Because of the merging of immigration control and criminal justice, or “crimmigration,” state and local police increasingly drive interior immigration enforcement through the routine policing of crime. At the same time, growing evidence indicates that immigration is an ethnicity-coded issue that allows for the veiled expression of broader anti-Latino sentiments. Yet little research has examined whether public perceptions of either immigrants or Latinos influence support for police policies and practices that, in the context of crimmigration, may significantly shape immigration enforcement and, more broadly, may contribute to the subordination of Latinos. The current study addresses this research question.
The study draws on data from a recent nationally representative telephone survey and employs multivariate regression methods to evaluate whether perceptions of Latino economic and political threat are associated with support for granting police greater latitude in stopping, searching, and using force against suspects.
This study provides the first evidence that, at least among Whites, perceived Latino threat is positively associated with support for expanding police investigative powers, especially the power to stop suspects based only on the way they look.
The results suggest that by increasing public support for aggressive policing, or, at minimum, by reducing opposition to discriminatory social controls such as police profiling, Latino threat perceptions may increase the political attractiveness and viability of crimmigration as a “solution” to the “Latino problem.”
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In the Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492 (2012), the US Supreme Court ruled against most provisions of SB 1070, but permitted Arizona to require police officers to investigate suspects’ immigration status.
The scope of 287(g) agreements narrowed in 2012 to focus on “jail-based agreements,” in which local officers limit their immigration enforcement efforts to inmates in prisons and jails (Kalhan 2013).
Specifically, focusing only on public opinion about immigration policies overlooks the possibility that general anti-Latino sentiment—a key antecedent of immigrant threat perceptions (Ayers et al. 2009; Hartman et al. 2014; Lu and Nicholson-Crotty 2010)—may also be positively associated with support for other types of harsh policies that affect both Latino citizens and immigrants alike.
The cooperation and response rates for the survey were 64 and 35 %, respectively. These rates are closely in line with those in other published studies analyzing telephone survey data (King and Wheelock 2007; Stupi et al. 2014; Wang 2012). Although common wisdom holds that response rates are informative about the extent of bias in survey data, studies conducted over the past 15 years strongly dispute this assumption. There is now considerable evidence that response rates by themselves provide little information about the quality of survey data and cannot validly be interpreted as indicators of non-response bias (Curtin et al. 2000; Groves and Peytcheva 2008; Holbrook et al. 2008; Keeter et al. 2000, 2006).
The percentage of respondents endorsing the response options “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “neither agree nor disagree” “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree” for each of the three threat questions was as follows: Latino voting (17.50, 17.07, 9.97, 26.51, 28.95 %); Latino political influence (14.26, 17.63, 6.12, 29.78, 32.21 %); Latino economic resources (22.09, 19.56, 5.50, 25.58, 27.27 %).
To preserve sample size, for those respondents who had item non-response only the Income variable, I imputed the missing values based on respondents’ scores on the other measures in the data set. This was done using the Stata command “impute,” which uses linear regression to estimate the missing values. If models are estimated using the original, non-imputed Income measure, it leads to the loss of an additional 100 respondents. However, both the imputed and non-imputed models produce substantively similar results. The most notable difference between the two sets of models is that in the non-imputed analyses that separately examine views about police profiling, searches, and use of force among Whites, the coefficients for perceived threat are often only marginally (e.g., p = .057) significant. Similar results are also obtained if the Income variable is not used in the analyses.
Substantively identical results are obtained if continuous versions of the media consumption variables are used.
In the full sample, there are modest positive correlations between Symbolic Racism and the measures of perceived Latino threat (r = .096 for political threat, and r = .175 for economic threat). The correlations are slightly larger among whites (r = .198 for political threat, and r = .235 for economic threat). In the full sample, the two measures of Latino threat are highly correlated (r = .517), and the correlation is slightly larger among whites (r = .539).
At the request of a Reviewer, I estimated supplementary models that also controlled for the percent of the county population that was Black. Including this control did not appreciably alter the findings.
Similar to prior studies (Johnson et al. 2011; King and Wheelock 2007; Stewart et al. 2015; Stupi et al. 2014), I controlled for local crime using the homicide rate because: (1) homicide is the crime for which we have the most accurate and reliable data, and (2) citizens are more likely to be aware of local homicides than of less serious offenses because homicides are disproportionately covered by the media. The results are unchanged, however, when the index crime rate is included in the models instead of the homicide rate.
Enns (2014: 867–868, emphasis in original), for example, explains that his results “suggest that if public opinion had maintained its 1974 level, there would have been an average of approximately 185,000 fewer state and federal incarcerations each year… In other words, this simulation suggests that rising public punitiveness since the mid-1970s accounts for approximately 20 % of all state and federal incarcerations.”
Respondents who did not identify as White, Black, or Latino are excluded from this portion of the analyses.
Johnson et al. (2011) did find that both perceived economic and criminal threat were significantly associated with support for judicial use of ethnicity in sentencing. Stewart et al. (2015) found that criminal and economic threat were associated with support for harsher punishments specifically directed at Latino offenders.
Clearly, there are other potential explanations for why perceived political threat did not emerge as a significant predictor in these studies, not the least of which is that they focused on different outcomes.
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Pickett, J.T. On the Social Foundations for Crimmigration: Latino Threat and Support for Expanded Police Powers. J Quant Criminol 32, 103–132 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-015-9256-7
- Public opinion
- Police use of force
- Group threat