Young Americans on Immigration: Follow the Rules

Addressing illegal immigration was a central issue in the 2016 election, and continues to rank high on the list of voter priorities. Market Research Foundation asked young people between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three, dubbed Generation Z, their views on a series of immigration policy questions. While young Americans say they think the immigration process is burdensome, an overwhelming majority say immigrants should follow proper procedures to become citizens. Over half of young Americans think increasing funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ending sanctuary cities would help reduce illegal immigration.

81% of Young Americans Want Immigrants to Follow the Rules Even if They are Difficult

Below is a summary chart of Generation Z’s immigration views.

While majorities across the political spectrum want immigration laws to be respected, there is disagreement about the most effective ways to reduce illegal immigration.

  • The most popular solution is to make it easier for people to immigrate to the United States legally, with 78% of young people indicating they think this would be effective.
  • Sixty-four percent think stricter enforcement of visas, to ensure people do not stay longer than they have permission to, would be effective.
  • Over half (53%) think compelling city and state governments to assist federal immigration enforcement efforts and outlawing sanctuary cities would be effective.
  • A similar number (52%) think increasing funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be effective.
  • Forty-eight percent think having harsher punishments for people caught coming into the United States illegally would be effective.
  • Just 37% say they think building a wall at the southern border of the United States would be effective.
61% of Young Independents and 42% of Young Democrats Say Follow the Rules or Leave

Although a majority of young people do not think most illegal immigrants cause problems, this view does not translate to a willingness to accept lawlessness. The most widely held view among young people on immigration is the importance of following legal procedures.

Fifty-eight percent of young people say it doesn’t matter if illegal immigrants cause problems; if they came here illegally, they need to leave or go through the proper procedures to stay. Sixty-percent of young people oppose abolishing the Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Agreement is stronger among young males than young females, with 64% of young males agreeing, versus 52% of young females. Young whites are the most supportive of this stance, with 68% agreeing, versus 52% of young Blacks and 38% of young Hispanics.

Unsurprisingly, this stance is more popular among young Republicans and Trump enthusiasts, but it is not confined to the GOP or to young Americans who support the President.

  • While 86% of young people who approve of President Trump agree with the ‘leave or go through the proper procedures’ statement, 44% of those who disapprove of the President also agree with the statement.
  • While 89% of young people who voted for President Trump in 2016 agree with the ‘leave or go through the proper procedures’ statement, so do 40% of Clinton voters and 48% of third party voters.
  • While 86% of young Republicans agree with the ‘leave or go through the proper procedures’ statement, 61% of young Independents agree, and 42% of young Democrats agree.
70% of Young New Englanders Say Follow the Rules or Leave

Region also plays a key role in support for this stance. Our recent article on young people’s views on foreign policy showed that young New Englanders (which includes individuals from New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) are the least receptive to a humanitarian justification for foreign intervention. In this case, young New Englanders appear to be rejecting a progressive open-borders policy, with a full 70% of New Englanders supporting the ‘leave or go through the proper procedures’ statement. New England boasted the largest share of Agreement by region, followed closely by the reliably conservative East South Central states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Below is a chart showing agreement with the ‘leave or go through the proper procedures’ statement by region.

Young New Englanders also disagreed with the following statement at the highest rate of any regional group: “Most illegal immigrants do not cause problems in our society.” Thirty-six percent of New Englanders disagreed with that statement, versus 28% for the full survey.

Our body of research continues to dismiss the idea that the youngest generation of Americans wants to radically reshape the United States. Generation Z favors structure, hierarchy, and the rule of law. Proposals that reward lawlessness, like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s call to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency altogether, do not appeal to this generation as a whole. Generation Z’s views on immigration display a strong preference for creating and enforcing practical immigration laws, and these views are strongest among New Enganders. Young people show significant support for making it easier to immigrate to the United States, but the majority believe immigrants have an obligation to follow the law, even if it is difficult to do so.