‘Americans are largely accommodating when it comes to their views on immigration’: Tomás Jiménez

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Noting the Trump administration’s recent attempt to halt a caravan of migrants seeking asylum in the United States, the country’s views on immigrants could seem hostile, or unsupportive at the least. That’s a misconception, says , associate professor of sociology and director of the undergraduate program. As part of our inaugural Q&A series on immigration, Jiménez discusses Americans’ actual views on immigration and the other side of assimilation.

What is the biggest misconception that people have about immigration?

Many people believe that the U.S. has really soured on immigrants and immigration. That’s because when it comes to immigration, and lots of other issues, it’s the loudest people in the room and the biggest events that seem to dictate the narrative. But that’s entirely not true: Polling data shows that Americans are largely accommodating when it comes to their views on immigration, and they’ve become even more accommodating during the current presidency.

Those accommodating views come in the form of opinions about a mass legalization program, not just one for the so-called Dreamers, but ones for all undocumented immigrants — something that still has overwhelming support among the American public. A Fox News poll found that eight out of 10 Americans would approve a path-to-legalization program for the Dreamers, and other polls suggest that even a majority of Trump voters would. DACA has overwhelming support.

A majority of Americans:

  • Believe that immigrants are a net good for the country
  • Want the levels of immigration to increase or stay the same
  • Don’t want a border wall
  • Are more afraid that immigration enforcement is going too far than afraid that it’s not going far enough

So, I think that especially coming from the left, there’s a narrative that America hates its immigrants, and that’s just not true; though Trump is expressing a view that would suggest that. That’s not to diminish the power of his views, and the license that he’s given to lots of people to be much more overt in their anti-immigrant and racist views. But, it’s important to bear in mind that the leaders of a country or particular population don’t necessarily reflect the views of the people who make up the nation.

How does this issue intersect with issues of race?

In my research, I look at how immigration reshapes different kinds of social categories. What I really want to understand is how immigrants and immigration reshape how people who’ve lived been in the U.S. for a long time, and whose families have lived in the U.S. for multiple generations, experience some of those social categories, one of which is race.

One way of looking at immigration and race is to examine how the racial identities of the people who come to the U.S. adapt to the way we think about race in the U.S. In my recent research, I’ve tried to flip some of that around and ask, How does the presence of immigrants reshape the way that multi-generation Americans experience those same racial categories? How are they making sense of the way that immigration might alter the ways that people think about their own racial identity?

One example of how immigration is changing notions of racial categories relates to intermarriage. Intermarriage and the mixing of families has changed people’s notions of racial categories. There are lots of people who have children or grandchildren who are mixed-race. For many, especially those from older generations, this has dramatically changed the way they think about racial belonging. Having mixed kids, and in particular, grandkids, shifts what they think of as racial norms to include racial hybridity and people of color.

How can your research be applied to the world today?

My hope is that we better understand who we are as a country and as a people in the face of dramatic demographic change. This demographic change is being driven primarily by immigration. There’s lots of concerns, and there’s lots of concerns about the concerns, so my hope is that my research is a sort of mirror that reflects back who we are.

I think that what it reflects back is that we’re a lot better than we think we are, in some ways. But it also reflects back that we have a long way to go in living up to the promise of our founding documents.

If you could help a political representative of your choosing understand one thing about immigration, what would it be?

I’d want Trump to understand that programs like DACA, and ultimately a large-scale path to legalization, are actually major immigration integration programs. He could significantly support the positive integration of people who’ve lived in the U.S. for a very long time by backing a legalization program. There’s quite a bit of evidence to show that when the shadow of undocumented status is lifted from the people who’ve had it, they benefit in terms of their educational outcomes, propensity to speak English, and economic outcomes. All of those things are beneficial for the U.S. as a whole.

But the big story is that future generations also benefit. There’s very good evidence to show that when an immigrant gets legalized, it’s a boon to their integration, but also to the integration of their children and even their grandchildren. When the immigrant generation remains undocumented, their children and grandchildren suffer, even into adulthood. That’s not good for them — and that’s not good for the U.S. I would want Trump to know that past legalization programs, including DACA, have turned out to be big integration programs.

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Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford

Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity

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The Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity (CCSRE) is Stanford University’s interdisciplinary hub for teaching and research on race and ethnicity.

Full Spectrum

Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford