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Guest Voz: New research shows most people harbor automatic biases against Latino immigrants

LatinaLista — One of the most common defensive remarks by people who are vehemently supportive of anti-immigrant bills like Arizona’s SB 1070 is that they are not against legal immigration but illegal immigration.


However, a new study by Vanderbilt University Political Scientist Efrén Pérez found that the statement is not entirely true. In fact, Pérez found that in most people’s minds there is little distinction between Latino immigrants and Latinos born in the United States. Also, when the subject of immigration is raised, people automatically think of Latino immigrants.

For his study titled “Explicit Evidence on the Import of Implicit Attitudes: The IAT and Immigration Policy Judgments,” due to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Political Behavior, Perez designed an immigrant implicit association test or IAT. Through surveys he conducted using the IAT, he was able to analyze his findings to determine people’s automatic attitudes towards Latino immigrants.

Vanderbilt Political Scientist Efren Perez

His findings demonstrate that immigration reform may be an even harder issue in which to find common ground than people think.

(Editor’s note: The following is a condensed version of Dr. Pérez’s fascinating study. Due to word length, the footnotes and other citations are not included. To read the full study and see exactly what Dr. Pérez uncovered in his analysis, I urge you to follow up with him to read the full study.)



Import of Implicit Attitudes: The IAT and Immigration Policy Judgments
By Efrén Pérez

Growing scholarship suggests racial biases are more ingrained and widespread than is typically presumed because they are implicit — that is, they color one’s behavior automatically, without one’s control or awareness.

Using a psychological technique known as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), I demonstrate that many individuals possess an automatic negative attitude toward Latino immigrants that is applied to legal and illegal immigration policy judgments — even if this group is not directly mentioned by policy proposals.

As a political issue, immigration stimulates various individual predispositions,
including one’s economic concerns, ideological principles, and commitments to
legal norms. Yet immigration is also an arena where intolerance toward foreigners plays a critical role in motivating opposition to immigration.

Public discourse on immigration, whether through media reports or academic
scholarship, showcases this group as one whose presence imperils national culture and the well-being of native-born workers, among other things. Indeed, recent work by Brader et al. demonstrates that news reports cueing Latino immigrants are more likely to boost public opposition to immigration.

Moreover, by highlighting this group’s contribution to undocumented immigration,
this discourse presents Latino immigrants as a force that subverts law and order. All of which is to say that it is not unreasonable to expect Americans to automatically hold Latino immigrants in low regard. According to this view, then, judgments of immigration policy are implicitly shaped by one’s attitude toward Latino immigrants.


Yet there are other compelling perspectives about the nature of intolerance
toward foreigners. And while not mutually exclusive of the implicit view of
intolerance toward Latino immigrants, they nevertheless raise questions about the
extent to which attitudes toward Latino immigrants are distinct from attitudes
toward other immigrant groups.

The first of these perspectives is that while negative attitude toward Latino immigrants might exist, it is only one component of a more general negative attitude toward foreigners, namely, ethnocentrism. In other words, inasmuch as one derogates Latino immigrants, one is likely to derogate other groups of foreigners as well, such as Asian immigrants.

As Kam and Kinder explain, ethnocentrism is a way of viewing the world and the social groups within it. In particular, this mode of thinking is theorized to produce contemptuous and denigrating views of outgroups, including immigrants.

Indeed, these authors demonstrate that ethnocentrism is a strong determinant of individual support for immigration policy proposals, such as decreasing overall immigration levels, requiring immigrants to wait for government benefits (e.g., Medicaid), and making English the official language of the U.S..

These insights therefore suggest that it is not so much negative attitude toward Latino immigrants, specifically, but rather, negative attitude toward a gamut of foreigners, which
propels opposition to immigration.

My analysis reveals that implicit attitudes toward Latino immigrants shape preferences for illegal and legal immigration policy net of other measures of intolerance and net of measures capturing strictly political concerns, such as one’s ideological orientation.

What is remarkable is that even after controlling for ethnocentric attitudes — which are explicit in nature and broadly applied to immigrant outgroups — implicit attitudes still exerted a direct influence on one’s immigration policy judgments.

This suggests two things. The first is that individuals are quite comfortable reporting negative views of immigrants, and that these views strongly affect judgments of immigration policy. The second, however, is that implicit attitudes toward immigrants appear to be more group-specific in nature yet nonetheless influential in political decision-making.

Together, these insights teach us that attitudes which are spontaneously activated matter as much in theoretical and empirical terms as those attitudes that are fully within one’s introspection.

Indeed, the findings here suggest that, notwithstanding their differences in scope,
attitudes toward immigrants originate from conscious as well as subconscious

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  • Pepito
    July 3, 2010 at 1:52 am

    Where has Mr. Perez been living all these years – in wonder land?
    Fox news and Republican pundits have been fighting the “culture war” for many years. In their war, the enemy is anyone who does not meet their White European English ideals and have specifically targeted the Hispanic culture (often categorized simply as the “Mexicans”) but it includes all Hispanics (illegal, legal and U.S. Citizens).
    A big reason for targeting the Hispanic culture are the special interest groups like La Raza, LULAC, etc who fail to include and persuade other ethnic immigrant groups to join them in their fight for immigrant rights.
    These special interest groups took Fox’s bait and turned the “culture war” into a fight against Hispanics / Mexicans / anyone with brown skin and black hair.
    So much so that even the black and white skinned Cubans, many of them recently arrived immigrants, speak against the “Mexicans” and some even joined the militia groups that patrolled the U.S. / Mexico border during the Bush years.
    The only looser in this fight are those Hispanics who have been in this country for generations. Many of us have served our country in war with pride and some have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, our families and us are often looked at with suspicion and sometimes treated like we just crossed the border yesterday.
    It is a darn shame.

  • El Guapo
    July 3, 2010 at 6:15 am

    One need only spend a few minutes reading the comments posted at some of the anti-immigrant websites to confirm this. They say they’re anti-ILLEGAL immigrant, not anti-immigrant. That may be true for some, but it’s undeniable that many are anti-immigrant, and some are just plain anti-Hispanic. That none rebuke hatred expressed towards Hispanics by some in their movement is quite telling.
    I have a bias in favor of immigrants both Latino and otherwise. Immigrants are more likely to look you in the eye and smile as you pass them in the isles of the supermarket. They’re more likely to strike up a conversation while riding the bus. Most come here optimistic thinking that America is the land of opportunity. Most like Americans and want to meet Americans.

  • Karen
    July 3, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    None of this suprises me considering the non-stop media onslaught against Mexican (brown) people. Do you ever see any Mexican-American professionals on TV? Doctors, scientists, authors, astronauts, Nobel Prize winners, etc.
    These liberal Democrats do not care about us. The Democratic Party under Obama no longer stands for the protection of civil liberties. Isn’t it ironic this this president has the worst civil liberties record of any Democratic president in the last 56 years? He’s moving this country backwards just like Hillary said he would when she cried in New Hampshire.
    Do you think this Justice Department is going to file a lawsuit against SB 1070? I don’t.
    I have registered as an Independent, and I think other Latinos should as well.

  • Jose Botello
    July 4, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Having been raised in Texas, as well as my parents, grandparents and ancestors before the area became the USA, I find nothing strange in the present outrage against the raza. I learned the bilingual ABCs in a dingy town that couldn’t afford a school but had two, one “Mexican” and the other “American”
    When I entered the Navy in 1943 there was a riot against Blacks in Detroit and another one against Mexican teens with pegged pants, abetted by the Navy, Marines and the LA police. I heard comments against Mexicans in invasion barges in Tinian and Okinawa, and not against the Japanese. In my history reading during my mature years. I read that the great transcendentalist poet, Walt Whitman, had written: “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico with her superstition, her burlesque, her actual tyranny by the few over the many—what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race? Be it ours, to achieve that mission! Be it ours to roll down all the upstart leaven of old despotism, that comes our way!”
    Cecil Robinson Mexico and the Hispanic Southwest in American Literature p. 26
    What Arizonans say today is nothing new.
    And it is not only directed against “illegals.” It is directed against a profile that looks like a Native-American Indian.

  • Karen
    July 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Re: “Do you think this Justice Department is going to file a lawsuit against SB 1070? I don’t. ”
    Looks like I was wrong! I am very glad that the Justice Department filed this lawsuit, as the people who will be most affected by laws like SB 1070 are American citizens with brown skin and Spanish surnames. People like me.
    Thank you, Justice Department.

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