STUDY: Undocumented Millennials Are Moving On Up Financially And Are Not All Democrats

An immigration activist at the April 5th rally at the White House holds a sign that reads, “Learning is our motivation” in Mandarin Chinese. CREDIT: THINKPROGRESS/ ESTHER Y. LEE
An immigration activist at the April 5th rally at the White House holds a sign that reads, “Learning is our motivation” in Mandarin Chinese. CREDIT: THINKPROGRESS/ ESTHER Y. LEE

Nearly two years after President Barack Obama (D) used executive action to allow some undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal presence and work authorization, a new study out Tuesday has found that the directive may be working as intended in lifting the population out of the shadows and into the formal U.S. economy.

Among key findings of the survey of 1,472 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients by researchers at the University of California at San Diego and the immigration advocacy group United We Dream, the majority of those surveyed do not identify as Democrats (but are politically active) and have started working at their first job or moved to a new job.

In the survey, Professor Tom Wong, the UCSD lead researcher, found that “DACA is improving the financial well-being of its recipients.” His survey found that at least 70 percent of respondents began their first job or moved to a new job once they received their new status, with about 46 percent saying that deferred action has helped them become more financially independent and 51 percent saying that they were able to help their families financially. But a whopping 77 percent of respondents reported annual personal incomes below $25,000. Wong said that the transient nature of the initiative — which can be revoked by an incoming administration — is partially to blame for the low wages.

“People are moving into jobs that are commensurate to their degrees and their skills,” he said. “But we may be seeing glass ceiling issues on upward mobility. Even though individuals are able to get jobs in their field, very few have experienced promotions through managerial positions, which require long term employment. Employers are hesitant to pull the trigger on promotions.”

The survey also found that DACA recipients are almost as likely to identify as independents as Democrats. While 50 percent of individuals identify with the Democratic Party, 45 percent also identify either as “Independent” or “Other.” He explained on a press conference call Tuesday that the finding could mean “that there is a small window of opportunity for Republicans to appeal to this constituency should they act on the issues that these constituents care about.” Wong’s survey found that while 41 percent of respondents found that they couldn’t support the Democratic party or its candidates if immigration reform is not passed, more than 68 percent felt the same about the Republican party. And 35 percent of the population identified with an immigrant advocacy group. The findings may thus be a refutation to the popular notion that undocumented immigrants are overwhelmingly Democrat: DACA recipients are in fact a lot like their older unauthorized counterparts in being politically unaffiliated.

According to the latest United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) statistics, more than 550,000 undocumented immigrants have been approved as DACA recipients. Since the DACA program was based in part on the federal DREAM Act, which has similar requirements that undocumented immigrants have to meet, it’s possible that the larger DACA population, which patterns closely to this survey sample, could boost the formal economy. A 2012 report found that had 2.1 million undocumented youths been granted legal status under the DREAM Act, that they would add $329 billion to the U.S. economy and create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030.