Immigrant threat and Latino/a disadvantage: disentangling the impact of immigration attitudes on ethnic sentencing disparities


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Publication Date

August 2018


The criminal justice system has increasingly been relied upon to address immigration apprehension, resulting in concerns that this institution will be abused in an effort to indirectly address this perceived social problem. The consequences of such an approach will likely extend to Latino/a populations as a result of rhetoric linking ethnicity, immigration, and crime. Despite popular theoretical frameworks suggesting that disadvantage will vary according to the size of the population and the extent of perceived threats toward this minority, many neglect attitudinal measures or fail to measure actual criminological outcomes. This project addresses this oversight by exploring potential mediating effects of attitudes on the relationship between population measures and ethnic sentencing disparities. After fitting multilevel models nesting cases within counties and states, the results indicate that there is significant variation across all levels. While greater disparities in Latino/a sentencing were found in counties with greater Latino/a populations, this relationship was nonlinear. Additionally, state level measures of immigrant threat attitudes appear to be stronger predictors of Latino/a sentencing disparities. These contextual effects are more influential than offender level ethnicity, supporting threat hypotheses and suggesting that measurement of this concept should not be limited to offender ethnicity and population characteristics alone.

Journal Title

Journal of Crime and Justice





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