Feigenbaum, James, Maxwell Palmer, and Benjamin Schneer. 2020. “Descended from Immigrants and Revolutionists: How Family Immigration History Shapes Representation in Congress.” Working Paper.
Does recent immigrant lineage influence the legislative behavior of members of Congress on immigration policy? We examine the relationship between the immigrant background of legislators (i.e., the generational distance from immigration) and legislative behavior, focusing on roll-call votes for landmark immigration legislation and congressional speech on the floor. Legislators more proximate to the immigrant experience tend to support more permissive immigration legislation. Legislators with recent immigration backgrounds also speak more often about immigration in Congress, though the size of immigrant constituencies in their districts accounts for a larger share of this effect. A regression discontinuity design on close elections, which addresses selection bias concerns and holds district composition constant, confirms that legislators with recent immigrant backgrounds tend to support pro-immigration legislation. Finally, we demonstrate how a common immigrant identity can break down along narrower ethnic lines in cases where restrictive legislation targets specific places of origin. Our findings illustrate the important role of immigrant identity in legislative behavior and help illuminate the legislative dynamics of present-day immigration policy.