Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr
Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

Originally published in June 2013.

Immigration – and public policies to manage it – arouses strong emotions and fierce social and political battles, not just in the United States but in most other countries across the world. Why is this true? Each nation has its own issues that inspire or enrage, of course, but there are widespread, underlying patterns that can be identified and taken into consideration by reformers.

Reformers trying to facilitate immigration are often locked in battles with groups that want to place limits on international migration. Combatants start from very different world views – not only emphasizing different values but almost speaking different languages. To avoid destructive backlashes, reformers must understand and respect the values and perspectives of all groups involved in public debates, as we can see from a closer look at the United States. more...

Originally published June 17, 2014

Many municipalities across the United States have taken measures to keep homeless people and panhandlers out of sight in public spaces. Legislators and government officials justify such steps as necessary to protect the public against unsafe or provocative conduct by “street people.” But some previous studies suggest that many Americans who have frequent interactions with street beggars see them in more benign and nuanced ways. To learn more, I did interviews and collected questionnaire responses from passers-by who recounted their reactions to recent interactions with beggars. My methods allowed me to tap the meanings these interactions hold for people who pass beggars on the street – meanings not usually captured in quantitative studies. more...

Originally posted August 4, 2014

The richest one percent own about one-third of all assets in America and about four-fifths of assets around the world – and wealth concentration is growing. Sharply skewed financial resources lead not only to lives of luxury amid want; they also afford the ultra-rich extraordinary influence over elections, public policy, and governance. In my new book Billionaires, I take a close look at the growing political clout of billionaires and the ways in which they have pioneered activist forms of politics and philanthropy. What does billionaire political activism mean for the health of democracy – here in the United States and across the globe?

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Originally published March 17, 2015

Media stories about measles outbreaks in California and Arizona have featured prominent politicians weighing in with conflicting messages. Should vaccination be required for all children with few exceptions? Are vaccines safe? Should parents have a choice – when refusing vaccines can put their own and other people’s children at grave risk? The stories are dramatic, but scholars and public officials warn that it is dangerous to turn vaccination into a political football. Other widely publicized controversies reveal that the insertion of politics into media coverage can be hard to reverse, as it may undermine public trust in doctors and public health officials.

Political Controversy Sticks

Our research examines two recent politically charged health controversies – the 2009 dust-up over mammography screening guidelines and the 2006-2007 debate over whether middle schools should require girls to get vaccinated against infections by the human papillomavirus (“HPV” for short). Specifically, we found that local and national media coverage did not start with a focus on political controversy. But once news stories started to highlight partisan arguments among political leaders, political controversies became the focus of subsequent coverage. more...

Planned Parenthood's Spanish-language website.
Planned Parenthood’s Spanish-language website.

Originally posted June 29, 2016

In early September 2015, Blanca Borrego, an undocumented Latina immigrant accompanied by her two daughters, arrived at a women’s health clinic in Texas for a routine gynecological exam. Sitting in the waiting room for nearly two hours, Blanca’s anxiety and impatience grew to the point where she almost walked out of the office. Eventually, Blanca was met by local law enforcement officials who escorted her out of the clinic in handcuffs for allegedly using a forged driver’s license during patient intake. Blanca’s eight-year-old daughter watched in tears while her mother was taken away and a deputy told Blanca’s eldest daughter that their mother would face deportation. Blanca remains in county jail on a $35,000 bond.

Scenarios like Blanca’s – highlighting the impact of race, class, and immigration status on reproductive rights – are not always brought to the fore. Although reproductive rights activists say they advocate for all women, difficulties faced by white, middle-class, heterosexual women get more attention than those experienced by women of color, immigrant or transgender women, or those with disabilities. However, a movement for reproductive justice has emerged by and for women of color that offers new possibilities to bring previously neglected issues to light. Key challenges include tackling the reproductive experiences of Latinas – and looking for ways to do more to address their needs in reproductive health care and policy.

Latina Realities

Understanding Latinas’ reproductive lives requires understanding how many forms of disadvantage intersect and create reinforcing disadvantages. more...

Photo by Jamison Wieser, Flickr CC. https://flic.kr/p/65rTBv
Photo by Jamison Wieser, Flickr CC.

Originally published February 16, 2016

In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court answered a question affecting millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans—by declaring that the right of same-sex couples to marry is protected under the U.S. Constitution and no state may deny that right. Like many previous issues, the gay marriage issue has polarized American public opinion, and so there is the same possibility that a Court decision for minority rights could lead to widespread backlash and outright refusals to obey. That is what happened following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation in schools and in the aftermath of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights. In many states and localities, we can assume that the current Supreme Court ruling for gay marriage may also spark pushback from politicians, religious organizations, and interest groups. This brief draws on theories about backlashes to Supreme Court rulings to suggest how movements for minority rights can respond. more...

Image from Graham Lees via Flickr Creative Commons
Image from Graham Lees
via Flickr Creative Commons

Originally published February 25, 2016

Most politicians and journalists discuss immigration laws and reforms – everything from comprehensive immigration reform to border fences – in ways that imply only individual immigrants are affected. But immigration laws that claim to target individuals in certain statuses – such as undocumented individuals – regularly have broader social consequences for families, neighborhoods, and work groups where, of course, immigrants and citizens are intertwined in daily life. This intermingling of citizens and immigrants is visible in all corners of American life, from university campuses to fast food restaurants and neighborhood parks. Immigration laws, especially punitive laws, affect those settings when co-workers and neighbors are deported or withdraw from social life in an attempt to avoid detection.

Nowhere are the reverberations of punitive immigration laws and policies more strongly felt than in family homes with immigrant parents, spouses, or children. Because families so often include people of different legal statuses, mixed-citizenship families provide a unique lens through which to study the true reach of laws regulating both citizenship and non-citizenship. Through these families’ experiences, we see the spectrum of immigration laws’ effects on families and communities. My research on mixed-citizenship couples allows me to explore the full range of direct and indirect effects of laws that appear to target only non-citizen immigrants but actually affect many citizens at the same time. more...

Demonstrations about abortion were front and center at the Texas State Capitol in 2013. Ann Harkness//Flickr CC.
Demonstrations about abortion were front and center at the Texas State Capitol in 2013. Ann Harkness//Flickr CC.

Originally published October 19, 2015

The American abortion debate features “pro-life” activists wielding pictures of fetuses and “pro-choice” advocates telling horror stories about women forced to travel for hundreds of miles to access safe abortions. The struggle seems an irresolvable moral conflict – and both sides claim to be “pro-women.” Pro-choice organizations advocate that abortion be kept legal and made increasingly accessible because women have the right to privacy in matters of reproduction. Pro-life groups argue that the acceptance of abortion unjustly pits women against their children.

My research takes stock of activists on both sides – and identifies those that focus not just on the moral aspects but also on the socioeconomic context of abortion. In fact, abortion is mainly an issue for less privileged women, and if more pro-life and pro-choice groups recognized the economic realities, there would be possibilities for compromise.  more...

Originally published May 12, 2015

In January 2015, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin sported a new beard as he announced he would not seek the GOP presidential nomination for 2016. Commentators rightly connected the announcement to the new beard, because it has been more than a century since the presidency of William Howard Taft, the last White House incumbent with facial hair. In fact, ever since the mustachioed Taft completed his term in 1913, just a few years before American women won the right to vote, few U.S. politicians with facial hair have run for or served in national elected offices. Currently, fewer than five percent of the members of the U.S. Congress have beards or mustaches, according to recent estimates.

Although there has been little research about politicians’ facial hair, analysts have learned that voters make inferences about candidates based on appearance. Skin color, facial structure, and smiles all matter, because voters are ever on the lookout for short cuts, for easy clues to candidates’ issue positions and personal traits. Assessments of appearance are one way voters make guesses about candidates, so it is reasonable to assume that beards and mustaches could influence voter perceptions. Along with two colleagues, Jeanette Morehouse Mendez and Ben Pryor, I have done experiments showing that facial hair does indeed matter for politicians. more...

If you can "vote with your feet," can you vote with your key strokes? Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr CC.
If you can “vote with your feet,” can you vote with your key strokes? Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr CC.

Originally posted on Jan. 19, 2016

In every election cycle, news stories tout the potential of online activism to engage people who have historically been less engaged in offline politics – particularly young people, women, and people with less education and income. Could this be true? If so, there would be new possibilities for enlarging American democracy – in an age when one in three eligible U.S. adults skips voting in presidential elections and two thirds of potential voters fail to show up in midterm elections.

But what if online activism mainly offers ways for citizens who are regularly politically active offline to amplify their already loud voices? In that case, online political opportunities would largely reinforce existing political inequalities.

Using national data on Americans who engage in various types of online and offline political participation, our research examines the evidence about these competing “new mobilization” and “reinforcement” perspectives on the impact of online activism. more...