What Immigration Issues Do Americans Hold Sacred? A Psychological Journey Into American Attitudes Toward Immigrants
Last year, the Center for Inclusion and Belonging, housed at the American Immigration Council, set out to understand which immigration-related issues have become sacred values—values that we process as moral obligations rather than choices, activating different areas of the brain than regular values. Their survey asked respondents to choose between a more open or restrictive stance on 14 key immigration issues such as asylum, sanctuary cities, DACA, the border wall, the Muslim ban, and family separation. Respondents indicated how much money it would take for them to let go of their position, or act against it, and those who selected “no amount of money—I will not give this value up” were seen as holding the issue as a sacred value.
"What Immigration Issues Do Americans Hold Sacred? A Psychological Journey Into American Attitudes Towards Immigrants" reveals that each one of the 14 immigration-related issues was considered sacred by at least 34% (and at most 56%) of the survey sample—the same way, for instance, that they might be unwilling to consider selling their child or acting in violation of their faith. People sacralizing these stances come from both liberal and conservative ends of the political spectrum, and people sacralize both open, welcoming stances, as well as more restrictive ones. Why does this matter? Because we must communicate differently around sacred values than we would around normal values.
While this research is still new, it offers some suggestions for how we can handle the challenge. As Nichole Argo and Wendy Feliz write for MarketWatch, "First, once we’ve identified the values underlying what is sacralized, we can acknowledge them. Acknowledgment might mean seeking to understand the threats that one side feels... Second, the study suggests that the modeling of new norms—e.g., norms of listening and deliberation rather than absolutist, fiery rhetoric—might create constructive change. There is no silver bullet solution to our immigration divides, but this study provides a clearer understanding of why it is so difficult to find common ground and how we can begin to dial down the intensity of our deliberations."
Author:Nichole Argo, PhD and Kate Jassin, PhD and the Center for Inclusion and Belonging, a project of the American Immigration Council