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The Ripple Effect: The Political Consequences of Proximal Contact with Immigration Enforcement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2020

Hannah Walker*
Rutgers University
Marcel Roman
University of California-Los Angeles
Matt Barreto
University of California-Los Angeles
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Hannah Walker, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States. E-mail:
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A growing body of research suggests that proximal exposure to immigration enforcement can have important social and health-related consequences. However, there is little research identifying the impact of proximal contact with immigration policy on political attitudes and behaviors, and still less investigating the underlying mechanisms that might connect contact and political dispositions. Drawing on insights from criminal justice, we argue that proximal immigration contact influences political behavior via a sense of injustice with respect to the discriminatory application of immigration enforcement. The impact of a sense of injustice should primarily hold among Latinos, who are targeted on the basis of race, ethnicity, accent, and skin color. Nevertheless, it may also hold among Blacks, whose communities are targeted more generally, and Asians, to whom issues related to immigration are likewise important. In order to assess this theory, we leverage a survey with nationally representative samples of four different racial groups. We find that proximal contact motivates participation in protests, and does so indirectly via a sense of injustice for white and Asian respondents. Latino and Black respondents are primarily motivated by injustice irrespective of contact. In sum, the results suggest that immigration enforcement and non-immigration-related criminal justice policies may have similar political effects on those who are proximately affected.

Research Article
Copyright © The Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2020

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