Welcoming Immigration Policies Benefit More Than Just New Immigrants

January 23, 2018

One of the primary causes of the three-day government shutdown, which went into effect on January 19 when the Senate failed to pass a spending bill, was fierce disagreement in Congress over the fate of DACA, the Obama-era program that grants protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16. While a number of social science researchers have noted the positive effects of DACA on economic and health outcomes for immigrant families, a new study suggests that legislation that welcomes and attempts to integrate immigrants into the U.S.—rather than criminalizing or stigmatizing them—may have unexpected benefits for native-born whites as well.

A report in the most recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences investigates how different immigration policies influence the social attitudes of immigrant and native-born individuals in the United States. In their RSF-supported study, grantees Yuen J. Huo (University of California, Los Angeles), John F. Dovidio (Yale University), Tomás R. Jiménez (Stanford University), and Deborah J. Schildkraut (Tufts University) explore the effects of both hostile and welcoming state-level immigration policies on individuals’ feelings of belonging and their attitudes toward other ethnic groups.

The investigators analyze data from a 2016 telephone survey of nearly 2,000 individuals in Arizona and New Mexico. In the phone survey, respondents were randomly assigned to consider proposals for statewide immigration policies that were either welcoming—such as granting social services for noncitizens, bilingual government documents, and state-issued identification cards—or hostile, such as English-only laws, restriction of non-citizens’ access to social services, and employer verification of immigration status. The authors find that in both states, Latino respondents, especially those who were foreign-born, expressed more positive feelings and a greater sense of belonging when they had been primed with the welcoming policy. More surprisingly, the authors show that this pattern was also true for US-born whites, with the exception of those who self-identified as politically conservative. In other words, hearing and thinking about welcoming immigration policies led to greater feelings of unity not only for Latino immigrants themselves, but also for most whites surveyed.

As the authors note, in the wake of the election of Trump—who ran on a campaign centered around hostile immigration policies and won support from 58% of white voters—commentators have often assumed that whites tend to oppose welcoming immigration policies, including DACA. But, the authors conclude, “Both liberal and moderate whites exhibited more positive affect and felt more welcomed when they were told that political leaders were considering making their state more welcoming to immigrants.”

Read the report from PNAS.



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