The Political and Civic Engagement of Immigrants

Dr. Caroline Brettell, Tower Center Fellow, wrote about the question of whether the rates of political participation and civic engagement (in the form of volunteerism and other activities within both private and public spheres) among immigrants are lower than those of native-born individuals, and if so, what are the barriers to participation that immigrants, in particular, confront In general terms, these barriers vary according to stage of immigration and settlement (with factors of age and time of entry being important) as well as by legal and socioeconomic status. As suggested to this author by immigration scholar Nestor Rodrigues at one end of the continuum are undocumented migrants who are employed in low-income jobs and living in daily fear of deportation. Their primary concern is simply to work and survive; they are hardly focused on issues of civic and political engagement. It is generally left to their children, those who are either born in or who have for the most part grown up in the United States and who have both more familiarity with the system and a command of the English language, to become more engaged. At the other pole of the continuum are those who have entered the country legally, who are highly educated, and who are employed in high-end professional occupations (as engineers, medical doctors, scientists, etc.). They may be involved in professional association activities that lead them to civic/political engagement or they are personally motivated to participate in the public sphere. They have a good understanding of what is at stake, no matter what end of the political spectrum (liberal to conservative) they situate themselves. Read more here.