Explaining Support for the AZ Immigration Law

Given that I just spent two years writing a dissertation on the determinants of immigration policy attitudes in the United States, I thought I might say a few words about the immigration law that was recently passed in Arizona. Essentially, this law “orders immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times and requires police to question people if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the United States illegally” (http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/04/23/immigration.faq/index.html).

Why might a person support or not support this law? Those who support the law say that it’s a simple law-and-order thing and it’s nothing personal against Latinos and not about preserving a “traditional” American culture from the “Spanish invasion.” Those who do not support the bill often think that its supporters are racists or “nativists.” So which one is a more accurate reflection of the motivations behind this law?

Here are the results from a logistic regression estimation of the determinants of support for a proposal to allow local police to check the immigration status of immigrants in Illinois, taken from a public opinion survey sample in 2006. In other words, here are a bunch of potential explanations for why a person might support a similar law (racism, political ideology, education, religiosity, etc.) and the computer sorts out which ones are strongly associated with support for the law:

Logistic regression Number of obs = 100
Wald chi2(11) = 17.45
Prob > chi2 = 0.0952
Log pseudolikelihood = -41.652413 Pseudo R2 = 0.2993

DVpolicech~k Coef. Std. Err. z P>z [95% Conf. Interval]

female -.407708 .6753963 -0.60 0.546 -1.73146 .9160445
age .0447008 .0286731 1.56 0.119 -.0114973 .100899
educ .3117166 .3079368 1.01 0.311 -.2918283 .9152616
income -.4021055 .2275677 -1.77 0.077 -.8481299 .043919
econnat 1.069313 .4764342 2.24 0.025 .1355191 2.003107
attend .0622249 .2149337 0.29 0.772 -.3590374 .4834872

Cforeignborn -22.67927 9.100616 -2.49 0.013 -40.51615 -4.842389
PrejHisp3 -.0183704 .2050105 -0.09 0.929 -.4201836 .3834428
ideo -1.002764 .567494 -1.77 0.077 -2.115031 .1095041
party5 .1159735 .2344021 0.49 0.621 -.3434462 .5753932
DVnativism1 .7167384 .3591134 2.00 0.046 .012889 1.420588
_cons -1.908899 2.643325 -0.72 0.470 -7.089721 3.271924

This analysis indicates that there are a few different things that explain why people support such a policy. A person’s gender, age, education, religiosity, political partisanship, and levels of anti-Hispanic racism do not matter. But a person’s perceptions of the economy, political ideology, feelings about American culture, and number of immigrants live around you DO matter.

All other things being equal, those who live in areas with lots of immigrants do NOT support this policy, those who think the economy is doing poorly, are political conservatives, and are more nativist (i.e. believe that “our American way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence”) DO support it. And living around other immigrants matters MOST in explaining support, with your economic perception and ideology mattering second most, and your thoughts about American culture coming in last.

Bottom line? Those who support the bill are not racists, despite claims to the contrary. They’re worried about law-and-order and a detrimental effect of immigrants on the economy. And some of them think that immigrants might “threaten” a particular American way of life. So cries of racism by those who oppose the law are unfounded. But it’s not purely a “law-and-order” thing either, as there are also economic and cultural threat considerations that play a role as well.

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