Irene Bloemraad

2018 to 2021
Class of 1951 Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley

Irene Bloemraad (Ph.D. Harvard; M.A. McGill) is the Class of 1951 Professor of Sociology. She also serves in multiple leadership roles, as the Thomas Garden Barnes Chair of Canadian Studies at Berkeley, the founding Director of the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative, and as co-director of the Boundaries, Membership and Belonging program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.  In 2014-15, she was a member of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences committee reporting on the integration of immigrants into American society.

I study how immigrants become incorporated into political communities and the consequences of their presence on politics and understandings of membership. My research stands at the intersection of immigration studies and political sociology, with a strong interdisciplinary (and international) scope. You can find links to my books and articles at the bottom of this page. My research falls into four broad areas:

(1)  Citizenship & Multiculturalism – How do immigrants gain formal political membership?  My book, Becoming a Citizen, compares immigrants’ acquisition of citizenship and political participation in the United States and Canada. I show how settlement assistance and an official policy of multiculturalism facilitate immigrants' political incorporation more in Canada than in the United States. In the context of current U.S. debates, my work suggests that immigration policy must focus not just on border control and entry, but also on integration and settlement policies. For a video profile of some of this research, see here or here. In 2017, I worked with three colleagues to assemble the Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, a state-of-the-field overview of scholarship on citizenship. More recently, I've theorized about understanding citizenship as claims-making.

(2) Immigrant Community Organizations – What role do community organizations play in facilitating immigrants’ political and civic visibility and influence? With Karthick Ramakrishnan (UCR) and Shannon Gleeson (Cornell), I've developed the idea of civic stratification, conceptualizing and documenting how immigrants face civic inequality and invisibility in the public sphere. Work in this area is featured in our co-edited book, Civic Hopes and Political Realities and Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. I've also worked with Gleeson and Els de Graauw (CUNY) on the spatial mismatch between where immigrants increasing live -- in diverse suburbs and bedroom communities -- and where nonprofit services are located, primarily in central cities, as we report in the American Journal Sociology. (See links below.) We've recently published a state-of-the-field review of research on immigrant organizations. (Find a brief video overview here.)

(3) Political Socialization in Mixed-Status Families – What effect does parents’ legal status have on US-born children’s civic and political incorporation? For this project, funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, my research team interviewed almost 200 Mexican-, Vietnamese- and Chinese-origin youth and their immigrant parents living in the Bay Area. Early results published in American Behavioral Scientist argue that political socialization, traditionally viewed as a parent-child dynamic, can also occur from children to parents. More recently, in a series of articles published in journals such as Studies in Law, Society and Politics and the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, I examine the importance of US birth, economic condition, ethno-racial background and ideas about diversity for one's sense of membership. This work carries important implications for political debates challenging 14th Amendment birthright citizenship.

(4) Diversity & Democracy – What are the implications of a more diverse population for democracy, civic life and public policies? What leads those in the native-born majority population to accept immigration or reject immigrant newcomers? In an article with Christel Kesler (Colby College) in the Canadian Journal of Political Science, we find that national institutions and policy environments mediate the relationship between diversity and social trust, civic engagement and political participation; diversity policies could enhance -- rather than depress -- civic activism in the right policy context. In articles that appeared in Perspectives on Politics and International Migration Review, Matthew Wright (UBC) and I show that despite politicians' backlash against multiculturalism, immigrants in countries with more diversity policies show similar or higher political trust, engagement, and attachment than those living in countries with more assimilationist policies. Multiculturalism might be good for democracy. In complementary research with colleagues Kim Voss (UCB) and Fabiana Silva (Michigan), we find that in making the case for immigrants to the general public, claims based on rights -- be they human or civil rights -- do not resonate much; rather, and perhaps surprisingly, appeals to American values or family unity appear to shift registered California voters to more inclusive notions of membership. This is an on-going project, with initial results published in Social Forces and the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. A short video discussing results can be viewed here.

My approach to the intersection of immigration and politics is capacious. It includes attention to citizenship, voting and winning elected office; the establishment and maintenance of non-profit civic infrastructures, public opinion, policy and legislation, as well as social movement activism. Combining my interests in immigration and social movements, my colleague Kim Voss and I published an edited volume on the massive immigration rights protests of 2006, Rallying for Immigrant Rights.  I have also written on comparative research methods, which flows in part from my undergraduate and graduate teaching on research methods.

Teaching & Training - I have developed immigration classes at the graduate and undergraduate levels and I run an informal immigration workshop for those researching immigrant-related topics. I believe that excellence and in research and teaching should go hand-in-hand. In 2013, I was award the American Cultures Innovation in Teaching prize, in 2012, I was honored with the campus’s Distinguished Teaching Award in Social Sciences, and in 2008 I received the Sarlo Distinguished Mentoring Award for my work with graduate students. For the last three years, Jennifer Van Hook (Penn State) and I have also been running a Summer Institute in Migration Research Methods. Beyond traditional undergraduate and graduate instruction, I've also developed community service classes through the American Cultures Engaged Scholarship program. These combine academic learning with community internships in nonprofit organizations such the East Oakland Youth Development Center and Centro Legal de la Raza. Some of this work with EOYDC is highlighted here.

Beyond academia - Education not only occurs on campus. I try to reach out beyond academia. I've written policy briefs and given presentations to elected officials and high-level government officials, and I regularly give public talks, from students in grade 4 classrooms to seniors in retirement residences. Over the last decade, I have worked to broaden and deepen immigration studies at Berkeley. (See the Berkeley NewsCenter article on some of these efforts, and students doing work in this area, here.) I spearheaded a collaborative effort with Berkeley colleagues to launch the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative. My interest in immigration comes from personal experience: I was born in Europe, moved to Canada as a young girl, and migrated to the United States in my early 20s. But immigration is also a vital issue to the state of California -- more than one in four state residents was born outside the United States -- and to many countries in the world.