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40 Chapter Three Rendering the Social Context: Attitudes Toward Immigration and Immigrants “There is clearly a need, at this juncture, for the use of a social lens to consider international migration and the situation of international migrants.” —United Nations Secretariat (2004) SOCIAL REPRESENTATIONS SERVE as a broad framework for defining a country’s views of immigration and of itself, setting up an iconic structure in which events can be played out. Yet the melting pot (or more recent derivatives, such as salad bowl) provides only vague outlines for the more specified attitudes that prevail in a society. Social representations, often evocative in their imagery and readily communicated as succinct phrases, can be inconsistently applied in their particulars; they can subsume a range of different, and sometimes conflicting, views on the phenomena of immigration. More specified beliefs about immigration policies and immigrant groups are “closer to the ground” and more readily understood in terms of varying degrees of positivity or negativity. These beliefs can also assume metaphorical form. An analysis of popular discourse surrounding immigration in the early 1900s in the United States, a period when new restrictions were being debated and eventually enacted, reveals images of diseased organisms, floods, and subhuman animals (O’Brien 2003). More often the lens of social science is the survey or questionnaire, less vivid in their depictions but equally informative about the public’s views. Here I consider general attitudes toward immigration as they have manifested themselves over the past several decades. These include both gen- eral measures of favorability—is it a good or bad thing for immigrants to come to this country?—as well as attitudes about what immigrants should do once they have arrived—what form of acculturation is most desirable? The second of these can be further complicated by consideration of not just the views of those in the host society, but also the opinions of the immigrants themselves, and by looking at the potential match or mismatch in these two views. Further consideration of the attitudinal climate encourages us to look for the beliefs and values that underlie expressed attitudes. These psychological processes and value orientations move us from a description of what to an understanding of why—a position that is useful and perhaps essential to the development of any intervention strategy or policy development. PATTERNS OF IMMIGRATION ATTITUDES Preparing for a conference on immigration in early 2004, the United Nations Office of the Secretariat observed that “probably in most regions and countries, and certainly according to the media that are creating an emerging world opinion, the current movements of people across borders represent a problem” (4). This diplomatically phrased understatement was followed by the observation that “these public perceptions reflect real issues and real problems, but they also reflect ignorance, prejudices and fear” (4). International headlines emanating from several European countries in recent years, including Austria, France, and the Netherlands, support these UN observations. In the primary elections in France in the spring of 2002, for example, Jean-Marie Le Pen surprised many by finishing second, running on a platform that included proposing an end to all legal immigration and the deportation of all illegal immigrants.1 Although the election results may have been a surprise, survey data collected throughout Europe in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s showed increasing agreement with statements such as [there are] “too many non-European Union nationals in the country” and “the rights of non-EU nationals should be restricted” (Pettigrew 1998). More specifically stated attitudes suggesting prejudice and discrimination against particular immigrant groups are in evidence throughout Europe as well (Jackson, Brown, and Kirby 1998). Similar debates have emerged in Australia, which has seen a flow of immigrants, primarily from Asia, since it ended its White Australia policy in the early 1970s. Former Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies helped to shape the tone of these debates with his frequent calls for the country to stand up to the so-called Yellow Peril from the north (Perlez 2002), recalling the racist discourse of an earlier era in the United States. Rendering the Social Context 41 Attitudes toward U.S. Immigration Policy In the United States, attitudes toward immigration and immigrant groups have been characterized by considerable ambivalence over the years. The policies described in chapter 2 provide discrete indices of public opinion, from the anti-immigrant feelings that prompted the restrictive legislation of 1924 to the far more open policy advocated by John F. Kennedy...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781610441537
Related ISBN
9780871540867
MARC Record
OCLC
794701253
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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