journals in sociology and on immigration on the topics of naturalization, dual citizenship and multiculturalism.

On-going Research "in the field"

The Immigrant Civic Engagement Project
This project is funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and is being done with Dr. Karthick Ramakrishnan at the University of California, Riverside.

This project aims to understand the role of community organizations (be they recreational, social, political, religious, educational, etc.), on immigrants' voice in local affairs. Among the many questions we want to examine, three stand out. Does "ethnic" organizing facilitate immigrants' civic and political voice, or are immigrants better served by non-ethnic community groups that are perceived as more mainstream? What factors facilitate or impede immigrants' ability to engage in American associationalism? Is all civic engagement equal or, if we can identify "civic stratification" in groups' political presence, what accounts for civic inequalities? We examine these questions in eleven California communities as well as Chicago, Edison (NJ) and Washington, DC using data from focus groups, a survey of immigrant and non-immigrant residents, a database of nonprofit organizations, content analysis of local newspapers and in-depth interviews with staff or leaders of ethnic and mainstream organizations, as well as with local decision-makers (elected and non-elected).

The Mexican-American Political Socialization Project
This project is also funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, and is being conducted with Dr. Bruce Cain (Political Science, UCB) and Dr. Christine Trost (ISSC, UCB).

This project is an exploratory study that examines political socialization in mixed status Mexican-origin households. It centers on two primary research questions. The first asks whether, in immigrant households, political socialization works in the reverse of current theorizing. An old political science literature has examined the ways in which parents influence their children's political orientations and behaviors through socialization in the family. This project hypothesizes that for immigrant families, the reverse might also be true: children and adolescents might teach their parents about civic and political engagement. If this is the case, it means that institutions in most direct contact with children-especially schools-are indirectly (or directly) affecting adults, including potential or actual voters and citizens. A further implication would be that if children in immigrant households socialize their parents, similar but less pronounced processes might be at work among the native-born, forcing us to rethink some of the mechanisms and processes of political socialization and political learning more generally.

The second main question is what effect parents' legal status has on the political orientation and civic engagement of their children. We are in the process of interviewing 48 families with parents of Mexican origin. In each case, we interview at least one parent and a US citizen adolescent between the ages of 14 and 18. Of the parents, we are hoping to interview equal numbers of undocumented, legal permanent resident, naturalized and US born parents. I want to know whether citizen children over-compensate for parents' lack of citizenship and political voice by being more engaged and interested in politics and civic affairs, or whether their parents' status makes them alienated from participation in public affairs.

Foreign-born Office-Holders in the US and Canada

A third project, funded by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and done with Sociology graduate student Naomi Hsu, is comparing the success of foreign-born politicians in getting elected to the US Congress and Canadian Parliament, as well as the voting behavior of foreign-born members of the House. A central question we ask is whether, net of other factors such as party affiliation, race, political district, etc., foreign-born representatives vote in ways sympathetic to immigrant concerns. Put another way, how does personal immigrant experience and biography influence politicians' stances? Initial results from this study were presented at the IRLE lunchtime colloquium in May 2006.

Download Irene Bloemraad's full CV and list of publications PDF

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Immigration Workshop

Immigration Workshop