By Julia Preston on May 20, 2014
Only about half of young immigrants who grew up in the United States without legal status identify with the Democratic Party, while nearly half say they are independents or have some other non-party affiliation, according to a study published Tuesday. The findings run counter to perceptions that the young immigrants, who are known as “Dreamers,” overwhelmingly favor Democrats, and suggest that their political views will be shaped by what progress is made in Washington on an immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship.
The study also reveals skepticism among the youths about both political parties, although more so about Republicans. According to the study, about four in 10 felt closer to the Democratic Party based on its positions on immigration, while 5 percent said they felt closer to the Republicans because of their views. Four in 10 young immigrants said they could not support Democrats “as long as immigration reform is not passed.”
The nationwide study is based on one of the largest surveys to date of undocumented youths, who have been difficult to sample because of their immigration status. The results are based on responses from 1,472 immigrants in surveys conducted in late 2013 and early this year. The study was led by Tom K. Wong, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. It was commissioned by Unbound Philanthropy, a foundation that funds immigrant and refugee rights groups, and the United We Dream Network, an advocacy group.
The study was conducted on the Internet, and used advertisements on Facebook to draw responses. The authors urge caution in making generalizations from the results, “given the limitations of the sampling procedure.”
But the findings about the youths’ political views are significant because even though none can vote, since they are not citizens, they have shown they can have an impact on Latinos who do vote. As a group, the youths are politically active, according to the study, with four in 10 having attended a rally or demonstration, compared with 6 percent of people surveyed in the 2012 American National Election Study, a national poll. Nearly half of the youths in the immigrant study said they had participated in voter mobilization efforts in 2012, with nearly three-quarters supporting President Obama’s re-election.
The views of young immigrants and Latino voters were swayed in that race because of a highly popular program of deportation deferrals the president announced in June 2012 for undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children. In 2012, Latinos supported Mr. Obama over his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, by 71 percent to 27 percent. However, since then, the youths, and Latinos in general, have grown more wary of Democrats, several polls have shown, as immigration legislation has stalled in Washington and the administration has approached a record of two million deportations.
In the study, nearly three-quarters of young immigrants said their support of Democrats in the future would depend on whether the party worked to “address the issue of separation of families because of deportation.”
The study comes as young immigrants are getting ready to renew their deportation deferrals, which are temporary documents, including Social Security numbers and work permits, valid for two years. About nine in 10 of the youths replying to the survey had received deferrals, and they said their finances had improved as a result. Nearly three-quarters of the youths said they had started their first job or moved to a better job after being granted deferrals.
The respondents were from 42 different states and the District of Columbia. Although the study was commissioned by groups that actively support comprehensive overhaul legislation, it is useful because it provides a rare look at the demographics and immigration history of young undocumented immigrants.
While they included people born in 60 different countries, nine in 10 of those responding said they were Latino and about three-quarters were from a single country: Mexico. As a group, they had a relatively high level of education, with about three-quarters having some college or more. Slightly more than two-thirds of those surveyed said their education had been delayed because of their illegal status.
Their income and their family income were generally low, with three-quarters reporting annual income of less than $25,000 and only one in five reporting enough personal income to meet monthly bills and expenses.
Just over half of the immigrants came to the United States when they were 7 years old or younger. About two-thirds entered illegally, and about one-third came on legal visas, mainly tourist visas, and overstayed.
In findings that help show what is behind the current political demands of undocumented-youth organizations, a large majority — more than 80 percent — of those surveyed had at least one parent without legal papers. At the same time, over half of them have siblings who are American citizens and two-thirds have some other family member who is a citizen. Undocumented-youth groups are pressing Congress for an overhaul with a path to citizenship for all 11.5 million immigrants here illegally, not just for the young people who call themselves Dreamers, after the Dream Act, a bill that would create a formal path to citizenship for young people who came here as children. They are also pressuring Mr. Obama to slow the pace of deportations.
About one in 10 in the study identify as lesbian, gay or transgender.
The study noted that because the immigrants “self-selected” to respond to an online survey and were not chosen based on a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error could be made.
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