State legislatures see record number of first-generation immigrants
A record number of first-generation Americans are serving in state legislatures across the country, motivated in part by the anti-immigrant rhetoric and the policies of the Trump years.
Why it matters: First-generation Americans comprise 10% of the voting population in the U.S. They are among the fastest-growing portions of the electorate, yet are vastly underrepresented at all levels of elected office.
What we're watching: This year, 296 naturalized citizens serve in U.S. state legislatures, making up 4% of the 7,383 legislative seats, according to a new report from New American Leaders, a group that helps elect first- and second-generation immigrants to office.
- That's up from 258 legislative seats in 202o, when naturalized citizens made up 3.5% of state legislatures.
"A lot of the gains that you see are in places where there are investments in new American leadership and new American communities — whether it is voter access or having new Americans on the ballot," Ghida Dagher, president of New American Leaders and New American Leaders Action Fund, told Axios.
- New York had the largest total increase, adding 9 state legislators who are naturalized citizens. California added 5, and Iowa and Vermont each went from having zero to having one.
- "That was a turbulent period in American politics everywhere. We had a lot of new Americans — that haven't necessarily been consistently part of the political process — come out to vote," said Georgia state Rep. Marvin Lim, a Filipino elected in 2020.
By the numbers: 90% of the naturalized citizens serving in state legislatures are Democrats.
- 42% are Latino, 35% are AAPI and 15% are Black.
- Eight states have no naturalized citizens in their state legislatures.
Driving the news: New American Leaders hosted a training this past weekend for first- and second-generation immigrants interested in running for office or joining a campaign.
- Carli Fettig, finance director for Rep. Susie Lee's campaign (D-Nev.), provided a crash-course on the basics of leading a campaign's fundraising efforts, including managing call-time, staffing fundraising events and managing donor relationships.
- "Every time I come to one of the trainings, I get a little bit closer to 'Yes! [I will run for office],'" said Florida Hoxha, a foreclosure prevention attorney based in New York City and one of two dozen participants in the program.
But, but, but: Although the number of immigrant lawmakers rose to historic levels in 2022, some decided not to pursue re-election due to barriers they faced while in office, including low pay and a lack of support for caregivers, the report warns.
What's next: The growing demographic of naturalized citizens could significantly influence the outcome of this year's midterm elections.