Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

"!Quedate O Vente!": Uncovering the Determinants of Hispanic Public Opinion toward Immigration

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

"!Quedate O Vente!": Uncovering the Determinants of Hispanic Public Opinion toward Immigration

Article excerpt

Why do some Hispanic-Americans support (Vente) and others oppose (Quedate) the liberalization of immigration policies?' In this study we attempt to ascertain which combination of demographic, attitudinal, and contextual factors determines Hispanic public opinion toward legal immigration. In a departure from previous research, we conduct an advanced multivariate analysis and utilize an existing national-level sample of Hispanics. While we find only limited evidence that Hispanic public opinion on immigration varies among nationalistic subgroups (e.g., Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans, etc.), we do find that level of acculturation and perceived economic threat influence Hispanic opinion on legal immigration. We also find that Hispanics residing in areas with large illegal migrant populations, and those with more negative attitudes toward the impact of Hispanics on American society, tend to favor more restrictive immigration policies. Finally, we examine the implications of these findings for future studies of public opinion toward immigration and for the development of immigration policy

The "immigrant problem" has moved into a prominent place on the political agenda. The foreign-born population of the United States is currently at its highest level since before World War II, with roughly 20 percent of all immigrants entering the U.S. in just the past five years. One of the most important demographic results of this influx of immigrants is the tremendous growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S.

The largest proportion of the most recent immigrants (27 percent, or 1.3 million) claim Mexico as their country of origin, and the total foreign-born population contains six times as many people from Mexico as from any other country (Hansen and Bachu 1995). Recent population projections from the Census Bureau have also indicated that within two decades Hispanic-Americans will constitute this country's largest minority (Campbell 1994). These demographic trends have kept immigration, and the policies designed to regulate it, from being racially or ethnically neutral. In general terms, support for higher levels of legal immigration tends to increase the relative advantages and size of the Hispanic population in the United States.

A number of studies have suggested that race and ethnicity are important variables in the explanation of public opinion toward immigration; specifically, Mexican-Americans tend to favor more liberal immigration policies than white or black Americans (Cain and Kiewiet 1986; Espenshade and Calhoun 1993; Harwood 1983; Miller, Polinard, and Wrinkle 1984). While this provides some preliminary indication of how Hispanics as a group may orient themselves toward immigration issues, much less is known about the individual-level determinants of these policy positions.

The purpose of this study is to ascertain which combination of demographic, attitudinal, and contextual factors determines Hispanic public opinion toward immigration policy. In a departure from previous research, we conduct an advanced multivariate analysis and use an existing national-level sample of Hispanics to test our hypotheses. Our intent is to gain a better understanding of why Hispanics support, or oppose, increases in legal immigration into the United States.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Findings from much of the previous work on the relationship between individual-level or group characteristics and opinions on immigration can be divided into two broad categories. A number of studies have found that race and ethnicity play important roles in forming opinions about who should, or should not, be allowed to immigrate to this country. We combine these studies into a category we call The Cultural Divide.

Another body of literature has focused more heavily on those factors that influence individual perceptions of the economic impacts (both positive and negative) that result from changes in immigration policy. …

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