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This study analyzes existing public opinion research from 2006–2011 regarding attitudes of young people (18–29 years old) toward immigrants and immigration, and how their opinions compare to the general population’s. It highilghts trends in public opinion and reveals opportunities as well as challenges to promoting pro-immigrant communications and policies among young people. Generally, Millennials hold a more positive view of immigrants’ impact on their communities, except with regard to the job market, and are more supportive of pro-immigrant policies than the general population.
Millennials are significantly more supportive and accepting of immigrants than the population in general. For example, overall, just one out of two Americans thought that immigrants strengthen American society (49 percent) compared to fully 65 percent of Millennials who held that opinion. Millennials also more strongly oppose mass deportation of undocumented immigrants than their elders (67 percent to 56 percent).
In addition, compared to the general population, young people tended to show greater support for:
- the principle of citizenship for all American-born children as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution (73 percent to 57 percent)
- in-state college tuition for qualified children of undocumented immigrants (57 percent to 44 percent)
- a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (81 percent to 72 percent); and
- the DREAM Act (66 percent to 54 percent).
“Jobs” are the only key area where young people’s opinions were aligned with those of the general population and other age groups. Millennials agreed or felt more strongly than their elders that immigrants “threaten their jobs” or U.S. jobs in general. This perceived threat may correlate with the fact that Millennials tend to be less established in the workplace than their elders and that they entered the job market during the recent economic recession.
Recommendations for future research
It is important to better understand young adults and their perceptions and attitudes towards social issues, because their influence over public policies is progressively increasing. With respect to immigrants and immigration, young people are generally positive towards immigrants and their potential contributions to our society. This is an opportunity to further solidify Millennials’ pro-immigrant attitudes and translate them to positive immigration policies.
More research and analysis is necessary in order to form an all-inclusive understanding of young people’s attitudes toward immigrants and immigration in the United States. Specifically, we recommend further investigation into factors that might help shape Millennials’ attitudes, such as the role of interaction with immigrants in different circumstances, for instance in the workplace or in places of worship, as well as with people of other races, ethnicities, or nationalities in general. Further, we recommend conducting additional analysis of young people’s attitudes on this topic by race, ethnicity, educational, and economic status. This is particularly important given that younger Americans are significantly more diverse as a group and include a larger proportion of immigrants than their elders.
Finally, the analysis of Millennials’ attitudes would benefit from longitudinal data, which study whether and how people’s attitudes toward social issues, and immigration specifically, change as they age. This longitudinal data — longer-term tracking of opinions among a representative group — is scarce, but its acquisition and analysis is necessary in order to better understand the opportunities and barriers to inform one’s opinions throughout their adult life.