How Social Ties with Undocumented Immigrants Motivate Latinx Political Participation

Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211019473
How do undocumented social ties motivate political
engagement among Latinxs? Undocumented immigrants
are increasingly relevant in the social life of the Latinx
community. The undocumented population has increased
from 3.5 to 10 million between 1990 and 2017. In all, 70
percent of the undocumented originate from Latin
America. Moreover, the proportion of long-term undocu-
mented immigrants living in the United States over ten
years has increased more than 80 percent due to limited
options for attaining legal status and higher reentry costs.
At the same time, interior immigration enforcement grew
significantly since Clinton-era immigration reforms,
bringing fear of deportation from the border to the streets
of American cities.1
Prior research demonstrates anti-immigrant policies
spur political action not only among immigrants, but
Latinxs writ large (Barreto et al. 2009; Bowler, Nicholson,
and Segura 2006; Pantoja, Ramirez, and Segura 2001;
Zepeda-Millán 2017). This research implicitly assumes
Latinxs have ties to the immigrant experience, if not
undocumented people. This research also assumes
Latinxs are collectively mobilized by political rhetoric
and punitive policies targeting undocumented commu-
nity members. However, little work assesses the conse-
quences of social ties with undocumented immigrants on
political behavior directly, and even less identifies mech-
anisms motivating participation among Latinxs with
undocumented social ties.
Drawing on six nationally representative surveys of
Latinxs, we demonstrate social ties with undocumented
immigrants are consistently associated with collective
forms of political participation amenable to facilitating
group interests and identity expression, such as protest-
ing. Conversely, undocumented social ties do not moti-
vate individualistic forms of political participation in
1019473PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211019473Political Research QuarterlyRoman et al.
1University of California, Los Angeles, USA
2University of Texas-Austin, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Marcel Roman, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
90049, USA.
How Social Ties with Undocumented
Immigrants Motivate Latinx Political
Marcel Roman1, Hannah Walker2, and Matt Barreto1
Prior research suggests social ties with undocumented immigrants among Latinxs may increase political engagement
despite constraints undocumented social networks may introduce. We build on prior research and find across six
surveys of Latinxs that social ties with undocumented immigrants are reliably associated with collective, identity
expressive activities such as protesting, but not activities where immigration may not be immediately relevant, such
as voting. Moreover, we assess a series of mechanisms to resolve the puzzle of heightened participation despite
constraints. Consistent with prior research at the intersection of anti-immigrant threat and Social Identity Theory,
we find Latinxs with strong ethnic identification are more likely to engage in political protest in the presence of social
ties with undocumented immigrants, whereas weak identifiers disengage. We rule out alternative mechanisms that
could link undocumented social ties with participation including political efficacy, a sense of injustice, linked fate,
acculturation, outgroup perceptions of immigration status, partisan identity, conducive opportunity structures, and
prosociality. Our contribution suggests the reason social ties with undocumented immigrants are not necessarily
a hindrance to political engagement among Latinx immigrants and their co-ethnics is because they can draw from
identitarian resources to overcome participatory constraints.
Latino politics, political participation, immigration, race and ethnic politics, political psychology, social identity theory
2022, Vol. 75(3) 661–675

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