Political Science ETDs

Publication Date



This dissertation is set in the context of a 21st-century America undergoing rapid immigration-driven demographic change accompanied by highly polarized debates about immigrants and immigration policy. With this research I seek to answer questions related to the impact of contemporary immigration policymaking in the U.S. states on the political participation of adults and the well-being of children from immigrant communities nationally. I focus on the impacts of state immigration policy enacted during the decade 2003-2012 among legal immigrants, naturalized immigrants, and U.S.-born children of immigrants from among the four largest U.S. racial/ethnic groups. I place this research in the theoretical tradition of policy design-social construction theory and also draw heavily from the literatures of immigrant political incorporation and immigrant political behavior. Findings confirm that for some subpopulations within immigrant communities public policy is an active social structure conferring benefits and burdens that impact adult political engagement and child wellbeing, with effects persisting even after statistically controlling for other known individual-level predictors. Taken together, the findings reveal a pattern of between-group differences in which the greatest impacts of state immigration policy are occurring in the Hispanic immigrant community, followed by the Asian and White immigrant communities. I find little impact of state immigration policy on the Black immigrant community. Within the Hispanic immigrant community the findings reveal a pattern across generations, with state immigration policy producing little effect on political engagement among new legal immigrants, a modest effect among naturalized immigrants, and its strongest effects among children of Hispanic immigrants. This research makes important contributions to the knowledge base of political incorporation of immigrant communities and of policy design-social construction theory that will inform future research in these fields. In addition to the main findings, this research reveals important variation among states in the strength of the impact state immigration policy is exerting on political participation, extends knowledge of target group contestations of social constructions contained in public policy, and deepens our understanding of the important role that values play in the recursive cycles of political participation and policymaking.

Degree Name

Political Science

Level of Degree


Department Name

Political Science

First Committee Member (Chair)

Sierra, Christine M.

Second Committee Member

McFarlane, Deborah R.

Third Committee Member

Schneider, Anne L.

Project Sponsors

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at UNM




policy, immigrants, political engagement, adverse child experiences, state immigration policy

Document Type