Category: Public presentations

AZ 4 and MI 8 by Maya Aronoff and Rebekah Ninan









Michigan’s eighth District (MI-8) and Arizona’s fourth District (AZ-4) exist at opposite poles of the county, in states along the southern and northern borders. While Arizona flanks Mexico, Michigan is linked to Canada by its many Great Lakes.  Scholarship has demonstrated that states close to the Southern border are most likely to have media that frames immigration as a Latino threat, or covers immigration with a negative tone, than states farther away (Branton & Dunway 2009, Dunway, Brandon, & Abrajano 2010). This work does not compare the rhetoric in southern border states to the rhetoric in northern border states, however. This presentation will more broadly explore the question: is immigration rhetoric (broadly defined as media, representatives’ statements, and policy discourse) in a northern border state more similar to that in a southern border state than previous work might imply? Is there something about being on a border that might shape what kinds of immigration policies a representative should pursue? As the literature suggests, we find that immigration is more salient for AZ 4 and that policies are more restrictive than in MI 8–however, rhetoric in MI 8 does frame immigration as a matter of northern border security in ways that may impact policy.

To explore this, we use the 8th district and the 4th district because not only are they both in border states, but they have some basic demographic similarities. Both districts are roughly eighty percent white, with about ten percent foreign born population (the average/slightly below average percentages when compared to the nation as a whole). Research suggests that a higher percentage of foreign born population correlates to support for more accepting immigration policy (Wong 2014). By this metric we might expect these two border states to have roughly similar, perhaps moderately restrictive, immigration policy. Indeed, both districts are red leaning, and a multitude of studies have shown that partisanship is a key predictor in support for immigration policies at both the national and local level (Casellas and Leas 2013; Ramakrishnan and Wong 2010). Furthermore, media and politicians in both districts frame immigration as a national security issue.

Despite these similarities, key differences have emerged in the reality of their immigration politics. MI-8 is now represented by a Democrat, Elissa Slotkin, who has relatively moderate views on immigration policy, while AZ-4 is represented by Paul Gosar, one of the most conservative members of congress in favor of extremely restrictive immigration policy. Gosar uses half of his tweets to discuss immigration and initiating numerous pieces of legislation restricting immigration and immigrant’s rights. In contrast, Slotkin has not initiated any bills directly related to immigration. Sometimes, she will tolerate restrictive policy–her bipartisan gun control legislation had a motion requiring a 30 second vote slipped in mandating ICE calls for undocumented immigrants who attempted to purchase guns. Furthermore, local media coverage of immigration in Arizona’s fourth district is much more ubiquitous than in Michigan’s eighth district.

There are key differences between the districts that can explain the difference in immigration policy between them, using existing literature. First, Branton et. al (2009, 2010) show that spatial proximity to the Southern U.S.-Mexico border leads to greater newspaper coverage of immigration issues. That coverage is more likely to frame immigration as a Latino threat (Hopkins 2010, Abrajano & Hajnal 2015, Newman et. al 2018). This accurately represents the difference in coverage between AZ-4 and MI-8. Immigration is discussed in almost thirty percent of local media coverage in Arizona’s fourth district, when looking to local sources such as the Arizona Patch. This media coverage, particularly that framing immigration as a Latino narrative, can lead to more negative anti-immigrant beliefs, as proven by Abrajano and Hajnal 2015.

Second, although Michigan’s eighth district and Arizona’s fourth district have similar percentages of foreign born population, AZ-4’s immigrant population is majority Latino, whereas MI-8’s is very heterogeneous. This means that in AZ-4, there is a rapidly increasing heterogenous Latino population in a Republican district where media that frames Latinos as a threat is widespread. These are the typical conditions where the Latino threat narrative is most salient and leads to white backlash, which correlates to greater support for restrictive immigration policy and Republican candidates (Enos 2014, Abrajano and Hajnal 2015, Wong 2014)

Differences in AZ 4 and MI 8 policy are also consistent with literature on the role of partisanship, which universally correlates stronger support for Republican representatives, and Republican leadership, with more restrictive policies (Wong 2014; Casellas and Leal 2013; Ramakrishnan et al. 2010; Wong 2012). Also consistent, Slotkin as a first term rep and Democratic rep in a polarized district voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security to end the shutdown (Valenzuela 2019).

This comparison gives two potential contributions to this literature. First, the comparison implies that percentage foreign born is not as strong a metric as the percentage. Latino for predicting white backlash, and this is consistent with other studies. Second, we find that rhetoric surrounding immigration in MI 8 explicitly links immigration to security and to the northern border. In an interview for this study, Slotkin explained her belief that increased border security was necessary by saying “they never talk about the northern border. We are a border state, we do a tremendous amount of work to prevent the flow of terrorists and illegal material.” Although Slotkin does not explicitly link immigrants to a drug threat, she does focus on combating the opioid crisis–especially important in a district where opioid deaths occur at a rate 6 percentage points higher than the national average, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This is then linked to immigration by the media, according to her campaign adviser, who said they recieve calls about drugs and the border wall when “the President is angry…and Fox news is talking about it.”

Comparing MI 8 to AZ 4 reveals the complex relationship, then, between border proximity, demographics, and securitization of immigration. MI 8, which is highly segregated, has two counties that are high minority (Lansing in Ingham county 55% white, 13% foreign born) and low minority (Livingston 96% white). From December 11, 2018 to January 31, 2019, in both the Lansing State Journal and the Livingston Daily immigration salience in media was, although it is positive when covered in the Lansing State Journal.  However, Oakland county (75% white) is most demographically similar to AZ 4 (75% white). In both Oakland county and AZ 4, media covers immigration issues frequently, links the government shutdown to immigration, and frames immigration as a Latino threat linked to drugs. This suggests that the northern border may become most securitized under conditions of white backlash, where minority populations are enough to be seen as a threat but not enough to shift policy leftward.

Based on these findings we recommend that both Slotkin and Gosar shift to frame border security as “smart security” on legal points of entry. Massey demonstrates that increasing militarization of the border is not effective at curbing immigration, and numerous exposes have shown that most narcotics are smuggled through legal ports of entry–so the two should both focus their efforts on improving search techniques at those ports in both the north and the south.

Slotkin should also frame immigration as an economic need, since Michigan farmers require their labor supply and Lansing has a stellar track record of integrating refugees from around the world (Slotkin, Anderson 2008). Research shows that the way politicians frame issues can have real impacts on constituent beliefs and this shift could mitigate white backlash as immigrant population continues to grow (Jones Bradford & Martin 2017). Finally, Slotkin should pursue very local solutions tailored to the segregated district. For example, Lansing City Counsel should re-issue it’s commitment to becoming a sanctuary city (which it announced and then rescinded in 2017); while more conservative Livingston and Oakland would benefit from programs that assist immigrants without increasing the salience of the issue and provoking more backlash. For example, those counties could benefit from the community ID program implemented in Princeton, NJ and other locations (De Graauw 2014, Gonzalez et. al 2017).

Gosar or a potential Democratic challenger should also pursue policies and rhetoric to combat white backlash, by not conflating Latinos with illegal immigration, by reducing unemployment, and decoupling AZ 4’s border policies from the national discussion (Abrajano and Hajnal 2015, Hopkins 2010). For a Democrat to flip AZ 4, they would need to mobilize the Latino vote. They could do this by galvanizing Latino anger, taking advantage of low Latino identification with the Republican party, and supporting a pathway to citizenship (Bowler et. al 2006, Valentino & Neuner 2017, White 2016).

This comparison is limited in scope because it contrasts only two districts, with many exogenous variables. However, it lays the groundwork for more thorough future research investigating how northern border states might frame immigration differently than interior and southern border states. This project has shown that although existing literature accurately predicts that AZ 4 will have more restrictive policies and that immigration will be more salient compared to MI 8, our qualitative analysis shows that rhetoric in MI 8 does incorporate the northern border into understandings of immigration and security. Further research should systematically compare the media, representative rhetoric, and policies between northern border states, and compared to southern border states.

NY-14 & TX-18 Presentation

By Tori Gorton and Samantha Goerger


Despite the 1600 mile separation and drastically different state politics, two congressional districts from New York and Texas are surprisingly similar in regards to their action and inaction on the question of immigration. To explore the next steps in immigrant policymaking, we compared NY14 and TX18, situated in New York City and Houston, respectively. Both seats have been Democratic strongholds for at least the last 10 years. Demographically, NY14’s population is 47% foreign born and 76% non-white, while TX18’s population is 23% foreign born and 84% non-White.  According to extant research on demographics and immigrant representation, NY14 and TX18 should have permissive and comprehensive immigration reform policies.  While both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY14) and Shelia Jackson Lee (TX18) hold extremely liberal views on immigration, we find the articulation of said views to be lacking. We, therefore, propose that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sheila Jackson Lee better represent their local immigrant populations through increased vocalization of immigration-related issues, expanding the already extensive welfare programs to aid immigrant integration in NY14, and pushing for TX18 to become a sanctuary city.  Despite the aforementioned counter-arguments, we believe that our representatives could better represent on immigration by centering the needs of their immigrant communities. Expanding access to welfare, being more vocal about immigrant needs, and adopting sanctuary city policies would foster a safer, fairer, and more welcoming environment for their constituents.


Safety in Numbers?

Pushing for greater representation of immigrant interests in NY14 & TX18

Despite the 1600 mile separation and drastically different state politics, two congressional districts from New York and Texas are surprisingly similar in regards to their action and inaction on the question of immigration. To explore the next steps in immigrant policymaking, we compared NY14 and TX18, situated in New York City and Houston, respectively. While the districts are very liberal, comprise a significant proportion of immigrants, and – according to existing research – should be pushing for permissive/comprehensive immigration reform, we find the articulation of local immigrant interests to be lacking in both places. We, therefore, propose that our members of Congress could better represent immigrants through increasing vocalization of immigration-related issues, expanding welfare to aid immigrant integration in NY14, and pushing for TX18 to become a sanctuary city.


NY14 contains two NYC neighborhoods: Astoria and the Bronx. It is currently represented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), a freshman Democrat in the House of Congress. TX18 contains much of inner city Houston as well as a significant portion of the greater metropolitan area. It is currently represented by Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat who has held the district’s congressional seat since 1995. Both seats have been Democratic strongholds for at least the last 10 years. Demographically, NY14’s population is 47% foreign born and 76% non-white, while TX18’s population is 23% foreign born and 84% non-White. Despite TX18 having a distinctly lower foreign born population than NY14, both are considered large in comparison to the national level of 13% foreign born. In addition, the population of TX18 is younger than that of NY14, similarly educated, and of slightly lower income. Aside from some small differences, the two districts are relatively comparable; however, they are disparate in their geographic context with TX18 being far more proximate to the southern border and in a Republican state, while NY14 is far removed from country borders and situated in a Democratic state.

Extant research shows that the size of the Latinx population is negatively correlated with support for strict enforcement of immigration laws. Democrats have also been found to be less likely to favor restrictive immigration policies. Research also shows that districts with large minority populations are less likely to apply for 287(g) – a punitive federal program that provides training for local law enforcement to become able to facilitate ICE procedures. Moreover, members of Congress who identify as a race other than White are more likely to support permissive immigration policy. Finally, members of Congress in areas that have seen protests on the issue of immigration are more likely to be supportive of permissive policy. Both TX18’s and NY14’s characteristics, demographics, and histories – i.e. their high Latinx population, Democratic members of Congress, large minority populations, non-White representatives, and experience with protests (May Day in both, June 2018) – align with the aforementioned research to predict that their members of Congress will be very likely to back permissive immigration policy. For both members of Congress, 7% of their bill (co)sponsorships from the current Congress are focused on immigration and all bills can be considered as permissive, if not comprehensive.

In spite of this, there is a clear gap between the supposed progressiveness of AOC’s and Lee’s and their public commitment to the issue. Despite purporting notions of “immigration justice” and the desire to “abolish ICE” on her website, AOC’s very active Twitter account only features immigration-related content 6% of the time in recent periods. Similarly, Lee’s website espouses that she is “one of the most outspoken proponents of comprehensive immigration reform in the Congress.” However, only 15% of recent content on Lee’s Twitter feed discusses immigration, 6.4% of issue discussion on her government website, and immigration is not even part of her campaign website’s listed issues. This disconnect betwixt the members’ action in Congress and their articulation of local immigrant interests is a concern that we address with three previously mentioned ideas.

Consequently, we recommend that NY14 increase social welfare to aid immigrant incorporation in the district. This expansion in welfare could include expanding municipal ID cards by making it easier for immigrants to prove their identity, and include local voting benefits through the ID program such as exists in New Haven. Further, AOC should work to expand subway subsidy programs, because public transit is imperative for living, working, and going to school, especially in NYC. That said, it could be argued that NYC is already implementing extensive programs aimed to aid immigrants and minorities, so expansion may not be a top priority.

Our second recommendation is for Sheila Jackson Lee to push for Houston to become a sanctuary city. Research shows that economies are stronger and crime is significantly lower in sanctuary cities as compared to those in non-sanctuary cities. Another study of immigrant communities showed that increased involvement of police in immigration enforcement has significantly heightened the fears many Latinos have of the police, contributing to their social isolation and exacerbating their mistrust of law enforcement authorities. Thus, sanctuary city status for Houston would extend greater protections to its immigrant community – particularly the undocumented segment – and increase the overall safety of the community by allowing Latinos and immigrants to have a safer relationship with law enforcement. A counter-argument to making Houston a sanctuary city is that the policies required are expensive which presents a burden to legal taxpayers and local governments; it is estimated to have cost taxpayers around $113 billion to fund American sanctuary cities in 2013 (with the majority borne by those local to the respective locales).

Finally, we recommend for both Sheila Jackson Lee and AOC to increase their vocalization on immigrant issues – particularly in the local context in hopes to increase the saliency of local immigrant interests, incite change, and aid immigrant integration. A counter-argument to this proposition is that the demographics of both districts have been very stable over the last 10 years, which suggests a stable public opinion on immigration, thereby, not warranting either of the Congresswomen to devote more resources to the issue.

Despite the aforementioned counter-arguments, we believe that our representatives could better represent on immigration by centering the needs of their immigrant communities. Expanding access to welfare, being more vocal about immigrant needs, and adopting sanctuary city policies would foster a safer, fairer, and more welcoming environment for their constituents.


New Jersey District 6 (NJ-06) and Texas District 7 (TX-07): The Politics of Immigration

Arman Badrei and Rohan Shah


In the 6th congressional district of New Jersey (NJ-06), Congressman Frank Pallone has represented his constituents since 1988, winning his elections in the last decade by large margins. The district, which covers Middlesex County and Monmouth County, has been a Democratic stronghold.


The 7th congressional district of Texas (TX-07) was represented by Representative John Culberson of the  Republican Party for more than a decade. In the 2018 midterm elections, Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher turned TX-07 blue.


Both NJ-06 and TX-07 are majority-minority districts as of 2017. Over a ten-year period since 2007, the white population decreased, while Latino and Asian populations increased in both districts. The white population decline was greater in TX-07 but the growth of the Latino and Asian populations were slightly greater in NJ-06. The foreign-born, or immigrant, populations expanded in both districts, with a 5.2 percentage point increase in NJ-06 compared to an 8 percentage point increase in TX-07.


We both used certain scholarly work as a framework and motive for analyzing certain factors and larger themes. In the examination of NJ-06, Chavez (2008) and Abrajano and Hajnal (2015) predicted that changes to the Asian population demographic neither caused the same negative reactions nor shifts in macropartisanship as that of changes in the Latino population. TX-07 proved to also be especially interesting under the lens of existing research.  According to research by Hopkins (2015), public opinion in areas can change as a result of “sudden, destabilizing changes” in local demographics. On a related note, Abrajano and Hajnal (2015) assert that whites living in states with more Latinos will tend to counter that growth by supporting more restrictive policymaking and movement towards the Republican Party.


To determine the accuracy of overlaying such research on our districts, we both conducted qualitative interview studies. The research concerning NJ-06 focused on evaluating the differences in perception to immigration news coverages of Asians versus Latinos. In exploring that significant aim, the research examined exposure to local and national news, perceived fairness of such news in respect to immigration, opinions of ethnic groups, and the effects of immigration news media on political affiliation and views. Interviews were conducted with Asian, Hispanic, Asian-Indian, and Non-Hispanic white constituents in NJ-06.  


Although the research on TX-07 had a media-centric angle, the study focused far more on the perception and effects of the growth of ethnic populations. Interviews were conducted with Christopher Harvey, the Legislative Assistant on Immigration for Rep. Fletcher, and Gislaine Williams, the Community Relations Director at The Alliance, a nonprofit that works with primarily refugees but also immigrants. Main topics of the interviews were the reception of immigrants, the effects of demographic changes, urban attitudes on immigration, and the political situation and attitudes of the district in general.


In comparing our results, we noted an intersection when evaluating the response to immigration politics in the media and demographic changes on the politics of each district. We included sample quotations that pertain to these categories.


In terms of media coverage, in NJ-06, interviewees held a fundamental distrust of both the local and national news media. Furthermore, media coverage of Asian immigration was seen as positive and advantageous for the American economy whereas that of the Latino population was believed to be negative and visceral. Significantly, the current immigration news coverage climate was determined to have a polarizing effect on personal political affiliation. In TX-07, both policymakers and nonprofit advocates understand the obvious influence of the media. Additionally, policymakers want to emphasize the danger of the dissemination of fake news. Now, in addition to being service providers for immigrant communities and entities for advocacy, it seems nonprofits are turning towards functioning as an instrument or facilitator in the media world too: Williams at The Alliance talked about how they “have also engaged media outlets because of that in trying to get the stories of local refugees in newspapers, in local news, local TV news, so that people are able to see refugees in a different light or are able to see a more comprehensive look into the community” and have led media training for refugee leaders to teach them how to write opinion pieces and press releases.


Both NJ-06 and TX-07 saw increases in the immigrant and Latino populations but our research indicates that this did not necessarily confer “white backlash” in respect to political affiliation. This is because the speed of such growth was rather constant, or perceived to be constant, and because President Trump’s politics played a more pivotal role than the issue of immigration which points to the rise in Democratic success since 2016. Polarization exists, but more so due to Trump rather than views on immigration specifically.


We recommend that our representatives, first and foremost, represent the views of all their constituents including citizens and non-citizens. However, we do understand the challenge in doing so. In TX-07, Harvey emphasized the difficulty in having polarity due to immigration and representing the views of a moderate district. Out of respect for the American electoral system, they should take a position that accommodates as many residents as possible. As the moderate nature of TX-07 demonstrates, simply representing based on the interests of political partisanship would ignore a large (or more specifically, half) of the electorate. Given the prevalence of immigration media coverage, representatives should actively demystify immigration policy decisions at the local and national levels to counter “fake news”, biases in the media, and transparency issues. As demonstrated with TX-07 and NJ-06, representatives should actively respond to demographic changes by having prescience about immigrant attitudes and promoting cross-cultural awareness to mitigate potential issues.

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