Two groups elicit the highest levels of opposition to immigration, the authors write:
We find the “undocumented Latino man” archetype is predicted to increase the probability of wanting to decrease immigration flows by a whopping 38 points, plus or minus 7 points. This archetype is joined near the bottom by the “rainbow undocumented immigrant” — “from every region in the world” — which increases that probability by 29 points.
The authors identify the survey respondents who are most resistant to immigration:
These respondents are the oldest of any class and possess many of the traits typical of conservative southern whites. Many live in small towns or rural areas in the U.S. south and identify as Republicans. Further, many of them are retirees with low levels of education. Interestingly, these respondents live in the least diverse communities relative to all other classes as judged by the presence of few immigrants and ethnic/racial minorities in their ZIP codes, which highlights the subjective nature of immigrant archetypes.
A forthcoming paper in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, “Intervening in Anti-Immigrant Sentiments: The Causal Effects of Factual Information on Attitudes Toward Immigration,” by Maria Abascal, Tiffany J. Huang and Van C. Tran, sociologists at N.Y.U., the University of Pennsylvania and CUNY, reveals an additional hurdle facing pro-immigration Democrats.
The authors conducted a survey in which they explicitly provided information rebutting negative stereotypes of immigrants’ impact on crime, tax burdens and employment. They found that respondents in many cases shifted their views of immigrants from more negative to more positive assessments.
But shifts in a liberal direction on policies were short-lived, at best: “In sum,” Abascal, Huang and Tran wrote, the effects of the stereotype-challenging information “on beliefs about immigration are more durable than the effects on immigration policy preferences, which themselves decay rapidly. These findings recommend caution when deploying factual information to change attitudes toward immigration policy.”
The conservative shift to the right on immigration policy raises another question. The Republican Party was once the party of big business and the party that supported immigration as a source of cheap labor. What happened to turn it into the anti- immigration party?
Margaret E. Peters, a political scientist at U.C.L.A. and the author of the 2017 book, “Trading Barriers: Immigration and the Remaking of Globalization,” argues that corporate America’s need for cheap labor had been falling before the advent of Trump, and that that decline opened to door for Republican politicians to campaign on anti-immigrant themes.
In a March 2020 paper, “Integration and Disintegration: Trade and Labor Market Integration,” Peters succinctly describes the process:
The decision to remove barriers to trade in goods and capital flows have had profound effects on immigration. Trade has meant the closure of businesses in developed countries that rely on low-skill labor. When these firms closed, they took their support for low-skill immigration with them. The ability of capital to move intensified this trend: whereas once firms needed to bring labor to their capital, they can now take their capital to labor. Once these firms move, they have little incentive to fight for immigration at home. Finally, increased productivity, as both a product of and response to globalization, has meant that firms can do more with fewer workers, again decreasing demands for immigration. Together, these changes have led to less business support for immigration, allowing politicians to move to the right on immigration and pass restrictions to appease anti-immigration forces.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats, in the view of Douglas Massey, a sociologist at Princeton, have failed to counter Republican opposition to immigration with an aggressive assertion of the historical narrative of the United States
as a nation of immigrants, tapping into the fact that nearly all Americans are descendant from immigrants who arrived into a land they did not originally populate, and that despite epochs of xenophobia and restriction, in the end the US has been a great machine of immigrant integration that has benefited the United States and made us an exceptional nation.
Unfortunately, Massey continued,
the intertwined forces of climate change, state failure, violence, and criminal economics will greatly complicate efforts to create a counternarrative by producing surges of asylum seekers and refugees, which could be managed with effective immigration and border policies, but which under current circumstances instead serves to produce images of chaos along the southern border.
Ryan Enos, a professor of government at Harvard, has a different perspective. He argues that
until Trump campaigned on his Muslim-ban and his largely symbolic issue of the border wall, there was mostly a consensus among Republican and Democratic politicians allowing for a continued welcoming of immigrants into the United States and keeping reactionary anti-immigrant politics off the table. There was also largely a consensus among most Democratic and Republican voters supporting this.
This consensus, Enos contends, still holds, but it is fragile:
The question for the future of the broader consensus on immigration is whether Republicans can continue to be successful despite the anti-immigrant pandering that is largely out of step with the broad American consensus on immigration. If they are electorally successful — and there is reason to believe they will be, given forecasts for Democratic losses in 2022 — then this broad consensus might break down permanently and a large portion of the American public may follow their Republican leaders toward more fully adopting anti-immigrant ideology.
As Democrats have continued to struggle to reach agreement on major infrastructure and social spending bills, they have been forced to rapidly shift gears on tax hikes without fully addressing potentially unintended consequences. Party members remain tentative, at best, in their willingness to challenge the Senate filibuster rule, and senior House Democrats are retiring in an early warning signal that the party may face severe losses in November 2022.
There are potentially tragic consequences if the Democratic Party proves unable to prevent anti-immigration forces from returning to take over the debate, consequences described by U.C.L.A.’s Waldinger:
The average undocumented immigrant has been in the U.S. for ten years The problems of the undocumented spill over onto the large population of U.S. citizens, who are the children, mates, relatives of the undocumented and whose lives are adversely affected by the increasingly repressive policy environment.
Put differently, Waldinger continued, “the ever-greater embeddedness of the unauthorized population increases the legitimacy of their claims.”
In other words, for all intents and purposes, most undocumented immigrants — and perhaps especially the Dreamers — are Americans deserving of full citizenship. But these Americans are on the political chopping block, dependent on a weakened Democratic Party to protect them from a renewal of the savagery an intensely motivated Republican Party has on its agenda.
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