Research Projects

Racial Politics in New Immigrant Destinations

"Racial Formation as Movement Outcome: Cultural Change and Immigrant Rights Struggle in the Deep South," Mobilization (with Jennifer Jones) - Published Article

AbstractThis article uses a comparative analysis of immigrant rights movements in Mississippi and Alabama to examine racial formation as a cultural consequence of mobilization. Drawing on archival, media, and interview data, we demonstrate that the Mississippi movement fueled shifts in public racial discourse beyond the movement itself; however, the Alabama movement engendered no such changes, despite its efforts. These outcomes emerged despite the movements’ common origins and the states’ similar political and racial contexts. We trace these outcomes to the guiding racial orientations of each movement. While Mississippi organizers embraced an interracialist organizing approach, Alabama organizers grounded their work in an assimilationist approach. These orientations led the movements to develop different racial framings and different networks, creating pathways of broader cultural influence for the Mississippi movement and closing off pathways in Alabama. These findings speak to enduring questions about movements’ cultural impacts and about the mechanisms driving racial formation. 

"Chasing Respectability: Pro-Immigrant Organizations and the Reinforcement of Immigrant Racialization," American Behavioral Scientist (with Jennifer Jones) - Published Article

Abstract: In this article, we investigate the role that pro-immigrant organizations play in immigrant racialization. Drawing on a critical case study from the longest standing immigrant rights organization in North Carolina, we demonstrate how immigrant rights organizations can racialize new Latinx arrivals even as they advocate for them. We interrogate the organization’s multi-year, state-wide campaign to counteract mounting public characterizations of Latinx immigrants as drunk drivers. Analyzing a critical juncture in this campaign, we demonstrate how El Pueblo, in their effort to contest the mainstream racialization of Latinxs, unintentionally doubled down on that same racialization, buying into respectability politics and reinforcing derogatory stereotypes of Latinxs. We outline three central maneuvers that grounded this particular respectability politics campaign and demonstrate the utility of respectability politics as a framework for understanding organizational racialization processes. These findings suggest the need to shift focus toward community organizations as key sites of immigrant racialization and highlight the need for inquiry into the racialized assumptions of pro-immigrant forces.

"The Racialization of Latino Immigrants in New Destinations: Criminality, Ascription, and Countermobilization," RSF: The Russell Sage Journal of the Social Sciences (with Jennifer Jones and Andrea Becker) - Published Article

*Honorable Mention, American Sociological Association Latino/a Sociology Best Article Award

Abstract: This article analyzes patterns in Latino immigrant racialization in the U.S. South. Drawing on a unique dataset of more than 4,200 news stories from the region, we find that Latino immigrants face multifaceted racialization in the news media and that this racialization shares substantive similarities with African American racialization processes. The most dominant negative characterizations of Mexican and Latino immigrants focus on their perceived criminal tendencies. Claims of Latino criminality apply implicitly coded racial language about black criminality to new Latino arrivals. A close qualitative analysis of these trends reveals an ongoing cycle of racialization in which immigration foes challenge Latino or Mexican immigrants as criminal elements and immigration advocates respond with charges of racism and discrimination. Supplemental analyses from four African American newspapers suggest that black elites perceive Latinos as sharing a common experience of racial discrimination at the hands of whites.

"American Federalism and Racial Formation in Contemporary Immigration Policy: A Processual Analysis of Alabama’s HB56," Ethnic and Racial Studies (with Jennifer Jones) – Published Article, Open Access

Abstract:  Racialization scholarship identifies the state as a primary site of racial formation. Most of this research envisions the state as a uniform entity, with race-making occurring at a single level of political action. Analysing Latino racialization in immigration debates in Alabama, we argue that state-driven racialization occurs at multiple levels of governance. Although Alabama’s 2011 HB56 is widely recognized as state-enforced Latino racialization, we find that the bill resulted from mutually reinforcing racialization practices and policies that played out at multiple levels of immigration governance. These findings not only present a revisionist history of HB56, they suggest that any account of states and racialization requires a nuanced and complex understanding of the state, its institutional structure, and its operations. Individual state institutions may do different work as race makers, but race-making efforts by federal, state, and local actors interact to produce both racialized subjects and racial hierarchies.

"Rethinking Panethnicity and the Race-Immigration Divide:  An Ethno-Racialization Model of Group Formation," Sociology of Race and Ethnicity (with Jennifer Jones) - Published Article

Abstract:  Although demographic shifts continue to spark interest in the racially transformative effects of immigration, researchers routinely lament the lack of dialogue between race and immigration scholarship. We use recent research on panethnicity to illustrate the conceptual divides that exist between the two subfields. Panethnicity research has shed new light on the formation of group identities and political mobilization, but we contend that it is problematically divorced from research on racialization. Panethnicity scholars largely view racialization and panethnic group formation as separate processes, with the latter sequentially following the former. In this article, we argue that this analytical distinction both reflects and reifies the divide between race and immigration research and yields an incomplete understanding of the group formation process. We propose an ethnoracialization model to show how the concept of panethnicity can be reconfigured to develop a robust account of group formation and to bridge the much-lamented divide between race and immigration research.

"Political Mobilisation and Public Discourse in New Immigrant Destinations: News Media Characterisations of Immigrants During the 2006 Immigration Marches," Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (with Laura López-Sanders) - Published Article

Abstract:  In 2006, millions of immigrants engaged in boycotts and marches for immigrant rights. Many of these protests occurred in new destinations, places with little prior history of collective mobilisation by non-citizens. We focus on the U.S. South, a region noteworthy for the recent, unprecedented growth in its non-citizen population and its unexpected role in the 2006 protests. Drawing from a unique dataset of immigration-related news stories from ten newspapers across the South from 2005 to 2007, we examine variation in public immigration discourse during this ‘unsettled’ period of heightened political mobilisation and marked public anxiety around immigration. We supplement this analysis with a close examination of immigration news coverage in English and Spanish-language newspapers in South Carolina. Regional analysis reveals minimal shifts in public immigration discourse during this time period; however, the South Carolina case study reveals subtle yet noteworthy variation in the cultural categories used to label immigrants, the moral characterisations of immigrants, and the salience of the immigrant-native boundary. The English-language press increasingly portrayed immigrants from Mexico as cultural threats. After the marches, the Spanish-language press emphasised immigrants’ work ethic. These findings have implications for our understanding of social dynamics in new destinations and the cultural dimensions of political mobilisation.

"Rebuilding without Papers: Disaster Migration and the Local Reception of Immigrants after Hurricane Katrina," Social Currents (with Zhongze Wei, Michelle Lazaran, Christopher Cates, and Jennifer Jones) - Published Article

Abstract:  After Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast in 2005, thousands of Latinx immigrants arrived in the region to work in reconstruction, one case of the growing and global phenomenon of disaster migration. Drawing on newspaper content analysis, in-depth interviews with immigrant service providers, and archival materials from Mississippi for the years surrounding Hurricane Katrina (2003-2009), we ask what reception these disaster migrants encountered upon arrival and how that reception changed as they settled permanently in the state. We find that public discourse about immigrants became markedly more positive when disaster migrants arrived en masse, with the media and public characterizing immigrants as valuable, hard workers. Negative characterizations shifted to portray immigrants as drains on public resources. However, these changes were temporary. By 2009, public debate about immigrants reverted to pre-disaster trends with only one exception. Across our study period, we find a steady rise in claims that immigrants faced racism and discrimination. Our findings suggest that disasters may briefly transform the social and cultural bases of material inequalities but are unlikely to produce lasting change.

"New Narratives of Struggle: Immigration and the South’s Emerging Civil Rights Consensus," New Narratives on the Peopling of America. T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Alexandra Delano, eds. Johns Hopkins University Press. (with Jennifer Jones and Taylor Dow) - Link to Book

"Unity in the Struggle: Immigration and the South’s Emerging Civil Rights," Law and Contemporary Problems (with Jennifer Jones and Taylor Dow) - Published Article

"The Hidden Politics of Immigration," Scalawag (with Jennifer Jones) - Published Article

"Immigrant Rights are Civil Rights," Contexts (with Jennifer Jones) - Published Article 

Tribal Sovereignty, Race-Making, and Policy Implementation

"Who Is an Indian Child?  Institutional Context, Tribal Sovereignty, and Race-Making in Fragmented States," American Sociological Review - Published Article

*Winner, American Sociological Association Political Sociology Best Article Award

*Winner, American Sociological Association Charles Tilly Award, Comparative Historical Section

Abstract:  Despite growing interest in state race-making, we know little about how race-making plays out in the everyday practice of policy governance. To address this gap, I examine the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978), which sought to end generations of state policies that denied tribal sovereignty and forcibly removed Native children from their tribes. ICWA’s protections extend to children based on tribal citizenship, not racial status. Marshalling 40 years of archival data from the government agencies charged with ICWA enforcement, I analyze how ICWA implementers determine a child’s Indian status. I find that authorities routinely eschew the requirement to treat Indian as a citizenship category, re-defining it as a race. Yet whether and how state actors racialize Indianness varies by the institutional contexts in which they work. Comparing state child welfare agencies, state courts, and federal courts, I identify three institutional characteristics that organize race-making practices: evidentiary standards, record-keeping requirements, and incentive structures. These characteristics influence whether state decision-makers operationalize “Indian” as a racial category and the cognitive and ideological processes that undergird their classifications. I also demonstrate that changes in these institutional characteristics yield concomitant shifts in whether and how state agents engage in racialization.

"Administrative Burden and the Reproduction of Settler Colonialism: A Case Study of the Indian Child Welfare Act," RSF: The Russell Sage Journal of the Social Sciences - Published Article

AbstractThe Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) sought to end the forced removal of Native children from their tribes. Decades later, American Indian children are still placed in foster and adoptive care at disproportionately high rates. Drawing on forty years of archival data, this study examines the role of administrative burden in reproducing these inequalities and the system of domination from which they arise: settler colonialism. Focusing on three arenas—notice, meeting and hearing involvement, and foster family certification—this article illuminates the burdens imposed on tribal governments that serve as mediating institutions in ICWA implementation. Findings suggest that burdens have particularly strong consequences for inequality when they fall on third-party organizations. They also demonstrate how administrative burden operates as a mechanism for the reproduction of settler-colonial domination. 

“Challenging the Indian Child Welfare Act: Colorblind Racism, Whiteness as Property, and the Legal Architecture of Settler Colonialism,” Law and Society Review - Forthcoming.

Abstract:  Bringing critical race theory and settler colonial theory to bear on legal mobilization scholarship, this article examines the ongoing campaign to strike down the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA sought to end the forced removal of American Indian children from their tribes. If successful, the challenges to ICWA’s constitutionality stand to undermine tribal sovereignty writ large. Drawing on a content analysis of documents from 17 major court cases (2013-2023) and a unique dataset of public-facing documents from the leading ICWA challengers, I interrogate the argumentative architecture of this legal mobilization. I find that the campaign to strike down ICWA is structured around three ideological maneuvers: erasure, settler normativity, and reclassification. These maneuvers scaffold a fourth – colorblindness – and the claim that ICWA is an unconstitutional race-based statute. I show how ICWA adversaries use these ideological maneuvers to legitimate white possession of Indigenous children and delegitimize tribal sovereignty. While existing work tends to treat colorblind racism and settler colonialism as analytically distinct, these findings shed light on the linkages between the two. They also marshal empirical analysis to illustrate how the embeddedness of settler colonialism and racism in the law enables broad claims to and defense of whiteness as property.

Domestic Racial Dynamics and U.S. Refugee Policy

"Borders, Politics, and Bounded Sympathy:  How U.S. Television News Constructs Refugees, 1980-2016," Social Problems (with Michelle Dromgold-Sermen) - Published Article

Abstract:  This article problematizes a particular category in immigration politics: refugee. Drawing on a content analysis of 356 television news segments that aired on five major news networks between 1980 and 2016, we examine how the category “refugee” has been used in public discourse, to whom it has been applied, and the factors that shape characterizations of those who receive the label. While existing research finds that the media disproportionately associate the term “immigrant” with economic, criminal, and national security threats, we find that U.S. television news coverage associates the term “refugee” with sympathy. We find that these sympathetic portrayals are contingent upon and most common in stories about migrants in distant locales. When the news media cover individuals likely to settle or who are already settled in the United States, coverage takes a more negative tone. We also find evidence that U.S. border politics and foreign political interests affect which migrants receive the refugee label and how they are portrayed. We conclude with implications for the sociological study of classification and for immigration politics more generally.

"The Effects of the Body on Immigrant Incorporation:  Identity, Mobility, and Transnationalism," Social Problems  - Published Article, Open Access

*Winner, American Sociological Association Body and Embodiment Best Article Award

Abstract:  This article integrates insights from the sociology of the body and the sociology of immigration to examine the role of the body in the immigrant incorporation process. Drawing on three years of participant observation in a West African immigrant community, I show how immigrants from a predominantly agrarian society must adapt and retrain their bodies, often under great pressure, to meet the demands of American social institutions. Immigrants’ ability to move their bodies in socially prescribed ways affects three crucial aspects of the incorporation process: identity formation, economic mobility, and transnational practices. Immigrants who struggle to execute the host society’s normative bodily movements (1) interpret their bodily challenges as evidence of their outsider identity, (2) struggle to acquire the material resources necessary to achieve more traditionally studied forms of economic incorporation, and (3) face limitations in their ability to maintain transnational networks even as those networks play an increasingly important social role in the face of their blocked mobility. These findings indicate that bodily incorporation is a critical precursor to full incorporation into the host society.

"Refugees, Rights, and Race: How Legal Status Shapes Immigrants' Relationship with the State," Social Problems - Published Article, Open Access

Abstract:  Drawing on three years of participant observation in a Liberian immigrant community, this article examines the role of legal refugee status in immigrants’ daily encounters with the state. Using the literature on immigrant incorporation, claims making, and citizenship, it argues that refugee status profoundly shapes individuals’ views and expectations of their host government as well as their interactions with the medical, educational, and social service institutions they encounter. The refugees in this study use their refugee status to make claims for legal and social citizenship and to distance themselves from native-born blacks. In doing so, they validate their own position vis-à-vis the state and in the American ethno-racial hierarchy. The findings presented demonstrate how refugee status operates as a symbolic and interpretive resource used to negotiate the structural realities of the welfare state and American race relations. These results stress the importance of studying immigrant incorporation from a micro perspective and suggest mechanisms for the adaptational advantages for refugees reported in existing research.

Race, Immigration, and the Welfare State

"Racialized Conflicts and Policy Spillover Effects: The Role of Race in the Contemporary U.S. Welfare State," American Journal of Sociology - Published Article, Open Access, Methodological Appendix

*Winner, American Sociological Association Political Sociology Best Article Award

Abstract:  This article introduces a racialized conflict theory to explain how racial divisions structure welfare state development in the absence of de jure discrimination. The author explains the effect of racial divisions on policy outcomes as the result of the attitudinal, cultural, and political spillover effects of prevailing conflicts in a social field. Using a paired-case comparison and analysis of multiple data sources, the author applies this theory to analyze Georgia’s and Alabama’s surprisingly divergent welfare reforms in the 1990s. Results support the racialized conflict theory and suggest important revisions to prevailing theories about the sociopolitical effects of contemporary racial divides. 

"Race, Legality and the Social Policy Consequences of Anti-Immigration Mobilization," American Sociological Review - Published Article, Open Access, Supplemental Materials

*Winner, American Sociological Association International Migration Section Louis Wirth Outstanding Article Award

Abstract:  With the dramatic rise in the U.S. Hispanic population, scholars have struggled to explain how race affects welfare state development beyond the Black-White divide. This article uses a comparative analysis of welfare reforms in California and Arizona to examine how anti-Hispanic stereotypes affect social policy formation. Drawing on interviews, archival materials, and newspaper content analysis, I find that animus toward Hispanics is mobilized through two collective action frames: a legality frame and a racial frame. The legality frame lauds the contributions of documented noncitizens while demonizing illegal immigrants. The racial frame celebrates the moral worth of White citizens and uses explicit racial language to deride Hispanics as undeserving. These subtle differences in racialization and worth attribution create divergent political opportunities for welfare policy. When advocates employ the legality frame, they create openings for rights claims by documented noncitizens. Use of the racial frame, however, dampens cross-racial mobilization and effective claims-making for expansive welfare policies. These findings help to explain why the relationship between race and welfare policy is less predictable for Hispanics than for Blacks. They also reveal surprising ways in which race and immigration affect contemporary politics and political mobilization.

"The New Racial Politics of Welfare: Ethno-Racial Diversity, Immigration, and Welfare Discourse Variation,"  Social Service Review - Published Article

Abstract:  Research on race and welfare focuses largely on characterizations of black and white welfare recipients. Few studies examine racialized welfare discourse beyond the black-white divide. Employing media and archival data from four states during the 1996 welfare reforms, this study finds variation in welfare discourse depending on the perceived race of the beneficiaries. While existing work emphasizes the prevalence of a morality discourse about lazy and hyper-fertile black recipients, and which this study indeed finds predominant in Alabama and Georgia, in California and Arizona, debates centered on Hispanic, Asian, or Native American recipients, and discourse about law-and-order and economic opportunity prevailed. These types of discourse varied in racial character and in their claims about the causes of and solutions for welfare participation. Policy makers used the morality discourse to demand punitive welfare regulations, while law and order and economic opportunity discourses were used to promote immigration enforcement and economic development, respectively.

"Logics of Redistribution: Determinants of Generosity in Three U.S. Social Welfare Programs," Sociological Perspectives (with Rachel Kahn Best) - Published Article

Abstract:  Social policy scholars disagree about which factors best predict U.S. welfare state generosity. We argue that this disagreement is an artifact of study designs. Researchers usually study either the totality of a state’s social expenditures or one specific program. These approaches overlook the fact that individual social programs were born of different circumstances and serve different constituencies. Comparing state-level policies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our findings suggest that these programs are governed by distinct logics of redistribution. Racial characteristics drive TANF generosity. Economic forces best predict CHIP generosity. SNAP generosity is a function of political factors. Qualitative data from Congressional hearings confirm these findings. These results adjudicate between conflicting accounts of the contemporary welfare state and also highlight which aspects of a program’s design make it most susceptible to the effects of racial bias and to partisan politics.

"TANF Child-Only Cases in California: Barriers to Self-Sufficiency and Well-Being," Journal of Children and Poverty (with Richard Speiglman, Johannes M. Bos, Yongmei Li, and Lorena Ortiz) - Published Article

Abstract: Since the United States implemented Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), or ‘welfare reform,’ the number of assistance cases without an adult receiving aid has risen dramatically. In states like California, these child-only cases now constitute the majority of all TANF cases. Despite this increase, existing research sheds little light on the composition of child-only caseloads and the status of the adults and children in such cases. Drawing on county administrative data and interviews with 143 parents associated with child-only cases in five California counties, this paper identifies both the demographics of the child-only caseload in these sites and the major barriers to employment that parents in sanctioned and timed-out child-only cases face. These include human capital, health, and family issues, in addition to other obstacles. The data suggest that, despite functioning as one administrative entity, CalWORKs, California's TANF program, has transformed into two separate programs: a welfare-to-work program and a subsistence-level cash assistance program for some members of child-only families. Given this transformation, the paper closes by suggesting a research agenda for future child-only scholarship and argues for policy innovations to meet the needs of the expanding child-only caseload.

"Welfare Reform's Ineligible Immigrant Parents: Program Reach and Enrollment Barriers," Journal of Children and Poverty (with Richard Speiglman, Rosa-Maria Castaneda, and Randy Capps) - Published Article

Abstract:  Since the implementation of the 1996 welfare reform act, the child-only Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseload has increased dramatically. Perhaps the least understood child-only population is that of ineligible immigrant parents (IIPs), who are ineligible for TANF because of their citizenship or immigration status. Using data collected through in-depth interviews and focus groups in Stanislaus County, California, this study examines how well California's TANF program serves this at-risk group. We analyze the factors that lead IIPs to seek aid for their children, the enrollment obstacles they face, and TANF's ability to meet their needs. Our results demonstrate that immigration-related fears as well as concerns about caseworkers, stigma, and future government sanctions heighten these parents' reluctance to seek aid. They also create multiple and often population-specific barriers to TANF enrollment. We close with research and policy recommendations for serving this vulnerable population.

Racial Dynamics, Local Context, and Voter Participation

"Voting Intersections: Race, Class, and Participation in Presidential Elections in the United States 2008–2016," Sociological Perspectives (with Daniel Laurison and Ankit Rastoggi) - Published Article

Abstract: Intersectional analyses are increasingly common in sociology; however, analyses of voting tend to focus on only race, class, or gender, using the others as control variables. We assess whether and how race, class, and gender intersect to produce distinct patterns of voter engagement in presidential elections 2008–2016. Per existing research, we find income strongly predicts White voting. However, the class gap in voting is not statistically significant among Black voters. In contrast to common characterizations of Black people as politically disengaged, lower income Black citizens are more likely to vote than their White counterparts. Moreover, the lowest earning Black women vote at dramatically higher rates than any other race-gender combination in this income group. These findings call into question the perceived universality of the income gap in voting and widespread claims that more resources directly facilitate voting. They also have implications for our understanding of political participation, social inequality, and democratic citizenship.

Civil Rights Era School-Closing Policies

"‘They Must Be Discontented’: Racial Threat, Black Mobilization and the Passage of School Closing Policies," Ethnic and Racial Studies - Published Article

Abstract: Existing research demonstrates that black population size in a given area correlates with the passage of racially restrictive policies in that area. This paper examines the mechanisms through which minority population size translates into exclusionary policies. It does so by examining a little-known but critical aspect of US civil rights history: the development of policies which allowed white communities to close their public schools entirely rather than desegregate. Using comparative-historical methods to build on existing quantitative studies, this analysis demonstrates that, while black population size does correlate with the passage of restrictive policies, the adoption of school closing policies was primarily a political strategy used to counter rising black political mobilization. That is, whites were not responding to a demographic threat per se or to increasing contact with blacks, as extant work might suggest. Rather, restrictive policies were a response to increasing political activity and mobilization within black communities.

"Repression, Mobilization, and Social Policy: the Virginia Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty," Research in Political Sociology - Published Article

Abstract: Existing research argues that repression hindered the ability of local civil rights movements to influence the development of local War on Poverty programs; however, the Virginia civil rights struggle defies this pattern. This comparative county-level study melds institutionalist accounts of welfare state development with an analysis of movement repression in order to explain this paradox. A distinction is made between situational and institutional repression. While scholars focus on the former and its negative impact on mobilization, this study suggests that institutional repression can have the opposite effect, unifying movements and facilitating their influence on the formation and implementation of poverty policy.