Using Research to Improve Immigrant Integration

Photo Credit: SEIU International

Photo Credit: SEIU International

The United States embodies a history of anti-immigrant sentiment, underlining the challenge we face in integrating immigrants into our society. By stereotyping newcomers and placing pressure on immigrants to assimilate into mainstream, American culture, we struggle to construct policies that will effectively integrate immigrants in a respectful, productive manner. Released by the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) in September 2012, The California Immigrant Integration Scorecard represents an in-depth study that can help policymakers better understand the current social and economic circumstances for immigrant communities as they work to reform policies that address the needs of immigrants in California. Representing 27% of California’s population, research on the way in which particular regions in the state incorporate immigrants into society is crucial in understanding the immigrant experience. Using this study and similar research, we can begin to eliminate anti-immigrant sentiment by understanding their stories and illuminating their perspectives to form policies that will address the needs of immigrant communities in the United States.

In contrast to the notion of assimilation, in which immigrant communities begin to loose ties to their home countries and cultures as they become more “Americanized,” integration takes on a much more respectful approach that considers the value of the immigrant experience and perspective as they enter the United States. The California Immigrant Integration Scorecard defines integration as “improved economic mobility for, enhanced civic participation by, and receiving society openness to immigrants.” This view of integration envisions the empowerment of immigrants to find a voice in our country and have a chance to achieve economic upward mobility. It also requires citizens of the United States to wipe away anti-immigrant sentiment and welcome newcomers to our country by understanding their perspectives and contributions to society. The Scorecard goes on to describe immigrant integration “as a dynamic, two-way process in which newcomers and the receiving society both have a responsibility for integration, and both benefit as they work together to build secure, vibrant, and cohesive communities.” Unlike assimilation, which places an emphasis on American culture by ignoring the contributions of an immigrants home culture, integration requires a sense of open-mindedness from both citizens and immigrants that will build more accepting, diverse communities and further collaboration to benefit a more productive society.

As demonstrated in the purpose of this study, in-depth research that emphasizes statewide data helps policymakers improve immigration reform policies. In better understanding the experiences of immigrant communities, we can establish effective institutional structures to support immigrants economically and socially. According to Scorecard, this study serves as a tool for “policymakers and organizers to find promising policies and actions to model in their regions” and “to highlight a common agenda across regions throughout the state.” In finding what environments best support immigrant communities, we can begin to replicate these practices in other parts of the state that fail to successfully integrate immigrants. In addition, it helps further the common agenda of creating reform measures to integrate immigrants by establishing environments in which they can achieve economic and social mobility, and feel welcomed and respected.

An investigation economic snapshots, the economic trajectory, the warmth of welcome, and civic engagement in each of the ten California regions studied in this report demonstrates the level to which each area successfully or unsuccessfully integrates immigrants. According to the data, Santa Clara provides the most civic engagement and the best economic snapshot for immigrant communities. In addition, San Francisco appears to be the most welcoming and San Joaquin provides the highest economic trajectory for immigrants. On the other hand, Fresno is the least welcoming area and has the fewest opportunities for the civic engagement of immigrants. Also, Los Angeles provides the poorest economic snapshot and San Francisco has the lowest economic trajectory. Using this data, researchers can find out which policies and practices represent the most inclusive means of integrating immigrants into society.

In moving forward, the California Immigrant Integration Scorecard and other studies can be used as tools to increase immigrant inclusion in society. More specifically, it can be used by “business leaders, community organizers, civic leaders, policy makers, philanthropists, and the like, to build consensus and funnel investments toward immigrant inclusion.” Essentially, we must establish common agendas for reform based on the lived experiences of immigrants. We can work towards creating these agendas through outreach and acknowledging institutional issues facing immigrants such as housing inequities, language barriers, and lack of access to adequate healthcare. “In the face of anti-immigrant sentiment and more minimal immigrant-serving infrastructure,” in-depth research can highlight the areas we need to improve to include immigrants and the methods that are effective in integrating immigrant communities.

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