While most don’t believe undocumented immigrants pose a threat to U.S., 15 percent say they are taking jobs from American citizens.

By Annea Hapçiu and Courtney Rozen 


In an era when travel bans and new immigration policies make campus life unpredictable, 63 percent of college student respondents agree or strongly agree that undocumented students should be permitted to enroll in their universities, according to the Uncertain U survey conducted by American University journalism students.

Expert Kenny Nienhusser, assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Hartford, is not surprised. He notes that education tends to minimize fear of immigrants.

“I would tie that to the fact that these are college-educated individuals you’re speaking with and typically those are the individuals that have less fear in relation to this population,” Nienhusser says.

From mid-March to mid-April, 725 college students responded to the Uncertain U survey on travel bans, international students and the administration’s immigration agenda. The survey was available online to college students throughout the U.S. via email, text message or social media.

The results were not scientific because students could self-select whether to respond. Not every respondent answered every question. The results below are stated as a percentage of those who answered each question.

Major findings: Supportive yet skeptical

The Uncertain U survey found that:

  • 22 percent reported they were afraid to disclose their nationality or religion for fear of being judged.
  • 65 percent of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to the U.S. However, 16 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that they do pose a threat.
  • Four in 10 students reported witnessing Islamophobia, known as anti-Muslim bias, discrimination or exclusion stimulated by fear or hatred of Islam, on campus.
  • 61 percent strongly agree or agree that undocumented students should be given the same consideration as other students in the admissions process at their universities.

Survey says: Admit them

While more than six in 10 agree or strongly agree that international student should be permitted to enroll at their universities, not all respondents are as receptive to the idea. Twenty percent said they disagree or strongly disagree that undocumented students should be able to enroll in their university, while 16 percent were neutral.

“I am not anti-immigrants, I am anti-illegal immigration,” one student wrote. “I think it is important to have immigration, it is something our country was founded on, however illegal immigration puts our country’s security in jeopardy.”

Undocumented students are those who were born outside of the U.S. and aren’t citizens or legal residents, according to a resource guide for prospective undocumented college students by The College Board. DACAmented students are those granted some legal rights under President Obama’s 2012 executive order, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

Sixty-one percent of students agree that undocumented students should be given the same consideration as other students in the admissions process at their university, while 24 percent note that undocumented students should not be given the same consideration.

Sixty-five percent of students strongly agree or agree that undocumented immigrants do not pose a threat to the U.S., and 66 percent disagree or strongly disagree that undocumented immigrants are taking away American jobs.

“Young people, students and under 30s also generally show a higher degree of support compared to other demographics,” said Mary Giovagnoli, Senior Director of Public Policy at NAFSA, via email. NAFSA is an association for international educators. “From their perspective, it makes sense that the kids they have grown up with aren’t any different from them, so why should there be barriers to education based on immigration status?”

Sixteen percent marked that they strongly agree or agree that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to the U.S., and 16 percent agree or strongly agree that undocumented immigrants were taking jobs from American citizens.

Disclosing religion and ethnicity on campus

About a quarter of respondents said that they were concerned about disclosing their nationality or religion because of how someone might judge them.

“It often gives someone justification for thoughts they may have been having about ‘what am I’ or ‘where are my origins,’ which often times takes away from what I am saying,” one respondent wrote. “At the very least, my identity is a distraction.”

The survey defined Islamophobia as anti-Muslim bias, discrimination or exclusion stimulated by fear or hatred of Islam. The majority of the respondents, 62 percent, who attend public and private universities in the U.S. said that they have not witnessed Islamophobia on their college campuses. About a third of the students who responded said that they did witness Islamophobia.

“As a Muslim, I’ve had a fear of people reacting badly to me,” a respondent wrote. “So in new spaces with strangers, I don’t disclose that I’m a Muslim or what my last name is. (My last name is a very common Muslim name),” the same respondent wrote.

Presence of international students

Fifty-three percent of U.S.-born students and citizens said that they come in contact with international students daily. Meanwhile, 69 percent of international students come into contact with other international students daily.

International students brought $36 billion dollars to the U.S. economy in 2015, said Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice president of research and evaluation for the Institute of International Education.

Nelson Graves, former director of John Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in Europe, said discussion-based instruction and the quality of university facilities draw international students to higher education institutions in the U.S. However, many of these colleges as it seems from research are currently seeing a drop in international applicants, Graves said.

“Whether it is a long-term trend or just a blip, that is too early to tell,” Graves said. “… Having said that, over the long term, I can’t help but think that studying in the United States would continue to be an attractive proposal for many non-Americans.”

Only 14 percent of U.S. students and 12 percent of international students said they rarely come in contact with international students in general.

All across the country, students in public and private institutions interact with international students. A majority believe that DACA students should be given the same consideration, as all others, in the admissions process. New immigration policies, travel bans and attention drawn to sanctuary campuses have brought concern to some, who might think twice before disclosing their identity or religion.

“I am Muslim, and it’s not easy being Muslim in America,” one respondent wrote. “There were times when I felt I would not get jobs or even be accepted into college because I disclosed I am Muslim.”

 


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