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Welcoming New Americans?

Local Governments and Immigrant Incorporation

Even as Donald Trump’s election has galvanized anti-immigration politics, many local governments have welcomed immigrants, some even going so far as to declare their communities “sanctuary cities” that will limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. But efforts to assist immigrants are not limited to large, politically liberal cities. Since the 1990s, many small to mid-sized cities and towns across the United States have implemented a range of informal practices that help immigrant populations integrate into their communities.

Abigail Fisher Williamson explores why and how local governments across the country are taking steps to accommodate immigrants, sometimes despite serious political opposition. Drawing on case studies of four new immigrant destinations—Lewiston, Maine; Wausau, Wisconsin; Elgin, Illinois; and Yakima, Washington—as well as a national survey of local government officials, she finds that local capacity and immigrant visibility influence whether local governments take action to respond to immigrants. State and federal policies and national political rhetoric shape officials’ framing of immigrants, thereby influencing how municipalities respond. Despite the devolution of federal immigration enforcement and the increasingly polarized national debate, local officials face on balance distinct legal and economic incentives to welcome immigrants that the public does not necessarily share. Officials’ efforts to promote incorporation can therefore result in backlash unless they carefully attend to both aiding immigrants and increasing public acceptance. Bringing her findings into the present, Williamson takes up the question of whether the current trend toward accommodation will continue given Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and changes in federal immigration policy. 

368 pages | 26 line drawings, 27 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Political Science: American Government and Politics


“Williamson puts forth an interesting and counterintuitive line of argument: local elected officials are professionally motivated to respond positively to immigrants, but this positive response can incite public opinion in a negative direction toward immigrants. In this dynamic, she highlights the central role of the politics of framing immigrants either as worthy individuals working hard at jobs nobody wants or as undeserving newcomers who are getting special advantages and taking jobs away from locals.”

John Mollenkopf, Graduate Center, CUNY

“Williamson has gathered a very impressive body of research that presents novel insights about both local politics regarding immigrants and the role of localities in helping immigrants to incorporate. Her book presents a timely and thought-provoking contribution for courses on urban politics, immigration, and race and ethnicity in the United States.”

Heather Silber Mohamed, Clark University

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

Part 1 Local Government Responses to Immigrants
2 Municipal Responses across Four New Immigrant Destinations
3 Municipal Responses Nationwide: Frequent Inaction, Substantial Accommodation, Rare Restriction

Part 2 Explaining Local Government Responses to Immigrants
4 Federal Policies, National Politics, and Local Understanding of Immigrants
5 Beyond Bureaucrats: Elected and Appointed Officials’ Incentives for Accommodation
6 The Civil Rights Legacy, External Scrutiny, and Reining in Restrictive Response

Part 3 Local Government Responses and Consequences for Immigrant Incorporation
7 The Select Few: Municipal Accommodation and Elite Collaboration
8 Municipal Accommodation: Generating Welcome or Backlash?
9 Conclusion

Appendix A Case Study Methods and Interview Guide
Appendix B Municipal Responses to Immigrants Survey Questionnaire
Appendix C Municipal Responses to Immigrants Survey Methodology
Appendix D Regression Tables


APSA Migration and Citizenship Section: APSA Migration and Citizenship Best Book Award
Honorable Mention

Qualitative and Multi-Methods Section, American Political Science Association: Giovanni Sartori Book Award
Honorable Mention

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