Policymakers have come up with all kinds of solutions for fixing the nation’s immigration system. But what do undocumented young people think about it?
A survey released on Tuesday provides some of the most in-depth insight from that demographic to date.
Tom Wong, a political science professor at UC San Diego, asked more than 3,000 undocumented young people ages 18 to 35 about immigration policy, politics and some other relevant topics. Here’s what he learned:
1. Deportation relief has a major impact on the lives of young people
Since 2012, young people who meet certain qualifications have been able to apply to live in the country without fear of deportations and get a work permit. More than half a million people have been approved for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The survey found that removing the threat of deportation had a positive impact on the lives of the people who had been approved for the program.
The undocumented young people surveyed made very little money, with three quarters saying they earned less than $25,000 per year. But after being approved for DACA, 70 percent reported getting their first job or moving on to a new job.
The program offered people more economic security. Nearly half of the respondents said they’ve become more financially independent since receiving deportation relief.
2. Dreamers aren’t tied to one party
Fifty percent of undocumented young people identified as Democrats and 45 percent called themselves independent or “other.” Only two percent aligned with Republicans.
It’s not unusual that so many undocumented young people disavowed a political label — a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that half of millennials consider themselves independents.
But Dreamers in particular have been critical of Democrats when it comes to immigration policy. Youth-driven immigrant rights groups like United We Dream (which co-sponsored this poll) have criticized President Obama for the record rate of deportations under his watch. And in April, activists launched an ongoing protest campaign outside the White House.
Republican clearly don’t fare well among Dreamers, and their stance on immigration policy could be part of the problem, as well. Both immigration reform and deportation policy are hugely important to undocumented young people. But the stakes are higher for Republicans. While 41 percent agreed with the statement “as long as immigration reform is not passed, I cannot support the Democratic Party or its candidates,” the number went up to 68 percent when it came to Republicans.
3. Undocumented young people are politically active
One of the problems with a survey of undocumented people is that it’s hard to find people, since they're living under the radar. You’re more likely to connect with those who are willing to talk about their immigration status, which are also people who are more likely to be politically active.
Wong tried to control for that, but 35 percent said they were members of an immigrant rights organization. Even if the sample is more political savvy than the overall population of undocumented young people (it’s hard to say), Dreamers are a very civically active group.
Forty percent of undocumented young people say they’ve participated in some sort of political rally or demonstration, which is much higher than the 6 percent nationwide seen in the 2012 American National Election Study.
If given the chance, they appear likely to vote, as well. Nearly half said they’ve shared their own stories during an election year to stress the value of the right to vote (undocumented immigrants can’t). And one in five undocumented young people said they have worked or volunteered to help people register to vote.
The takeaway: Dreamers don’t represent young immigrants as a whole, but their views give you a good idea of the political ramifications of marginalizing a group of people. They’re being locked out of the civic process. And they know who to blame.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.