Study Finds Growing Racial Divide Among Young People on Immigration

But they often had varying ideas of how immigration was changing the country's landscape.

By Jamilah King Sep 06, 2013

On the whole, young people — particularly young people of color — are supportive of comphrensive immigration reform, according to a new study from the Chicago-based Black Youth Project. But while young people of color were generally supportive of immigration reform, they often had varying ideas of how immigration is changing the country’s landscape.

In an online survey that was conducted in both English and Spanish last Spring among 1,500 respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, the possibilities and challenges of building black-brown political alliances were made clear. The study’s key findings include:

  • Young people of color support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform at higher rates than white youth, who are more supportive of punitive measures and increased enforcement of existing law.
  • Majorities of both Black and white youth believe that undocumented immigrants take away jobs, housing, and health care from people born in the U.S.
  • However, Black (43.3 percent) and white (17.6 percent) youth disagree substantially about whether undocumented immigrants should be eligible for government services.
  • Black youth have a more inclusive and expansive view than white youth of the role of immigrants in American society.
  • A clear majority (61.1 percent) of Black youth believe that immigrants are treated better than most Black people born in this country. These feelings of alienation may inhibit the prospects for Black-Brown coalition-building.

Importantly, those sentiments seem to have shifted over the course of President Obama’s time in the White House. In early 2009, slightly more than 54 percent of black youth between the ages of 18 and 29 believed that immigrants were treated better than most black people who were born in this country. That number has jumped to 61 percent in 2013, according to the survey.

"These findings have substantial implications not only for politics of immigration  reform, but also for the political cohesion of young Blacks and Latinos," the survey’s authors write. "The findings in this report suggest that there are a variety of attitudinal barriers to Black-Brown collaboration. In an era where young people are deeply worried about the availability of jobs and affordable health care, it is important to limit the ability of the media and our politicians to exploit these concerns and generate mistrust and anxiety among young people of color."

Visit the Black Youth Project for more information on the survey, titled "Immigration Reform and the Possibility of Black-Brown Coalitions Among America’s Youth."