Author: Leia Walker

Community-Centered Initiatives are the New Black

By Leia Walker and Germalysa Ferrer

 

A wristwatch is a fascinating device whose outside is one complete unit, but the interior is full of small, important gadgets that cannot be overlooked. The wristwatch is the blessed American nation and the small gadgets are its localities. It is imperative that we understand how important localities are today, especially in an age where the nation is sharply polarized over what stance to take on immigration. Today’s news sources depict all Republicans following one mindset and Democrats another. However, what they fail to see is how localities, particularly small ones, prioritize their community members over party agenda. To support this claim, we will be observing and comparing Virginia’s District 6 (observed by Leia Walker) and Minnesota’s District 5 (observed by Germalysa Ferrer).

There have been quite convincing arguments that posit partisanship as a strong indicator of immigrant preference; Republicans prefer strict regulations and Democrats prefer permissive policies.  In addition, research also concludes that newer House Representatives are more likely to favor restrictive immigration policies. This is a characteristic facing Virginia’s District 6 at the present. However, these arguments do not specify who or what really determines an immigrant’s experience once they arrive in America. According to immigration scholar Monica McDermott, local context heavily determines an immigrant’s experience in the US. Truly what immigrants need is a kind reception in order to feel at home.

What one would expect for Republican localities to do is reject immigrants and for Democratic localities to accept them. However, that is not the case for two anonymous Republican counties of Virginia’s District 6. When asked about immigrant participation in their Republican committee, one of the county chairs mentioned that immigrants indeed do participate, further stating that the committee is “open to any members of the community, we represent the people, we’re all here for our community and what’s best for it.” The other county chair mentioned that “all we ask is that you are a registered voter, it doesn’t matter your background,” in order to be involved in the Republican committee. He continued, saying there are “clerks, sheriffs, and private organizations” that influence the political and social initiatives of a community, highlighting that there are other players in the local context besides partisanship. These two counties, highly representative of Virginia’s District 6 due to their rural setting and small population size, surely have a community-oriented focus that quite clearly transcends partisan expectations. Not only does this observation clarify the role of localities in the fabric of America, but it signals the solution to communities that do not know how to receive immigrant populations: continue to favor community-oriented policies that seek to integrate any and all members of the community.

Again, we argue that immigrant integration is dependent on community-based initiatives that service entire communities because they, by virtue, include immigrants. What you would expect from a liberal Democratic district such as Minnesota’s 5th district is that immigrant integration would be encouraged. Before researching, I knew that nonprofits facilitated immigrant integration in a local district, but I had no idea the extent of their roles. I originally thought that immigrant nonprofits and cultural groups (or groups who are concentrated on serving one group of people) contributed equally to immigrant integration. However, after interviewing Democrat faculty, nonprofit executive directors, and cultural group representatives, I learned that nonprofit organizations helping any and all immigrants engage with their community are the critical foundation. During my interview with communication directors of District 5’s Democratic organization, I was often referred to Arrive Ministry, the largest nonprofit and immigrant-welcoming organization of the district. When I interviewed people from cultural groups, they too referred me to me back to Arrive Ministry. Even the services they provide such as daycares, elderly assistance, and translation services, provided by groups like the South-East Asian Association, were again associated with Arrive Ministry. Bob Oehrig, Arrive Ministry’s executive director, told me about all of the services that it provides such as legal help, jobs, furnished housing, and even classes that aim to teach refugees and immigrants skills like riding the bus. Initiatives and nonprofits like Arrive Ministry that service all immigrant/refugee populations, rather than just specific populations show why it’s important to support initiatives that service entire communities rather than one population because they play an important role in everyone’s integration.

Overall, Virginia’s District 6 and Minnesota’s District 5 show very community-oriented leaders and highlight the need for communities to continue their ‘embrace-all’ policies and organizations, which accept and protect immigrants residing in the locale. While skeptics of community-centered policies may argue that only majority interests will be observed, that may not be the case on a local scale, where minorities are taking part in the social and political activities of the majority group. Virginia’s District 6 has a more policy-oriented and public office approach to serving the community, and Minnesota’s District 5 approaches service through nonprofit organizations, but both districts bring immigrants into the larger societal circle of the district, furthermore producing the political and social integration of immigrants. These strategies, particular policy-oriented ones, are already beginning to take form in New Haven, CT, where the city government released municipal IDs that allow immigrants and native-born Americans to take part in the same locally-provided activities, recognized by local public offices and the police. Measures like these will ensure the cohesion between an incoming population and those already residing, which allows for greater progress in community initiatives, activities, and morale. For what happiness or peace is there in a community with no unity?

VA District 6 Results

Virginia District 6 Results

 

I predicted that immigrants in Virginia District 6 will assimilate into the white-dominated political organizations, which means political integration. This prediction is based on the idea that small immigrants will follow the political and social behaviors of the majority race due to the strong racial identity of the majority race impressed upon the minority (McDermott 2013). Virginia District 6 is a very suitable district to test this prediction in because of its 79.8% non- Hispanic white population (census.gov). I also predicted that regardless of party lines, the immigrants will be able to assimilate since their population is small relative to the majority race.

 

I chose to request interviews from four party committee chairs within Virginia’s District 6. The chairs were from the Amherst County Republican Committee, the Botetourt County Democratic Committee, the Shenandoah County Democratic Committee, and the Warren County Republican Committee. In the email or voice mails that I left, I told the chairs that I was a first-year student from Princeton University, researching the role of local political organizations in their communities. I told them I was taking a politics class, but did not specify that it was a class on immigration policy and policymaking, for fear that the Republicans would hang up on me or get defensive. In addition, I let them know it would be a simple four-minute conversation, even though it went over that time because the chairs were very reflective. On a side note, I think it was important I used the term “conversation” as opposed to interview, so the chairs would not feel pressure to be inauthentic in order to sound more polished. Thanks to Professor Valenzuela’s prompting, I asked them about the ways in which one can get involved in the committee before I asked specifically about immigrants. The Republican chairs did not seem offended or defensive when I asked them about immigrants because I framed the interview around the root of immigrant experience–local context, versus immigration itself. Overall, I was able to get information about immigrant political integration in District 6 without explicitly stating that as my goal. If the chairs knew anything about the immigrants actively involved, I further asked them about the roles that the immigrants play in the committee and how much of the committee they occupy.

 

Of the four requests for an interview, three responded, two interviewed. Both Republican committees responded to my phone call and/or email within an hour. The Shenandoah County Democratic Committee chair responded in two hours, but she is travelling in Europe with no cell phone access. The Botetourt Democratic Committee chair did not respond. The quick responses from the Republican committees surprised me at first because I assumed they were busy being involved in their community, but now I understand that their willingness to have a conversation with me probably derives from their success (and furthermore confidence) in impacting the politics of their community. The responses of V.W. of Amherst County (I am addressing him with initials because he did not give explicit consent to have his name recorded) and Stephen Kurtz of Warren County were virtually the same up to the question of how many immigrants were involved. V.W. did not know if immigrants were involved, but his response was pretty generalistic, claiming that all it takes to get involved is to be a registered voter. Based on his response, it is clear that there are little to no Latino immigrants, let alone any immigrants in Amherst County. Stephen Kurtz was aware that there were immigrants, claiming there were “plenty”, meaning 10% of the committee (12-14 members of the overall 120-140 members). He too provided a very generalist, community-oriented response to whether immigrants were actively involved. He stated that as long as there were no language barriers, immigrants can certainly get involved, and the leadership positions are up to the will of the immigrants. In addition, he admitted that the committee was open to any members of the community, even former Democrats. Overall, he was accepting of immigrants, but clearly revealed his inability to work with immigrants that only speak a language other than English. Both Amherst and Warren counties show a lack of resources for immigrants that speak languages outside of English, which creates conditions for immigrants to assimilate into the dominant race’s political structures.

 

The interviews, primarily Mr. Kurtz’s, show that immigrants will most likely assimilate, given that they are a small minority in a locality. This conclusion is in line with McDermott’s hypothesis. Limitations of this conclusion are that my results derived from communities that are only Republican, small, and highly focused on local politics. On a slight tangent, Stephen Kurtz mentioned that Warren County was a mountainous district, with contempt for the intervention of state and national politics, which is why they were attached to local politics. The United States’ system of federalism certainly allows conditions in which localities can have quite a large degree of autonomy to impact immigrant experience. For communities like Warren and Amherst, although Republican, because their immigrant community is so small, the majority race is most likely to accept new immigrants. This idea prompts me to hope for other rural communities all across America, who even in a time of immigration salience, could be propelling a message of acceptance to all members of the community as well. These results and conclusions drawn also pose a tension with immigration literature that highlights how partisanship is a strong indicator of immigration policy preference (Casellas et al. 2013, Ramakrishnan and Wong 2010). To reconcile these two contrasts, I predict that further research will observe how small localities, which are a significant portion of the U.S., actually do embrace immigrants (when they are in small groups), but are silent in national and state issues. I believe we already have some evidence of this in New Haven and its municipal IDs used to create a community-centered locality (DeGraaw 2014).

Virginia District 6 Demographics

 

This slide shows the race and ethnic makeup on District 6 in 2007 and 2017, respectively. This data was provided through census.gov and its American Fact Finder service. The main observations are that the white population size has decreased, the Asian and Latino population has increased, the overall foreign born population increased, and Asians and Blacks are an increasing fraction of the foreign born population. These observations reinforce the awareness that immigration to America has increasingly become non-white, leading us to see its effects on the slide below.

 

This slide indicates the findings of immigration scholars around the immigrant population’s effects on media coverage, public opinion, and immigrant experience. The general composition of this slide highlights the negative portrayal of immigrants by the media, which in turn, leads white to hold negative views of immigrants and shift their partisanship to the Republican Party, known for its firm anti-immigrant status. On a local level, immigrants are expected to be received coldly by the native population and undergo assimilation into the white population’s political organizations. An implication of this research is that now the Spanish language is tagged as ‘the immigrants’ language’, deepening the binary between native Americans and foreign born Americans. As a result, we can see how communities that push against bilingual services in the community are preserving the language that highlights the downsides of immigration in the media. Ultimately, there is a cyclical relationship identified, in which the media negatively depicts immigrants, which causes public opinion on immigration to sour, worsening the reception of immigrants, which will the be recorded in the news under the heading of titles like “Border Security”.

 

These hypotheses begin with the premise that District 6 is a primarily white congressional district and from there, it is safe to assume that the news will be in primarily in English. Based on the research, if District 6 shows it news in English, then immigration-related news will depict immigrants negatively. In effect, more whites in District 6 will shift to the Republican Party and hold more hostile views on immigration, then immigrants will undergo a cold reception in their locality and assimilate into white-dominated political structures. It seems that based on the conditions created where the native group wants to preserve their cultural practices, immigrant groups will find it difficult to integrate unless they assimilate to the dominant culture.

 

 

My research will be interview-based as the virginia.gop website provides many contact numbers of local Republican Party organizations. The Virginia Democrat party provides some contact information, as well. I am a bit skeptical of McDermott’s graphic and how it applies to Virginia’s District 6. Since I predicted that immigrants in District 6 will not have the most welcoming reception, I am investigating whether or not they will integrate into the political structures/ organizations. If there are immigrants participating, I will consider their race and/or ethnicity to determine if different immigrants in District 6 participate more than others in the political environment.

VA 6

This first slide provides a brief overview of Virginia’s District 6’s Republican representative Ben Cline and its demographics. As the statistic shows, provided by govtrack.us, the vast majority of District 6 is native born, which most likely accounts for why immigration is not listed in Representative Cline’s category of issues. There is a very small foreign born population, but of this group, about half of them are labeled ‘not a citizen’. Representative Cline is a new member of Congress, so he has not sponsored many bills, but he did sponsor H.R. 1397, which would require the national instant background check system to notify ICE of firearm denials due to illegal or unauthorized presence in the United States (govtrack.us).

 

This second slide shows the election history for District 6, which is unwaveringly Republican. This data was provided by the Virginia Election Database. Robert Goodlatte, the previous representative for District 6, held his position since 1993 with little opposition. It is interesting to see in this 10 year election period how the Democratic Party was unable to select a candidate to rival Robert Goodlatte. While there is no explanation as to why the Democrats failed to select a candidate, I hypothesize that the Democrats knew they would lose seats in the midterm elections of President Obama’s presidency, so energies spent in swing districts would be more fruitful. It is clear that the incumbency advantage benefitted Representative Goodlatte well. This election history also shows that Ben Cline is a freshman representative, achieving his electoral victory after Representative Goodlatte declined to run for office in 2018.

The most significant details revolving District 6 are its strong Republican influence, its new representative, its quite homogeneous population, and size of cities in the district. Research indicates strong evidence of partisanship largely deciding a representative’s outlook on immigration (Casellas et al. 2013; Ramakrishnan & Wong 2010). In addition, medium-sized cities (Lynchburg, Roanoke, Harrisonburg) and newer House representatives are more likely to support restrictive immigration policies. However, evidence does not support that restrictionist policies are related to the Latino population size, which is 4% for District 6 (Ramakrishnan & Wong 2010).

 

These hypotheses result from the existing facts we have of Representative Cline. Based on the literature from the previous slides and Representative Ben Cline’s behavior since January 2019, I predict that he will favor restrictive immigration policies because he is a Republican, began his bill-sponsoring record with a restrictive immigration bill, is a freshman congressman, represents a district of medium-sized cities, mentioned “immigrant” only once in his tweet record as of March 3rd, 2019 (taken from his Twitter account: @RepBenCline).

Princeton University Challenges Trump Administration Regulations

This week, we heard Professor Fernandez-Kelly and read her article “The Integration Paradox: Coping Strategies among Immigrant Children in the Age of Mass Deportations” (2019), leading us to focus on the ways in which immigrant children/students are able to exhibit positive behaviors despite discriminatory national immigration policy. In addition, Aptekar (2008) speaks to how immigrant groups like Asian Indians and Chinese possess educational and material prosperity, yet have difficulty integrating into the political landscape of their local communities. This article from Princeton University posted in 2018 speaks to these concepts as we try to observe local disagreement with national immigration policy and the effects it has on immigrant communities and their integration into local politics.

Princeton University’s  involvement in the Supreme Court case against President Trump’s proclamation limiting migrants from Muslim-majority countries sparks questions about how Muslim immigrant students will integrate into the University. While Fernandez-Kelly found that immigrant students exhibit more positive behaviors in Trenton over Princeton, religion is now an element of this Supreme Court case. Fernandez-Kelly claims that a factor of Trenton immigrant children’s positive outlook is because of religious narratives crafted to explain overcoming struggles and circumstance. With the Trump administration proclamation isolating immigrants from Muslim-dominated countries, it would be interesting to discuss if/how Princeton’s support of Muslim immigrant students could foster cohesion among these immigrants, which could allow them to use their religious faith for a positive outlook. As the national government isolates groups and thereafter receives opposition from universities, it would be interesting to see how localities around the Universities that are not predominantly African American or Latino can still foster immigrant integration and political involvement using religious tolerance and acceptance.

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