“Becoming a Citizen: Incorporating Immigrants” by Irene Bloemraad

The problem of integration of immigrants is one of the most challengeable problems many countries of the contemporary world attempt to solve. Basically, the problem of integration is not just a problem of inclusion or exclusion of immigrants in the normal life of society, but it is also a problem of the society itself. What is meant here is the fact that the inability of the society or state to integrate a part of the population naturally evokes the problem of inequality within the society, while the exclusion and inferior position of a part of society leads to the social tension and the widening gap between different layers of society. At the same time, the question of integration of immigrants into the normal social life is only a part of the problem, while the essence of the problem is the integration which granted immigrants for equal opportunities compared to the rest of society. In this respect, it is necessary to raise the problem of political integration of immigrants which fully reflects the extent to which immigrants are equal and feel comfortable in the new country because the level of their political integration shows their ability and opportunity to have equal position compared to the native population of the country. At this point, the book Becoming a Citizen: Incorporating Immigrants written by Irene Bloemraad seems to be particularly noteworthy because the author focuses her attention basically on the problem of political integration in the US and Canada. It is worth mentioning the fact that the US has a historically deep-rooted image of the nation of immigrants, while Canadian state policy was traditionally viewed as quite conservative in this regard. However, the author of the book reveals quite an opposite trend indicating to the fact that the current policy of multiculturalism is more effective in Canada in regard to the integration of immigrants, including political ones, compared to the US.

Basically, Irene Bloemraad focuses her attention on the problem of political integration of immigrants in Canada and the US. The author analyzes in details the current situation and main trends that could be observed in the policy of both Canada and the US within last few decades and she basically stands on the ground that the current policy of the US to be more restrictive compared to Canadian in regard to citizenship of immigrants. To put it more precisely, the author reveals the fact that the US’s citizenship acquisition rate has declined dramatically since the 1950s when 80% of all foreign-born residents were citizens, to 2004, when less than 40% were citizens (Bloemraad, 1). Such a dramatic decline in the US is contrasted by the reverse trend in Canada, where citizenship acquisition rate has increased substantially. To put it more precisely, in 2001, 72% of all foreign-born residents had acquired citizenship (Bloemraad, 2). On taking into consideration this information, the author attempts to find the roots of such dramatic changes in the immigration policy of both countries and the difference in opportunities to acquire American and Canadian citizenship for immigrants.

However, the author goes even further in her research and poses even more serious question concerning the political integration of immigrants in both countries. In this respect, it is important to underline that Irene Bloemraad views the political integration as the major marker of the integration of immigrants in the life of the local society. In fact, she argues that the cultural integration of immigrants is not sufficient to estimate that they are integrated to such an extent that they may be viewed as absolutely equal citizens compared to the local, native population of the US and Canada. In contrast, it is only by means of political integration, immigrants can fully exercise their rights and take an active part in the life of society. Otherwise, they will remain inferior compared to the rest of the population of the country. In such a way, she develops the concept of full citizenship, which she defines as naturalization plus substantive or participatory citizenship (Bloemraad, 5).

Basically, she argues that the state policy in regard to the integration of immigrants is determined by the differences in the state intervention. In fact, she argues that differences in the government intervention in the US and Canada, especially in settlement and diversity policies, create interpretive and instrumental differences that affect the political integration of immigrants (Bloemraad, 4). On the one hand, the interpretive portion affects immigrants’ perception of their standing and ability to participate in the process political process, while, on the other hand, the instrumental side shapes their actual mobilization and participation potential. At the same time, Irene Bloemraad lays emphasis on the fact that the government intervention is still not the key factor in the political integration of immigrants, but the civic involvement and political integration are still highly dependent on the private realm and on the self-perception of immigrants in their new communities as well as the perception of immigrants by local communities.

In order to prove her point, the author refers to the social experience of immigrants and attempt to evaluate its significance in the process of integration of immigrants in the life of society. In this respect, it should be pointed out that the development of social networks, construction of relationships within new communities cannot contribute to the full self-realization of immigrants and the full integration in the local society. In fact, Irene Bloemraad stands on the ground that the development of relationships with local population, including friendship, integration into the cultural life of the community, does not provide really equal opportunities for an individual, until the moment an immigrant is politically integrated.

It is important to underline that, in this regard, the author indicates to the distinguishable features which differentiation the situation n in the US and Canada consistently. To put it more precisely, she argues that the current policies of the US are rather exclusive than inclusive and, what is more, they are dramatically affected by racial issues. What is meant here is the fact that the author, for instance, indicates to considerable difficulties Vietnamese immigrants can face in the US in the process of their integration mainly because of the existing racial problems within the US since African American community, being historically deprived and oppressed, feels proprietary over certain governmental programs, while the governmental efforts to include newcomers are apparently insufficient. In such a way, non-white, namely Vietnamese, immigrants feel excluded from the existing programs of integration and even inferior because of the strong competition from the part of the local non-white population (Bloemraaad 42). At the same time, white immigrants, namely Irene Bloemraad focuses on Portuguese immigrants in her book, feel more comfortable as they are associated with white community and, what is more, they are closely allied with Hispanic communities in the US that facilitates their inclusion and integration in American society (Bloemraad, 152). Consequently, the process of integration of immigrant in the US is dramatically affected by the domestic policies in regard to the existing ethnic and racial groups and it occurs in the context of white-black division that is a characteristic of the contemporary American society.

In stark contrast, Irene Bloemraad underlines that the situation in Canada is absolutely different and immigrants, both Vietnamese and Portuguese, feel comfortable in this country due to the numerous governmental programs. In fact, immigrants in Canada, regardless their origin and color of skin, identify themselves with the standard cultural mosaic mantra, while immigrants in the US have considerable troubles with the stereotypical melting pot idea (Bloemraad, 145). Actually, these facts support the idea of the author that identification with the symbolic meaning of citizenship (Bleomraad, 139) is a powerful motivator that can either encourage or discourage political involvement and interest.

At the same time, it is important to underline that the author, on researching the problem of political integration of immigrants in the US and Canada, heavily relies on the empirical data, which she retrieved from interviews of Vietnamese and Portuguese immigrants in Toronto and Boston. Basically, these immigrants are the subjects of the research and the choice of Toronto and Boston is not occasional because these cities are similar in regard to the condition of life, economic and political opportunities that average citizens have. In fact, the researcher paid a lot of attention to the political integration of both groups of immigrants.

In addition, speaking about the methodology used by Irene Bloemraad, it should be pointed out that she also used census and survey data together with documentary evidences, but these data were practically secondary, since the primary concern of the author was in-depth interviews conducted in the Vietnamese and Portuguese communities in Boston and Toronto. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that the author dismisses the broader, theoretical literature on citizenship. The main reason, according to the author, is her idea that this literature provides only abstract discussions with an insufficient grounding in an empirical research (Bloemraad, 11-12).

Nevertheless, the author has managed to provide quite convincing factual evidences concerning the problems of political integration of immigrants in Canada and the US, though, it should be said that she supports her ideas and conclusions with evidences basically taken from interviews, which are poorly complemented by statistical data. The latter is basically used simply to uncover the major trends in the policy of Canada and the US in relation to the inclusion of immigrants in Canadian and American society. For instance, she uses statistics to show that Canadian policy is more oriented on the inclusion of immigrants due to the growing rate of the acquisition of citizenship rate, while American policy is more restrictive since the acquisition of citizenship rate declines dramatically.

In such a way, it is possible to speak about certain lack of theoretical background for the research and evidences the author draws in her book, but, in spite of this drawback, it should be said that the structure of the book is quite logical and the author gradually leads readers to accept her ideas concerning political integration in the US and Canada and perspectives of the government policy in this domain.

In actuality, the book is quite interesting and noteworthy. However, it is obvious that the book can hardly be viewed as a source of a significant scientific concepts developed by the researcher. In stark contrast, the book is basically oriented on the mass audience and on an average reader who is interested in the problem of the integration of immigrants in the USA and Canada. Naturally, this book may be particularly interesting for readers in those countries, where the problem of integration is particularly serious. In this respect, it is possible to name European countries, such as France, for instance, where the growing number of immigrants raises the problem of their integration. In this regard, the experience of Canada and the US described by the author in her book may be used to choose the strategy of the development of immigration policy and government integration programs.

On the other hand, the book is a bit controversial and lacking theoretical foundation. What is meant here is the fact that the author rejects a serious, theoretical literature as an insufficient source for an empirical research. But, at the same time, she heavily relies on such a literature, while her conclusions. In addition, it is important to underline that Irene Bloemraad is almost entirely focused on the political and socio-cultural domains, but she practically ignores the economic aspect of the integration process, though in her conclusions she indicates to the importance of economic factors in this regard, but she merely mention them within her book. Nevertheless, in spite of certain drawbacks, the book provides interesting and valuable information on the real life of immigrants in the US and Canada and basic trends in this countries in relation to the integration of immigrants.

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