Theses Doctoral

Local Context and the Integration of Mexicans in Albuquerque and Tucson

Lara-García, Francisco

In the literature on immigrants, the focus has been mostly on the migrants themselves or the way receiving societies react to their arrival. In sociology, there is also a long tradition dedicated to studying how residential contexts and neighborhoods impact the opportunities of the disadvantaged. Less attention, however, has been paid to the connection between these two areas of study. Despite the obvious parallel challenges that immigrants face for achieving social mobility in America’s cities and towns, we know less about how arriving to particular places impacts immigrant integration. This gap has grown larger by the tendency to recurrently study immigrant life in exceptionally populous and diverse cities like New York and Los Angeles, or in equally exceptional small, rural destinations. This dissertation seeks to answer one key question: How do different aspects of local context affect immigrant life chances and their ability to fully participate in the social life of their places of residence?

The first chapter of my dissertation shows that the literature in migration studies is not fully examining the range of immigrant destinations. I show these tendencies in the literature by conducting a bibliometric analysis of integration studies published in major immigration journals and books from 2008 to 2018. To address the conceptual problems created by this tendency, I propose a framework that moves past populational criteria for case selection and focuses instead on components of context that existing research shows matter for intergenerational mobility and integration. I also introduce a typology of contexts based on possible combinations of these components and offer some hypotheses of how these types might affect integration.

This first chapter sets up the principles that guide the rest of the dissertation. In the second, third and fourth chapters, I introduce an original survey and interview study (MATIS) examining the impact of one aspect of context – institutions – on Mexican integration in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona. These cities are selected because they are maximally similar with respect to relevant contextual features other than their institutions, and have comparable flows of Mexican immigrants. The study surveys 1.5 and second-generation Mexican immigrants in both cities, and triangulates this data with follow-up interviews on a subsample of second-generation survey respondents with low and high educational attainment. The results reveal that the generosity of college funding that exists in New Mexico through the lottery scholarship, a program that does not have an analogue in Arizona, facilitates entry and completion of college degree for the children of Mexican immigrants. Respondents in both cities explained their educational attainment in a variety of ways, including as a result of their parent’s education, their relationships in their communities and schools, and events in their lives, but only the generosity of college funding stood out as being different across cities. These explanations, and others, are explored using regression analysis which finds that Mexicans that attended high school in New Mexico are more likely to complete college than their counterparts in Arizona even when accounting for individual and family characteristics.

Beyond demonstrating the important part that contextual features of place, in this case local institutions, can have on the mobility outcomes of immigrants these empirical findings have clear policy implications. The immediate finding is that increased generosity in educational funding for immigrants in college has direct and observable returns on college attainment, a finding which is aligned with a vast literature connecting college affordability and completion. Additionally, I discuss how the structure of the lottery scholarship, which de-emphasizes merit aid, may have egalitarian consequences for disadvantaged groups.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2027-09-02.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Wimmer, Andreas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 7, 2022