Immigrants and Refugees II

In January, we continue our dialogue on immigration with a second set of great essays on immigration. Recent events regarding the migrant/refugee crisis in Europe, Donald Trump’s controversial statements about Mexico and his immigration plan, the mass deportation of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, and the record number and importance of refugees highlight the scope of the issue. For this Mobilizing Ideas‘ dialogue, we focus on movements and activism related to immigration – including mobilizations by immigrants, against their presence, and also by diaspora or refugee populations. We invite contributors to consider the challenges of movements by immigrant populations and to reflect on some of the following questions: How does citizenship affect mobilization efforts? How is immigrant mobilization related to the issues of refugees? How can immigrants frame their grievances to produce sympathy within the native population? How much does dependence limit movement goals? What can the transnational experience teach us about collective action?

Many thanks to our fantastic group of contributors.

Stephanie J. Nawyn, Michigan State University (essay)
Ann Horwitz, University of Maryland (essay)
Hana Brown and Jennifer Jones, Wake Forest University and University of Notre Dame (essay)
Maurizio Albahari, University of Notre Dame (essay)
Jessica Garrick, University of Michigan (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo

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Would Mother Earth Vote for Trump? Environmentalism and the Anti-Immigration Movement

By Ann Horwitz

Those who pay attention to U.S. politics typically associate the American conservative movement with a hardline stance on immigration policy. More than that, though, many also conflate political conservatism and outright hostility towards immigrants themselves. The temptation to make this connection is perfectly understandable in light of the current Republican presidential primary contest, where the fearmongering nativism of Donald Trump’s campaign has snagged most of the headlines. It is certainly true that ethnocentrism underlies some of the anti-immigration reform sentiment on the right—ugly rhetoric abounds—but it is equally true that American conservatism is ideologically diverse, and that not all of its objections to a progressive immigration policy are rooted in racism.

Just as we tend to associate conservatism with anti-immigration views, we tend to think of those anti-immigration views as bundled together with a host of other right-wing views. If we know that a person holds opinion x, we are comfortable assuming that he also believes y, in what Converse explained as the principle of constraint in belief systems. For example, knowing a person to be opposed to immigration reform, I might conclude that she is also a registered Republican, anti-gun control, and a climate change denier. All, some, or none of those conclusions might be correct. Of course, plenty of empirical work (and common sense) supports the correlation of certain political views. As social scientists, though, it behooves us to look at exceptions and twists, to puzzle out how a movement creates meaning that belies what we think we know about our political culture. For the moment, I will focus on the example of Greenwashers: activists who oppose immigration on environmentalist grounds.

Adhering to the view of American conservative ideology as a constrained belief system, one might expect someone who opposes immigration reform to also doubt the reality of climate change. While that equation might obtain for some in the conservative movement, it most certainly does not apply to all. Over the last three or four decades, something of a sub-movement on the right has emerged that contests immigration because, in the view of its adherents, immigration harms the planet. With its intellectual seed in Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (published in 1968 by no less a left-associated group than the Sierra Club), this movement rests on two assertions: 1) overpopulation causes environmental degradation, and 2) immigration exacerbates overpopulation. Therefore, in these activists’ view, immigration must be curbed to protect the environment.

From a sociological standpoint, this movement has much to teach us about framing. As an anti-immigration movement, it stands on the same side as those who couch their views in explicitly racist frames (e.g., the KKK) and in thinly veiled racist frames (e.g., Donald Trump). Its own framing, however, is entirely race-neutral and, indeed, tied to a concern for the environment more commonly associated with the political left than with the right. The movement’s roots, it must be said, are less innocent than its race-neutral framing would suggest.

The Southern Poverty Law Center uses the term “greenwash” to describe these activists’ framing and tactics because of the racism at the source of their movement. John Tanton, whom SPLC calls the “architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement,” is both an avowed white nationalist and the originator of a number anti-immigration groups, all part of an organizational web that has grown in number since the 1970s. Tanton was chair of the Sierra Club’s National Population Committee in the early to mid-seventies, where his influence precipitated heated internal debates about what the organization’s stance on immigration should be; these battles lasted long after his tenure there was through. Savvy enough to grasp that explicitly racist appeals might not aid recruitment to their cause, these groups that have emerged from Tanton’s shadow “greenwash” their ideology by framing their anti-immigration stance as environmentalist, not racist.

SPLC identifies twenty-four organizations (listed below) that have developed out of Tanton’s original efforts, some with which he is or has been involved himself, and some with which he has not. The groups occupy a spectrum of more or less racially tinged framing of the issues; some talk about immigration in overtly racist terms (in fact, seven are designated hate groups by the SPLC), while others do not. All of them, however, aim to turn concern for the environment into anti-immigration activism among a broader swath of the public than would respond to race-based anti-immigrant rhetoric. Further, some of these groups not only avoid the race frame, they actively adopt a more egalitarian frame, claiming that the burden wrought by overpopulation will fall hardest on poor people in underdeveloped countries. For example, the Center for Immigration Studies bills itself proudly as “Low-immigration, Pro-immigrant.”

A cynic might say that the groups on SPLC’s Greenwasher list are putting up a front, trying to make xenophobia palatable by dressing it up in nature-loving, poverty-conscious clothing—in other words, that they are really and truly greenwashing their beliefs and motivations. Perhaps the environmentalist framing is nothing more than a tactic to mobilize support and garner new adherents to the anti-immigration movement’s cause. On the other hand, it is intellectually uncharitable to dismiss a movement as disingenuous simply because many of us disagree with its aims. As researchers, we ought to put the cynics’ hypothesis to the test. For the field of social movement studies, the case of “immigration-reduction environmentalists” presents an opportunity to learn something that may confirm or confound our expectations about the belief system underlying American conservatism, a movement ripe for sociological examination.

Anti-immigration organizations listed by SPLC (asterisk indicates that the group is classified by SPLC as a hate group):
1. Americans for Immigration Control*
2. America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning
3. Alliance for Stabilizing America’s Population
4. Apply The Brakes
5. Californians for Population Stabilization
6. Council of Conservative Citizens*
7. California Coalition for Immigration Reform*
8. Carrying Capacity Network
9. California Coalition to Stabilize Population
10. Center for Immigration Studies
11. Cornelia Scaife May Foundation
12. Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)*
13. Immigration Reform Law Institute (legal arm of FAIR)
14. Izaak Walton League of America
15. Negative Population Growth
16. NumbersUSA
17. Population-Environment Balance
18. Pioneer Fund*
19. Progressives for Immigration Reform
20. Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization
21. The Social Contract/The Social Contract Press*
22. U.S. English
23. VDARE*
24. Zero Population Growth (a.k.a. Population Connection)

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Informing Activists

Mobilizing Ideas is excited to announce the publication of a special series this month called “Informing Activists.” Coordinated by Jennifer Earl and Thomas Elliott (both at the University of Arizona), and in in partnership with the Youth Activism Project, this series includes videos from some of the top scholars in social movements, recommended readings, and other resources on topics ranging from framing to social movement consequences, all tailored to young activists, potential organizers, and/or potential protest participants. We hope you will share this series widely, especially with young people in your communities interested in working for social change.

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers


The Youth Activism Project, which is sponsored by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, has joined with Mobilizing Ideas to produce a video series designed to translate academic research on social movements into actionable information and questions that can be of use to young activists, potential organizers, and/or potential protest participants.

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) is a network of ten scholars from various disciplines that have come together to understand how youth are getting involved civically and politically, including through sharing and producing civic and political content online. We are also interested in understanding the risks and opportunities that the use of digital media may play in these engagements. While the network invests in, and members conduct, basic research on these topics, YPP is also dedicated to translating relevant research findings into actionable information for young people, activists, educators, and/or policy-makers.

This video series comes out of that desire to connect young people with critical research on activism. We’ve invited some of the top scholars in the field of social movements to talk about what their research has to say about how to be effective activists. For example, David Snow discusses what advice his pioneering work in framing has for activists looking to improve their messaging. Holly McCammon discusses how her work in strategic adaptation helps guide activists in modifying their strategies to changing contexts. Our goal is that these videos can help current and future activists better plan their campaigns to achieve success.

Each page contains at least one video that we hope will help young activists make informed decisions about their engagements, a bio about the presented, and some suggested readings if someone is interested in a deeper dive into the topic area.

We hope you find these to be helpful, and welcome suggestions about new videos. You can email us at yap.arizona@gmail.com. Good luck on making the change you envision!

Table of Contents

In what ways do social movements make a difference? – Thomas Elliott

How/When do movements make a political difference? – Katrin Uba

How/When do movements affect culture? – Jenn Earl

When do movements shape public opinion? – Neal Caren

How does movement participation affect people’s lives? – Marco Giugni

Who Participates in Movements and Why? – Bert Klandermans and Ziad Munson

What can be done about activist burnout? – Sharon Nepstad

How do I build identity and solidarity in a movement? – Rachel Einwohner

How much does the political environment affect my cause? – David Meyer

What are the best tactics for my cause? – Catherine Corrigall-Brown

How do I use online tools to help my cause? – Lissa Soep

What are the best targets for my cause? – Tom Maher

How do I adapt my tactics to the political environment? – Holly McCammon

When do I need an organization? – Jenn Earl

How do I work with existing organizations? – Grace Yukich

How can I build coalitions and increase diversity? – Rich Wood

What are some considerations for youth in organizations? – Sarah Gaby

How do I talk about my cause? – David Snow

What do I need to know about the media environment? – Deana Rohlinger

What are the risks of activism and can I reduce those risks? – Heidi Reynolds-Stenson

How Might These Topics Apply to a Specific Campaign? – Elizabeth Armstrong

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2016 McCarthy Award Winner!

The Center for the Study of Social Movements at the University of Notre Dame is very pleased to announce that the winner of the 2016 John D. McCarthy Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Scholarship of Social Movements and Collective Behavior is Kathleen Blee! The award not only recognizes Kathleen’s extraordinary achievements in research, but also the role that she has played in mentoring successive generations of scholars. Kathleen holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, and is also the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the Dietrich of Arts and Sciences. She has written or edited 7 books, with her most recent being Democracy in the Making: How Activist Groups Form (Oxford Press 2012), the winner of the 2013 Charles Tilly Award for the Best Book from the Collective Behavior and Social Movements Section of the American Sociological Association. She has also published over 90 articles and book chapters. In addition, she has won teaching awards, is actively involved in professional service, and is widely admired for her courageous and groundbreaking ethnographic work.

This year’s award ceremony will be held on May 7th on the Notre Dame campus. Kathleen will be giving a public lecture prior to the award banquet. At the banquet, several of her friends, colleagues and former students will be on hand to offer reflections on her work and influence on the field.

In conjunction with the presentation of the McCarthy Award, the Center for the Study of Social Movements will also be hosting the seventh annual Young Scholars in Social Movements Conference on May 6th. Advanced graduate students and recently minted PhD’s will be invited to present their work and receive feedback from the McCarthy Award winner and a distinguished panel of senior scholars in the field. A call for nominations for the Young Scholars Conference will be issued in a separate announcement.

We hope that many of you will mark your calendars and plan to join us for these events. Please be on the lookout for more information in the coming days and weeks—including instructions on how to apply for the Young Scholars Conference. We will distribute the news on the CBSM listserv and also post the news on our Center’s website http://nd.edu/~cssm/

Rory McVeigh

Director, Center for the Study of Social Movements
Professor of Sociology
University of Notre Dame
rmcveigh@nd.edu

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Application Deadline for Young Scholars Conference: February 27th!

Hosted by the Center for the Study of Social Movements at the University of Notre Dame: May 6, 2016.

In conjunction with the presentation of the John D. McCarthy Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Scholarship in Social Movements, The Center for the Study of Social Movements at Notre Dame will be hosting a “Young Scholars” Conference the day before the award events. The recipient of the McCarthy Award, Kathleen Blee, will be in attendance and other senior scholars visiting Notre Dame for the award presentation will serve as discussants for the conference.

We would like to invite 12 advanced graduate students and early-career faculty to present a work solidly in-progress at the conference, enjoy an opportunity to discuss their work with some of the leading scholars in the field, and meet others in the new cohort of social movement scholars. Conference attendees will also be invited to the McCarthy Award Lecture and the award banquet on May 7. The Center will pay for meals, up to three nights lodging, and contribute $500 toward travel expenses for each of the conference attendees.

The Center will select invitees from all nominations received by February 27, 2015. Nominations will be accepted for ABD graduate students and those who have held their Ph.D.s less than two years. Nominations must be written by the nominee’s faculty dissertation advisor (or a suitable substitute intimately familiar with the nominee’s research, if the advisor is unavailable). Nominations should include:

1. A letter of nomination.
2. The CV of the nominee.
3. A one-page abstract of the work to be presented.

Nominations should be sent via email to Rory McVeigh, Director of the Center for the Study of Social Movements, rmcveigh@nd.edu.

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Immigrant Workers Show New Uses for an Old Labor Law

By Jessica Garrick

Immigrant workers have long been crucial to the United States labor movement. Their contributions were particularly clear during the Progressive Era when immigrants like Sidney Hillman, Samuel Gompers and Philip Murray laid the early foundation for the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and the New Deal Era when C. Wright Mills described them as the new “men of power.” In contemporary times, some scholars have seen immigrants as crucial to union organizing efforts. For instance, Ruth Milkman argues that low-wage Latino and Latina immigrants were on the front lines of union innovation in Los Angeles in the 1990s, and others have used survey data to show that immigrants may join unions at higher rates than their native counterparts (but also see Catron).

The literature on immigrant organizing is important, for it speaks to the question of social stratification as well as the prospects for the revitalization of the labor movement. However, the focus on union density obscures another potential contribution: Immigrant workers may be responsible for transforming a dated industrial relations system by developing new strategies that are a better fit for the contemporary labor movement. With the help of worker centers, for example, some immigrants in non-unionized workplaces have been taking advantage of the “concerted activities clause” of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or “the Act”). They have done so to defend themselves against abuse and exploitation on the job in the absence of the broader organizing campaigns, let alone the collective bargaining agreements that are typically viewed as the NLRA’s primary purpose.

In my research, I documented the evolving strategy of Somos un Pueblo Unido (or “Somos”), an immigrant resource center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Somos had long worked to further the rights of immigrants, beginning with a successful state level campaign to allow undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses in 2002. In 2008, the organization was approached by several immigrant workers who had worked for the Santa Fe Hilton Hotel. They had walked off the job after management refused to meet with them to address their working conditions, and were subsequently fired. Somos and the workers staged protests, held press releases and gained the sympathy of the broader community. However, they were uncertain of whether a legal remedy was available until a law student from the University of New Mexico reviewed the case, and noted that the women had inadvertently gone on strike. Because they had clocked out as a group, and had done so to voice their dissatisfaction with their working conditions, they were protected by Section 7 of the NLRA. This provision provides for the right of workers to act concertedly not only for the purposes of collective bargaining, but also for their own “mutual aid or protection.” When management fired them, it was an unfair labor practice under the law, and the women were eligible for the standard remedies of reinstatement and backwages—or the wages they would have earned had they not been illegally fired. In this case, the workers were unwilling to return to their jobs, and they accepted a settlement in lieu of reinstatement.

The experiences of the Hilton workers transformed Somos. The staff said that they learned what it actually meant to be able to organize: union or no union, workers have the right to act together to address their working conditions. They have since turned the use of the NLRA into a proactive strategy. Somos helps workers form small workplace-based committees through which workers voice their demands. Sometimes this is enough for the employer to make changes. Should they retaliate, however, Somos is well versed in helping their members through the NLRA process, and has done so with workers from at least 12 different companies. The organization and its tactics have received attention from national media outlets, and the National Labor Relations Board itself.

Nor is Somos alone in the strategy. Several other organizations have demonstrated the potential of the same strategy, including the Equal Justice Center in Austin, Texas which went to bat for immigrant workers who were fired after protesting their employer’s refusal to pay them their due overtime wages. The Western North Carolina Worker Center provides another example. This organization has helped poultry workers at Case Farms protect their rights in the wake of a failed unionizing drive by the Laborer’s International. While the strategy is not limited to immigrant workers and is used by US-born workers too, immigrants seem to be at the forefront of turning the provision into a more proactive strategy for organizing. This may be the case because of immigrants’ receptivity to organizing efforts, as documented by Milkman and others, and their heightened vulnerability to employer abuse.

What are the implications of the efforts of immigrant workers and their organizations to repurpose the NLRA? At the very least, it suggests that the most vulnerable workers have a proven means of redress that few knew was available. And while it is unlikely that these cases could ever reach a scale commensurate to that once enjoyed by unions, it is possible that they could form a crucial component of broader campaigns. Indeed, in the eyes of Somos, these shop-level efforts are seen as pieces of larger campaigns that include raising wages, helping to implement stricter enforcement of existing laws, and ameliorating the difficulties faced by immigrants and low wage workers more generally. Moreover, the efforts of immigrants and their organizations serve as a powerful reminder that, in the words of historian Dorothy Sue Cobble, “the labor movement has never been synonymous with collective bargaining,” or union membership per se, and that workers have historically organized with whatever tools are available to them. Section 7 offers one such tool, and by exploiting it to the fullest, immigrants and their organizations are opening up new possibilities for the labor movement.

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One Million Newcomers, Wavering Europe: Between “Shooting Blacks” and “Refugees Welcome”

By Maurizio Albahari

“Avoid shooting Blacks: we will be remembered.” West African farmworkers sprayed such disquieting graffiti on a discolored wall of the small town of Rosarno, Italy in January 2010. There, and throughout agricultural fields in southern Italy, seasonal workers (citrus pickers, in this case) have long been subjected to excruciating exploitation. What was relatively new that January was that they mobilized publicly. They overturned some dumpsters, disrupted traffic, and marched toward the villa of a local Mafioso, to demand their long-overdue pay. Some were shot at and seriously injured. They had left behind human-rights abuses (many had lodged asylum applications in Italy) and survived the perils of transcontinental crossing, only to be targeted by violence and intimidation. Local criminals thought the migrants would submissively leave town, as many uncompromising citizens routinely do. Instead, the civic duty to resist organized crime was carried out by those who, unable to avail themselves of state and labor union protection, are often stigmatized as at the margins of society. These migrant workers challenged entrenched practices of acquiescent citizenship, and made visible the structural intersections of price fixing, informal labor recruiting, and organized crime. In other words, the farmworkers’ conspicuous mobilization contravened the entrenched strictures of omertà (code of silence), and spoke out also on behalf of quietly resigned residents of Rosarno. Eventually, most of the farmworkers were forced to leave town that season, either individually or on police buses, ostensibly to safeguard their own personal safety. A small but vocal minority of locals succeeded in its show of force, following certain economic and environmental contingencies that made partly superfluous even migrants’ flexible, cheap, and ultimately disposable labor.

Such dramatic events point to emerging practices of mobilization and active citizenship that escape both the confines of recognized, state-granted citizenship, and the structures of traditional social movements. Analytically, in linking migrants’ collective action to larger social movements it is helpful to borrow the concept of “insurgent citizenship” articulated by anthropologist James Holston (2009). In this sense, citizenship is understood as a “global category of conflict” (245) actively confronting entrenched inequality among citizens and between citizens and non-citizens. Politically, it is worth asking whether polities should foster citizens’ integration into larger practices of critical citizenship, rather than merely immigrants’ socio-economic and cultural integration into the (sometimes conniving) mainstream. More generally, what are some of the practices and processes that can bring together minorities and majorities on equal terms, in the pursuit of democratically-shared objectives?

In Europe, the urgency of such questions is augmented by the unprecedented number of migrant and refugee arrivals by sea during 2015: at least one million people. I deal extensively with relevant dynamics of maritime migration and death, sovereignty, and human rights elsewhere. In these pages I want to draw attention to the implications of European citizens’ mobilization in receiving some of these new arrivals.

Adding to the Mediterranean chronicle of refugee death, the humanitarian “crisis” on European soil, during the second half of 2015, unfolded in a succession of settings: tiny Greek islands; fenced, mined, and muddy buffer zones at border posts (including between Greece and Turkey, Bulgaria and Turkey, Macedonia and Greece, Serbia and Macedonia, Hungary and Serbia, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia and Croatia, and Austria and Slovenia); the motorway between Hungary and Austria; railway stations throughout these countries, as well as in Italy and Germany. And yet, each one of these sites of crisis constituted also a site of conspicuous mobilization, and an opportunity for citizens to critically assess smugglers’ responsibilities, immigration and refugee policies, international relations, and migrants’ motives.

Thousands of individual citizens, in addition to coordinated volunteers and NGOs, have gone to the docks, the railway stations, and the improvised shelters to offer material comfort, translations, and a more humane welcome to distressed newcomers. This is not unprecedented. On the one hand, I have listened to many people describing the substantial work of non-state actors toward the reception of migrants and refugees, since the 1990s, as a series of “missed opportunities.” In other words, citizens’ individual and collective mobilization, working with and for newly-arrived migrants, has not and will not necessarily result in policy reform (although in Italy it has facilitated the partial demise of massive migrant detention). On the other hand, it is always important to ask: what can one discern in such a mobilization, when using an ethnographic lens? Is there something eminently political, albeit not necessarily policy-oriented or institutionalized, which persists after bursts of short-lived moral empathy toward refugees?

Rather than discussing more “activist” long-term initiatives, such as the “No Border camps” bringing together a transnational assemblage of migrants, activists, and other concerned citizens (e.g., in Calais, or in Ventimiglia on the Italian coast in the vicinity of the French border), I want to sketch the implications of everyday and daily engagements. In particular, there are citizens who are literally opening their homes to refugees. The most widely-known platform facilitating flat-sharing is “Flüchtlinge Willkommen” (Refugees Welcome). First developed in Germany in November 2014, it now offers its logistical support to citizens, local institutions, refugees, and refugee organizations also in Austria, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland. At the end of 2015 the initiative had matched 471 refugees to shared flats. Similarly, in Italy the Catholic social services and relief organization “Caritas” has instituted the “rifugiato a casa mia” project (a refugee in my home), making available around 1,000 places among Italian families, parishes, and religious structures. Critics may point to the relatively low numbers of citizens who are opening their homes through these and similar programs. Others may exaggerate the symbolic impact of these initiatives. More pragmatically, analysis at the ethnographic level allows one to inquire into citizens’ motivations; to assess the substantial savings in public spending vis-à-vis refugees’ centralized reception in camps, shelters, or trailers; to assess refugees’ acquisition of social and cultural capital, and so forth. Camps and centralized reception facilities have already proven conducive to human rights abuse, skyrocketing public spending, lack of administrative transparency, resentment by locals, and lack of meaningful opportunities for migrants. In this scenario, and as public opinions are volatilely split over immigration and refugee issues, ordinary civic practices such as flat-sharing, occurring even in disadvantaged urban peripheries, acquire the value of propositional contestation: they demonstrate that there are more just and feasible alternatives to refugee mass encampment and marginalization.

From their intimate living quarters, and from the public square constituted by docks, motorways, border posts, and railway stations, citizens are demonstrating that they do not resign themselves to their role as gatekeepers, bystanders, or mourners of migrants lost at sea. They are clarifying that chants and policies calling for refugees “to go back home” are not effected in their name and on their behalf. To borrow sociologist Asef Bayat’s conceptualization of “nonmovements,” what we see is a multiplicity of noncollective, ordinary actors who by participating in “fragmented but similar activities” may trigger social change, “even though these practices are rarely guided by an ideology or recognizable leadership and organizations” (15). At the very least, these actors are creating and inhabiting practices of local engagement and transnational solidarity worthy of further investigation.

It is to be hoped that such civic approaches to the challenges of immigration will be met by more substantial institutional and bureaucratic support, even (indeed, especially so) under the threat of terrorism. Racism, profiling, and discrimination can be sanctioned or tolerated; integration funds can be more effectively allocated or cut; active citizenship can be fostered or discouraged.

Both empirically and normatively, it continues to be important to explore the varied constraints transforming persons into entities deprived of a plausible, realistic political voice—entities including the passive, “desperate victim” at one extreme, and the “nativist xenophobe” at the other. Migrant victims and local xenophobes are certainly a reality. Accordingly, social scientists continue to study the discourses, power hierarchies, and unequal distribution of rights that engender structural violence and nativism, as well as the varied forms of insurgent citizenship, activism, and nonmovements that challenge a most harrowing state of affairs.

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What Nativist and Pro-Immigrant Movements Have in Common

By Hana Brown and Jennifer Jones

With the 2016 presidential elections looming, immigration has once again risen to the forefront of American politics. The nativist response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the xenophobic pandering of Donald Trump contrast sharply with calls from immigrant activists to stem the tide of deportations and enact humane immigration policies. These campaigns may have dueling political visions, but they share something in common: they’re largely about race. But exactly how does race matter for immigration-focused social movements?

One answer to this question is that racial dynamics often play an instrumental role in the rise of immigration movements. On the nativist side, public opinion polls suggest that white racial resentment and racialized fears of the “browning” of America drive allegiance to political parties and to social movements that advocate for restrictive immigration policies. On the immigrant rights side, racialized political tactics and racial marginalization can lead members of previously distinct ethno-racial groups to develop a collective minority identity. This racial consciousness can help compel noncitizens to take to the streets. The 2006 immigrant rights marches, for example, were sparked by a newly proposed Congressional bill proposed by Rep. Sensenbrenner. As Chris Zepeda-Millan shows, the broad scope of the Sensenbrenner bill included penalties for those who supported or provided aid to immigrants. As a result, it threatened and racialized the entire Latino community, not merely those of undocumented status. These provisions activated and solidified a racialized collective identity in Latinos across the nation. Immigration activists capitalized on these activated identities, using them as a political resource to draw unprecedented numbers of Latinos to march in protest of the bill. Racial dynamics, in short, were a key motivating force behind the movement.

Racial dynamics not only matter for the emergence of immigration movements, they are a crucial element of movement strategy. Immigrant activists manipulate racial language to recruit participants and frame grievances. Such efforts can help establish a baseline of shared experiences and identities among participants and build solidarity. This racial meaning work not only promotes internal cohesion, as scholars like Yen le Espiritu show, it also projects to outsiders a message of intergroup solidarity and shared purpose. In our own research, we see ample evidence of such efforts in Mississippi where immigration activists have built a broad multi-racial coalition of support by framing immigrant rights as a classic Civil Rights issues. By casting anti-immigration policies and practices as racially discriminatory, the immigrant rights movement has garnered the steadfast support of black legislators, labor activists and church leaders. Once unconcerned with immigration, these groups now argue that Mississippi immigrants are racialized minorities who are being unfairly deprived of the right to work, go to school, and live their lives free of discrimination. By framing these grievances in the language of race, rather than citizenship or human rights, immigration activists have not only built sturdy and steadfast coalitions, but they have undermined political leaders’ efforts to enact restrictive immigration policies.

If racial dynamics matter for the rise of immigration movements and for their strategies, we can also understand race as an outcome of immigration movements. Whether or not white participants join anti-immigrant campaigns with a strongly felt racial identity, being a part of anti-immigrant mobilization can certainly foster a palpable sense of white racial identity. Encounters with pro-immigrant movements can change how native-born racial minorities perceive their own racial status vis-à-vis other groups. Similarly, among foreign-born racial minorities, engaging in social movement efforts to counter nativism can shape new panethnic identities and solidarity. The very categories that the U.S. Census uses to measure race have shifted and continue to shift in response to social movements that either involve or pit themselves against non-citizens. For researchers interested in the effects of social movements, immigration movements make clear that racial categories (both cultural and legal) constitute important movement outcomes.

If we are interested in the emergence, strategy, or outcomes of immigration movements, racial dynamics are an important part of the story. But what does social movement research stand to gain from interrogating racial dynamics in these contexts? And how might social movements research on immigration benefit race scholarship?

To answer these questions, it’s worth revisiting a sociological maxim: race is a social construction. Despite our deep and proven conviction that racial categories and groups derive their meanings from society, both movement scholars and race/immigration scholars frequently take these meanings for granted. Our statistical models tend to assume that objective demographic figures reflect meaningful social realities. Our theoretical approaches often assume that racial minorities share common identities or experiences. In other words, rather than treat racial formation as a process in which movements play a central role, much of the social movements literature research relies on racial realism. There are obviously important exceptions to these trends, but hewing to racial realism serves neither social movements nor race and immigration scholarship well. If race is a social construction, we should ask how movements are both shaped by, and contribute to, the construction of racial groups and categories.

When immigration activists manipulate racial meanings to frame grievances, when they advocate for new legal racial categories, or when they prime potential participants to interpret an issue through a racial lens then activists become critical forces in the racial formation process. They reify and even reconstitute the very racial categories and hierarchies that matter so profoundly for social life. A close eye to immigration movements not only illuminates the interwoven nature of movements and race, it can help us elucidate the critical role that social movements play in structuring race relations. Such a focus will not only advance scholarship in all three fields (race, immigration, and movements), it will better equip social movement theorists to predict and understand immigrant social movements as they develop.

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