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Political science research finds nativism fears spur anti-immigration sentiment

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According to Insights, a publication from the Graduate School of Business (GSB), Jens Hainmueller, a political science professor at Stanford, believes that anti-immigrant sentiment does not come from natives’ concerns about their loss of jobs, but rather from fears that immigrants will change the country’s identity and fail to contribute to it.

According to the article, previous research showed that anti-immigrant feelings stemmed from a fear that new members would steal jobs from native employees. However, as a result of Hainmueller’s study of more than 100 studies of attitudes toward immigration, he has shown that the actual fear comes from concerns about nativism. Natives are worried that new members of that country would change the identity of the country.

Part of Hainmueller’s research focused on Switzerland as an example of the emotional response to immigrants. In Switzerland, immigrants become citizens based on the votes of the Swiss who live in the immigrant’s region. Hainmueller found that the more culturally distant the immigrant was from Switzerland, the less likely the native Swiss were to approve them, even if they spoke the same language.

According to Hainmueller’s research, policymakers should focus less on promising more jobs or other incentives for displaced workers, and instead work to show native-born people that the immigrants are not as different as they might seem. By showing that any perceived difference might not be as severe as originally imagined, policymakers can show native-born people that immigrants are not a threat to identity.

Additionally, Hainmueller advises policymakers to highlight the positive contributions of immigrants to the country as a whole. The article references a 2010 report of the Partnership for a New American Economy, which found that immigrants or their children founded 40 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies. Hainmueller also found that having immigrants coming to the U.S. learn English helped to quell anti-immigration sentiments.

“It’s difficult, but policymakers could think of ways to show native-born people that immigrants are not as different as they might seem to be – and that instead of being a threat to cultural identity, they can be contributors to the society as a whole,” Hainmueller told Insights.

Contact Josee Smith at jsmith11 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Josee Smith is a senior this year, majoring in anthropology with a minor in Spanish. She is the desk editor for the student groups beat and has spent her last 3 years at The Daily as both a staff writer and contributing writer. Originally from Washington State, Josee came to California for the warm weather and stayed for the awesome reporting. To contact her, please email jsmith11 'a' stanford.edu.