(Columbia, MO) -- People with anti-immigrant sentiments are emboldened after laws designed to punish immigrants are passed, according to a study by a University of Washington researcher.
Rene Flores, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at UW, included fieldwork and people's opinions online to study the immigration debate.
In the new research, Flores used Twitter reactions to the controversial "show me your papers" law passed in Arizona in 2010 that allows law enforcement officers to detain anyone they suspect isn't a citizen.
Flores says after the bill passed, rather than pacifying Arizonans, anger against immigrant populations grew.
"Some people, especially those who are more critical of immigrants, began tweeting more," he points out. "They became energized, they became activated and this was what caused the change in the distribution of sentiment after (the) law was passed. So, it's really in agreement with my own prior research that showed this activation effect."
Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down several parts of the Arizona law.
In contrast, refugee resettlement organizations in Mid-Missouri have seen volunteer numbers increase even as the number of refugees being served has declined.
While Twitter does not exactly represent the population at large, Flores says it does have value for sociologists. He compares it to a "library of attitudes" that is becoming an important historical archive of opinions.
Flores also explored the role race played in these tweets.
He says people were more hostile toward Latinos before and after the law was passed, but not other racial groups.
"Immigration, it is seen as a Latino issue, despite the fact that, as we know, there's immigrants from all over the world," he points out. "There's about half a million undocumented European immigrants. "
The racial component of anti-immigrant sentiment could be key to diffusing some of the rage.
Flores says explicitly using race to win elections seemed to be less popular after the civil rights era in the 1960s, but that isn't the case anymore. He says that fact is important for people who support immigrants' rights.
"They have to be mindful of these things," he stresses. "They have to gain a deeper understanding about the political consequences of this highly charged discourse and also, how these punitive laws themselves could affect the mobilization of people that are against immigrants and immigrants' rights."