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Navigating Non-Physical Borders: An Examination of the Boundaries of Exclusion and Ideas About Inclusion of Immigrants in American Communities

Alison K O'Toole, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Are exclusionary boundaries drawn by those who aren’t accepting of immigrants malleable? Do beliefs about inclusion on the part of those who tend to be more accepting toward immigrants have limits? To address these questions, I look at the major factors that I believe influence reactions to immigrants: national identity and trust, and values. This dissertation contributes to two important goals. The first is to help ensure that long- term residents in communities accept people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. The second is softening the divisive power of the immigration issue to make it less of a staple in the arsenal of partisan and ideological warfare that currently plagues the American political landscape. Though attitudes about immigration are widely studied, often the boundaries of exclusion and ideas about inclusion are taken for granted. I argue that both exclusive and inclusive tendencies toward immigrants are complex and defy stereotypical categorization. Various aspects of this argument are tested using two survey experiments. In Chapter 2, I find that although trust and attitudes toward immigrants appear to be preset and difficult to manipulate in the minds of people who identify strongly with the American national identity, not all strong national identifiers are alike. It is only when strong national identity is coupled with low institutional trust that attitudes toward immigrants are significantly negatively affected. In Chapter 3, I find that “liking” fullymediates the relationship between values and behavioral intentions toward immigrants. The relevant values are self-transcendence and conservation. In everyday situations where different cultures come into contact with one another, inclusivity as pure, positive acceptance is a reaction experienced by very few. For the majority of people who are generally pro-diversity, norms violations and different sets of values create real conflicts. Overall, my dissertation shows that attitudes and reactions toward immigrants defy stereotypical images of the “racist conservative” or the morally superior liberal on issues of diversity.

Subject Area

Political science|Cultural anthropology|International Relations|Organizational behavior

Recommended Citation

O'Toole, Alison K, "Navigating Non-Physical Borders: An Examination of the Boundaries of Exclusion and Ideas About Inclusion of Immigrants in American Communities" (2021). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI28649717.