Getting Started (Part 1)

Over the course of the past three weeks I have spend the majority of my time collecting data to advance three specific areas of Professor Sohoni’s research on the immigrant-crime nexus. In an attempt to keep this blog post clear and [somewhat] organized, I will first explain the topics I have been researching and how the information found thus far pertains to the initial steps in my work with Professor Sohoni. I will then reflect on the beginning steps of my research experience and discuss new topics (related to the immigrant-crime nexus) that are of interest to me.

As a brief re-cap, I am spending my summer assisting Professor Sohoni with his research on the historical and current discourses surrounding immigration and crime levels. Specifically, we are analyzing what types of arguments are made to support immigration restriction, and by what means these arguments are taking root. Even more specifically, we are looking at how criminality is increasingly used to justify anti-immigrant sentiment, what types of arguments are made to support the supposition that immigrants raise crime levels, and what data (statistics, graphs, etc.) these arguments derive validity from. Thus far, my work has consisted of three main tasks to advance research for Professor Sohoni’s upcoming book which will analyzed the aforementioned topic.

To begin with, I have created a database of national-level non-profit organizations dedicated to restricting immigration in the United States. So far, there are 63 organizations which have been included in this database. According to Professor Sohoni, the number of national level restrictionist organizations has nearly doubled since he created an initial version of this database several years ago. The criteria used to determine which groups were included in this study were as follows: (a) the organization’s principle objective is to restrict immigration, strengthen security at our nation’s southern border, reduce the rights ceded to undocumented immigrants, in addition to other anti-immigrant arguments, (b) the organization’s website is current and frequently updated, (c) the organization has a 501(c)(3) IRS-status and is thus recognized as a national-level non-profit organization. The database itself includes the mailing addresses to these anti-immigrant organizations (a disconcerting number of these are actually located in Virginia), a summary of each group’s main arguments against immigrants, and what other restrictionist organizations are advertised on each website. In the upcoming weeks, Professor Sohoni and I will work on fine tuning the criteria by which we will decide what organizations should be included in this study.

The second task I have been working on involves finding articles published over the past century that either support or refute the immigrant-crime nexus. Basically, I have been compiling a list of sources that provide information for (1) a historical overview of the empirical and theoretical links between crime and immigrants, (2) a contemporary overview of the empirical and theoretical relationship connecting immigrants to higher levels of crime, (3) public perceptions of the immigrant-crime nexus (both actual surveys and written analyses of public polls and surveys), (4) suggestions (concerning immigration) for policy-makers and law enforcement, and finally (5) theories that analyze the public’s fear of “immigrant threat” and “immigrant invasion”. Ideally, these sources will provide Professor Sohoni with resources that can be incorporated into the “existing literature” section of his future publication.

Finally, I have been compiling a list of survey questions related to public perceptions of immigrants, immigration restriction, the government’s response to immigration, immigrant rights, etc. This process has consisted in finding public polls since 1990 that include survey questions about immigration. I have drawn from surveys such as the General Social Survey (GSS), the American National Election Study (ANES), Gallup Poll/Gallup Brain, NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation/JFK School of Government’s Survey on Immigration in America, those found within the Roper Center’s Public Opinion Archives, in addition to many others. My list of survey questions will be used for a subsection in Professor Sohoni’s book which analyzes contemporary public opinions on immigration in the United States, and how these opinions have evolved over the past decade.



  1. Emily Gottschalk-Marconi says:

    Hi Lauren!

    First off, this sounds fascinating! I think the way in which you are organizing the data sounds very useful, and I wonder if you have considered mapping these organizations with the common points of entry for immigrants and subsequently analyzing any of the non-for-profits that do not lie in these “hot zones.” It might be interesting to probe these organizations a little more to see what are there motivations, what is their membership composition, what are the political attitudes of the area, etc., because I suppose these organizations would exemplify the proliferation of “immigrant scare” rhetoric.

    Also, I’m not sure if you came across this in your research, but one really good book I found that discusses the public perceptions and contributions of immigrants over the ages is Bonnie Honig’s “Democracy and the Foreigner.” It is pretty short, and I can e-mail it to you, if you’d like! Also, she also suggests Schuck and Smith’s “Citizenship and Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Party,” but I have not read that myself.

    Anywho, good luck with your project!
    Emily Gottschalk-Marconi

  2. Hi Emily,

    If you wouldn’t mind emailing me a copy of “Democracy and the Foreigner”, I would definitely be interested in reading it. One thing that is truly intriguing about this project (for me) is the historical tradition of anti- immigrant sentiment among “native born” Americans. The same arguments against new immigrants have been recycled throughout the centuries!

    Thank you, again, for your lit recommendations. I really appreciate it!