UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS AS PERCEIVED CRIMINAL THREAT: A TEST OF THE MINORITY THREAT PERSPECTIVE

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  • Additional supporting information can be found in the listing for this article in the Wiley Online Library at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/crim.2012.50.issue-3/issuetoc.

  • I would like to thank Scott Decker for providing data for this study and Daniel Mears for his feedback on previous drafts. I also would like to thank Robert Fornango, Eric Hedberg, David Jacobs, Ramiro Martinez, Robert Kane, Lauren Krivo, Ruth Peterson, Alex Piquero, Travis Pratt, Lincoln Quillian, Mike Reisig, Nancy Rodriguez, Eric Stewart, Bryan Sykes, and all the other participants in the 2009 Crime and Justice Summer Research Institute for their helpful comments and suggestions. Furthermore, I am grateful to the editor and anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback and insights. Direct correspondence to Xia Wang, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 411 N. Central Ave, Suite 600, Phoenix, AZ 85004 (e-mail: xiawang@asu.edu).

Abstract

The link between immigration and crime has garnered considerable attention from researchers. Although the weight of evidence suggests that immigration is not linked to crime, the public consistently views immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, as criminal and thus a threat to social order. However, little attention has been paid to why they are perceived this way. By drawing on the minority threat perspective, this article investigates the effects of objective and perceptual measures of community context on perceived criminal threat from undocumented immigrants. Analyses of data collected from four Southwest states and the U.S. Census show that the perceived size of the undocumented immigrant population, more so than the actual size of the immigrant population and economic conditions, is positively associated with perceptions of undocumented immigrants as a criminal threat. Additional analyses show that objective measures of community context do not affect native respondents’ perceptions of the size of the undocumented immigrant population. The study's findings and their implications for theory, research, and policy are discussed.

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