By Kevin R. Betts
Arizona’s controversial new immigration law is set to go into effect this Thursday. In short, the law requires that police officers determine the immigration status of individuals who are stopped, detained, or arrested when there is reasonable suspicion that they are in the country illegally. The law also makes it a misdemeanor for legal immigrants to not carry immigration papers. Fearing possible harassment by police and wrongful detention, many legal and illegal immigrants have fled the state since the announcement of the impending law. How might dwindling numbers of immigrants in Arizona impact immigrant relations in the state?
Research in the behavioral sciences has repeatedly shown that to achieve peace between conflicting groups, intergroup contact is necessary. Without frequent intergroup contact, unfounded prejudices often form about members of stigmatized groups. Based on this research, we might expect that fewer immigrants in Arizona will provide fewer opportunities for contact between immigrants and natural born citizens, and consequently, more unfounded prejudices about immigrants. Indeed, research by Ulrich Wagner and colleagues (2008) provides evidence for this prediction. They looked at how the proportion of ethnic minorities in a region affects opportunities for intergroup contact, and how frequency of intergroup contact affects prejudice. Using East and West German samples, they found that lower levels of prejudice in West Germany could be explained by the larger numbers of ethnic minorities in the region, which allowed for increased intergroup contact.
Will Arizona’s new law be effective in its primary purpose of driving out illegal immigrants? It probably already has, but not without costs for immigrant relations in the state as legal and illegal immigrants flee the region.
Wagner, U., Christ, O., Wolf, H., van Dick, R., Stellmacher, J., Schlüter, E., & Zick, A. Social and political context effects on intergroup contact and intergroup attitudes. In U. Wagner, L.R. Tropp, G. Finchilescu, & C. Tredoux (Eds.), Improving intergroup relations: Building on the legacy of Thomas F. Pettigrew (pp. 195-209). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.