The (un)making of a citizen: The role of skin tone in perceived immigrant status and support for hostile immigration policy

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Department or Administrative Unit


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Researchers in diverse fields such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and geography have extensivly researched push and pull factors that lead to human migrations (Castles et al., 2014) and the political and economic consequences that migrations have on both sending and receiving countries (Golash-Boza, 2015). However, experimental investigations of the social categorization of citizenship or legal status are scarce. Given the incidence of hate crimes against immigrants of color and reports of racial profiling of American citizens of color falsely categorized as undocumented immigrants, research on skin tone, perceptions of immigration status, and immigration policy is both timely and important. The purpose of the current study was to explore whether people’s skin tone affects how perceivers categorize their immigration and legal status and the potential link between perceivers’ support for stringent immigration policies and specific patterns of categorization. Results suggest that people with brown (vs white or black) skin were more likely to be perceived as undocumented immigrants and that perceivers’ ratings of an individual with brown skin as more likely to be an undocumented immigrant predicted higher levels of support for harsh immigration policies. Taken together, the findings offer new insight into the importance of skin tone and its impact on the separation and stratification of people, informing research on intergroup relations, support for policy, and, importantly, social justice. Practical and political implications for judgments influenced by the social categorization based on skin tone are discussed.


This article was originally published in Translational Issues in Psychological Science. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Translational Issues in Psychological Science


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