Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Does What Happens in Los Mochis Stay in Los Mochis? Explaining Postmigration Political Behavior

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Does What Happens in Los Mochis Stay in Los Mochis? Explaining Postmigration Political Behavior

Article excerpt


This article seeks to understand how immigrants' premigration political socialization experiences shape their views of the new polity, the extent to which this imported socialization affects their degree of postmigration political engagement, and how long the content of immigrants' political suitcases remains consequential during their civic lives in America. The author offers tests utilizing unique survey data of Mexican immigrants residing in the United States. Results reveal that attachment to a Mexican political party heightens the prospects for political engagement in the American context, and trust in the Mexican government corresponds with trust in the U.S. government.


immigrants, political behavior, political socialization, partisanship, political trust, political engagement, Mexican

Any serious effort to devise a comprehensive account of American political behavior requires attention to the unique experiences of immigrants. After all, the United States is a nation of immigrants, a nation in which the cultural and political contours have been shaped and defined by its policies regarding large-scale waves of immigration. For instance, in 1965, the United States radically redefined immigration policies, abolishing national origin quotas, establishing new criteria for selecting immigrants, and providing for an unlimited number of family reunification visas. In debate on the floor of the Congress, no one admitted to believing that these measures would have a marked effect on the ethnic makeup of America. Just the same, the result was an unprecedented influx of immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia (Pachon and DeSipio 1994; Gerstle and Mollenkopf 2001). As a consequence, the "white" proportion of the population has been in steady decline and, indeed, is on pace to lose its majority status in the next fifty years.

Immigrants represent an increasing group of recruits (DeSipio 1996) for the American polity. In other words, they are "prospective citizens" who will decide either to engage or to ignore the ebb and flow of the political tides in their new home. Their engagement in politics, however, need not wait until they are eventually enfranchised through naturalization. In a nation with norms of robust free speech and free assembly, public demonstration is a tactic open not only to citizens but to all residents. In the spring of 2006, for instance, congressional debate on immigration reform spawned widespread protests and demonstrations. Participants included many individuals who had not lived long in the United States, let alone obtained citizenship.

Besides the physical engagement displayed by newly arrived immigrants, psychological attachments may develop among some of them shortly after their arrival in the United States. The Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation 2004 National Survey of Latinos: Politics Engagement (NSL 2004) shows that among those Latino immigrants who have lived one year or less in the United States, more than half of them (54 percent) already identify themselves as either Republicans or Democrats. The proportion is not that different (44 percent) when analyzing the National Bank of Mexico's (Banamex's) Division for Economic and Sociopolitical Studies 2003 Mexican Values Survey (MVS 2003). Protesters and partisan identifiers illustrate the point that immigrants can and do engage in political action well before they obtain citizenship and the right to vote. In my view, this engagement signals a need for reconsideration of the familiar accounts of political participation found in the literature.

Pioneering explanations of immigrants' political behavior focused on postarrival factors such as mobilization efforts (Garcia and de la Garza 1985) and immigrants' minority status, levels of economic advancement, and foreign policy concerns (Cain, Kiewiet, and Uhlaner 1991). More recent work in this postarrival tradition addresses the role of English language skills, media exposure to politics (Wong 2000), the naturalization process and the relevance of the political atmosphere (Michelson and Pallares 2001), and dual nationality (Jones-Correa 1998; Staton, Jackson, and Canache 2007). …

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