Category Archives: Immigrants and Refugees

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

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. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

Constructing “Worthiness” and Resistance to Resettlement of Syrian Refugees

By Stephanie J. Nawyn

Anti-Islamic rhetoric in the U.S. has been a continuing and growing problem since September 11, 2001. The marked rise in anti-Islamic rhetoric that followed the ISIS/Daesh attacks in Paris in November 2015 coincided with an increase in the resettlement of refugees fleeing the war in Syria. Following the violence in Paris, resistance developed in resettlement countries to receiving Syrian refugees. In the U.S. that resistance ranged from concerned questioning of the security checks used to screen refugees all the way to hateful, vitriolic claims that most of the refugees were terrorists, with demands to bar any Muslim refugee from entering the U.S.

Those of us familiar with the refugee resettlement system in the U.S., especially people with an interest in using resettlement as a source of protection for Syrian refugees, are now grappling with the best ways to respond to anti-Syrian refugee discourse. This is a common debate among social movements; what frame will best relay our message to a given audience, so that our movement can achieve its goals? Among immigrant advocate movements, this debate has been a struggle because the frames that work for citizens do not always translate well to the immigrant. As Irene Bloemraad noted in her essay on this same blog, Americans are not as favorable to a rights framework for immigrants as they are to the rights of the native-born. So arguing that Syrian refugees have a right to be resettled in the U.S. is not likely to gain much traction with the American public (and technically it is a false claim, as refugees have a right to protection but not necessarily protection in the form of resettlement).

Given the emphasis in the U.S. on being economically self-sufficient and independent from government assistance, a common frame used for refugees has been the productivity that refugees potentially bring to the U.S. Well-regarded individuals who came to the U.S. as refugees or as exiles (such as Madeline Albright and Albert Einstein, and more recently Steve Jobs, whose biological father was a Syrian immigrant who fled violence in Lebanon) are cited as a reason for welcoming present-day refugees.

However, this framing has drawbacks, as it makes human rights and international treaty obligations dependent on whether or not a refugee might contribute economically or socially to the resettlement society. The granting of rights based upon one’s value in the labor market is called “market citizenship” (Brodie 1997), and it is a common method that resettlement NGOs use to argue in favor of providing social welfare support to refugees (Nawyn 2011). Market citizenship arguments can be useful when resistance to resettlement is based on the cost to tax payers, which is a consistent discourse in the anti-refugee rhetoric. However, such discourse has been usurped by the blatant anti-Islamic flavor of current resistance to Syrian refugee resettlement. Therefore I doubt that challenging the “resettlement costs too much money” argument will provide a strong counter to current nativist sentiments.

The image of the destitute refugee is another commonly used method to drum up sympathy for refugees. It is a familiar enough trope, used in advertisements for charitable organizations seeking funding to assist refugees. It is also common as an internal justification for NGO activities, framing their work in moral terms, and for faith-based NGOS, a religious calling to help those in need (Clevenger, Derr, Cadge, and Curran 2014; Nawyn 2007). But it is not particularly useful for addressing resistance to receiving refugees into our country. First, the destitute refugee trope necessitates that the refugee is a person who is needy, thus stoking concerns that resettlement will be costly and lead to an increase in government dependency. Second, it treats refugees as if they are timeless, unchanging entities, forever trapped in the conditions that caused they to seek refuge in the first place (Kisiara 2015).

It is true that refugees often (although not always) arrive in the resettlement country with few material resources. But over time their situations almost always improve, and some do indeed go on to be quite successful. To frame refugees as destitute and thus worthy of compassion threatens to frame them as always and forever pitiable; this is one reason why many people who enter the U.S. with refugee visas eschew the label of “refugee” (Kumsa 2006; Ludwig 2013).

The anti-refugee discourse we see now is difficult to counter in part because it is multi-faceted and dispersed among constituencies with disparate motivations. Some resistance is relatively soft, and can be countered effectively with information, while other resistance is more intractable.

Shortly following the Paris attacks, many state governors made statements that they would bar resettling any Syrian refugees in their states. The first of these governors was Rick Snyder, the Republican governor of Michigan. Snyder’s statement was actually milder than the governors that followed him; he stated that he desired a “pause” in resettlement and assurances from the federal government that the screening process currently in place was secure.

Snyder’s statement, which he clarified later in even gentler tones in a statement published in Time Magazine on November 17, was hardly vitriolic, but it provided momentum for the gubernatorial resistance that followed and it ignored the fact that the refugee resettlement system had already been audited following 9/11. After those terrorist attacks, which like Paris involved no refugees, refugee resettlement to the U.S. was halted completely and the entire screening process revamped. The current system involves security checks using data from the Department of State, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Counterterrorism. It involves collecting biometric data, and DNA data to verify family relations (which, when required, are done at the refugee’s expense).

The entire process takes on average 18-24 months, and is already more rigorous than what was called for in the SAFE Act, a bill that passed the House of Representatives last fall (and which I critiqued elsewhere). If Governor Snyder had been aware of what is involved in the screening process, he may not have felt the need to call for reassurance at all.

But not all resistance to Syrian refugees is soft; much of it is based on emotion rather than logic, grounded in deep-seated insecurities and hostility, and thus facts do not sway those holding such positions. To those people refugees are viewed as “Others”, inherently untrustworthy because they are not “Us”. Ironically, telling the stories of refugees’ suffering can exacerbate Othering, as it is hard for most people to imagine having to experience similar circumstances in their own lives. To have bombs dropped on your home, to be threatened by gunpoint, to enter another country with nothing but the clothes on your back; it is beyond the imagination of most of us to see ourselves in such circumstances. Thus, such stories can make refugees seem even more exotic, even more unlike the rest of us, that it is impossible to see them as one of us, as belonging to us. They should seek protection in Muslim countries; why should we take them in?

To counter this othering, some advocates have taken to telling refugee stories in different ways, using approaches that make the lives of refugees seem less catastrophic and more normal. Groups like Exodus World Service work with Christian congregations to develop sustained relationships between newly arrived refugees and U.S.-born volunteers. These relationships provide support to the refugee, but also are intended to increase the volunteer’s understanding of refugees as real people, not charity cases. Brandon Stanton, the creator of the blog “Humans of New York,” using a combination of photography and storytelling has raised awareness of his followers to the conditions of Syrian refugees waiting to be resettled, raising $750,000 to assist newly resettled Syrian families and gathering one million signatures on a petition supporting the appeal of a Syrian family who were denied resettlement to the U.S.

These techniques share the quality of depicting refugees as whole people, complex and multifaceted, with everyday concerns and joys that make them more relatable than horror stories or statistics ever could. They have not been rigorous empirical testing of how useful these strategies are in affecting attitude change towards refugees and thus possible tools in pro-refugee mobilization, but given the pitfalls of other strategies, they are methods worth examining further.


Brodie, Janine. 1997. “Meso‐discourses, state forms and the gendering of liberal‐democratic citizenship.” Citizenship Studies 1(2): 223-242.

Clevenger, C., Derr, A. S., Cadge, W., & Curran, S. 2014. How Do Social Service Providers View Recent Immigrants? Perspectives from Portland, Maine, and Olympia, Washington. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 12(1), 67-86.

Kisiara, O. 2015. Marginalized at the center: How public narratives of suffering perpetuate perceptions of refugees’ helplessness and dependency. Migration Letters, 12(2), 162-171.

Kumsa, M. K. 2006. ‘No! I’m not a refugee!’ The poetics of be-longing among young Oromos in Toronto. Journal of Refugee Studies, 19(2), 230-255.

Ludwig, B. 2013. “Wiping the refugee dust from my feet”: Advantages and burdens of refugee status and the refugee label. International Migration.

Nawyn, Stephanie J. 2011. “I have so many successful stories”: Framing social citizenship for refugees. Citizenship Studies, 15(6-7), 679-693.

Nawyn, Stephanie J. 2007. “Welcoming the stranger: Constructing an interfaith ethic of refuge.” In P. Hondagneu-Sotelo (ed.) Religion and Social Justice for Immigrants. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

Immigrants and Refugees

The topic of immigration is never far from the top of the news cycle. 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 Mobilizing Ideas‘ next dialogue, we would like to 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.

Sharon M. Quinsaat, University of Pittsburgh (essay)
Thomas Swerts, University of Antwerp (essay)
Lisa M. Martinez, University of Denver (essay)
Steven J. Gold, Michigan State University (essay)
Jeremy Hein, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire (essay)
Irene Bloemraad, University of California – Berkeley (essay)
Walter Nicholls, University of California – Irvine (essay)

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

Do Rights Appeals Hurt Immigrant Causes? Legitimacy, Standing, and the Limits of Rights Language

By Irene Bloemraad

Immigrants and those of immigrant-origins have long been targets of nativism and hostility, be it by the leaders and supporters of the 19th century “Know-Nothing” party that denigrated Catholic immigrants to the United States, or by the majority of Swiss voters who decided, in a 2014 referendum vote, to oppose “mass migration” and use quotas to limit new migration.

The vitriol in the United States has reached new heights (or, more precisely, lows) in recent months. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has labeled Mexican migrants drug traffickers and rapists, suggested “thousands” of Arab Americans celebrated the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York and, in a truly appalling move for anyone who has studied the Holocaust or Japanese internment in North America, suggested a national registry for all Muslims in the United States. Populist, far-right political leaders in Europe, from Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Marianne Le Pen in France, sing the same xenophobic chorus. On either side of the Atlantic, opinion among the public reveals divided views on admitting and integrating immigrants. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

The Immigrant Rights Movement: Then and Now

By Lisa M. Martinez

Nearly 10 years ago, protestors numbering in the hundreds of thousands marched in the streets of American cities in support of immigrant rights. Although activists had long been working towards comprehensive immigration reform, the protests were precipitated by a series of events that had long been developing.

One of the precipitating events was the introduction of HR 4437, which would have made it a crime for any agencies, including churches and charity organizations, to aid or assist undocumented immigrants, created stricter penalties for employers who hired undocumented workers, and allocated resources to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Although it failed in the Senate, HR 4437 paved the way for anti-immigrant legislation making it a crime to be undocumented. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees

Immigrants, Refugees, and Collective Action in the US

By Jeremy Hein

Immigrants and refugees are best viewed as a powerful source of mobilization and collective action in both civic engagement (solving community problems) and social movements (challenging a dominant group). They should not be viewed as passive groups that need to be taught by natives how to “act up.” I base this conclusion primarily on my research on the 60,000 Hmong Americans in Minneapolis-St. Paul, an ethnic community initially formed by refugees from the spillover of the Vietnam War into Laos (Hein and Vang 2015; Hein 2014), and a close reading of Vang (2011). For conceptual clarity, immigrants refers to international migrants who move to join family members or find jobs, while refugees flee from violence (see Hein [1993] for a more complex discussion of the similarities and differences between immigrants and refugees). Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Immigrants and Refugees