Why are immigration advocates so quick to play the race card?

If racism played a large role in driving opposition to immigration, non-Hispanic whites would, one assumes, be more favorably disposed toward immigrants of European origin than toward immigrants of Mexican origin. The political scientists Morris Levy and Matthew Wright suggest otherwise in a new paper that they’ve ably summarized in the Washington Post. Levy and Wright conducted an online poll of non-Hispanic whites in California in June 2015. All respondents were read a short vignette about a hypothetical program that would grant legal status to illegal immigrants, and then they were asked whether a hypothetical immigrant ought to be included in the program. One-third were asked about a Mexican immigrant (“Juan”), another third were asked about a Chinese immigrant (“Yuan”), and the final third were asked about a German immigrant (“Johan”). In every case, respondents were told that the immigrant in question had lived in the U.S. for two years. But in only half of them, they were also told that he spoke English and had held a steady job for the duration of his time in the U.S.

Levy and Wright posit that if anti-Hispanic bias were at work, respondents would discount the positive information in the case of Juan while taking account of it in the case of Yuan or Johan. The results were revealing. In the absence of information about English-language fluency or work history, respondents were seven to eight percentage points less likely to believe that Juan should be granted legal status. This clearly suggests some degree of bias. When the positive information was included, however, this gap disappeared. Essentially, Levy and Wright’s respondents were operating under the assumption that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. tend to be less educated than German and Chinese immigrants to the U.S., and so, lacking additional evidence, they assumed that Juan would be needier than Yuan or Johan. Once they knew that Juan spoke English and had been working steadily, they were as inclined to help him as to help his fictional counterparts.

So haven’t Levy and Wright proven Ozimek’s point? Is the real reason for opposition to immigration this false notion that Latino immigrants don’t work? Not quite. Levy and Wright’s findings are in keeping with the work of the political scientists Jens Hainmueller of Stanford and Daniel Hopkins of the University of Pennsylvania, who’ve also surveyed Americans on their attitudes toward different kinds of immigrants. Hainmueller and Hopkins found a broad consensus: Americans strongly prefer educated immigrants in high-status jobs over other immigrants, and this preference varies little according to education, partisanship, labor-market position, or ethnocentrism.

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