LAS sociology research sheds new light on nonimmigrant Americans' views on dual loyalty

The social issue of immigrants’ dual loyalty figured prominently in the 2016 U.S. presidential primaries, yet little is known about Americans’ views on the subject.

Drawing on data from a nationally representative phone survey, Abdi Kusow and Matt DeLisi explore nonimmigrant Americans’ attitudes toward immigrants’ dual loyalty in a paper recently published in the sociological research journal, Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World.

Their results show attitudes toward dual loyalty are informed by multiple boundary-making processes, including the extent to which respondents strongly believe that immigrants should celebrate American values and traditions and share their vision of America, that immigration should be restricted as much as possible, and that American influence in the world is important.

Abdi Kusow

“Those who see American influence in the world as very important are also significantly more likely to support immigrants’ dual loyalty than those who do not see the importance of American influence in the world,” said Kusow, an associate professor of sociology. “It is possible for people to think that having Americans who maintain dual loyalty with their countries of origin may help contribute to America’s influence in the world, as casual American ambassadors, perhaps.”

Kusow said there is a perceived lack of loyalty among immigrants, and recent media conversations surrounding previous and current presidential election cycles can inspire that lack of loyalty.

“Nonimmigrant Americans wonder, ‘How can a person be equally loyal to two countries with two different fundamental values?’” he said. “The problem with the debate about whether or not someone can lead the country if they are perceived as loyal to another country as well is just that – a debate. It lacks any empirical foundation, and most importantly it completely ignores what nonimmigrant Americans think about immigrants’ dual loyalty.”

Kusow and DeLisi’s research focused on extending the parameters of the discussion to include nonimmigrant Americans’ attitude toward immigrants’ dual loyalty. DeLisi, a professor of sociology, said that in general, Americans are proud of dual loyalty, as long as they think the larger loyalty is with the U.S. But, he said current political environments or cultural differences can sway attitudes.

Dual loyalty becomes problematic when people think an immigrant’s loyalty to their home country is greater than their loyalty to the U.S., or if the immigrant is from a socially hostile climate.

Matt DeLisi

“If there is a Chinese American versus someone from Iran, Americans are more supportive of the Chinese American because of the current unstable Iranian climate,” DeLisi said. “This is fluid, however. We’ve sees these waves of mistrust throughout American history.”

Kusow and DeLisi’s research also found that social variables – such as gender or education – did not affect one’s attitudes toward immigrants’ dual loyalty. Age did play a role, as younger generations were more likely than their parents or grandparents to support dual loyalty. And those who agreed that the U.S. should limit immigration and that immigrants should celebrate American culture and tradition were more likely to oppose immigrants’ dual loyalty.

Their findings show immigrants’ dual loyalty also influences nonimmigrant Americans’ understanding of the increasing level of global interdependence. As immigrants become more engaged with their countries of origin and the United States at the same time, the American people might become more open in their attitudes toward immigrants’ dual loyalty as well.

Further understanding of how nonimmigrant Americans react to immigrants’ dual loyalty will provide important insight into understanding the nature and implications of immigration on America’s national identity and core values, as well as the ways immigrants and nonimmigrant Americans continue to reflect on each other in the making and remaking of American social, economic and political values.