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«Funding Immigrant Organizations: Suburban Free-riding and Local Civic Presence Els de Graauw, Baruch College, City University of New York* ...»

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Funding Immigrant Organizations:

Suburban Free-riding and Local Civic Presence

Els de Graauw, Baruch College, City University of New York*


Shannon Gleeson, University of California, Santa Cruz


Irene Bloemraad, University of California, Berkeley


June 2012


We are indebted to Karthick Ramakrishnan for advice and assistance, to Claude Fischer, Margaret

Weir, and members of the UC-Berkeley Interdisciplinary Immigration Workshop, to Nij Tontisirin for GIS support, and to the following organizations for financial support: the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council, the Ford Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University, and the Wellman Family Faculty Fund and former Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of California, Berkeley. Authors’ names are listed in reverse alphabetical order; they are equal co-authors.

Executive Summary Research and Public Policy Question When the federal government launched the War on Poverty almost fifty years ago, it sought to improve the situation of poor people and promote the empowerment of marginalized communities. Social policy shifted to a model of public-private partnership where government funding went to local nonprofit organizations to provide services to the disadvantaged. How is this model faring in today’s “new geography” of poverty and immigration? Suburban poverty has been growing rapidly in recent decades, as has the number of immigrants living in the United States. Indeed, the changing geography of poverty and immigration are linked: the foreign born are, on average, poorer than U.S.-born citizens, and today half of all immigrants living in metropolitan areas reside in suburbs. Many newcomers have eschewed the traditional immigrant gateway cities, moving to “new” gateway destinations and suburbs. How do suburbs and new gateway cities respond to foreign-born disadvantaged residents? Do their local governments promote public-private partnerships with immigrant-focused organizations that advocate for and provide services to immigrants?

Evidence and Study Design This is a multi-year study of how four different types of cities in the San Francisco Bay region— a continuous immigrant gateway city (San Francisco), a 21st century immigrant gateway city (San Jose), a large suburban immigrant city (Fremont), and a smaller suburban immigrant city (Mountain View)—support immigrant organizations. We examined how local government officials conceptualize their responsibility to immigrant residents and we assess the financial resources they allocate through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, a legacy of the public-private partnership model launched by the War on Poverty. We draw on extensive fieldwork to compare the four cities, including 142 in-depth interviews with community organization representatives and local government leaders, a database of registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, and government reports of municipal funding allocations for fiscal years 2004-07.

Findings and Explanations Our research shows significant inequality in public funding for immigrant organizations across the region. Although a greater proportion of residents in the suburban cities of Fremont and Mountain View are foreign-born than in the central cities of San Francisco and San Jose, neither suburb awarded any CDBG monies to an immigrant organization in 2004-07. The lack of funding is even more surprising when we consider that the CDBG program targets organizations that serve low- and moderate-income persons. While the two suburban cities have, on average, a lower percentage of poor people than the two central cities, the foreign born make up a larger proportion of the poor population in these smaller municipalities. In contrast, the city of San Francisco funded immigrant organizations at proportions in line with the percentage of immigrants living in the city and the proportion of foreign born among the city’s poor population. The situation in San Jose stood in-between: San Jose funded some immigrant organizations, but provided less money to fewer organizations than we would expect given the city’s demographics.

Understanding Funding Inequalities and Suburban Free-riding Existing scholarship explains immigrant-directed public-private partnerships through a political exchange model: local officials make rational decisions to fund community organizations to achieve political goals. Not surprisingly, researchers find that migrants who move to a liberal or progressive municipality receive a warmer welcome than those who face anti-immigrant politicians committed to small government and limited public services. We demonstrate, however, that even in a politically progressive place like the Bay Area, public support for immigrant organizations can vary dramatically by locality. Politics, alone, cannot explain public outreach to immigrant groups.

We instead emphasize the importance of immigrant civic infrastructures and officials’ taken-for-granted social constructions of legitimate public policy target populations. San Francisco’s continuous exposure to immigration over the 20th century, as compared to San Jose’s more recent experiences, has produced a vibrant civic infrastructure of immigrant organizations that have the experience, networks, and expectation that they should be partners with city officials. We find that government officials in these two central cities draw on a narrative of the city as an immigrant destination and a history of public-private partnerships to justify including immigrants in social policy.

In comparison, proximity to central cities produces a dynamic of “suburban free-riding” in Fremont and Mountain View. Suburban officials presume that immigrants can rely on the resources and services provided in other jurisdictions, in effect free-riding on the funding that neighboring central cities disperse to immigrant organizations and the services those nonprofits deliver. While suburban officials in a politically progressive region such as the Bay Area celebrate diversity, when it comes to public-private partnerships, they also employ a variety of narrative strategies to rationalize excluding immigrant organizations from funding. In some cases, immigrants appear completely invisible from officials’ conceptions of the target population for municipal support, while in many others they are viewed as too transnational, too rich, or too organized to need public support or, conversely, they are perceived as too insular, too small, or too unorganized to want it. Our research suggests that a key obstacle to funding immigrant organizations lies in the fact that immigrants are not seen as sufficiently legitimate interlocutors and civic partners.

Implications Our findings underscore the importance of a regional lens to questions of nonprofit funding and immigrant integration. Suburban destinations that are located close to a traditional immigrant gateway city can take limited responsibility for foreign-born residents. Geographers, sociologists, and students of urban politics increasingly highlight the rise of “ethnoburbs” and “edge gateways” as a critical frontier for research and public policy, but we show that elected and non-elected government officials in immigrant suburbs have yet to come to terms with their cities’ changing demography, even if their political ideology welcomes diversity. Future research on new immigrant destinations must therefore move beyond simple juxtapositions between progressive and anti-immigrant localities. Instead, scholars need to consider how characteristics such as a city’s size, immigrant history, and location in a metropolitan region affect the decisions of municipal officials to support the civic infrastructure of immigrant communities.

Future studies should also assess how broadly our findings hold in areas with different immigration histories and regional dynamics. There is evidence that suburban free-riding is widespread around traditional gateway cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Dynamics might vary, however, in regions where the dominant central city is not a traditional immigrant gateway, such as Washington, D.C. or Atlanta. For welfare state researchers, these findings reinforce arguments about the spatial mismatch between the places where disadvantaged residents live and the distribution of public and private resources for combating poverty. For scholars of immigration, funding disparities support the contention that researchers must distinguish between different types of immigrant-receiving jurisdictions when studying the “new geography” of immigrant settlement.

Introduction When the U.S. federal government launched the War on Poverty almost fifty years ago, it sought to improve the situation of poor people and promote the empowerment of marginalized communities. Social policy shifted to a model of public-private partnerships where government funding went to local nonprofit organizations and community action agencies to provide services to the disadvantaged, especially African Americans and the urban poor (Grønbjerg 2001;

Marwell 2004; Reckhow and Weir 2012). The ongoing privatization and devolution of public services in the 1970s and 1980s further transformed the relationship between public institutions and the nonprofit sector. Local nonprofits became key players in service provision and government funding became an indispensable resource for civil society organizations (Allard 2009; Salamon 1999; Smith and Lipsky 1993). Nonprofits also became advocates (Minkoff 1995; Walker 1991); various scholars argue that contemporary nonprofits are uniquely situated to understand and promote the issues of vulnerable populations (Berry with Arons 2005; de Graauw 2008, 2012; Walker and McCarthy 2010). Given the prevalence and importance of the public-private partnership model—one that provides critical human services and facilitates civic and political voice—which organizations receive government support and why?

We pose this question within the context of a “new geography” of poverty and immigration in the United States. Although the poverty rate has remained high in central cities, suburbs housed a larger number of poor people in 2009, and more than two-thirds of net growth in the poor population from 2000 to 2009 occurred in suburbs (Kneebone 2010: 2; Kneebone and Garr 2010). Renewed immigration has also generated demographic transformations: the foreignborn population grew from just five percent in 1970 to thirteen percent in 2010 (Gibson and Jung 2006; U.S. Census Bureau 2011). Many of these newcomers moved to “new” gateway cities, suburbs, and rural areas rather than traditional immigrant gateways. Indeed, the changing geography of poverty and immigration are linked: the foreign born are, on average, poorer than U.S.-born citizens, and today half of all immigrants living in metropolitan areas reside in suburbs (Singer 2004; Singer, Hardwick, and Brettell 2008).1 How do the new immigrant suburbs and new gateway cities respond to foreign-born disadvantaged groups? Do they promote publicprivate partnerships with organizations that advocate for and provide human and social services to immigrants?

Existing scholarship tends to explain immigrant-oriented public-private partnerships through a political exchange model, where local government officials make rational decisions to fund community organizations to achieve political goals. Local elected officials provide immigrant organizations with resources in exchange for votes within a modern form of machine politics in New York City (Marwell 2004, 2007). Similarly, community organizations receive support in suburban Washington, D.C. because they solve service delivery problems for bureaucrats and politicians (Frasure and Jones-Correa 2010). These accounts elucidate the mechanisms within particular cases, but provide less purchase on variation between municipalities. Why does exchange not give rise to public-private partnerships for immigrant services everywhere? Comparative research on municipal responses to immigration suggests that partisan ideologies and electoral politics matter (Ramakrishnan and Lewis 2005;

Ramakrishnan and Wong 2010; Wells 2004), as do feelings of threat and anti-immigrant sentiment in local populations (Brettell and Nibbs 2011; Hopkins 2010). Not surprisingly, these studies find that migrants who move to a liberal or progressive municipality receive a warmer welcome than those who face anti-immigrant politicians committed to small government and limited public services. The political exchange in these studies is presumed to be between elected politicians and native-born voters, with the former enacting policies favored by the latter.

We concur that partisanship and political rationality matter, but we emphasize the importance of government officials’ normative and cognitive orientations to help explain the presence or absence of immigrant-oriented public-private partnerships. Taken-for-granted notions of deservingness and legitimacy affect decisions about funding allocations. These in turn rest on the institutional scaffolding and historical legacy of immigrant settlement, which strengthen government officials’ awareness of and inclusive orientations towards immigrants. A tradition of immigrant settlement also generates civic infrastructures that facilitate partnerships, especially in larger cities with more developed bureaucratic structures, rendering immigrants a legitimate and natural part of public service provision, grants-making, and advocacy. Taken together, legitimacy and civic infrastructure provide immigrants in traditional gateway cities with more civic presence and a more supportive environment for public-private partnerships compared to those in new gateway cities or immigrant suburbs. This is the case even in destinations characterized by progressive politics and a pro-immigrant environment, and it occurs despite the fact that rapid demographic growth can provide new gateway cities and immigrant suburbs with expanding fiscal resources.

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