Literature Review

Table of Contents

  1. Definitions

  2. Theoretical Framework

  3. Discussion of Findings

  4. Analysis of Research Gaps

  5. Conclusion


    As we conducted our research, the language we used to describe the systems, people, and processes that revolve around immigration became especially important. Each has specific meaning that can affect resources and describe experiences integral to moving and transitioning to America. An immigrant is defined as a person who comes from a different country (Bleakley, 2017; Painchaud, 2021). The term immigrant is broadly applied to many different situations and people. A specific type of immigrant is a refugee. A refugee moves to a new country because of unfriendly governments and is facing persecution (Paola & Brunello, 2016) (Shaffer et al., 2020). Many times refugees receive more sympathy and receive more funding when entering the United States. Prompting the process to be subject to manipulation and competition, regarding what constitutes persecution and to receive funding (Rodriguez, 2019). This is especially relevant when considering the phenomenon of climate refugees. An immigrant can also be an individual who is undocumented or unauthorized. These terms both allude to the same situation of an immigrant who did not enter a country officially with full government permission (Derr, 2016). Within this literature review, unauthorized is used. All of these terms to describe immigrants are important distinctions, and each comes with different connotations, but all describe a vulnerable and determined population. 

    Another touchstone of the literature we reviewed was the sense of community. When describing the idea of what a community is and what should be achieved when there is a strong community is very subjective. When describing communities throughout the research there is an element of physical proximity. As well as an idealistic sense of inclusion and a welcoming atmosphere among residents, businesses, and stakeholders in the area (McDaniel et al., 2019). Communities are an important aspect when understanding the dynamics of an immigrant welcoming center. 

    There are several terms that have been used to describe the processes that immigrants undergo once arriving in a new country. These in the literature have been described as assimilation, integration, belonging, and resettlement. Assimilation, in much of the literature, was not considered a best practice and was described as the immigrant joining a homogenous mainstream culture, for social and economic stability (Rodriguez, 2019). Today most scholars feel that this practice and process is not the most beneficial to society or immigrants. Integration is an accepted term that is defined as a mutual exchange that involves, “actively participating, getting involved and contributing as citizens of a new country” (Shields et al. p. 5). Integration’s major components include language accessibility, being able to participate in municipal issues as well as local political advocacy, in addition to the importance of schools, especially in the lives of young immigrants and children of immigrants (Jimenez, 2011; De Graauw, 2015). Belonging goes beyond the concept of mutual exchange and describes the immigrant experience and tradition as a central pillar of the community and national identity (Jimenez, 2011).  This can be done by connecting to lived experiences or creating an environment that honors and values the assets that immigrants bring when arriving in a country (Rodriguez, 2019). Finally, resettlement is the process of once arriving moving into a new home. The legal definition in the US is unclear so resettlement can encompass a lot or a little, depending on the local and state governments (Nezer, 2013). All of these processes were important to understand in the research and provided insights into the immigrant experience. 

    Theoretical Framework

    For this research, our goal was to know more about immigrant welcoming cities nation- and world-wide, as well as find U.S. cities comparable to Hartford, CT that have, or have once had, a successful city-sponsored immigrant welcoming center. We hoped that this research could show us the dos and don’ts when it comes to immigrant welcoming projects, so that we could eventually propose actionable steps to the Hartford City Council in the form of a policy brief. The types of research questions and methodology we used in this project, as well as the conclusions we drew from the collected data, were informed by our theoretical framework, which was oriented toward viewing immigrant welcoming projects as a social responsibility and a prerequisite for their own and society’s well-being. Central to our theoretical framework was the idea of Social Capital which was conceptualized by Gary Bourdieuis in the 1980’s, which refers to the network of relationships between people in a particular community or society. 

    In our research, we focused on singling out those cities that treat immigrants as an asset to society rather than a burden. The cities and types of programs we came across were geared toward outlining very specific and varied needs of immigrants, as well as the importance of having a built-in support system for this population. The literature we chose to review recognized that this support system must encompass the wide array of material, psychological, emotional, and social needs of the population it wants to serve. Thus, our articles focused not only on the economic type of assistance that is usually talked about when it comes to immigrants, but also on the range of resources that are needed for a dignified transition to their new life. This includes resources related to the immigrants’ personal wellbeing, their successful social integration, and access to basic human needs such as nutritious food, clean water, and housing, to name a few. In other words, we reviewed our literature by framing immigrant welcoming projects as beneficial not only to immigrants themselves but also to society as a whole. 


    Discussion of Findings

    Social Capital: 

    Social Capital is broken up into 3 forms of networking: Bonding, which refers to forming relationships with the other’s families or close friends. For immigrants this would mean having a network of support through their cultural navigators personal relationships that can assist them with info/resources for day to day life in their new city. Another form of social capital is called bridging, and is the relationships formed outside of their cultural navigator’s immediate network. For individuals that have immigrated to a new place, this means the connections to members of the broader community which make opportunities like employment and other resources more accessible. The last one is Linking which represents relationships formed with institutions or organizations like schools, community organizations or political bodies. An article titled Building relationships and facilitating Immigrant Community Integration, explains how social capital is used to support immigrants within Hartford Public library’s Cultural navigator program. The journal article says,  “Social Capital was used as a way to increase opportunities for collective action and as a pathway for integrating newly arrived immigrants into the community.” Through our research, we have found that social capital is an essential tool for an immigrant’s adjustment to a new place and its cultural norms, not just within cultural navigator programs, but in all immigrant assisting services. 

    Collaboration with Community Stakeholders:

    A common theme throughout the scholarship surrounding immigrant welcoming and services is the relevance of the relationships amongst community organizations and the relationship between community organizations and local governments. For instance, various immigrant-serving non-profit organizations will often collaborate in order to consolidate and expand the kind of services they can provide and work around the needs of those they’re serving (McDaniel, 2018; Theodore & Martin, 2007). This mobilization of various nonprofits also allows these organizations and immigrants themselves more political power, as immigrant-serving nonprofits can back up and strengthen community-led pushes within cities (De Graauw, 2015). Non-profit organizations also collaborate with public schools and libraries through youth and adult programs that promote belonging among these immigrant groups and also build trust between these organizations and immigrant communities (Guo-Brennan & Guo-Brennan, 2019; Rodriguez, 2019; Thomas et al., 2015). In many cities, it is these non-governmental community stakeholders who provide the bulk of services or they are filling in the many holes local governments have with their immigrant services (Shields et al., 2016).

    Local governments that collaborate and work with local immigrant-serving nonprofits can act as a connector towards more involved organizations. For example, cities with a welcoming initiative may not mean an expansion of governmental immigrant services, but rather a commitment from local governments to refer immigrants to organizations that can provide them with what they need (Painchaud, 2021; McDaniel, 2018).  In turn, some scholars argue that this is a process of privatizing immigrant services within the city, putting the control in the hands of independent grass-root organizations rather than consolidating all these services into a city office (Shields et al., 2016; De Graauw & Bloemraad, 2017). Even in cities with a governmental immigrant office, such as Nashville’s Office of New Americans, they operate as links between local governments, non-profit organizations, and the wider urban immigrant population. Thus, the government office acts as a sort of nexus for immigrant services, acting as a hub where immigrants can go to learn about the services that exist in their city (McDaniel, 2018). Despite this, scholars have pointed out how collaborations between local governments and nonprofits are inherently hierarchical, with governments having power, despite not providing the bulk of immigrant services. However, the other perspective is that through these collaborations with local governments, nonprofits that serve immigrants can receive more funding as well as establish a partnership with the city, making services more accessible (Shields et al., 2016, De Graauw & Bloemraad, 2017). Additionally, these collaborations with nonprofits teach local governments a better understanding of immigrant communities and can respond better to their needs through policy.

    Services and Accessibility:

    Our literature review provided an array of immigrant needs and the respective services offered by immigrant welcoming projects in various cities in the U.S., including Hartford, CT. Although the needs of immigrants do not differ drastically across various nations and localities (Shields et al., 2016), they may alter depending on the specific context of the place where a certain immigrant welcoming program is set. The most common services we came across tackle the immediate needs of immigrants, such as access to food, clean water, housing, and employment (Reese & Khan-Welsh, 2022; De Graauw 2017). The less immediate, yet equally important, resources include ESL programs, childcare, healthcare, mental health aid, technology training, accessible and affordable transportation, educational opportunities and, finally, an effective societal integration (Derr, 2016; Thomas et al., 2016; Jiménez, 2011; Rodriguez, 2019; Guo-Brennan & Guo-Brennan, 2019; McDaniel, 2018). In the literature that we reviewed great attention was directed toward making these resources accessible to all immigrants, regardless of their legal status, socioeconomic status, cultural background, linguistic abilities, and age (Held et al., 2020; De Graauw 2015; Painchaud, 2021).

    Government Inefficiencies:

    A recurring barrier to immigrant resettlement efforts is the structural inefficiencies in our government. This is primarily due to anti-refugee sentiment, and lack of oversight on the constraints within our immigration system both on a federal and local level. Melanie Nezer, Senior Director for U.S. Policy and Advocacy for HIAS (the international migration agency of the American Jewish community), argues that there is a growing resistance to resettlement in communities across the country (Nezer, 2013). In her paper titled “Resettlement at Risk: Meeting Emerging Challenges to Refugee Resettlement in Local Communities”, Nezer outlines several recommendations to help counter refugee backlash. The bulk of her argument is rooted in the evaluation of the three federal government agencies administering the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Although our project is on a smaller scale, Nezer’s evaluation of governmental, international, and nongovernmental organizations is instrumental to our cause. The first recommendation pertains to the role of resettlement agencies in building and supporting the capacity to generate and maintain commitments to resettlement. More specifically, it’s important for resettlement agencies to have a thorough knowledge of immigrant advocate partners, anti-resettlement legislation, and local anti-refugee leaders. Another recommendation is for the local government to create benchmarks for refugee integration, and for the measurement of progress towards success. Proper consideration of all parties in the immigration process should be considered, from private partners to receiving communities. Identification and measurement of success can be done using factors such as long-term employment, civic participation, health and well-being, and English proficiency. Lastly, she argues that national and local refugee resettlement agencies, along with stakeholders, and supporters of refugee resettlement, should advocate for refugee reform and sufficient funding for refugee resettlement. Even a shift in the vocabulary and discourse being communicated by the government would set a foot in the right direction of establishing Hartford in the existing network of welcoming cities.

    Refugee Receptivity:

    An insightful piece of literature by Shaffer Et Al., titled “Local Elected Officials’ Receptivity to Refugee Resettlement in the United States.” uses survey data to demonstrate attitudes towards immigration in the US. The paper features the results of a conjoint experiment to evaluate how the attributes of hypothetical refugee groups influence local policymaker receptivity toward refugee resettlement. There was overall support for refugee resettlement among local officials, however, there was maximum receptivity towards refugees whom they perceive as a strong economic and social fit within their communities (Shaffer, 2020). A strong economic and social fit is best described by education attained and sponsorship by regional or local businesses. Other weaker factors are religion, gender, family groups, and English proficiency. Age and regional origin were the least significant preferences of local officials. Another salient point for local officials is the ability of refugees to both fit with local values and participate in the local economy. Based on these findings, the authors suggest that “…emphasizing business-sponsorship programs, skill development, language training, and explicit financial support to local communities likely represent high-impact public-engagement strategies for refugee-resettlement stakeholders seeking to bolster refugee acceptance.”. Ultimately, the Shaffer et al. paper serves to remind us of the importance of refugee receptivity on a local level. Refugee acceptance should be rooted in humanitarian values, but knowing that the economic argument is the most convincing for elected officials is crucial to the development of Hartford as a welcoming city.


    Analysis of Research Gaps

    Throughout this process, we realized a few potential gaps in our research that could affect how we are approaching this project. For instance, the main concept we were investigating was the feasibility of a city-run/sponsored immigrant center in the city of Hartford, rather than a focus on models through non-governmental organizations. Many sources used for this literature review describe the role of community organizations in the process of immigrant welcoming, but there is less information found on purely community-led strategies of how the community itself could provide this kind of center, rather how community organizations work with local governments (Shields et al, 2016; De Graauw & Bloemraad, 2017; Thomas et al, 2016). With the lack of grassroot orientated models researched, there could be an inherent bias in our research towards governmentally involved immigrant services.

    Furthermore, many of the models and cities researched are not entirely applicable to Hartford’s situation. There are several articles that focus on immigrant policy and settlement in Canadian cities as well as pulling from European cities (De Paola & Brunello, 2016; Guo-Brennan & Guo-Brennan, 2019; Shield et al, 2016). Other articles focus on immigration in other cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or Dayton which we later found through our data analysis are not the most applicable to Hartford due to its population size and immigrant demographics (De Graauw, 2015; McDaniel et al, 2019; Housel et al, 2018). However, there was still a lot of information that is applicable to Hartford and other cities generally, such as language access and the philosophy of welcoming. Coinciding with this, there could be a perceived lack of literature focusing on Hartford itself, as there are only a few sources that focus or touch on the city. This is because the majority of the data we got on Hartford’s immigrant climate was through interviews with leaders within the community rather than through scholarly literature.

    An additional research gap we found was that almost all of the sources used came from researchers who study immigration rather than immigrants themselves. As our final goal of this project is to welcome immigrants more effectively, a lack of first-hand information from immigrants themselves could be seen as an issue. However, the sources used for our research all view immigrants as an asset to urban communities and amplify their voices through their research. Many of these journals contain interviews from immigrants in the particular communities as well as other non-governmental stakeholders in the immigrant community.


    The research and literature we read consisted of diverse findings and suggestions that were targeted towards various cultural contexts however are applicable in some capacity to the city of Hartford. It is crucial to contextualize such information to a mid-sized gateway city while considering the feasibility of a city sponsored immigrant welcoming hub.  A centralized immigrant center prioritizes community stakeholders and align with the interests and goals of pre existing community centers and NGOs that have a deeper understanding of the needs of immigrants entering Hartford. Further, civil society and social capital are key contributors of immigrant societies thriving in the United States. It is significant to employ a bottom up approach while designing a centralized immigrant center. Lastly, language is often identified as one of the main barriers that prevent the socioeconomic and cultural integration of immigrants in their host countries and a welcoming immigrant center must work towards reducing the language barrier, particularly for newly arrived immigrants.

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