January 23, 2014

Hispanics prioritize legalization for unauthorized immigrants over citizenship

FT_Deportation123After some movement in Congress in 2013, and then a stall, there are signs that immigration reform might move ahead in 2014. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated a new willingness to bring discussion about immigration reform to the House floor, and House Republicans are expected to issue specific proposals for changing the nation’s immigration laws in the coming weeks.

One sticking point has been what to do with the nation’s 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants. Should there be a path to citizenship for them or should they be offered a chance to remain in the country legally, but without a special path to citizenship? Just last year, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill that included the possibility of citizenship with a 13-year waiting period for those who meet certain requirements, such as satisfying any applicable federal tax liability and learning English. It remains to be seen if House Republicans will include something similar in their immigration reform plans or if those plans will offer some other form of legalization for unauthorized immigrants.

At the same time, deportations of unauthorized immigrants have continued at near record levels. In fiscal year 2013, 368,644 immigrants were deported. That is down from the nearly 400,000 deported annually during the first term of the Obama administration, but remains above the level of deportations that occurred annually during the eight years of the Bush administration. 

With most of those deported—more than 95%—from Latin America, the threat of deportation looms large for the Hispanic community. According to a fall 2013 Pew Research Center survey of Hispanic adults, 46% of all Hispanics, and 59% of Hispanic immigrants, say they worry “a lot” or “some” that they themselves, a family member or a close friend could be deported. Hispanics alone comprise about three-fourths of all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

While Asian Americans make up a much smaller share of unauthorized immigrants than Hispanics, a greater share of Asian American adults are foreign born—74% versus 51%. Today, new immigrants from Asia are eclipsing new immigrants from Latin America, making the topic of immigration reform an important one to the Asian-American community as well.

According to the survey of Hispanics, most U.S. Hispanics would prioritize, by 55% to 35%, relief from deportation over a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. A similar survey of Asian-American adults fielded in October finds that U.S. Asians tilt in the same direction, though by a much narrower margin—49% to 44%.

This is not to say that a pathway to citizenship is not supported by Hispanics and Asian Americans. Fully 89% of Hispanics and 72% of Asian Americans support a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants if they meet certain requirements. However, both surveys also show that when dealing with the issue of unauthorized immigration, being able to live and work in the U.S. legally without the threat of deportation is more important than a new government plan to obtain citizenship. This may reflect a possible opening for legislative compromise on immigration reform.

FT_PewUSATODAY123The U.S. general public is also supportive of allowing unauthorized immigrants to remain in the country legally. A Pew Research Center/USA TODAY survey from last June found that 71% of U.S. adults said there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, if they meet certain requirements (a different survey question than that asked of Hispanics and Asian Americans). Support for legalization crosses party lines—majorities of Democrats (80%) and Republicans (61%) said they support this measure.

The same survey found that most Americans believe legalization should be tied to improved border security—fully 77% said this. But the public was divided when it came to the timing of this link. Some 43% of U.S. adults said legalization should occur only after the effective control of U.S. borders is achieved, but half (49%) said unauthorized immigrants should be allowed to apply for legal status while border improvements are being made.

Asian Americans and Hispanics also support increased border security. When asked as part of a list of possible immigration policy proposals, 73% of Asian Americans and 68% of Hispanics say they approve of increasing enforcement of immigration laws at U.S. borders.

Topics: Immigration

  1. Photo of Mark Hugo Lopez

    is director of Hispanic research at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Anna Brown

    is a research analyst focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.


  1. Margaret MQue4 years ago

    The border is so fixed that the budget items just for that effort have reached stratospheric levels. Just check Congressional budget data. It turns out that the vast majority of undocumented’s in this country are the ones with expired visas. They entered legally. I repeat, they entered legally. And, no, not all of these people are nomadic and going from job to job such as agricultural laborers. There is a very large cohort that were supported by employers who recruited them in their home countries (such as India) for STEM jobs. Once they got in place, it was easy with the hours they worked to not realize their visa expiration dates had flown by. Boss told them not to worry, he would fix that . . . and well, that “fix” fell into a hole. In sum, its a lot more complicated than most people think.

  2. maggiemque4 years ago

    Legalization only will by itself assist the immigration reform opponents with building in a form of apartheid in this country. That simply cannot happen. No way does the USA need to imitate the old South Africa.

  3. Everett Shamp4 years ago

    I believe in the Social Security system the way that it was set up initially. I’ve worked my whole life[ age 14yrs old – 63 yrs. old ] . I’ve paid into SS my whole life . My body is somewhat broken ,yet I’ve kept going . I just went on early retirement just last month.
    Last week I found out about a young Hispanic man (21 yrs old) that was on SS disability because he was diagnosed with ADHD . How is this fair ? He has never really paid into it !!!

    1. Margaret MQue4 years ago

      Is your source unimpeachable?

  4. retiredtaxpayer4 years ago

    I believe America would leave the wrong impression about our laws and our intend on enforcing them by allowing illegals the opportunity to become citizens without following protocol. America would be saying, “it’s o.k. to break our laws, we will forgive you!” Do that and you will eventually have a renegade people out of control. We need laws that will be enforced. No laws or regulations should remain on the books that will not be enforced.
    Our Government is already at a point of no trust. We the people don’t want to continue that kind of life.

  5. Janice4 years ago

    There are now 11.7 million illegal immigrants in the USA. When you cross our border without documentation, you commit a crime.
    A path to citizenship is another way to say amnesty.
    Our borders need to be secured, before any immigration reform is passed.
    This is all about the votes. And the political power that both parties want.
    To all illegals, stand in line and fill out your papers. Do it the right way, as so many others before you.
    Or stay in your home country, and reform that one.

  6. Karen4 years ago

    There is no provision in the Senate bill for back taxes.

    1. Mark Hugo Lopez4 years ago

      Thank you for your comment Karen. We’ve revised the post to reflect language contained in the U.S. Senate bill itself.

    2. Margaret MQue4 years ago

      Actually, that is covered under “paying fines”.