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 develop a theory positing a relationship between the immigrant background of legislators (i.e., their generational distance from immigration) and legislative behavior, which we measure using roll-call votes on landmark immigration legislation and congressional speech on the floor. We find that legislators more proximate to the immigrant experience tend to support more permissive immigration legislation and also speak more often about immigration in Congress, though district composition explains a larger share of variation in speech. The effects also differ based on visibility of immigration history (measured through surname) and, when faced with restrictive legislation targeting specific immigrant groups, by nation of origin. These findings are consistent with an account where lawmakers draw significantly upon personal views, which are in turn informed by experiences transmitted from previous generations to the lawmaker.