Democracy in Immigrant America: Changing Demographics and Political Participation

By S. Karthick Ramakrishnan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8

The Future of Immigrant Political Participation Directions in Policy and Research

THE FINDINGS IN this book demonstrate that the acquisition of citizenship does not easily lead to political participation among first-generation immigrants. Naturalization is not enough; there are still substantial gaps between naturalization and voting, and these gaps are even wider for other types of political activities such as writing to elected officials and contributing to political causes. Thus organizations seeking to empower first-generation immigrants to participate cannot achieve their ends by simply getting the foreign-born to naturalize, nor can they do so by simply encouraging citizens to register to vote. 1 They have to make candidates and elections compelling to first-generation immigrants, perhaps by calling attention to political threats facing their various communities. However, as the recent experience of the 2002 California election has shown, there may be limits to how long ethnopolitical organizations can rely on a sense of threat to motivate political participation. In general, Latino organizations found it difficult to motivate their constituencies; they could no longer rely on the memories of Pete Wilson to activate a sense of threat among Latino citizens and compel them to return to the ballot box. Consequently, voting rates among Latinos dropped considerably between the 1998 and 2002 elections (García 2002). The share of Latinos in the state electorate also dropped because, although turnout was low among all Californians, the drop was steeper for Latinos than for whites.

What can be done to reduce these disparities in participation across racial groups and immigrant generations? As we saw in Chapter 6, the successful framing of an issue as a political threat can propel many first

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