Achieving Full Citizenship: An Institutional Approach to the Political Incorporation of Immigrants and Refugees in the United States and Canada

Irene Hanneke Ina Bloemraad
Sociology, Harvard University - UNITED STATES, 2003
May, 2003
Doctoral thesis


How do immigrants and refugees achieve full citizenship in their adopted country? Borrowing from theories of neo-institutionalism and the literature on social movements, I argue that immigrants, as outsiders, must mobilize themselves to become politically incorporated, but that mobilization dynamics are nested within the broader political and social institutions of the receiving society. In particular, I propose that newcomer settlement and diversity policies affect the process and outcome of political incorporation. Such policies create interpretative effects that shape immigrants' understanding of citizenship, and they provide material resources that can enhance newcomers' ability to mobilize by increasing organizational capacity and opportunities for leadership, I substantiate my argument with a study of four communities--Portuguese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees in Toronto and Boston--that relies on 147 qualitative interviews, documentary materials from ethnic organizations and government, and U.S. and Canadian census data. Given Canadian policies of official multiculturalism and newcomer settlement, we would expect greater political incorporation by immigrants in Canada than in the United States. Conversely, the existence of a U.S. refugee resettlement policy means that we should see fewer cross-national differences among refugees, but greater differences in political incorporation between refugee and non-refugee populations in the United States. I look at three indicators of political incorporation, naturalization, advocacy and immigrants' election to political office, and find that these hypotheses are largely born out. Problems of political incorporation might have less to do with the immigrants we receive than the reception we give them.