Engaging Non-Citizens in an Age of Uncertainty: Lessons from Immigrant-Serving Nonprofits in Los Angeles County

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Problem, research strategy, and findings: Arnstein’s (1969) ladder has informed how planners redistribute power among constituents and increase citizen participation. Since the late 1960s, the non-citizen population has increased in the U.S. This demographic shift has affected planning and community engagement because many immigrants experience disparate access to public goods and services more so than native-born residents. Non-citizens are also particularly vulnerable to shifting political landscapes due to citizenship status. I use 29 interviews with immigrant-serving nonprofits to identify unique challenges to serve non-citizen clients after the 2016 election. Immigrant nonprofit experiences are informative because they may be the first and only organization to provide non-citizens with services and resources in times of uncertainty. The interviews inform how planners can improve non-citizen engagement practices and redistribute political power. Interviewees highlight how non-citizens experience barriers to public services and spaces due to fear of deportation and abrupt changes in their citizenship status. As a result, non-citizens are selective in how and where they engage. Thus, they connect to informal and formal spaces that may exist beyond their neighborhoods. These experiences also increase noncitizen dependency on nonprofits. As planners improve immigrant incorporation through these considerations, they can improve how they balance power, constituent representation, and meeting residents’ needs.
Planning for Transition – book of proceedings 31; 2
immigrants, nonprofits, participatory planning, civic engagement
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