Advocating for Structural Change? Exploring the Advocacy Activities of Immigrant-Serving Organizations in an Unwelcoming Policy Context


  • Benjamin Roth University of South Carolina
  • Seo Yeon Park Institute of Globalization and Multicultural Studies
  • Breanne Grace



immigration, Immigrants, policy advocacy, social service organizations, immigrant new destinations


The growth of the immigrant population in the United States has prompted a recent increase in the number of restrictive immigration policies at the state and local levels. The literature on policy advocacy and social service organizations suggests that these local providers can engage in political activities that challenge the restrictive nature of these contexts. This qualitative study explored how immigrant-serving social service organizations engage in policy advocacy in a state with restrictive, anti-immigrant policies. In-depth interviews with directors of 50 service providers in South Carolina clearly indicate a tension between the need for policy advocacy and the risks associated with engaging in such activities. Fifty percent (50%) of the providers in our sample reported engaging in some form of policy advocacy. However, their policy advocacy activities were often indirect, non-confrontational, and episodic. Most were engaged in coalitions and other forms of indirect advocacy tactics. We discuss implications for the social work profession and recommendations for future research, including the need to further explore the impact of policy advocacy efforts on changing the policy landscape in places that are unwelcoming to immigrants.


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