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Where millennials stand on immigration

David Brancaccio and Janet Nguyen Feb 5, 2018
Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) demonstrate during a rally in front of the White House on Sept. 5, 2017 in Washington, D.C.  ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images

Where millennials stand on immigration

David Brancaccio and Janet Nguyen Feb 5, 2018
Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) demonstrate during a rally in front of the White House on Sept. 5, 2017 in Washington, D.C.  ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration’s hard-line stance on immigration over the past year has led to fierce disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, even playing a major role in January’s government shutdown

The big reason Democrats refused to pass a federal spending bill: In late 2017, President Donald Trump said he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to avoid deportation and obtain two-year renewable work authorizations.

The Trump administration recently released a framework to resolve the issue, but it wants $25 billion for a border wall and a significant reduction in legal immigration in exchange.

While there are clear political lines that have been drawn on the issue of immigration, there are some demographic ones as well. GenForward, an ongoing study that looks at how 18- to 34-year-olds across different racial groups think about major societal issues, has surveyed millennials about the topic.

Here are some of the results:

Where millennials agree

Millennials across racial and ethnic lines overwhelmingly support citizenship for those who meet DACA’s eligibility requirements, which include those who came to the U.S. while younger than 16 and who were younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012.

Millennials also strongly support other immigration policies aside from DACA.

For example, more than 80 percent think there should be a pathway to citizenship for all law-abiding immigrants, along with undocumented immigrants who serve in the U.S. military and receive an honorable discharge.

Meanwhile, 75 percent support expanding guest-worker programs that temporarily allow noncitizens to work legally in the U.S.

The rights of unauthorized immigrants

However, millennial attitudes start to diverge when it comes to more restrictive actions, like identifying and deporting immigrants “currently living in this country illegally.”

“This is where we see kind of a contradiction,” pointed out Cathy Cohen, the study’s lead investigator.

There’s a significant amount of support from some millennials for this proposal. About 37 percent of white millennials think they should be deported, and 30 percent of African-American millennials think they should.

Meanwhile, Asian-Americans and Latinos — whom GenForward refers to as Latinxs — are the least likely to support a proposal like this.

“Asian-Americans and Latinxs much more likely to be an immigrant, have a close friend or relative that is a recent immigrant, and speak a language other English at home than African-Americans or whites,” according to the survey. “These differences are sometimes, though not always, seemingly correlated with support or opposition for specific policy proposals.”

Intense job competition

These groups diverge even more when it comes to the question of whether immigrants are “taking jobs away from people who were born in the United States.”

Again, Asian-American and Latino millennials are least likely to agree with a statement like that, while 42 percent of white millennials and 34 percent of African-American millennials do agree.

“I think it has to do with the surroundings and the context in which you find yourself and your proximity to other individuals who in fact are immigrants,” Cohen said.

Some of that context: the unemployment rate for African-Americans, she noted.

Trump has touted the 4.1 percent overall unemployment rate, and the unemployment rate for African-Americans is 6.8 percent, its lowest level since the government began tracking it in 1972. But that’s more than double the unemployment rate for white workers, which stands at 3.7 percent.

“If you’re a young African-American person trying to find a job, and you’re finding difficulty securing a job, you also are hearing the narratives that there’s this group out there — this ‘other’ — that may be taking jobs away from you,” Cohen said. “And that kind of individual individualized narrative is often kind of easier to digest than a structural narrative that would say years of neoliberalism and globalization have restructured the economies that makes it much more difficult to find kind of living-wage jobs that can be secured in African-American communities.”

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