Abstract: Examining How the Political Participation of Undocumented Latinx Immigrants Has Changed in the Aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Examining How the Political Participation of Undocumented Latinx Immigrants Has Changed in the Aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Nicolaus Espitia, MSW, PhD student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose:

The 2016 Presidential campaign and election push undocumented immigrants and immigration reform back into forefront of the national conversation. It also increased the negative rhetoric surrounding undocumented immigrants and mixed status families that provided a stark contrast to how these individuals were constructed under the previous presidential administration. The events of the 2016 Presidential election combined with the uncertainty surrounding the recession of the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) have combined to create a significant external stressor that has the potential to fundamentally change how undocumented Latinx populations engage in political participation (Pearlin and Bierman 2013:326-7). The current social context provides a unique opportunity to examine how immigration policy, the social construction of target groups, and policy feedback effects combine to influence how undocumented Latinx immigrants engage in political participation in the United States. It also offers the opportunity to examine individuals and community respond to the contestation of previously established social constructions (Nichols, 2013).

This project addresses the following research question, how has the political participation of undocumented Latinx immigrants changed since the 2016 Presidential election. Political participation is especially relevant in the field social work because it has long been used as a measure of immigrant assimilation and incorporation and as a target for social work advocacy-based interventions aimed at empowering undocumented groups.


I conducted 34 in-depth interviews with undocumented Latinx immigrants. Snowball sampling was used to recruit participants. Interviews were conducted in secure locations on campus, within the respondent’s home, at community organizations, or via telephone and video chat. Interviews were transcribed and then uploaded to Dedoose to be coded. A combination of flexible, open, and focused coding methods was used to analyze the data.


Nearly all of the respondents reported an increase in fear, distrust, and anger tied to their current social context. However, the way that my respondent’s increased fear, distrust, and anger changed the way they engaged in political participation varied. The results of the 2016 Presidential election have motivated some respondents to engage in more visible types of traditional political participation such as public protests, engaging with elected officials, and sharing their own immigration story in public spaces. Other respondents have withdrawn from these more public displays of political participation and focused more on their day to day activities or more interpersonal types of political participation. A factor in determining how respondents managed this increase in fear, distrust, and anger was how closely tied they were to their community. Individuals who felt closely tied to the undocumented population and well supported within their local context were more likely to engage in public types of political participation, while those who felt more disconnected and unsupported tended to avoid these types of activities, even if they had previously engaged in them.


Social workers should take a community centered approach to build local support of undocumented communities. This includes advocating for local policies that supportive of undocumented residents to help facilitate the political participation of undocumented Latinx Immigrants.