1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. References
  4. Biographies

In this commentary, we discuss the articles included in ASAP's special issue on Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 and explore the means by which intergroup bias related to the support and implementation of this law may be reduced. Specifically, we briefly discuss the overall conclusions that can be drawn from the articles included in this volume and address questions that still remain regarding the potential effects of this law. Next, we explore potential strategies for reducing bias between Whites and Latinos, and we discuss the limitations Arizona's House Bill 2281 will impose on our ability to successfully improve intergroup relations in Arizona.

The articles included in this volume provide an in-depth assessment of the social and psychological factors that predict support for immigration laws like SB1070, as well as the potential ramifications of SB1070 for the intergroup attitudes of American citizens, the behavior of law enforcement officers, and the experiences of individual immigrants. This research clearly indicates that, if implemented, laws like SB1070 will promote racial profiling by law enforcement personnel, which will then cause higher levels of stigmatization and victimization of Latinos and other racial and ethnic minorities. In this commentary, we draw attention, first, to some additional implications of laws like SB1070 that have not received as much attention in the press or in this volume and, second, to implications of another law passed by the legislature in Arizona, HB2281, that effectively prevents implementation of educational programs and activities that can reduce the harmful effects of SB1070.

The most obvious problem with laws like SB1070 is that they promote racial profiling by local police. The papers by Nier, Gaertner, Nier, and Dovidio (2011), Fisher, Deason, Borgida, and Oyamot (2011), and Epstein and Goff (2011) offer important insights into how police bias against Latinos will unfold and how it may be attenuated. As Nier and colleagues point out, however, significant research must be done to examine the effectiveness of different bias reduction strategies. How is information regarding implicit bias or egalitarianism best presented to law enforcement officers? How do we assess whether strategies provided in these interventions are actually being used in the field? And what is the best way to assess the effectiveness of these strategies? Fortunately, previous research provides helpful insights into how to best address these issues. As Fisher et al. (2011) suggest, for example, asking individuals to discuss egalitarianism before reporting attitudes toward immigrants increases positive attitudes toward immigrants (Fisher, Deason, Borgida, & Oyamot, 2006). Further, interventions designed to address implicit bias and stereotyping in other fields, like healthcare (e.g., Stone & Moskowitz, 2011), can be adapted for law enforcement officers. In sum, this volume (see Epstein & Goff, 2011; Fisher et al., 2006; Nier et al., 2011) provides striking evidence of the need for research on potential interventions that can reduce the possibility for racial profiling by law enforcement under SB1070.

In addition to our concern that SB1070 will increase racial profiling by police officers, there are sections of the law that, in our reading, appear to promote racial profiling by regular citizens. These sections are, in effect, pitting neighbor against neighbor, teacher against parent, and coach against player, thus shredding the intergroup fabric of our community. For example, Section 11-1051-G states: “A person may bring an action in superior court to challenge any official or agency of this state or a county, city, town, or other political subdivision of this state that adopts or implements a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”

This provision empowers regular citizens to enforce SB1070 by threatening to sue law enforcement for failing to implement the law. An important question is how would a person know that a public official or agency is not enforcing the law? It is likely that the individual used his or her stereotypes to determine the documentation status of an individual or group of individuals. For example, imagine a homeowner who concludes that the landscapers who work on her neighbor's yard are undocumented because they appear to be Mexican and speak only Spanish. She calls the police, but they do nothing because of the lack of probable cause, so the landscapers return to the neighborhood the following week. At this point, the new law appears to empower the homeowner to sue local law enforcement for “implementing a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of immigration laws” (i.e., for not arresting and deporting the landscapers). Even if the homeowner is wrong about the documentation status of the landscapers, at the very least, this law empowers normal, everyday people to use their stereotypes and prejudices to categorize individuals as undocumented and, further, to feel justified performing acts of discrimination against undocumented individuals.

Another example of how SB1070 may promote conflict between citizens is a provision that makes it illegal for anyone who transports an undocumented individual. Specifically, Section 13-2929 says: “It is unlawful for a person who is in violation of a criminal offense to transport or move or attempt to transport or move an alien in this state in a means of transportation if this person knows or recklessly disregards the fact that the alien has come to, has entered, or remains in the Unites States in violation of law.” Although it is likely that this subsection was written to discourage people from hiring undocumented workers off the street, we believe it could also be interpreted as applying to friends, teachers, coaches, and anyone else who transports an undocumented child or adult. Imagine a soccer coach who transports undocumented soccer players to and from practices or matches. What if a disgruntled parent or a rival coach who supports the law were to call police and report that the coach is transporting undocumented children? If the law applies in this case, and the coach was charged for transporting an undocumented child or adult, he or she could face serious legal consequences. The irony of this is that even individuals who support the law could be caught in its broad web of persecution.

The articles by Diaz, Saenz, and Kwan (2011) and Mukherjee, Molina, and Adams (2011) provide insight into why regular citizens might be motivated to enforce SB1070. These authors suggest that negativity toward Mexican immigrants is driven, in part, by the perceived economic and symbolic threats (i.e., perceiving that one's value system is being undermined by the value system of another group) posed by these individuals. Given the findings of Diaz, Mukherjee and colleagues, it is interesting to consider the interplay between realistic and symbolic threats, as well as the long-term effects of the bias that has developed toward Mexican immigrants in recent years. Will attitudes toward undocumented Mexican immigrants begin to improve as America's economy improves or, instead, will negative attitudes endure even when economic conditions have improved and immigrants represent less of a resource threat? Given the potential for negative associations to develop into negative implicit stereotypes and attitudes (Rudman, 2004), it is not clear that improvement in the economy will eliminate implicit forms of bias anytime soon. Further, as we discuss below, it is important to consider whether another new Arizona law, HB2281, limits the possibility that Latino culture will become an accepted part of the Arizona mainstream, which is necessary to reduce the symbolic threat posed by Mexican immigrants, as it would likely be perceived as less of a threat to majority value systems (Stephan & Stephan, 2002).

The paper by Stephan (2011) provides several useful and important guidelines for reducing the intergroup conflict that leads to legislation like SB1070. In his article, Stephan explores strategies for attenuating animosity between Whites and Latinos that target both realistic (i.e., resources-based) and symbolic (i.e., value-based) threats, including peacemaking workshops, enlightenment programs like multicultural education, and contact programs like cooperative learning and the jigsaw classroom, that can foster more positive attitudes among Whites of Latinos of all ages. Importantly, research has found that interventions that encourage positive intergroup contact can lead to long-term decreases in bias and intergroup anxiety, as well as increased willingness to interact with out-group members (Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, & Ropp, 1997; Page-Gould, Mendoza-Denton, & Tropp, 2008). The problem in Arizona, however, is that just after SB1070 was ratified by the legislature, another bill, HB2281, was passed to prevent the implementation of many of the strategies discussed by Stephan that are effective for reducing prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination.

Specifically, the central mandates in HB2281 are that “a school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that: (1) promote the overthrow of the United States government, (2) promote resentment toward a race or class of people, (3) are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or (4) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In our view, HB2281 was written to constrain what can and cannot be taught in courses that deal with issues related to ethnicity and race or to the value of multicultural diversity. The bill emphasizes that such courses focus on people as individuals, instead of as groups based on characteristics like ethnicity or race. The legal consequences for teaching certain perspectives seems designed to intimidate some teachers and schools so they eliminate ethnic studies courses altogether or, in the very least, water down the content in the courses to the point where they do not accurately represent the cultural perspective that is the focus of the course content.

There are several inaccurate assumptions about the psychology of intergroup relations and conflict resolution that underlie support for laws like HB2281. One assumption is that the police and civilians alike can avoid racial profiling by suppressing or pushing race and ethnicity from their minds. Research shows, however, that when people try to push race and ethnicity out of their minds so that they do not stereotype, it leads to an ironic rebound of stereotypic thoughts about the target group (Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, & Jetten, 1994). Said differently, suppression makes people more, not less, likely to express bias. We simply cannot prevent stereotyping and discrimination by wishing it away.

A second assumption is that “ethnic solidarity” is necessarily counter productive for intergroup relations. Here, HB2281 clearly promotes a color-blind ideology over the appreciation of multicultural diversity, and it endorses the appreciation of individualism over and above the appreciation of groups. Psychological research does not support these provisions, however. Findings are mixed as to whether a color-blind approach to race and ethnicity reduces stereotyping (Richeson & Nussbaum, 2004; Wolsko, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2000). Further, color-blind ideologies are more strongly endorsed by majority than minority group members (Plautt, Thomas, & Goren, 2009). Indeed, studies show that a color-blind ideology has a variety of negative effects on racial and ethnic minorities (Plautt et al., 2009; Purdie-Vaughns, Steele, Davies, Ditlmann, & Randall Crosby, 2008). Specifically, assimilation to the majority group may cause ethnic and racial minority groups to disidentify from the positive qualities of their group membership. Thus, as discussed in many of the papers found in this volume (Levers & Hyatt-Burkhart, 2011; Sarabia, 2011; Sládková, Mangado, & Quinteros, 2011; Trujillo & Paluck, 2011), exclusively teaching assimilation is likely to have important negative psychological consequences for members of minority groups. Such narrow views of multiculturalism overlook the ability to take pride in one's group and still appreciate ethnic and racial differences.

A third assumption made by HB2281 is that learning to treat people as individuals is the most effective means for reducing intergroup conflict. If the goal of this law is to teach citizens to hold more-positive views and attitudes toward each other, then, as the paper by Stephan (2011) illustrates, individuation is by no means the only tool available, nor is it the best tool for achieving this goal. Individuation is not likely to reduce hostility when a minority person is categorized as a member of a disliked group and, as several papers in this volume suggest, categorization processes are the default mechanism by which we form impressions and interact with outgroup members, especially when tired, in a hurry, or cognitively overwhelmed. Thus, rather than relying exclusively on people to individuate, more can be gained by teaching them to appreciate and embrace group differences.

As the law is currently (and vaguely) written, most of the methods that work for teaching the appreciation of multicultural diversity could be construed as violating HB2281, which might include educating students about the perspective of minority groups and discussing broad-scale mistreatment of certain groups (e.g., the horrors of slavery for people of African descent, the internment of Japanese individuals during WWII, the poor working conditions of Mexican immigrants today). Indeed, many studies show that perspective-taking—that is, seeing the world through the eyes of another group—can be an especially effective way to reduce stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. As Stephan (2011) notes, perspective-taking causes people to feel empathy and compassion for others. Compared with courses that are more likely to espouse the perspective of majority group members, ethnic studies’ courses essentially serve as an exercise in taking the perspective of an ethnic or racial group for White students. How can people understand the anger that some groups feel about the way they are treated if they are never exposed to the group's perspective? By learning about other groups' perspectives, students will be more informed and prepared to interact across ethnic and racial boundaries.

We would also like to point out that, to date, few have questioned the constitutionality of laws like HB2281, which may restrict teachers’ academic freedom and freedom of speech1. This may be a moot point given that state and local school districts primarily determine the curriculum for K-12 schoolteachers. However, as university faculty primarily determine what subjects are taught and how they are discussed with students, it is reasonable to predict that if HB2281 is enforced, children in Arizona are not likely to receive education in multicultural diversity until they reach college. Given the empirical support for the positive outcomes associated with learning to appreciate multicultural diversity, compared with endorsing color-blind ideologies, it is important that children are exposed to these ideas long before leaving home for the first time as young adults.

In sum, by abolishing or diluting ethnic studies’ courses, HB2281 effectively eliminates several of the most powerful tools we have for fostering positive intergroup relations. Limiting what can be taught in cultural and ethnic studies courses will attenuate the degree of “enlightenment” and positive contact that students can have across ethnic boundaries. The irony is that by eliminating or curtailing ethnic studies’ courses, the law is likely to maintain the intergroup tension that it was intended to reduce. The science clearly indicates that we cannot reduce intergroup conflict by hiding from it, but this is essentially what HB2281 mandates. Instead, we should be reducing hatred by bringing people together, educating them about different cultures, and promoting positive intergroup interactions.

  1. 1

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for bringing this issue to our attention.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. References
  4. Biographies
  • Diaz, P., Saenz, D. S., & Kwan, V. S. Y. (2011) Economic dynamics and changes in attitudes towards undocumented Mexican immigrants in Arizona. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01255.x
  • Epstein, L. M. & Goff, P. A. (2011). Safety or liberty?: The bogus trade-off of cross-deputization policy. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advance Online Publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01246.x
  • Fisher, E. L., Deason, G., Borgida, E., & Oyamot, Jr., C. M. (2011). A model of authoritarianism, social norms, and personal values: Implications for Arizona law enforcement and immigration policy. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01247.x
  • Fisher, E. L., Deason, G., Borgida, E., & Oyamot, C. (2006). Perceived social norms and egalitarian value salience drive RWA's outgroup evaluations. Poster Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, New York, NY.
  • Levers, L. L., & Hyatt-Burkhart, D. (2011). Immigration reform and the potential for psychosocial trauma: The missing link of lived human experience. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01254.x
  • Macrae, C. N., Bodenhausen, G. V., Milne, A. B., & Jetten, J. (1994). Out of mind but back in sight: Stereotypes on the rebound. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(5), 808817.
  • Mukherjee, S., Molina, L. E., & Adams, G. (2011). National identity and immigration policy: Concern for legality or ethnocentric exclusion? Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01257.x
  • Nier, J. A., Gaertner, S. L., Nier, C. L., & Dovidio, J. F. (2011) Can racial profiling be avoided under Arizona immigration law? Lessons learned from subtle bias research and anti-discrimination law. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01248.x
  • Page-Gould, E., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Tropp, L. (2008). With a little help from my cross-group friends: Reducing anxiety in intergroup contexts through cross-group friendship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 10801094.
  • Plautt, V. C., Thomas, K. M., & Goren, M. J. (2009). Is multiculturalism or colorblindness better for minorities? Psychological Science, 20(4), 444446.
    Direct Link:
  • Purdie-Vaughns, V., Steele, C. M., Davies, P., Ditlmann, R., Randall Crosby, J. (2008). Identity contingency threat: How diversity cues signal threat or safety for African-Americans in mainstream settings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(4), 615630.
  • Richeson, J. A., & Nussbaum, R. J. (2004). The impact of multiculturalism versus colorblindness on racial bias. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 417423.
  • Rudman, L. A. (2004). Sources of implicit attitudes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2), 7982.
    Direct Link:
  • Sarabia, H. (2011). Perpetual illegality: Results of border enforcement and policies for Mexican undocumented migrants in the United States. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01256.x
  • Sládková, J., García Mangado, S. M., & Reyes Quinteros, J. (2011). Lowell immigrant communities in the climate of deportations. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01253.x
  • Stephan, W. G. (2011). Improving relations between residents and immigrants. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01252.x
  • Stephan, C. W., & Stephan, W. G. (2002). Cognition and affect in cross-cultural relations. In W. B. Gudykunst & B. Mody (Eds.), Handbook of international and intercultural communication (2nd ed., pp. 127142). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
  • Stone, J., & Moskowitz, G. B. (2011). Non-conscious bias in medical decisions making: What can be done to reduce it? Medical Education, 45, 768776.
  • Trujillo, M. D., & Paluck, E. L. (2011). The devil knows best: Experimental effects of a televised soap opera on Latino attitudes toward government and support for the 2010 U.S. census. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. Advanced online publication, doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01249.x
  • Wolsko, C., Park, B., Judd, C. M., & Wittenbrink, B. (2000). Framing interethnic ideology: Effects of multicultural and color-blind judgments of groups of individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(4), 635654.
  • Wright, S. C., Aron, A., McLaughlin-Volpe, T., & Ropp, S. T. (1997). The extended contact effect: Knowledge of cross-group friendships and prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 7390.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. References
  4. Biographies
  • MEGHAN G. BEAN is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona. She received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Northwestern University. Her research examines predictors of positive intergroup contact and strategies individuals can use to promote positive intergroup contact.

  • JEFF STONE is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. He received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His research examines new influence strategies that are used to promote health behavior and the reduction of prejudice.