Framing Rights and Immigration

Ask Californians whether they think immigrants should have a path to citizenship, and the answer you get back will depend heavily on how the question is framed. This important finding—described in recent research by a team of UC Berkeley sociologists—was at the heart of “Framing Rights and Immigration,” a Social Science Matrix seminar sponsored in 2014.

“We’re interested in, how do people—residents of the U.S. or people anywhere—make claims on governments or on other residents for a particular right, or for status or consideration?” explains Irene Bloemraad, Associate Professor of Sociology. “What are the claims you make, and what is the language you use in making these claims?”

As Bloemraad points out, many of the past movements to assert civil rights, whether for African-Americans, women, or the LGBT community, tapped into concepts like “equal rights” and other hallmarks of U.S. citizenship.

“The question is, what happens when immigrants—undocumented, or legal non-citizens—try to make claims to be treated in an equal way, or gain legal access to institutions, when there is no claim based on common citizenship and people think you’re not a legitimate member of the community?” Bloemraad explains. “How do you articulate language or a set of arguments for a right, equality, or social benefits or resources when you lack citizenship?”

The Matrix seminar brought together scholars from the fields of sociology, law, political science, education, philosophy, and Latino/Latin American Studies, to consider these distinct challenges. The seminar provided an opportunity to hone the working paper that Bloemraad published together with Professor Kim Voss and graduate student Fabiana Silva, which shows how surveyed California voters responded differently to questions framed around economics, family, or human rights.

"The seminar helped us get conversations among people from fields that normally don’t talk to each other," Bloemraad says. "It was a very generative space for people to go beyond what they usually read and the conversations they normally have.”