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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education
ccarney@indiana.edu
812-856-8027

Last modified: Monday, February 19, 2007

IU researchers say communities may help, may hurt immigrant integration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feb. 19, 2007

EDITORS: MP3 audio soundbites are available for download on the School of Education Web site. See the end of this release for more information.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Inconsistency and debates over immigration are hampering efforts to deal with the tide of Latino immigrants to the state of Indiana, say Indiana University Bloomington researchers.

A new report, "Integrating Indiana's Latino Newcomers: A Study of State and Community Responses to the New Immigration," examined two Indiana communities, as well as the state as a whole, over two years. The researchers found that current efforts are not allowing Latinos to fully become part of communities and may actually further marginalize Latinos in the future.

The cities in the study are not identified. (They are known as "Barrytown" and "Morningside" within the report.) Bradley A.U. Levinson, an associate professor in the IUB School of Education, headed the study. Research associates Linda C. Johnson, a doctoral candidate in education, and Judson Everitt, a doctoral candidate in the IUB Department of Sociology, assisted with the study for the Center for Education and Society at IU.

Indiana has seen a huge growth in its Latino population over the last decade. The study cites one report that indicates Hispanic enrollment in state schools doubled from 1998 to 2005. During that same period, the percentage of Latino students who tested as "Limited English Proficient" nearly quadrupled. The Mexican population in Indiana is growing faster than that of any U.S. border state and every Indiana neighbor except Kentucky.

The researchers say the vast changes have created a challenging learning process for both longtime residents and the newcomers. Focusing on the two communities, the study examines the development of policies and practices toward immigrants as part of an "educational ecology." The study defines educational ecology as a "web of complex, cross-cutting activities and contexts through which individuals and organizations attempt to 'teach' newcomers about living in Indiana, even as they 'learn' to adapt to newcomers' needs."

In surveying the work of state and local agencies, the study concluded that there is little leadership -- from the top level of state government down through the local level.

"There hasn't been a concerted, sustained, coordinated effort across different agencies and the school system in communicating with the state of Indiana," Levinson said. "The response has been rather more ad hoc in most cases -- well-meaning, but ad hoc -- and therefore there has often been little continuity, little sustainability, and so what successful measures are gained are often compromised ultimately."

The efforts of the communities, the study found, were often undertaken with good intentions but were sometimes misguided. Each of the study's communites took proactive responses to the newcomers. But neither had much direction from the state, and responded instead with local institutions and cultural traditions. And both had problems in carrying out the response.

Poor communication hampered cooperation between school corporations and other community organizations. In one of the communities, decentralized and "fractious" groups failed to combine efforts well enough to provide consistent services, and they eventually felt a sense of "advocacy burnout." In the other community, corporate and philanthropic organizations enabled, but also limited, integration efforts. And in both communities, ongoing debates about immigration and community membership got in the way of integrating newcomers.

The study concluded that without significant improvements and state involvement, Latino newcomers and their children may become further marginalized. With that in mind, the report recommends several changes:

  • Increasing collaboration among community leadership and local businesses to make more long-term investments in social services for newcomers.
  • Increasing involvement of city government on a long-term basis.
  • Developing regular community forums for cross-cultural sharing and learning.
  • Expanding conceptions of community membership along with broadly shared responsibility for educating and integrating Latino newcomers.
  • Increasing collaboration among state agencies, schools and community organizations in fostering newcomer education.

Levinson said the study's call for a greater state role in coordinating and providing leadership in this area isn't a matter of making a special case for a particular group.

"We feel as though we are in fact making a case for all of the people of Indiana, that in the long run helping this group integrate itself more fully into the social and cultural fabric of Indiana is, in fact, raising the quality of life for all Hoosiers," Levinson said.

IU established the Center for Education and Society in 1999 to facilitate social science-based research on education that speaks to important matters of educational policy and practice. The center provides a framework for faculty and graduate students in the School of Education and Department of Sociology to work together on research and field work.

The entire report may be viewed at: http://www.indiana.edu/~ces/.

Levinson can be reached at 812-856-8359 or brlevins@indiana.edu.

The following MP3 audio soundbites are available for download on the School of Education Web site at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

Levinson comments on how the study suggests that longtime Hoosiers need to adapt to Latino immigrants.
"We talk about the need for host communities to flex a little bit and to adapt some of their customs and traditions, not quite halfway perhaps but some of the way, to meet immigrant newcomers where they are, even as the newcomers, of course, have to learn a language and have to learn some of the customs and traditions and norms of these local communities, as well."

Levinson says the state of Indiana needs to take a lead role.
"There hasn't been a concerted, sustained, coordinated effort across different agencies and the school system in communicating with the state of Indiana. The response has been rather more ad hoc in most cases -- well-meaning, but ad hoc -- and therefore there has often been little continuity, little sustainability, and so what successful measures are gained are often compromised ultimately, by more recent developments."

Levinson says changes in how Indiana helps immigrants integrate is essential for the state.
"In arguing for the need for a greater state role in coordinating and providing certain kinds of educational services in the broadest sense of that term, we don't feel like we're making a special case for a particular group. We feel as though we are in fact making a case for all of the people of Indiana ... that in the long run, helping this group integrate itself more fully into the social and cultural fabric of Indiana is, in fact, raising the quality of life for all Hoosiers."

Levinson says he wanted to add to the wealth of studies on the immigrants themselves.
"One of the relatively unstudied aspects of immigration is how the long-established host community responds to this rather sudden arrival of a culturally rather distinct population."