Are Legal Immigrants the Biggest Victims?

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November 24, 2014 3:57 p.m.

One of the most frequent refrains you will hear in discussions of immigration policy is that the real victims of efforts to ‘legalize’ undocumented immigrants are legal immigrants, in other words, the folks who went to the trouble to follow the rules and gain residency legitimately. Everybody is entitled to their opinion of course. But a new poll suggests that legal immigrants themselves do not agree.

A poll out this morning shows that 89% of Hispanic voters support the President’s actions. That number itself is eye-popping. 76% of Hispanic Republicans support the President’s move. The number is 95% for Hispanic Democrats. That’s about as close as you ever get in polling to just saying a particular group is essentially unanimous.

But when I saw these numbers it made me think about that question above – how do legal immigrants feel about this?

Before we dig in, it’s a kind of circuitous argument or series of inferences as I work through the numbers. So I’ll try to make the argument as clearly as I can.

Obviously not all immigrants are Hispanics and not all Hispanics are immigrants. So we can’t just go by the topline results of this poll. But a majority of the country’s immigrant population is Hispanic. According to this 2007 Census report, 53.6% of the country’s immigrant population comes from Latin America.

There’s also little doubt that the immigrant portion of the population surveyed is at least as supportive of the President’s executive order as Hispanic voters as a whole. Here’s why: The poll, by Latino Decisions, does not break out native born Hispanic voters from immigrant Hispanic voters. But it does break out the numbers for respondents who talked with the pollsters in English or Spanish. That seems like a relatively good proxy for native vs. immigrant. The “Spanish” number is 94% compared to 85% for “English”.

When you pick the numbers apart, they are so overwhelming that there’s really no way to argue that legal immigrants are less than overwhelmingly, perhaps close to unanimous in their support of this policy.

Now, let me be crystal clear: I do not find this remotely surprising. Immigration status cuts through numerous immigrant communities – Hispanic immigrant communities as much as any other. So it is not surprising that Hispanic voters are supportive. Recent immigrants, even if they were never undocumented, seem to empathize with the status of immigrants generally. It seems like the people who believe legal immigrants are victims of legalization for undocumented immigrants are native born white people who vote for the Republican party.

All that said, just because something seems intuitive doesn’t mean it’s readily provable. But this poll seems to make pretty clear that legal immigrants do not feel victimized by leniency or legalization for undocumented immigrants. Indeed, recent immigrants seem more supportive than longer term immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Not surprising, worth seeing it verified.

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