With the notable increase in immigration to the US, coupled with its recent geographic dispersion into new communities nationwide, there is a pressing need to understand the nature and consequences of immigrant-native contact in 21st-century America. We currently know little about immigrant-native relations, and their effects on trust and civic engagement among immigrant and native communities. Existing intergroup contact research still rests largely on a black-white paradigm and needs to be broadened to consider how multi-group contexts – marked by differences in racial status, socio-economic status and national origin – may reveal distinct patterns and effects of contact across multiple immigrant and native groups. Additionally, given that prior work has typically focused on relations between two groups in a particular context of interaction, we have little knowledge about how contact in different social and institutional spaces may enhance or inhibit trust and civic engagement.
This project looked at where and how contact between immigrant and native groups takes place, and how contact in turn predicts trust and civic engagement. This approach is novel and extends prior work by examining (a) how contact is experienced from the perspectives of both immigrant and native groups; (b) how differences in status and context contribute to shaping contact experiences between immigrant and native groups; and (c) how varied contact experiences predict trust and civic engagement among immigrants and natives in our multi-ethnic society. Findings from this research assist receiving communities design programs to ease immigrant incorporation by indicating where intergroup contact takes place and to what effect, and how interventions can be targeted to maximize their effectiveness.
Our research focused on immigrant-native contact in two metropolitan areas about which relatively little is known – Philadelphia and Atlanta – and on relations among two immigrant groups, Mexicans and South Asian Indians, and two native-born groups, blacks and whites. These four groups were purposively selected to consider how broad differences in racial and socioeconomic status shape the nature and quality of immigrant-native contact. We examined intergroup contact experiences across different social spaces (i.e., workplace, neighborhood, public space) and how immigration-related status characteristics such as legal status and citizenship, language, religion, and skin color contribute to immigrant and native reports of intergroup contact, trust, and civic engagement, alongside and in interaction with the status dimensions of race and socioeconomic status.
This research included a large-scale survey and in-depth, semi-structured interviews. The survey, fielded in 2013, allowed for broad tests of how of immigrant-native relations predict trust and civic engagement, and whether these patterns vary across groups, status dimensions, and contexts. In-depth, semi-structured interviews, were conducted in the summer of 2014 with selected subsamples of respondents who participated in our larger survey. These interviews, together with the larger survey, helped us gain a deeper understanding of (1) meanings and interpretations that underlie immigrants’ and natives’ contact experiences; (2) effects of these contact experiences on trust and civic engagement; (3) mechanisms through which contact can motivate, enhance, or hinder their feelings of trust and engagement in civic activities; and (4) factors needed to promote trust and civic engagement among distinct immigrant and native groups.