Full Deportation: The Policy Advocated by the Unaffected

The full deportation of all 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. would be a monumental task, one that Donald Trump promised throughout the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The ethical dilemmas of this policy should not be overlooked, however the economic consequences would also be devastating to many states. This is one of the many reasons it might not be surprising that states with more unauthorized immigrants per capita tend to be less supportive of full deportation.

The above visualization, created using the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study and the Migration Policy Institute, shows that an average of 44% of the public supports full deportation in states with 30 or fewer unauthorized immigrants per capita, compared to 37% in states with more than 30 unauthorized immigrants per capita. Even more evident, 45% support full deportation in states with 10 or less unauthorized immigrants per capita, compared to 35% in states with 40 or more unauthorized immigrants per capita. West Virginia in particular has both the least number of unauthorized immigrants per capita (3.2 per 1,000) and the highest support for full deportation in the nation (56%). Similarly, Montana has the fourth least unauthorized immigrants per capita (4.9 per 1,000) and the second highest support for full deportation (52%). While this data merely shows a correlation, there are a few theories on why this relationship exists.

The most famous theory on the correlation between immigration and favorable public opinion of immigrants is Intergroup Contact Theory. Contact theory proposes that unfavorable opinions regarding a demographic can be alleviated by positive interactions with that demographic. For instance, according to the theory, someone’s opinion on Hispanics may become more favorable towards the demographic if their neighbor is Hispanic and they have positive interactions. The more positive interactions a person has with a group, the more their negative opinions of that group will subside. Contact theory can even be applied to the television we consume because it is an extension of our interactions. While research on intergroup contact theory has shown mixed results, with some researchers calling for a more complex model, it may be the driving force behind the relationship seen in the visualization.

Another possible cause is the Cultural Affinity theory. Many of the states that have a large number of undocumented immigrants also have a large legal Hispanic population, such as Texas, California, and Florida. Cultural affinity theory states that, due to a shared culture, a legal Hispanic population will have positive views of unauthorized Hispanic immigrants. Research into this theory shows that Hispanics hold a more positive view of the economic contribution of unauthorized immigrants than non-Hispanics. While this seems logical, much of the research on cultural affinity theory is outdated and attitudes may have changed through the 2000s.

Both cultural affinity theory and intergroup contact theory may be at play here, or neither. People in states with many unauthorized immigrants may just acknowledge the critical role they play in their state’s economy. Regardless of the theory, people in states with a high number of unauthorized immigrants (which are presumably the states most affected by unauthorized immigration) tend to hold more favorable views of unauthorized immigrants than people in states with few unauthorized immigrants. In other words, those that wish for full deportation tend to be those who are already unaffected by the issue.