Immigration Reform and a Younger Generation of Voters
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Age isn’t just a number anymore—it’s also a number that turns out at the voting booth en masse. The same generation that brought you hope and change now hopes to change the way our country responds to our broken immigration system. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times examined a new poll which found that California voters are almost evenly split when it comes to proposals that deny public services to unauthorized immigrants—a far cry from Proposition 187 which passed in California with almost 60% of the vote in 1994 (and was later found to be unconstitutional). So who’s responsible for the shift in public sentiment on immigration? Voters, age 18 to 29—and they don’t want to stop there.
A recent Los Angeles Times/USC College of Letters poll found that 47% of California voters oppose the denial of public services (such as public school and health care) to unauthorized immigrants, while 45% remain in support. While this doesn’t exactly seem like a public outcry, the poll results “represent a marked shift in public opinion with ramifications for both state and national politics and policy reform efforts.”
Why? After breaking down the demographics, the poll found that age has more to do with the public shift than ethnicity. While more Latino and Asian American voters opposed denial of social services to unauthorized immigrants than did white or African American voters, California voters aged 18 to 29 represented the majority of those who opposed the denial of services across all ethnic groups by a margin of nearly 30 points.
Although young voters in California are disproportionately Latino or Asian American compared with older voters, it appears that a broader dynamic is at work here as well. Attitudes among white voters between 18 and 29 on the question of services to illegal immigrants were almost identical to those of the entire age group.
The poll also revealed that the majority of California voters under the age of 45 believe that unauthorized immigrants are a net benefit to the state and “indicated strong support for a legalization process.” Rightfully so considering a 2010 study from the University of Southern California estimates that “unauthorized Latino immigrants in California…missed out on approximately $2.2 billion in wages and salary income last year alone due solely to their legal status, and the state lost out on the multiplied impacts of that potential income and spending, suggesting a total potential gain of $3.25 billion annually from authorization.”
The broader implication here, however, is that young California voters age 18 to 29 are indicative of a larger swath of young American voters who, according to the poll, identify priorities more by age than ethnic background. The Los Angeles Times points out that as immigrant, Latino and Asian populations continue to grow (in both California and the rest of the United States), so does young voters’ exposure to diversity—an exposure which “has brought familiarity, which has in turn brought tolerance.” While comparing young California voters’ immigration priorities to young American voters at large may seem like a jump, voters age 18 to 29 as a movement have proven their ability to change elections—and with them, the legislative priorities of our nation.