Chris Zepeda-Millán on Latino Political Movements

Over breakfast at Third Way’s office, Berkeley Assistant Professor Chris Zepeda-Millán spoke to a small roundtable about findings from his recent book, Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism.

The book covers the causes, themes, and impact of the historic immigrant rights movement in the spring of 2006. The House of Representatives had just passed the Sensenbrenner bill, a piece of legislation that would bring draconian punishments to undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them. Soon after, it was up for vote in the Senate.

Five million people in at least 48 states in the union participated in a wave of protests with surprising size and scope; while white citizens with higher socioeconomic status are generally more likely to participate in political activism, the 2006 movement was propelled mainly by Latino and foreign-born immigrants. These protests also happened in unprecedented locations and emerged in the tough environment of a nativist post-9/11 political context.

Essentially, Zepeda-Millán found that the large size of these protests despite opposing factors was due to the multidimensionality of the threat to immigrants, the formation of diverse coalitions, the utilization of preexisting resources, and the strong influence and reach of ethnic media. He also found that how “illegality” was racialized impacted the degree to which different immigrant groups mobilized.

In the end, these protests helped prevent the Sensenbrenner bill from becoming law, and they helped lay the groundwork for naturalization and GOTV efforts leading up to the 2008 election. However, they quickly dissipated as immigration raids became more prevalent and more frequently discussed in ethnic media sources.

Zepeda-Millán also discussed his academic surveys of young, U.S.-born Latinos showing that those with at least one undocumented parent are much more likely to engage in political activism. In a separate study, he found that once Latinos realized that President Obama deported more undocumented immigrants than President George W. Bush had, they typically distanced themselves from the Democratic Party.

Finally, Zepeda-Millán addressed questions about how the situation in 2006 differs from that of today. He noted that while the 2006 Sensenbrenner bill represented one overarching threat to all Latinos, the Trump Administration has effectively segmented immigrant groups by making executive or legislative changes that only affect certain populations. This makes it more difficult for activists to organize immigrant communities, as they now have to work with a diffuse set of threats.

However, one way to get around this is to increase the perception of linked-fate among immigrant groups, or encourage the belief that an attack on immigrants is actually an attack on all Latinos. Studies have shown that Latinos who score higher on linked-fate surveys are more likely to support activism and remain politically engaged.

Event Details



February 09, 2018

8:30 AM to 10:00 AM


Third Way's Offices

1025 Connecticut Ave, Suite 400

Washington, D.C. - 20036


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