By Joan Hua
Not all students in the Uncertain U survey conducted by an American University journalism class were quick to welcome undocumented immigrants.
Nearly 2 in 10 students expressed apprehension toward them, the survey shows.
Sixteen percent either agree or strongly agree with the statement “undocumented immigrants pose a threat to our country.” And 20 percent are neutral.
The same number, 16 percent, either agree or strongly agree with the statement “undocumented immigrants are taking jobs from American citizens,” while another 18 percent responded neutrally without disagreeing.
When it comes to attending college, an even higher percentage — 20 percent — said undocumented students should not be permitted to enroll in their universities.
When asked whether the same consideration during the admissions process should be given to undocumented students, nearly a quarter of those surveyed said no.
One student wrote, “Simply by being undocumented, these people are breaking our laws. They should not be considered for things such as jobs or college admissions until they gain citizenship in the proper way, just as everyone else has.”
Michael Olivas is a professor of law who teaches immigration law and higher education law at University of Houston. He suggested comments like this “reveal ignorance.” He cited immigrant students who’ve received temporary status granted by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as an example, explaining that “they now have lawful presence.”
“They are not stealing jobs if they’re eligible for work in the same way that a birthright citizen would be,” Olivas said.
A 2016 Pew Research study found that American attitudes toward immigrants in the workforce are now almost evenly split. Overall, Americans are significantly less concerned than a decade ago; those who believe immigrant workers hurt U.S. jobholders have decreased by 10 percentage points since 2006 to 45 percent. Another poll by Pew Research Center showed that 71 percent of the American population believe “undocumented immigrants living in the United States mostly fill jobs citizens do not want.”
Jie Zong, associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, commented on undocumented students who don’t currently have DACA status. “They are not authorized to work in the United States … so usually employers wouldn’t hire them.” She said that is a factor that discourages many undocumented students to enroll in college in the first place. Other deterrents include their ineligibility for federal financial aid and in-state tuition and, in some cases, the added application requirements.
What exactly about undocumented immigrants raise red flags for these students surveyed? Here are three concerns repeated by multiple responders.
What they say:
1. They broke the law.
“If you are a illegal (sic) immigrant of the United States, you need to be deported. Anyone is welcome in our country as long as you come in the LEGAL way,” one student wrote.
Another respondent wrote, “Illegal immigrants should not be able to continue breaking the law.”
Some unauthorized immigrants indeed came to this country by crossing borders illegally. A large share of this population, on the other hand, arrived legally — some by air and sea — but overstayed their valid visas.
Legally, there’s no significant distinction between the two, as unauthorized immigrants are subject to deportation regardless of how they reached U.S. soil, explained Olivas. But, he said, “there may be some moral distinctions.” He spoke specifically about unauthorized immigrants who arrived as children. “If you’re a child and your parents brought you here, it seems to me that the moral equation is really quite different,” he said, citing the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe.
2. They have no intention of obtaining legal status.
“I think that if you are actively trying to obtain citizenship you are fine but if you are not trying and are living here that’s not okay,” one student wrote in the survey.
“If an immigrant came here to work and live a better life they should be able to. Getting accepted to universities over American citizens is not the best. Maybe they can apply for citizenship to go to university,” wrote another.
One asked, “If they wanted to come to America why wouldn’t they want to become citizens as well?”
These students missed an important fact. There is currently no avenue to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. This is true even for undocumented youth who receive work permits and deportation relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But even so, there are still at least 750,000 DACA recipients. This demonstrates their effort to pursue legal options available to them, Olivas said.
Some survey respondents recognized that the U.S. immigration process is extremely difficult and suggested it may be the root of the problem.
One student wrote, “I understand why people immigrate illegally, but it is still illegal. If the process to obtain citizenship were easier, it could potentially eliminate many problems.”
3. They threaten campus and national security.
The respondent quoted earlier opposing jobs and college admissions for undocumented immigrants continued, “These loose immigration laws pose a huge threat to our national security, especially in terms of terrorism. We need to strengthen our borders to protect our own people. We can’t help others before we help ourselves.”
One student commented that “by letting undocumented immigrants into our country, we are opening ourselves up for another 9/11.”
“I am not anti-immigrants, I am anti-illegal immigration. I think it is important to have immigration, it is something our country was founded on, however illegal immigration puts out countries (sic) security in jeopardy,” another student wrote.
According to Zong, however, national security may not be the primary issue with undocumented students. “I haven’t come across a lot of news reports or research results that would suggest that [undocumented students’] enrollment on college campus would pose a security threat,” she said.
What about crime? A 2015 study by the American Immigration Council suggested that immigrants are in fact less likely to be criminals compared to American natives.
The study showed that incarceration rate for less-educated, young American-born men was 10.7 percent, “more than triple the 2.8 percent rate among foreign-born Mexican men, and five times greater than the 1.7 percent rate among foreign-born Salvadoran and Guatemalan men,” the study found.
“I think people are very concerned about gang members and the drug trafficking issues and human trafficking issues … some of that are related to undocumented immigrants,” Zong said. But she pointed out that people tend to view the undocumented student population as a very different group separate from those with felony charges.
DACA recipients have especially been heavily screened. For undocumented youth to qualify for DACA, they must meet requirements like having earned a diploma or being in school and not having been convicted of a “felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors; and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.”
“There has never been a single case of someone who has DACA, for example, who has ever committed a crime of violence upon anyone. Not a single example. That’s 800,000 people,” Olivas said.
Featured photo by Pixabay