Over the line

Kevin Lewis

June 08, 2018

The Political Impact of Immigration: Evidence from the United States
Anna Maria Mayda, Giovanni Peri & Walter Steingress
NBER Working Paper, April 2018


In this paper we study the impact of immigration to the United States on the vote for the Republican Party by analyzing county-level data on election outcomes between 1990 and 2010. Our main contribution is to separate the effect of high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants, by exploiting the different geography and timing of the inflows of these two groups of immigrants. We find that an increase in the first type of immigrants decreases the share of the Republican vote, while an inflow of the second type increases it. These effects are mainly due to the local impact of immigrants on votes of U.S. citizens and they seem independent of the country of origin of immigrants. We also find that the pro-Republican impact of low-skilled immigrants is stronger in low-skilled and non-urban counties. This is consistent with citizens' political preferences shifting towards the Republican Party in places where low-skilled immigrants are more likely to be perceived as competition in the labor market and for public resources.

Happily Ever After: Immigration, Natives' Marriage, and Fertility
Michela Carlana & Marco Tabellini
MIT Working Paper, April 2018


In this paper, we study the effects of immigration on natives' marriage, fertility, and family formation across US cities between 1910 and 1930. Instrumenting immigrants' location decision by interacting pre-existing ethnic settlements with aggregate migration flows, we find that immigration raised marriage rates, the probability of having children, and the propensity to leave the parental house for young native men and women. We show that these effects were driven by the large and positive impact of immigration on native men's employment and occupational standing, which increased the supply of "marriageable men". We also explore alternative mechanisms − changes in sex ratios, natives' cultural responses, and displacement effects of immigrants on female employment − and provide evidence that none of them can account for a quantitatively relevant fraction of our results.

Job Vacancies and Immigration: Evidence from Pre- and Post-Mariel Miami
Jason Anastasopoulos et al.
NBER Working Paper, May 2018


How does immigration affect labor market opportunities in a receiving country? This paper contributes to the voluminous literature by reporting findings from a new (but very old) data set. Beginning in 1951, the Conference Board constructed a monthly job vacancy index by counting the number of help-wanted ads published in local newspapers in 51 metropolitan areas. We use the Help-Wanted Index (HWI) to document how immigration changes the number of job vacancies in the affected labor markets. Our analysis begins by revisiting the Mariel episode. The data reveal a marked decrease in Miami’s HWI relative to many alternative control groups in the first 4 or 5 years after Mariel, followed by recovery afterwards. We find a similar initial decline in the number of job vacancies after two other supply shocks that hit Miami over the past few decades: the initial wave of Cuban refugees in the early 1960s, as well as the 1995 refugees who were initially detoured to Guantanamo Bay. We also look beyond Miami and estimate the generic spatial correlations that dominate the literature, correlating changes in the HWI with immigration across metropolitan areas. These correlations consistently indicate that more immigration is associated with fewer job vacancies. The trends in the HWI seem to most strongly reflect changing labor market conditions for low-skill workers (in terms of both wages and employment), and a companion textual analysis of help-wanted ads in Miami before and after the Mariel supply shock suggests a slight decline in the relative number of low-skill job vacancies.

Can Elites Shape Public Attitudes Toward Immigrants?: Evidence from the 2016 US Presidential Election
René Flores
Social Forces, June 2018, Pages 1649–1690


It is well known that political elites can shape public attitudes toward policies and values. Less is known, however, about whether elites can also influence public perceptions of social groups they praise or denounce. I test this by analyzing the attitudinal effects of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign announcement speech, in which he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” First, to provide causal estimates, I analyze survey data using a counterfactual approach. I find evidence that Trump’s statements negatively affected public opinion toward immigrants particularly among groups with restrictionist tendencies. Second, using a panel survey experiment, I corroborate this causal relationship but find that these effects are short-lived. This explains why restrictionist politicians like Trump constantly prod natives to keep their messages’ effects from dissipating. I also find that only negative messages are consequential and find no evidence that elite statements are more impactful than those from non-elites, suggesting that the power of elite rhetoric lies primarily in its capacity to reach the masses via the news media.

Bitterness in life and attitudes towards immigration
Panu Poutvaara & Max Friedrich Steinhardt
European Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming


Worries about immigration have played a major role in the rise of extremist parties across Europe, the Brexit referendum, and Trump's presidential campaign. We show that bitter people who feel they have not gotten what they deserve in life worry more about immigration. This relationship holds for respondents with different levels of skills, job security, concerns about crime, the general economic situation, or their own economic situation. Panel estimates document a strong link between bitterness and worries about immigration after controlling for time-constant individual heterogeneity. Finally, we find that bitterness is associated with support for the extreme right.

Bridging the Partisan Divide on Immigration Policy Attitudes through a Bipartisan Issue Area: The Case of Human Trafficking
Tabitha Bonilla & Cecilia Hyunjung Mo
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming


To date, while there is a rich literature describing the determinants of anti-immigrant sentiment, researchers have not identified a mechanism to reduce antipathy toward immigrants. In fact, extant research has shown that efforts to induce positive attitudes toward immigrants often backfire. What if a bridging frame strategy were employed? Can a bipartisan issue area in which there is general support act as a bridging frame to elicit more positive sentiment toward immigration among those who oppose more open immigration policies? We explore this question by conducting two survey experiments in which we manipulate whether immigration is linked with the bipartisan issue area of human trafficking. We find that in forcing individuals to reconcile the fact that a widely accepted issue position of combating trafficking also requires a reassessment of immigration policies, we can positively shift attitudes on immigration.

Gifts of the Immigrants, Woes of the Natives: Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration
Marco Tabellini
MIT Working Paper, May 2018


In this paper, I show that political opposition to immigration can arise even when immigrants bring significant economic prosperity to receiving areas. I exploit exogenous variation in European immigration to US cities between 1910 and 1930 induced by World War I and the Immigration Acts of the 1920s, and instrument immigrants' location decision relying on pre-existing settlement patterns. Immigration increased natives' employment and occupational standing, and fostered industrial production and capital utilization. However, despite these economic benefits, it triggered hostile political reactions, such as the election of more conservative legislators, higher support for anti-immigration legislation, and lower public goods provision. Stitching the economic and the political results together, I provide evidence that natives' backlash was, at least in part, due to cultural differences between immigrants and natives, suggesting that diversity might be economically beneficial but politically hard to manage.

Fear and the Safety Net: Evidence from Secure Communities
Marcella Alsan & Crystal Yang
Stanford Working Paper, April 2018


We study the impact of deportation fear on the incomplete take-up of federal safety net programs in the United States. We exploit changes in deportation fear due to the roll-out and intensity of Secure Communities (SC), an immigration enforcement program administered by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) from 2008 to 2014. The SC program empowers the federal government to check the immigration status of anyone arrested by local law enforcement agencies and has led to the issuance of over two million detainers and the forcible removal of approximately 380,000 immigrants. We estimate the spillover effects of SC on Hispanic citizens, finding significant declines in ACA sign-ups and food stamp take-up, particularly among mixed-status households and areas where deportation fear is highest. In contrast, we find little response to SC among Hispanic households residing in sanctuary cities. Our results are most consistent with network effects that perpetuate fear rather than lack of benefit information or stigma.

Representing Immigrants: The Role of Lawyers in Immigration Bond Hearings
Emily Ryo
Law & Society Review, June 2018, Pages 503-531


Do immigration lawyers matter, and if so, how? Drawing on a rich source of audio recording data, this study addresses these questions in the context of U.S. immigration bond hearings — a critical stage in the removal process for noncitizens who have been apprehended by U.S. immigration officials. First, my regression analysis using a matched sample of legally represented and unrepresented detainees shows that represented detainees have significantly higher odds of being granted bond. Second, I explore whether legal representation affects judicial efficiency and find no evidence of such a relationship. Third, I examine procedural and substantive differences between represented and unrepresented hearings. My analysis shows no differences in the judges' procedural behaviors, but significant differences in the detainees' level and type of courtroom advocacy. Represented detainees are more likely to submit documents, to present affirmative arguments for release, and to offer legally relevant arguments. Surprisingly, however, I find no evidence that these activities explain the positive effect of legal representation on hearing outcomes. These findings underscore the need to investigate not only what lawyers do in the courtroom, but also less quantifiable factors such as the quality of their advocacy, the nature of their relationship to other courtroom actors, and the potential signaling function of their presence in the courtroom.

A critical period for second language acquisition: Evidence from 2/3 million English speakers
Joshua Hartshorne, Joshua Tenenbaum & Steven Pinker
Cognition, August 2018, Pages 263-277


Children learn language more easily than adults, though when and why this ability declines have been obscure for both empirical reasons (underpowered studies) and conceptual reasons (measuring the ultimate attainment of learners who started at different ages cannot by itself reveal changes in underlying learning ability). We address both limitations with a dataset of unprecedented size (669,498 native and non-native English speakers) and a computational model that estimates the trajectory of underlying learning ability by disentangling current age, age at first exposure, and years of experience. This allows us to provide the first direct estimate of how grammar-learning ability changes with age, finding that it is preserved almost to the crux of adulthood (17.4 years old) and then declines steadily. This finding held not only for “difficult” syntactic phenomena but also for “easy” syntactic phenomena that are normally mastered early in acquisition. The results support the existence of a sharply-defined critical period for language acquisition, but the age of offset is much later than previously speculated. The size of the dataset also provides novel insight into several other outstanding questions in language acquisition.

Migrant self-selection: Anthropometric evidence from the mass migration of Italians to the United States, 1907–1925
Yannay Spitzer & Ariell Zimran
Journal of Development Economics, September 2018, Pages 226-247


We study migrant selection using the rich data generated by the migration of Italians to the US between 1907 and 1925. Comparing migrants’ heights to the height distributions of their birth cohorts in their provinces of origin produces a measure of selection that is exogenous to migration, representative, and generated by almost unrestricted migration. The Italian migration was negatively selected at the national level, but positively selected at the local level. Selection varied systematically within Italy, with more positive local selection from shorter and poorer provinces. Selection was more negative among individuals with stronger connections in the United States and became more positive after imposition of the literacy test in 1917. These results highlight the importance of measuring selection at the local level to fully understanding the composition of migrant flows, shed light on the potential impacts of screening policies, and support theories that relate networks to more negative selection.

The Role of Police Officer Race/Ethnicity on Crime Rates in Immigrant Communities
Joselyne Chenane & Emily Wright
Race and Justice, forthcoming


Few studies have examined the role of city police officer racial/ethnic representation on violent crime in immigrant neighborhoods. Yet police officer race/ethnicity might play a significant role in bolstering or weakening the relationship between immigration and violent crime rates. Researchers have posited that increasing the representation of minority officer would be an important avenue for making police departments more accountable to the communities they serve. The current study contributes to existing research by using national (i.e., 89 cities and 8,980 neighborhoods) data on violent crime from large U.S. cities. We examine the relationship between immigration, violent crime rates, and minority police officer representation using multilevel modeling techniques. Results indicate that neighborhood immigrant concentration is associated with lower robbery and homicide rates. Moreover, the negative relationship between immigrant concentration and violent crime rates is strengthened by city African American and Hispanic officer representation. Policy implications for law enforcement are discussed.

A Tale of Two States: How State Immigration Climate Affects Belonging to State and Country among Latinos
Deborah Schildkraut et al.
Social Problems, forthcoming


This study assesses the impact of different immigrant policy climates on how Latinos feel about themselves, their place in their state and country, and how they think they are viewed by others. Using survey data from Arizona and New Mexico, we find that Latinos in Arizona exhibit lower levels of belonging than Latinos in New Mexico, but their alienation is confined to the state level. We also find that the U.S. born are most sensitive to the state climate. We conclude that policies that delineate outsiders from insiders by immigration status have wide ranging effects that fall prominently on the U.S. born.

Immigration, citizenship, and the mental health of adolescents
Nicole Filion, Andrew Fenelon & Michel Boudreaux
PLoS ONE, May 2018

Methods: Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire in the National Health Interview Survey, we compared mental health status of U.S.-born adolescent citizens to foreign-born citizens and non-citizens in the years 2010–2015, and examined how differences in emotional difficulty changed based on time spent in the U.S.

Results: Results suggest that non-citizen adolescents experience better mental health outcomes than U.S.-born citizens. However, the mental health status of foreign-born citizens is indistinguishable from that of the U.S.-born, after accounting for basic socio-demographic characteristics. The prevalence of emotional difficulty experienced by immigrant adolescents increased with a family’s duration in the U.S.

Globalizing labor and the world economy: The role of human capital
Marco Delogu, Frédéric Docquier & Joël Machado
Journal of Economic Growth, June 2018, Pages 223–258


We develop a dynamic model of the world economy that jointly endogenizes individual decisions about fertility, education and migration. We then use it to compare the short- and long-term effects of immigration restrictions on the world distribution of income. Our calibration strategy replicates the economic and demographic characteristics of the world, and allows us to proxy bilateral migration costs and visa costs for two classes of workers and for each pair of countries. In our benchmark simulations, the world average level of income per worker increases by 12% in the short term and by approximately 52% after one century. These results are highly robust to our identifying strategy and technological assumptions. Sizable differences are obtained when our baseline (pre-liberalization) trajectory involves a rapid income convergence between countries or when we adjust visa costs for a possible upward bias. Our quantitative analysis reveals that the effects of liberalizing migration on human capital accumulation and income are gradual and cumulative. Whatever is the size of the short-term gain, the long-run impact is 4 to 5 times greater (except under a rapid convergence in income).

Folk theories of nationality and anti-immigrant attitudes
Mostafa Salari Rad & Jeremy Ginges
Nature Human Behaviour, May 2018, Pages 343–347


Nationality governs almost every aspect of our lives, including where we may live and travel, as well as our opportunities for education, healthcare and work. It is a common-sense social category that guides us in making inferences about the social world. Nationalism has been extensively studied within the social and cognitive sciences, but there has been little empirical investigation into folk theories regarding what determines someone’s nationality. In experiments carried out in the United States and India (N = 2,745), we used a variant of the switched-at-birth task to investigate the extent to which people believe that nationality is determined by biology or is a malleable social identity that can be acquired. We find that folk theories of nationality seem remarkably flexible. Depending on the framing of the question, people report believing that nationality is either fluid or fixed at birth. Our results demonstrate that people from different cultures with different experiences of migration and different explicit stereotypes of their own nation may share similar folk theories about nationality. Moreover, these theories may shape attitudes towards immigrants — an important public-policy issue. Belief that nationality is malleable is associated with more positive attitudes towards immigrants even when holding ideology constant.

The Refugee of My Enemy Is My Friend: Rivalry Type and Refugee Admission
Joshua Jackson & Douglas Atkinson
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


Why do states accept refugees? While there are a number of factors that influence a state’s decision to accept refugees, interstate relations play an important yet understudied role in refugee flows. In this paper, we build on previous work that has suggested that states with an adversarial relationship will be more likely to accept refugees. We incorporate existing conceptualization and theory from the rivalry literature and extend this logic to state strategy of refugee acceptance to provide one of the first empirical evaluations of refugee acceptance by states. Specifically, we argue that the issues rivals are contending over will change the incentives and disincentives for admitting a rival’s refugees. We anticipate that rivals disputing over ideology will be more likely to accept their rival’s refugees than rivals contending over other rivalry types. We test and find evidence for our arguments using a data set of all directed dyads from 1960 to 2006.

Does the Immigrant Advantage in Overweight/Obesity Persist over Time in Mexican American Youth? NHANES 1988‐1994 to 2005‐2014
Luis Maldonado & Sandra Albrecht
Obesity, June 2018, Pages 1057-1062

Methods: Using cross‐sectional data from Mexican American and non‐Hispanic white children aged 4 to 17 years participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1988‐1994 [N = 4,720] and 2005‐2014 [N = 7,275]) log‐binomial regression was used to calculate prevalence ratios (PRs) of overweight/obesity by nativity status adjusting for sociodemographic covariates, survey period, and a nativity‐by‐survey period interaction. A separate covariate‐adjusted model tested a three‐level interaction between ethnicity, nativity, and survey period that included non‐Hispanic white children.

Results: In 1988‐1994, foreign‐born Mexican Americans had significantly lower prevalence of overweight/obesity compared with US‐born Mexican Americans (PR = 0.75, 95% CI: 0.61‐0.94). However, by 2005‐2014, the nativity gap in overweight/obesity had closed (PR = 0.94, 95% CI: 0.84‐1.07). Moreover, while foreign‐born Mexican Americans had the lowest levels of overweight/obesity in 1988‐1994, by 2005‐2014, foreign‐born and US‐born Mexican Americans had comparable estimates, both significantly higher than that of non‐Hispanic white individuals.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.