Community and Regional Experiences of Immigrants and Hosts


Linda Silka (University of Maine)

The importance of adding a community focus to the psychological investigation of immigration issues and concerns

The discipline of psychology is contributing greatly to our understanding of immigration issues, with psychological research providing insights into important topics such as discrimination and prejudice toward immigrants and refugees. An added contribution that psychologists can make that has often gone unrecognized is to help identify and analyze processes at the community level that impact the lives of new immigrants and refugees. Community systems—schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces, housing and healthcare—play central roles in the lives of new immigrants and often are the “lenses” through which newcomers learn about what their new lives and the lives of their families will be like on a daily basis. Much of the immigration rhetoric has focused on national impacts but what has too often been neglected has been a detailed analysis of community processes, impacts, and opportunities. This presentation, drawing on extensive work by the presenter, will highlight the importance and benefits of psychologists bringing their expertise to the investigation of community processes and impacts. The presentation will share research by psychologists on ways in which a community in northeastern United States is now serving as a model for other communities nationally and internationally that are attempting to understand how their communities systems will be changed, challenged, and enriched by immigrants and refugees who come from different cultures, bring different skills and traditions, and may have different expectations for schools, neighbourhoods, and workplaces. Future research needed will be discussed.


Yuen Huo (University of California), John F. Dovidio (Yale University), Tomás Jiménez (Stanford University), & Deborah Schildkraut (Tufts University)

Does local immigration reception polarize or align Latinos and Whites? Survey and experimental evidence from Arizona and New Mexico

In the U.S., national discourse about immigration has become increasingly polarized. This is no better exemplified than by Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s repeated calls for federal action to deport undocumented immigrants, ban Muslims, and build a wall along the U.S.‐Mexico border. We suggest that the focus on national policies overlooks the potentially important influence of the growing number of local programs and policies in states and cities across the U.S. that vary widely in their reception of immigrants (hostile versus welcoming) (Steil, & Vasi, 2014). Using data from a 2016 telephone survey conducted in Arizona and New Mexico, we systematically examine how immigrant reception at the state level affects the attitudes of members of immigrant communities (i.e., Latinos) and host‐society members (i.e., Whites).

Study Design Rationale. Our data draw from a telephone survey with representative samples of Latinos and Whites from two U.S. states that are similar in key characteristics (e.g., high proportion of Latinos, population size) but vary dramatically in their policy response to immigration. While Arizona has garnered national and international attention for adopting draconian policies that are particularly hostile toward immigrants, New Mexico, in contrast, has adopted a series of policies and programs designed to welcome immigrants. To complement cross‐sectional data that leverage the natural variance in immigrant reception, we included within the survey a randomized experiment that manipulated the state’s intention to adopt policies that are either hostile or welcoming toward immigrants.

The telephone survey was fielded by I.S.A. Corp in spring 2016. The total sample of 1903 respondents consists of approximately equal subsamples of Latinos and Whites in each state. Because we have only recently received the final data file from I.S.A., we present our key hypotheses and preliminary findings. We expect that by the time of the conference in November, we will have completed our analyses and have additional findings to share.

Hypotheses. We propose two competing hypotheses about how Latinos and Whites would respond to a hostile versus welcoming reception for immigrants in their state of residence. One possibility is that local climate for immigrants may lead to polarized reactions such that a welcoming reception will be favourably received by Latinos but alienate Whites (and vice versa for a hostile reception). The notion that the two groups will respond differently to immigrant reception stems from research that suggests that Whites as the dominant group in American society are motivated to resist change in order to maintain their position in the hierarchy (Craig & Richeson, 2014: Danbold & Huo, 2015; Outten et al. 2012). In contrast, local reception can be viewed as a group‐specific issue targeting Latinos and affects Whites only indirectly. From this perspective, Whites, may either not be affected or exhibit a pattern of response similar to Latinos.

Preliminary Findings. Analysis of cross‐sectional data showed that Latinos in Arizona (hostile state) reported feeling significantly more like an outsider than Latinos in New Mexico (welcoming state). While Whites showed the opposite pattern such that they feel less like an outsider in Arizona than in New Mexico, the difference was not statistically significant. Analysis of the experimental data produced findings consistent with that of the cross‐sectional data. Latinos across the two states expressed significantly more anger in response to the adoption of hostile policies than to the adoption of welcoming policies. While Whites also reported more anger in response to the hostile policies than to the welcoming policies, this difference was not statistically significant. Importantly, both Latinos and Whites in the welcoming condition reacted more positively to the policy effort than, respectively, Latinos and Whites in the hostile condition.

Implications and Further Analysis. These preliminary findings are consistent with the hypothesis that it is the target of local immigration policies (Latinos) whose attitudes are most affected. Notably, Whites do not appear to respond negatively to policies that welcome immigrants. An important implication of these findings is that local policies can potentially offset the effects of hostile national‐level discourse about immigration. Immigrants in states or cities that welcome them are likely to feel a greater sense of belonging in their adopted homes. At the same time, welcoming policies do not appear to lead host‐society members (i.e. Whites) to feel excluded or to resist the efforts to make immigrants feel welcomed. Thus, the wave of states and cities adopting policies to attract immigrants may play an important role in facilitating the integration rather than alienation of the rapidly growing population of Latinos in the U.S.

These preliminary findings are promising, both politically and theoretically. We will conduct additional analysis to examine potential moderators of these relationships. For example, Whites’ responses to local immigration reception may vary depending on their political ideology with liberals lining up along with their Latino counterparts and conservatives responding instead with hostility toward policies that welcome immigrants (Abrajano & Hajnal, 2015). Among Latinos, whether they are U.S. born or not, may similarly moderate their responses to local immigration policies. These additional analyses will complement the preliminary findings by informing us about whether the observed similarities in Latinos and Whites’ responses to local immigration reception vary across key demographic divisions such as ideology and immigration history.