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Cynthia Willis Esqueda



Immigration and Current Ideological Perspectives

The U. S. immigration story is unique. Unless you are indigenous (e.g., American Indian or Mexican American), you or your ancestors immigrated to the U. S. This leaves the U. S. with more foreign born people than any other country in the world (Connor & Krogstad, 2018). Yet, as of the last census in 2010, the U. S. has not reached the foreign born population percentage that occurred in the peak years of the late 1800s (12.9% versus 14.8%, respectively) (U. S. Census Bureau, 2010), when the ancestors of most European Americans’ entered the U. S. (Portes & Rumbaut, 2014).

 While the majority of people in the U. S. believe immigrants strengthen the country, there are vast differences based on political party. Republican Party supporters hold more negative attitudes about immigrants, compared to Democrat Party supporters (Jones, 2019). As a Republican president, Trump has voiced that:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. (Lee, 2015).

While we may think this quote is singular and a sign of the times, anti-immigrant stereotypes, sentiments, and legal doctrine have been part of the U. S. legacy (Haney, 1996; Mullen, 2001), even in colonial times. For example, in 1753 Benjamin Franklin stated:

Germans who come to Pennsylvania are generally the most ignorant and stupid people of that country. They are not used to liberty and don’t know how to behave in a land that offers freedom. I remember when they did not vote in our elections. But now they come in large numbers and expect to vote on issues they know nothing about. Today they expect legal papers to be written in German. I suppose that in a few years we will have to have interpreters in the colonial assembly so that our lawmakers will understand what they are saying. In short unless they stop coming in large numbers they will outnumber us. Then we will not be able to preserve our own language and may even lose our own government (Franklin, 1753/1993).

Today, those of German ancestry are the most common European American ethnic group in the U. S. (The Economist, 2015).

Berry (2001) noted two approaches for psychological inquiry into immigration – intergroup conflict and acculturative issues. Internationally, there is a growing concern with both issues, and particularly with motivations for ideological opposition to immigrants. Worldwide, immigration destination countries (or receiving countries) are increasingly opposed to newcomers, and anti-immigrant ideologies have increased the popularity of political parties that favor curtailing it (Connor & Krogstad, 2018). This occurrence comes at a time of unprecedented human migration, due in part to staggering poverty, ethnic conflict, and violence and war (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2015; UNHCR, 2015).

Demographic changes have accompanied growing concerns over immigration, in the U. S. (Esses, Dovidio, & Hodson, 2002; Hawley, 2011; Pew Research Center, 2015) and internationally (Ben-Nun Bloom, Arikan, & Lahav, 2015; Miglietta, Gattino, & Esses, 2014; Pereira, Vala, & Costa-Lopes, 2010). Consequently, immigration has become a source of contention (Segovia & Defever, 2010; Weisman, 2016). In the U. S. this contentiousness has focused on Latino immigration (Lilley, 2012), and has resulted in increased hate crimes against Latinos (Lopez, 2018), heightened fear and intimidation (Campbell, Mendoza, & Diestel, 2018), and even murder (Semple, 2008).

One reason for the growing divide over immigration appears to focus on different orientations to patriotism and national identity. Patriotism is linked to anti-immigration attitudes and threat. Patriotism involves both blind patriotism (BP) and constructive patriotism (CP) (Schatz, Staub, & Lavine, 1999). Blind patriots possess a love of country with unwavering positive attitudes and reluctance toward change. While constructive patriots also possess a love of country, they seek to improve the country with positive change. In Australia, higher levels of BP predicted less support for immigration and for immigrant services, when controlling for right-wing authoritarianism (Spry & Hornsey, 2007). CP was not a predictor.

In the U. S., ethnic differences emerge in BP and CP adherence. For example, Latinos score lower on BP and higher on CP, compared to non-Hispanic Whites (Willis-Esqueda, Delgado, & Pedroza, 2016). For Whites, while BP predicts anti-immigration attitudes, realistic and symbolic threats mediate that relationship. However, there is a negative relationship between CP and anti-immigration attitudes, and CP negatively predicts threat, as well.

CP has been shown to shift, based on social context. In a sample of 31 countries, including the U. S., perceptions of globalization (a social identity at the global level) strengthened the negative relationship between CP and xenophobia (Ariely, 2011). However, countries with high globalization scores produced a stronger relationship between nationalism (the belief your country is superior to others) and xenophobia. Thus, threat is a major contributor to anti-immigration ideology (Pratto & Lemieux, 2001).

Yet, the ramifications of immigration for intergroup relations is not all negative. Increasing diversity within the U. S. may produce increased intergroup contact and lowered threat in Whites, if the local economy is strong (Knowles & Tropp, 2018). Moreover, reducing the fear of change is another means to improve the process of absorption of immigrants into the U. S. landscape (Zarate & Quezada, 2012). And, finally, recent international surveys indicate that the majority of people believe immigrants strengthen a country, rather than burden it (Gonzalez-Barrera, & Connor, 2019).

 While negative ideologies have produced opposition to U. S. immigrants and immigration policy, the underlying truth is that the U. S. is beholden to immigration for its population, and this truth is captured by President Lyndon B. Johnson when he stated “The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources—because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples” (Johnson, 1965). Immigration will be a source of psychological inquiry as long as people migrate to enhance their wellbeing and a host society is there to receive them.



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