Why do people believe that undocumented immigrants are a criminal threat?

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Chart summary of 3 studies examining this question

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Perceived Criminal Threat from Undocumented Immigrants: Antecedents and Consequences for Policy Preferences
"Drawing on the group threat perspective, this paper examines the perception of criminal threat from undocumented immigrants and its relation to both contextual measures of threat and public support for enhanced controls against undocumented immigrants. With data from a national telephone survey of non-Latino adults (N = 1,364), we estimate the predictors of perceived criminal threat as well as the effects of perceived threat and other factors on immigration policy preferences. Results indicate that political ideology and education are the strongest predictors of perceived criminal threat. Perceived criminal threat has the greatest influence on support for more punitive controls and partially mediates the effects of race, education, political ideology, and contextual threat on these control preferences. Future social threat research should consider the inclusion of perceptual threat measures instead of relying solely on contextual indicators of threat. In addition, contextual threat should be explored more often in dynamic, rather than static, terms."
Elizabeth K. Stupi
Ted Chiricos
Marc Gertz
2016 in Justice Quarterly
"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."
2012 in Criminology
White Public Opinion toward Undocumented Immigrants: Threat and Interpersonal Environment
"Public opinion toward undocumented immigration is discussed in the popular media yet receives less attention in the social science literature. With data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census, and the General Social Survey, this study examines whites' immigration opinions in 1996 and 2004. The results indicate that in 1996 whites who lived in areas with greater unemployment were more likely to favor government action against undocumented immigrants, while in 2004 whites who lived in areas with more Latino residents were less likely to favor such action. Whites who are embedded in educated networks and networks with racially different contacts are more likely to be sympathetic toward undocumented immigrants. Older networks were associated with restrictionist opinions. The interpersonal environment appears to remain consequential for whites, even if they have no contact with undocumented immigrants. This study finds that opinion formation results from broad demographic and small interpersonal structures."
Justin Allen Berg
2009 in Sociological Perspectives