TV portrays immigrants as less educated and more involved in crime than reality, study finds

Jane the Virgin cast.
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TV isn't always meant to reflect real life, but when it comes to characters who are immigrants, even realistic shows are coming up short.

An analysis by the University of Southern California's Media Impact Project, led by the Norman Lear Center and shared with The Hollywood Reporter, found that in 143 sample episodes from 47 television series, immigrant characters were disproportionately portrayed as less educated and more involved in crime.

The immigrant crime rate is lower than that of native-born Americans, The Marshall Project found earlier this year. But in TV shows aired in 2017 and 2018, about 34 percent of immigrant characters were associated with crime. While less than 1 percent of immigrants have been incarcerated for non-immigration-related offenses, 11 percent of immigrant characters on TV are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated.

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Meanwhile, shows also tend to overinflate the number of immigrants who are undocumented. Only 23 percent of immigrants on TV are American citizens, but in reality, 49 percent of immigrants are naturalized citizens. The study also found that just 7 percent of immigrants on TV held bachelor's degrees, and just 3 percent held doctoral degrees. In real-life America, 17 percent of immigrants are college graduates, and 13 percent hold a Ph.D.

"With immigrants, everything seems to fall into two categories: the criminal hustling the system, or the high-achieving, pristinely perfect 'good' immigrant," Noelle S. Lindsay Stewart, entertainment media manager for the nonprofit Define American, told the Reporter. "That doesn't allow for the complexity or humanity that real people have." See more results at The Hollywood Reporter.

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