Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Report: More Latinos and Asian Americans favor deportation relief for immigrants

Pedro Pimentel Rios was deported back to Guatemala by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on July 12, 2011.
Pedro Pimentel Rios was deported back to Guatemala by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on July 12, 2011.
Courtesy of ICE

A new survey finds that among both Latinos and Asian Americans, more people believe it’s more important that unauthorized immigrants are protected from deportation than their having a path to U.S. citizenship.

According to the Pew Research Center report, 55 percent of Latinos who responded to the survey said they believed that living in the U.S. without fear of deportation was more important than citizenship; 35 percent held the opposite view.

More Asian Americans surveyed also said they thought relief from deportation to be more important - 49 percent - versus 44 percent who gave more importance to citizenship.

The findings are significant because both large majorities of both groups (89 percent of Latinos and 72 percent of Asian Americans) support a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, as provided in a Senate immigration bill approved last summer that stalled in the House.

The new report, however, points at priorities given the fact that a reform deal hasn’t been reached in Congress – and may not be reached until at least after the 2014 primary elections. As negotiations continue, “the findings (that)…deportation relief is more important than a pathway to citizenship could conceivably create an opening for legislative compromise,” the report reads.

According to the report, both Latinos and Asian Americans make up two-thirds of the 28 million immigrants who are in the U.S. legally. Latinos, however, make up roughly three-quarters of the additional 11.7 million immigrants estimated to be in the country illegally.

Not surprisingly, there are differences in the level of urgency expressed. For example, 69 percent of Latinos surveyed said it was very important to them that Congress pass new immigration legislation this year, a sentiment shared by 44 percent of Asian Americans.

According to the report, “that 25 percentage point gap in the urgency with which the two groups view the reform legislation is likely related to the fact that many more Hispanics than Asian Americans are in the U.S. illegally. Since 2009, the Obama administration has been deporting a record number of unauthorized immigrants (nearly 400,000 per year), the vast majority of them Hispanic.”

Similarly, 59 percent of Latinos who are immigrants – and 46 percent of Latinos surveyed overall – said they worried “a lot” or “some” that either they, a family member, or a close friend could be deported. Among Asian Americans, only 18 percent of immigrants and 16 percent of Asian Americans overall said they felt the same way.

The group most supportive of protection from deportation vs. a path to citizenship, in fact, was foreign-born Latino immigrants. From the report:

Immigrant Hispanics are especially supportive of deportation relief; by 61% to 27%, they say it is more important to unauthorized immigrants than having a pathway to citizenship.

Still, support for path to citizenship remains strong among both groups, with the majority of both Latinos and Asian Americans saying it would strengthen the economy and improve the lives of unauthorized immigrants. Both groups also shared some concerns:

At the same time, majorities or pluralities of both groups say that granting legal status to unauthorized immigrants would reward illegal behavior (53% among Hispanics and 48% among Asian Americans) and lead to more immigrants coming the U.S. illegally in the future (51% among Hispanics and 61% among Asian Americans).

The report comes as calls for President Obama to halt deportations louder. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution asking Obama to extend protection from deportation to more immigrants, beyond the roughly half a million young people now protected under the deferred action program.

At the same time, new data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement suggests that after years of record deportations under the Obama administration – with more than 1.9 million immigrants deported since 2009 – the pace of deportations seems to have slowed somewhat this year, dropping from a record 409,849 removals in fiscal year 2012.