Chief executives' approval of immigrants: Evidence from a survey experiment of 101 Latin American and Caribbean mayors

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Claudia N. Avellaneda
Johabed G. Olvera


Immigrants, Latin American and Caribbean Mayors, Survey experiment, Decision making


Several countries worldwide have experienced increasing immigration waves. Studies have explained immigration attitudes mainly in terms of cultural threats and material self-interest. However, scarce attention has been given to chief executives' empathy toward the causes of migration, the impact of which may be moderated by the size of the migration wave. We test these propositions on data drawn from a survey-experiment using 101 Latin American and Caribbean mayors as subjects. Mayors were presented with hypothetical situations in which they had to approve or reject an experimentally manipulated number of immigrants. The cause of their migration was also manipulated by randomly presenting mayors a number of immigrants due to either an earthquake (natural disaster), a civil conflict, or an unspecified cause (control group). Findings show 79 percent of mayors approved immigrants regardless of the cause. Mayors are more likely to approve immigrants when the migration cause is stated. However, mayoral approval of immigrants due to disasters is not statistically different from mayoral approval of immigrants due to civil conflict. When the size of the immigration wave increases, mayors are still more likely to accept immigrants due to natural disasters, but less likely to accept immigrants due to civil conflict. Interestingly, South American, Caribbean and Central American mayors tend to be more empathetic toward immigrants than their Mexican colleagues.

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