Asian American Perspectives on Immigration Policy
Despite the rapid growth in both documented and undocumented Asian Americans, their attitudes toward immigration policy are not well understood. Drawing on data from the 2016 National Asian American Survey, this article examines both interracial and intra-Asian differences in views toward immigration. Relative to other racial groups, Asians are as likely to support legal migration, but less likely to support undocumented migration. We document significant diversity among Asians. As labor migrants, Filipinos support a congressional increase in annual work visas. As economic migrants, Chinese and Indians support an increase in annual family visas. As refugees, Vietnamese are least supportive of pro-immigration policy. These findings contribute to research on policy support by systematically including Asian Americans in this debate and by revealing their diverse policy perspectives.
Asian Americans, immigration policy, visa policies, undocumented immigrants, in-group and out-group attitudes
Immigration is back on the political agenda. Immigration policies have sparked intense public debate, increasing immigration restrictions being a hallmark of the Trump administration. Citing public health concerns and economic crisis during the coronavirus pandemic, immigration has virtually come to a halt since March 2020. This restriction is part of a long-term goal by the Trump administration to curtail all forms of immigration. From the Muslim ban and the Mexican border wall to the drastic reductions of annual refugee quotas and visas for skilled immigrant workers, immigration policy is a key political issue having ramifications for the lives of millions of immigrants in the United States. Although immigration policy is most likely to affect Latinx Americans, Asians Americans—the most rapidly growing racial group in the United States—are an increasingly important constituency.1 Still, public opinion [End Page 154] research has yet to focus on racial attitudes and policy support among U.S. Asians, including their views on immigration policy.
Asians are not only the fastest growing racial group, they are also the fastest growing segment in the U.S. electorate (Budiman 2020). In 2018, the Asian population was 22.6 million, accounting for 6.9 percent of the total U.S. population. In 2009, Asians surpassed Latinxs in the number of immigrant arrivals each year (Pew Research Center 2012). In 2013, China and India overtook Mexico as the top sending countries of new immigrants to the United States (Jensen 2015). As Asian immigration has grown, so has the estimated undocumented Asian population, which tripled from half a million to 1.7 million from 2000 to 2015. By 2015, one in seven Asian immigrants was undocumented, accounting for 15.7 percent of the total undocumented population in the United States (Ramakrishnan and Shah 2017). Given these trends, immigration policy has a direct impact on U.S. Asians. At the same time, their views are heterogeneous because Asians are internally diverse in national origin, social class, and political ideology—both within and across Asian ethnic groups (Lee, Ramakrishnan and Wong 2018).
Public opinion research on Asians trails their growing presence. Previous research has mostly focused on Whites’ immigration attitudes and—more recently—the perspectives of Latinxs, for whom immigration policy historically had the most substantial impact (Fussell 2014; Hainmueller and Hopkins 2014). Where do U.S. Asians stand on immigration policy? As the most educated and highest-income racial group, Asians might align closely with Whites, who generally express weaker support for immigration than Blacks and Latinxs. As a minority group with the highest proportions of foreign-born population (67 percent), Asians might express more support for pro-immigration policy than other racial groups—including Latinxs—given research showing that foreign-born Latinxs express more support for pro-immigration policy compared to U.S.-born respondents (Ramakrishnan and Shah 2017; Rouse, Wilkinson, and Garand 2010).
This article addresses the lack of research on Asians’ immigration attitudes. We leverage data from the 2016 National Asian American Survey (NAAS)—a large, nationally representative survey of Asian Americans. Because the experiences and attitudes of Asians are not typically reflected in national surveys and polls, our analyses make a unique contribution to prior work on immigration attitudes. Specifically, we examine three immigration policies—two related to legal migration and one to undocumented migration. The first two measure support for an increase of visas for work and family reunification; the last measures support for a path to naturalization for undocumented immigrants.
This article answers three key questions. First, how do Asian Americans’ attitudes toward immigration policy compare with those of Whites, Blacks, and Latinxs? Given the recent increase in the number of undocumented U.S. Asians and the high proportion of foreign-born Asians, we hypothesize that Asians’ views on a path to citizenship will converge with those of Latinxs, which are more favorable relative to Whites and Blacks (Fussell 2014). Because the long wait for visas from some countries has contributed to the spike in undocumented migration over the last decades (Massey and Penn 2012), we further hypothesize that Asians—like Latinxs—will be more likely than Blacks and Whites to support annual increases of work visas and family visas, which together would raise the annual ceiling on legal migration into the United States.
Second, how does policy support vary by national origin among Asians? The inclusion of ten Asian ethnic groups in the 2016 NAAS enables us to compare across groups. We hypothesize that Asian ethnic groups with a higher share of undocumented and foreign-born population and those with a higher percentage of Democrat-identified adults will be more likely to support these policies. Further, we hypothesize that the degree to which a group makes use of a specific policy or has viable alternative options toward legalization will be associated with support for specific immigration policies.
Third, which factors drive support for these policies? Drawing on prior research, we examine the roles of acculturation and identity, perceived [End Page 155] economic security, intergroup contact, and perceived commonality with other racial groups. In addition, we ask how well theories that originated from Whites and Latinxs’ immigration attitudes predict policy support among U.S. Asians. This is because standard predictors of political participation and policy views fare poorly when applied to other non-Black and non-White groups (Kasinitz et. al 2008; Tran 2017).
Contrary to our expectations, we find that Asians are as likely as other groups to support an increase in work or family visas, but Asians are least likely to support a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Among Asians, diversity across ethnic groups is significant. As labor migrants, Filipinos are most supportive of a congressional increase in annual work visas. As economic migrants, Chinese and Indians are most supportive of increase in annual family visas. As refugees, Vietnamese are least supportive of pro-immigration policy. On a path to citizenship, Filipinos are most supportive, in large part because of their higher level of daily contacts with Latinxs. Specifically, we point to pathways of entry, socioeconomic diversity, party identification, alternative avenues to legalization, and the size of the undocumented population as key drivers of divergent policy views among Asians.
Diverse political identities make U.S. Asians an important constituency courted by both political parties in both local and national elections. In the 2016 NAAS, 47 percent self-identify as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans, and 26 percent as Independents. These statistics mask significant variations within the Asian population by national origin: Chinese and Vietnamese are more likely to identify as Independents and Indians and Filipinos as Democrats. Yet we know little about political and policy views among Asians—even on basic issues related to immigration—nor what shapes their views. Understanding Asian American perspectives on immigration policy can provide insights for immigration advocacy, political organizing, as well as voter mobilization and, more broadly, for how Asian Americans will influence party politics and group mobilization in the United States.
DRIVERS OF SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRATION POLICY
Despite the rhetoric in the media, most Americans strongly support immigration and immigrants, including the undocumented. A majority of Americans believe that immigrants strengthen American society, with support being higher among younger cohorts (Jones 2019). For example, 70 percent of Americans believe legal immigration should increase or remain at its current level (Pew Research Center 2018). A majority oppose the curtailment of family reunification visas, and more than 80 percent support a legal pathway to citizenship for residents who came to the United States as children (Newport 2018). Despite this broad support, important racial differences in attitudes toward immigration are apparent. We highlight scholarship on attitudes toward immigration policy mostly among Whites and Latinxs, and then consider the implications for Asian Americans.
Research on attitudes toward immigration finds that many demographic characteristics— younger, more educated, Hispanic, foreign born, and low income—are associated with greater support for immigrants and pro-immigration policy (Burns and Gimpel 2000; Citrin et al. 1997; Espenshade and Calhoun 1993). Research to date has often assumed a relationship between economic self-interest and immigration attitudes, emphasizing the roles of labor market competition, perceived economic threat, and perceived fiscal burden on U.S. society as potential negative drivers of immigration support. However, only modest relationships have been found between individual economic self-interest and immigration attitudes (Hainmueller and Hopkins 2104). Beyond self-interest, a “cosmopolitan perspective”—associated with high levels of education, professional labor-market status, and experiences living abroad—has been shown to be associated with more positive attitudes toward immigration (Haubert and Fussell 2006).
Social psychological factors, including perceived cultural threat and intergroup contact, also matter. Research based on the contact hypothesis (Allport 1954)—that greater contact with out-group members of equal status with common goals and a collaborative spirit in institutional settings will be associated with more [End Page 156] support for immigration—has been inconclusive to date. On the one hand, Whites living in close proximity to Asians express more positive attitudes on immigration than those who do not (Ayers et al. 2009; Ha 2010; Hood and Morris 1997). On the other hand, research on the association between contact with Latinxs and immigration attitudes is more mixed. Some findings are consistent with the contact hypothesis (Hood and Morris 1997; Hood and Morris 2000; Taylor and Schroeder 2010) whereas others show a relationship between proximity to Latinxs and weaker support for immigration (Ayers et al. 2009; Ha 2010). Overall, more contact with Latinxs tends to decrease Whites’ prejudice toward and perceived threat from Latinxs (Dixon and Rosenbaum 2004; Fussell 2014). In turn, negative stereotypes and feelings of social distance from Latinxs are associated with less support for immigration, above and beyond beliefs about personal economic conditions (Ayers et al. 2009; Burns and Gimpel 2000; Citrin et al. 1997; Lee and Ottati 2002).
Research has framed immigration as an out-group issue for Whites and as an in-group issue for Latinxs, especially on undocumented immigration. Relative to Whites, Latinxs not only routinely rate immigration as a much more important policy issue (Abrajano and Alvarez 2011), but also express more support for pro-immigrant policies than Whites (Espenshade and Calhoun 1993). Given the high percentage of foreign-born Latinxs, support for immigration policy is implicitly portrayed as in-group support because immigration policy has an outsized impact on Latinxs—the country’s largest racial minority group.
At the same time, differences among Latinxs are significant. In general, foreign-born Latinxs express more support for pro-immigration policy than their U.S.-born counterparts (Abrajano and Alvarez 2011; de la Garza 1998; Rouse, Wilkinson, and Garand 2010; Sanchez 2006). Among the immigrant generation, naturalization may further dampen support for immigration policy. For example, Aida Just and Christopher Anderson (2015) find that naturalized citizens in Europe express less support for pro-immigration policy than noncitizen immigrants. Acculturation and identity also matter. For example, the strength of in-group identity shapes the extent to which identity-based political messages and co ethnic representation resonate with individuals (Schildkraut 2013; Valenzuela and Michelson 2016). Attachment to Spanish, strong ethnic identity, and lower levels of acculturation are strongly associated with support for immigration among Latinxs (Branton 2007; Knoll 2012; Rouse, Wilkinson, and Garand 2010). In contrast, cultural assimilation is associated with higher nativism (Knoll 2012) and with lower support for immigration policy (Branton 2007). Because Latinxs view immigration policy as an in-group issue, strong in-group identity bolsters support for immigration whereas acculturation and assimilation dampen it.
ASIAN AMERICANS AND IMMIGRATION POLICY
Media images of immigration tend to portray it as a Latinx issue (Chavez 2008). We know that media narratives about immigration shape attitudes (Abrajano and Singh 2009). Changes in the attention paid to immigration and the type of narratives expressed also correspond to changes in individual attitudes (Burns and Gimpel 2000). In turn, these narratives may shape support for immigration policy among Asians, through their constructed perceptions of in-group benefits versus out-group commonality. Similar to Whites, Asians may perceive immigration policies, especially those targeting undocumented immigrants, as an out-group policy issue more relevant to Latinxs than to their own group experiences, even if a higher percentage of Asians are immigrants than of Latinxs. Beyond media images, U.S. Asians are more assimilated than Latinxs, reporting higher levels of socioeconomic attainment, higher rates of intermarriage, and lower rates of language retention (Kasinitz et al. 2008; Bialik 2017). Asian immigrants are also half as likely to be undocumented as Latinxs. In 2015, only 7.4 percent of Asians (1.5 million) relative to 14.9 percent of Latinxs (8.4 million) were undocumented.2 Asians will thus report [End Page 157] lower levels of immigration policy support than Latinxs.
On the other hand, work visas are particularly important to Asian immigration. Overall, 25 percent of residency permits granted to Asian immigrants are based on work visas, versus only 16 percent for all immigrants (Zong and Batalova 2016). As a result, Asians may be more supportive of increasing work visas than Latinxs, especially if Asians view this policy issue as an in-group one. Similarly, Asians may be more supportive of increasing family visas, given the importance of family reunification as a policy mechanism for their entry into the United States (Tran, Guo, and Huang 2020). Moreover, Asians have the highest proportions of foreign-born population and a low percentage of naturalized citizens relative to other race groups in the United States. As a result, Asians are likely to express stronger support for immigration policy, given the disproportionate impacts of such policy on their own group.
INTRA-ASIAN DIVERSITY IN POLICY SUPPORT
Given the diversity among Asians, do U.S. Asians hold a common policy position or are differences among them significant by ethnicity? What accounts for differences in Asian Americans’ policy attitudes? Four theoretically important factors underlie ethnic differences among Asians: social class, legal and alternative pathways of entry, the size and proportion of the undocumented population, and party identification. To illustrate this diversity, we focus on the four largest Asian ethnic groups—Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, and Vietnamese. Altogether, they accounted for 74 percent of the Asian population and 69 percent of the Asian undocumented population in the United States in 2015 (Tran, Lee, and Huang 2019; Ramakrishnan and Shah 2017). These four groups are broadly representative of the Asian ethnic communities, especially of many smaller Asian ethnic groups.
China and India are the two largest countries in the world by population size, generating significant pressures for international migration. As economic migrants, Chinese and Indian immigrants are quite similar. First, both are hyper-selected and highly educated (Tran, Lee, and Huang 2019). Second, they are also the two most educated U.S. ethnic groups. As of 2015, 72 percent of Indians and 54 percent of Chinese in the United States were college educated, versus only 29 percent of Vietnamese (Lopez, Ruiz, and Patten 2017). Relatedly, Indians have the highest median household income ($100,000) among Asians (Tran, Lee, and Huang 2019).
On pathways of entry, China (32.5 percent) and India (17.3 percent) accounted for half of the 1,079,000 international students studying in the United States in 2017. By contrast, Vietnam accounted for only 2.1 percent and the Philippines less than 1 percent in 2017 (Zong and Batalova 2018a). Moreover, India (71.7 percent) and China (13 percent) together accounted for 85 percent of H-1B petitions for skilled workers in specialized occupations that received approvals in 2019 (USCIS 2020).3 Therefore, we expect Chinese and Indians to report more support for an increase in work and family visas. In addition, China is the largest sending country of asylum seekers in the United States, and the origin point of the largest number of both asylum seekers and individuals granted asylum in recent years (8,101 and 6,905, respectively, in 2018), which may lead to the perception among Chinese that asylum is a viable alternative to U.S. residency (Mossaad 2018).
On legal status, India and China accounted for more than half of the total undocumented Asian population in 2017—the highest shares among all Asian groups (Ramakrishnan and Shah 2017). Specifically, the proportions of undocumented immigrants among Vietnamese and Filipinos are smallest (6.2 percent), relative to 7.8 percent among Chinese, and 11.5 percent among Indians. As a result, we expect Chinese and Indians to be more supportive of a path to naturalization than other Asians and Vietnamese to be the least supportive. [End Page 158]
On political ideology, Chinese and Indians differ significantly in their primary leanings. Chinese are more conservative, the highest proportion being Republican (33 percent) and the second highest share being Independent (41.8 percent). By contrast, Indians are more likely to be Democrat (46.4 percent) and less likely to be Republican (23.2 percent).4 Given their conservatism, Chinese should be less supportive of a path to citizenship than Indians.
As labor migrants, Filipinos for the most part secure lawful permanent resident status through family reunification (Zong and Batalova 2018b). In 2019, the Philippines ranked second—only after Mexico—on the immigrant waiting list for both family-sponsored and employment-based visas (U.S. Department of State 2019).5 As further evidence of their concentration as a labor migrant group, Filipinos made up less than 1 percent of U.S. international students in 2017 (Zong and Batalova 2018a) and less than 1 percent of H-1B visa holders in 2019 (USCIS 2020). Politically, Filipinos are most likely to be Democrat (52.8 percent) and least likely to be Republican (23.2 percent). As a result, Filipinos should report high levels of support for pro-immigration policy, especially for an increase in family reunification visas.
As a refugee group, Vietnamese were reset-tled in the United States and report the lowest amount of human capital among these four groups (Zhou and Bankston 1999; Tran, Lee, and Huang 2019). Given their pathway of entry and modest background, Vietnamese accounted for less than 0.3 percent of all H-1B visa holders in 2019 and are least likely to benefit from a work visa increase. However, they should be as likely as the other groups to support family visa increase given the importance of the family reunification program (Tran, Guo, and Huang 2020). Vietnamese also report the lowest proportion of undocumented population (9 percent), so a path to naturalization may feel less urgent. Politically, the majority of Vietnamese identify as Independent (54.3 percent) and are least likely to be Democrat (21.9 percent). Relative to Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos, we expect Vietnamese to be the least supportive of increasing work visas and a path to naturalization, but as supportive as other groups toward an annual increase in family visas.
The remaining Asian ethnic groups are more similar to one or another of these groups. Koreans and Japanese—two highly educated and politically liberal East Asian groups—are more similar to Indians. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis—two large labor migrant groups—are similar to Filipinos, and hence we expect their policy views to resemble those among Filipinos. Finally, the other refugee groups—Cambodians, Laotians, and Hmong—are most similar to Vietnamese, and hence their views should converge with those of Vietnamese.
DATA AND METHODS
The 2016 NAAS is a national telephone survey conducted between November 10, 2016, and March 2, 2017. The survey included adult Asian respondents from ten ethnic groups (4,393) and four non-Asian groups: Hispanics/Latinxs (1126); non-Hispanic Whites (408); non-Hispanic Blacks (401); and Pacific Islanders (120). We include Pacific Islanders in all the multivariate analyses, but do not discuss them in detail. A full description of 2016 NAAS is available in the introduction to this volume (see Lee and Ramakrishnan 2021), and in articles that have already analyzed it (Ramakrishnan et al. 2018; Lee and Tran 2019).
To capture attitudes toward immigration, the dependent variables are ordinal measures of support for policies on work visas, family visas, and a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Specifically, the survey asks how much respondents agree or disagree with the following three statements: Congress needs to increase the number of work visas it issues every year; Congress needs to increase the number of family visas it issues every year; and undocumented [End Page 159] or illegal immigrants should be allowed to have an opportunity to eventually become U.S. citizens. The response categories are on a 5-point scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). The three policies capture both sides of immigration debates, on legal migration—visa policies—and on illegal migration—legal path to citizenship. For this article, we include respondents with a valid response to these three questions and exclude those with don’t know or refused responses. These missing responses accounted for about 9 percent of the sample for the measures of visa policies and about 4 percent of the sample for the survey measure for a path to naturalization.
Beyond race and Asian ethnicity, the independent variables include five sets of variables that research has shown to have some predictive power for support for immigration policy: demographic characteristics, acculturation and identity, perceived economic security, intergroup contact, and perceived commonality with other racial groups.
First, we adjust for demographic characteristics: immigrant generation, age, gender, proportion of life in the United States, political party identification, socioeconomic status (education and income), and geographic region. For immigrants, we calculate “the proportion of life in the United States” by dividing length of residency in the United States by age. For nonmigrants whose entire life has been in the United States, we assign the value of 1. Thus, the values for this variable range between 0 and 1 (Tran, Guo, and Huang 2020). Because one-third of our sample lived in California at the time of the survey, we control for geographic region using a dummy indicating those who live in this state.
Second, we adjust for acculturation and identity using two survey measures on identity.6 We measure the strength of racial identity by using a 4-point scale on how important racial identity is to respondents, from not at all important (1) to extremely important (4). Similarly, we measure the strength of American identity by using a 4-point scale on how important American identity is to respondents, from not at all important (1) to extremely important (4).
Third, we adjust for perceived economic security using three survey measures on union membership, current financial situation, and future financial outlook. Specifically, the question on current financial situation asks: “How about your own financial situation? So far as you and your family are concerned, how worried are you about your current financial situation?” The response categories are on a 5-point scale from extremely worried (1) to not at all worried (5). We also measure future financial outlook by using a 5-point scale on how respondents perceive their and their family’s financial situation in a year’s time from the survey point, from much worse (1) to much better (5).
Fourth, we adjust for intergroup contact using four measures of personal contact respondents report in their daily life with each of the four racial groups. These measures are on a 4-point scale on how much contact they have with Whites, Blacks, Latinxs, or Asians, from no contact at all (1) to a lot of contact (4).
Finally, we adjust for respondents’ perceived commonality with other racial groups on four dimensions—a common race, a common culture, common economic interests, and common political interests, using four separate questions that ask what, if anything, different races in the United States share with one another. The response categories are dichotomous for each of these four measures, yes indicating agreement to perceived commonality in each of the dimensions among racial groups (for descriptive statistics and for the full list of independent variables, see table A1).
The analyses proceed in three stages. First, we describe the bivariate results for each of the three dependent variables by race and by Asian ethnicity. Second, we use ordinal logistic regressions to examine racial differences in support for the three policies while controlling for demographics, importance of identity, perceived [End Page 160] economic security, daily intergroup contact, and perceived commonality with other racial groups. Third, we examine policy support among Asian respondents to probe intra-Asian diversity, using ethnic origin as our key independent variable.
Because the dependent variable is ordinal, we use ordinal logistic regressions with robust standard errors and report the proportional odds ratios for ease of interpretation. The multivariate models for measuring differences by race and by ethnic origin (among Asians) are as follows:
where Pr (Yj = i ) denotes the log odds of the probability of respondent j reporting support for a particular immigration policy (Y) at an ordinal level i. Rj and Ej denote the racial (R) and ethnic (E) background (among Asians) for respondent j, the key independent variables of interest. Dj is a vector of demographic control variables for respondent j. Ij is a vector of control variables on the importance of identity, perceived economic security, intergroup contact, and perceived commonality with other racial groups for respondent j. And k is the number of categories within the ordinal dependent variable (k = 5).
For each of the dependent variables, we estimate two models. The first controls only for race or Asian ethnicity, along with immigrant generation to establish the baseline differences. The second controls for the demographic variables and introduces the following sets of variables: importance of identity, perceived economic security, intergroup contact, and perceived commonality with other racial groups. All bivariate and multivariate analyses adjust for the stratified survey design using appropriate final weights in the 2016 NAAS. To facilitate the interpretation of our findings, we use post-regression estimates of predicted probabilities to illustrate selected patterns in racial and ethnic differences in levels of support, holding other covariates constant at the mean level.
RACIAL DIFFERENCES IN SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRATION POLICY
We begin by describing racial differences in the average support for immigration policy. Figure 1 presents the bivariate results by race and by policy. On visa policies, the mean levels of support for work or family visas are lowest among Whites and Asians and highest among Latinxs. Overall, the level of support is virtually identical for family visas and work visas for all groups. On a legal path to citizenship, Asians report the lowest support (3.4) and Latinxs report the highest (4.5). For all three policies, support is slightly higher for a legal path to citizenship than for annual visa increases for all groups, with the exception of Asians, for whom the mean levels of support for all three policies is almost identical (3.4 to 3.5 of 5).
Table 1 presents results from ordinal logistic regressions on racial differences in support for the three policies. To begin, models 1 and 2 present results from ordinal logistic regressions on an annual work visa increase as the dependent variable. Controlling for race and immigrant generation, model 1 shows that Latinxs are 1.9 times more likely than Whites to support this policy. On immigrant generation, third-plus-generation individuals are twice as supportive of a work visa increase than the first generation. In model 2, the differences by race and generation are no longer signifi-cant once we control for other covariates. Among demographic variables, age, length of time in the United States, education, and political party are significant predictors of support, younger, recently arrived (among immigrants), and less-educated respondents reporting more support.
Model 2 also introduces the full set of covariates: the strength of racial and of American identity, perceived economic security, intergroup contact, and perceived commonality with other racial groups as predictors of support. Respondents with a more positive future financial outlook report lower levels of support; those with frequent daily contact with Latinxs report higher levels of support. However, daily contact with non-Hispanic groups as well as [End Page 161] perceived commonality in race, culture, economic, and political interest are not significant.
Models 3 and 4 present results from ordinal logistic regressions on a family visa increase. Controlling for race and immigrant generation in model 3, Latinxs are 1.7 times more likely than Whites to support this policy. By contrast, immigrants are only half as likely than those born in the United States to support an annual family visa increase. In model 4, differences by race and by immigrant generation are no longer significant. Controlling for the full set of covariates, age, proportion of life in the United States, and education are negative, significant predictors of support. Political party identification matters, Democrats being twice as likely as Republicans and Independents to support family visa policies. Finally, future financial outlook, daily contact with Latinxs, and perceived commonality in culture with other groups significantly predict support.
Model 5 shows that Latinxs are 1.7 times more likely than Whites to support a path to citizenship for the undocumented, but Asians are only a third as likely as Whites to do so. This finding is puzzling in light of the increasing population of undocumented Asians. Moreover, Asians are also least supportive of a path to citizenship among all racial groups. In model 6, the Latinx-White difference is no longer significant, but the Asian-White gap persists. Asians are four times less likely than Whites to support a path to naturalization for the undocumented. In addition, being younger or female is associated with higher support of such a policy. More strikingly, the strength of racial identity is positively associated with support only in this regression model. Those with a stronger sense of racial identity are more likely to support a path to naturalization. This lends support for our initial hypotheses that those who consider this policy measure as an in-group issue (strongly identified with their racial group) will be more likely to support it.
Among the other independent variables, we observe the same pattern as in previous models. Those who report a more optimistic financial future are significantly less likely to support a path to citizenship. By contrast, those with more daily contact with Latinxs are 1.3 times more likely to do so. Finally, those who believe that different races in the United States have a cultural commonality are twice as likely to report support for the policy.
In sum, race and immigrant generation show no major differences in regard to support for family or work visa increases. However, Asians are significantly less likely than all other [End Page 162]
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groups to support a path to naturalization. Among demographic variables, age is the most consistent predictor of support, older respondents reporting less support. Among the other independent variables, future financial outlook, daily contact with Latinxs, and perceived cultural commonality with other racial groups are consistent and significant predictors of support. That respondents who perceive a more positive future financial outlook are less supportive, and that daily contact with Latinxs (the largest immigrant group) and perceived cultural commonality are associated with more support of these policies suggests that cultural rather than economic factors are the main drivers of attitudes on immigration. That neither measure of current economic security—union membership or current financial situation—is significant in predicting policy support is further evidence for this interpretation. This is also consistent with prior work on the perceived cultural threat as predictive of immigration attitudes (Hopkins, Tran, and Williamson 2014; Hainmueller and Hopkins 2014; Fussell 2014).
Predicted Probabilities by Race and Age
Because the dependent variables in table 1 are ordinal, predicted probabilities by race provide an intuitive way to interpret the magnitude of the difference in support. For parsimony, we calculate predicted probabilities based on three [End Page 164] logistic regression models in which the three dependent variables were recoded into three dichotomous variables: strongly disagree or disagree, or neither disagree nor disagree (0); and agree or strongly agree (1). Otherwise, the models are identical to those reported in table 1, including the full set of control variables.
Because policy support declines with age, we visualize this relationship by calculating predicted probabilities by race for respondents age twenty to seventy.
The upper chart in figure 2 further confirms the relative ranking in support for work visa policy by race, Latinxs evincing the strongest support. Holding other covariates constant at the mean level, Blacks and Whites virtually overlap in their support for a work visa increase. By contrast, Asians are the least likely to express strong support for this policy. Regardless of race, however, there is a slight downward slope in all four predicted lines. Older respondents report lower levels of support compared to younger ones. For example, the predicted probability of support for increasing annual work visas for a twenty-year-old Asian respondent is 0.61, whereas the predicted probability for a seventy-year-old Latinx respondent is about 0.59. In other words, twenty-year-old Asians are about as likely as seventy-year-old Latinxs to support this policy. Among Asians, the predicted probabilities drop by about 50 percent from 0.61 for twenty-year-old Asians to 0.39 for seventy-year-old Asians—the lowest level among the four racial groups.
The middle chart in figure 2 presents a similar pattern: predicted probabilities for support of family visa increase is highest among Latinxs, almost identical among Blacks and Whites, and lowest among Asians. To be sure, the confidence intervals overlap across the four racial groups, suggesting that these differences are not statistically significant at every age. Moreover, the downward slope is slightly steeper, indicating larger differences across age groups. Among twenty-year-old respondents, the predicted probabilities of support range from 0.75 to 0.85 for Whites, Blacks, and Latinxs, indicating rather high support. Among Asian respondents, predicted probability is slightly lower for twenty-year-old Asians (0.7) and lowest for seventy-year-old Asians (0.4).
The lower chart shows clear differences in support by race for a path to naturalization. On the one hand, support for a path to naturalization is universally high among Blacks and Latinxs, at approximately 0.9 on a scale of 0 to 1. This support is only slightly lower among Whites, at approximately 0.8, suggesting that the overwhelming majority of respondents support the policy. Moreover, this support is virtually invariant by age for Whites, Blacks, and Latinxs. Asians are the exception: they are least likely to indicate support for this policy. Such support declines slightly from younger to older Asian respondents. In sum, the highlight in figure 2 is the significant lower level of support among Asian respondents relative to other racial groups.
ETHNIC DIFFERENCES IN SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRATION POLICY AMONG ASIANS
We now turn to ethnic differences in support for these policies among Asian respondents to unpack intra-Asian heterogeneity. The main independent variable for this set of analyses is the respondents’ Asian ethnicity.
Figure 3 presents the bivariate results by Asian ethnic origin. Overall, variation is significant across the ten ethnic groups. On work visa increase, Vietnamese and Koreans report the lowest levels of mean support (3) and Hmong the highest (4). On family visa increase, support is also lowest among Vietnamese (2.2) and Koreans (3) and highest among Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (4). On a path to citizenship for the undocumented, mean level of support is lowest among Vietnamese (3) and highest among Hmong (4.4).
Because Vietnamese consistently show the lowest level of support in all three policies, we choose Vietnamese as our reference group in the multivariate analyses that follow. This low level of support is likely due, in part, to Vietnamese being a refugee group. As a result, the question of work visas and family visas may be less pressing for Vietnamese. Similarly, they are least likely to be undocumented and are least likely to be affected by a path to naturalization.
Table 2 presents multivariate results from ordinal logistic regressions on the three policies. For parsimony, we present only the results for Asian ethnic origin and immigrant generation. [End Page 165]
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However, the five sets of covariate controls are identical to those we introduced to account for the racial differences in support in table 1. For each policy, we fit two models. The first controls for Asian ethnic origin and immigrant generation. The second adds controls for demographic characteristics, importance of identity, perceived economic security, intergroup contact, and perceived commonality with other racial groups (see
Models 1 and 2 present results from ordinal logistic regressions on a work visa increase as the dependent variable. Controlling for Asian ethnic origin and immigrant generation, model 1 shows that Asian ethnic groups other than Koreans are 1.5 to 3.5 times more likely than Vietnamese to support this policy. The support gap is smallest among Chinese (1.5) and largest among Hmong (3.5). In model 2 these support gaps are attenuated, with the exception of Chinese, but the gaps remain persistently signifi-cant. On immigrant generation, model 1 shows the second generation to be 1.3 times more likely than the first generation to support the policy, but this difference becomes insignificant after controlling for the full set of covariates in model 2.
Model 3 presents results from ordinal logistic regressions on an increase in family visas. Asian ethnic groups other than the Vietnamese are significantly more likely to support this policy. In model 4, these differences not only persist but also remain substantial across groups. For example, Pakistanis are 14.7 times more likely and Koreans are 3.5 times more likely than Vietnamese to support a family visa increase. Comparing models 3 and 4, these findings suggest that demographic controls, along with other drivers of policy support, are not the key factors underlying ethnic differences in policy support among Asians. In model 3, second-generation respondents are 1.4 times more likely than the first generation to support a family visa increase. However, this difference is explained away by other covariates in model 4.
On a path to naturalization, models 5 and 6 show that Chinese, Vietnamese, and Koreans are least supportive of such a policy. By contrast, other Asian ethnic groups report higher support than the Vietnamese. For example, [End Page 167] Hmong are 5.4 times more likely and Indians are 1.6 times more likely to support the policy. These findings point to significant variation in the level of support among different Asian ethnic groups. These differences cannot be accounted for by the demographic characteristics, strength of racial or American identity, actual or perceived economic security, daily intergroup contact, and perceived commonality with other racial groups.
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On immigrant generation, second- and higher-generation respondents are 2.5 to 2.7 times more likely than the first generation to support a path to citizenship for the undocumented, but this difference is no longer significant after controlling for other covariates in model 6.
Predicted Probabilities by Asian Ethnicity and Age
Because the outcome variables in table 2 are ordinal, predicted probabilities by ethnicity provide an intuitive way to interpret the magnitude of the difference in support. For parsimony, we calculate predicted probabilities based on three logistic regression models in which the three dependent variables were recoded into three dichotomous variables: strongly disagree or disagree, or neither disagree nor disagree (0); and agree or strongly agree (1). Otherwise, the models are identical to those reported in table 2, including the full set of control variables.
Figure 4 graphs the predicted probabilities for the three policy questions. To render the graphs more legible, we focus only on the four largest Asian ethnic groups—Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, and Vietnamese. The upper chart shows that Filipinos, Indians, and Chinese report high levels of support for increasing work visas, holding other covariates constant at the mean level. By contrast, Vietnamese are the least likely to support increase in work visas. The four predicted lines show a downward slope, older respondents from the four groups generally reporting lower levels of support than younger respondents. For example, the predicted probability of support for a twenty-year-old Vietnamese respondent is 0.5, similar to that for seventy-year-old Chinese and Indian respondents. In other words, twenty-year-old Vietnamese are about as likely as seventy-year-old Chinese or Indian respondents to support work visa increase.
The middle chart presents a different pattern for family visas. The predicted probabilities for support of an increase in family visa is equally high among Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos, as we would expect. However, Vietnamese report significantly less support for this policy at every age group, and the support gap is large. For example, the predicted probability of support for a twenty-year-old Vietnamese respondent is only 0.3, versus 0.75 among the other three groups. In other words, young respondents from Vietnamese background are less than half as likely as similarly aged respondents from the other ethnic groups to support a family visa increase. At the other end of the age spectrum, the gap is even larger. Among seventy-year-old Vietnamese respondents, the predicted level of support is only 0.2, about one-third of the predicted level for the other three groups (0.6).
The lower chart shows that Indians and Filipinos report the highest level of support for a path to naturalization for the undocumented, as predicted by their liberal political identities and higher percentage of undocumented (in the case of Indians). Chinese and Vietnamese support for a path to naturalization is lowest. At every age level, Filipinos are the most likely to support this policy and Vietnamese the least likely. For example, the probability of support for a twenty-year-old Vietnamese respondent is 0.6, about the same as for a seventy-year-old Filipino respondent. Overall, support for this policy is lowest among seventy-year-old Vietnamese (0.35).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
In summary, U.S. Asians report the lowest level of support for pro-immigration policies. Although we hypothesized that Asians would express more support for pro-immigration policies than Whites and Blacks, we find no such evidence. In fact, Asians express less support for a path to citizenship than Whites and Blacks do (and similar support for increasing work and family visas). This finding is puzzling in light of the growing number of Asian immigrants in the United States. As the racial group with the highest proportion of foreign born, Asians face significant wait time for immigrant and non-immigrant visas. Moreover, the sizable undocumented population among Asians makes their lower support relative to Whites and Blacks particularly puzzling. For example, the number of undocumented Asians in the United States increased by a factor of 3.5 from 2000 to 2015, making Asians the fastest growing group among the undocumented. Growth rates [End Page 169]
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are lower for other sending regions of the world (Ramakrishnan and Shah 2017).
Perceptions of immigration policy as an in-group versus out-group policy may explain Asian American perspectives. General public perceptions of illegality are still more likely to be associated with Mexican than Chinese or Indian immigrants (Flores and Schachter 2018). One reason is media portrayals of undocumented immigrants as Latinx (Chavez 2008), which have been shown to be associated with attitudes toward immigration (Timberlake and Williams 2012). Moreover, Latinxs accounted for more than 75 percent of the total undocumented population in 2015 and Asians for 12.5 percent (Passell and Cohn 2017). Thus U.S. Asian perspectives of group interest may be driven by the social construction of undocumented identity as “a Latino issue” rather than personal experiences with other undocumented Asians within their own community. Perhaps related to these differences, Asians are also significantly less likely to apply to DACA than Latinxs. Whereas 68 percent of DACA-eligible Mexicans applied to the program, 24 percent of Koreans, 15 percent of Filipinos, 13 percent of Indians, 3 percent of Chinese, and 1 percent of Vietnamese among the DACA-eligible population from each group applied (Migration Policy Institute 2018).
Other factors may also shape Asians’ lower levels of support for a pathway to citizenship compared to Latinxs. Noncitizen Asians report being less likely to fear deportation compared to noncitizen Latinxs (7 versus 24 percent), underscoring the intersectionality of race and legal status (Shah and Wong 2019). Moreover, Asians in the United States are also less connected to undocumented immigrants who have experienced detention or deportation than Latinxs. Just 11 percent of noncitizen Asians report knowing someone who has been detained or deported, versus 40 percent of their Latinx counterparts (Shah and Wong 2019). Given these differences, Asians may feel that a pathway to citizenship is less urgent for their group than for Latinxs, despite large and growing numbers of undocumented Asians.
Still, Asians’ lower support for a path to naturalization relative to Blacks is especially surprising given research on Black racial attitudes. Blacks sometimes express concerns that immigrants may take jobs away from U.S. citizens and directly compete with Blacks in the labor market (Rosentiel and Doherty 2006). Further, if individuals expressed policy preferences in line with their group interest, we would expect Asians to report higher support than Blacks. At the same time, our findings are in line with research showing that Blacks generally express more support for immigration than Whites. This support is driven by symbolic politics, Blacks viewing immigrants as fellow “minorities,” and such support resonating with Blacks’ generally liberal views (Brader et al. 2010).
Asians’ lower support for a path to naturalization relative to Whites’ is more puzzling. This counterintuitive finding highlights the need to systematically examine racial attitudes and public opinions among Asians, given the exclusive focus on Whites’ and Latinxs’ perspectives in prior work. Although the initial Latinx-White gap in support for these policies is explained once the model adjusts for the full set of observable covariates (see table 1), the initial Asian-White gap in support for a path to citizenship remains significant (model 6). This persistently lower support for a path to citizenship suggests that our models do not fully predict attitudes among Asians, even though it fares very well in explaining support for the same set of policies among Latinxs. Put differently, these models have yet to fully capture other cultural, demographic, economic, or social factors that underline support for immigration policy among Asians. Qualitative research can provide further theoretical insights into the key drivers of Asian policy perspectives.
Moreover, that Asians are as supportive of policies more associated with immigrants— family visas and work visas—as Whites and Blacks is also puzzling. Indeed, 55 percent of Asian immigrants gain permanent residency through family reunification, and one in four gain legal residency through work visas (Zong and Batalova 2016). Despite these common pathways to permanent residency, our findings suggest that Asians may also perceive these policies as issues associated with Latinxs, but not with Asians. Relative to Latinxs, for example, Asians are less supportive of both visa policies.7 [End Page 171] That is, Asians may view immigration policies generally as out-group issues related to Latinxs, regardless of how the specific policies might affect their families or ethnic communities.
We find that age, generation, political identity, and contact with Latinxs play important roles in attitudes toward immigration policy. Younger respondents are more likely to support all three immigration policies than their older counterparts. Unlike previous studies, however, strength of in-group identity does not play a significant role for legal visa policies, except for support of a path to naturalization. Controlling for factors previously found to be associated with immigration-related policy support, including the importance of identity, immigrant generation, or economic outlook, does not explain Asians’ low support for a path to naturalization.
One important implication of these findings is that advocates for the undocumented can shore up support among Asians for undocumented residents by spreading greater awareness of how undocumented status affects Asians. Historically, Asian American advocacy organizations have gained power by building racial solidarity across Asian ethnic groups (Okamoto 2014). Our findings suggest those coalitions have not translated into broad support for policies that affect other Asian ethnic groups. On family reunification, Asians face the same long wait times (many years) as Latinxs, given the current backlogs for family reunification, especially for those from Mexico, the Philippines, India, and China—the top four countries with waiting list registrants (U.S. Department of State 2019). Despite these wait-lists, Asians may see other avenues for migration, such as H-1B work visas and F1 student visas, as more readily accessible, especially relative to Latinxs. Moreover, Asians’ pathways of entry, socioeconomic diversity, alternative avenues to legalization, the size of the undocumented population, and party identification all explain differences in support across Asian ethnic groups, which is a key point.
The diversity and heterogeneity across Asian ethnic origins illustrate the importance of disaggregating Asian American experiences and perspectives by ethnicity. Although ethnicity has been the primary approach to making sense of intra-Asian diversity, some scholars have argued that ethnoracial origin need not be adopted as the a priori unit of analysis (Brubaker 2004; Drouhot and Garip 2021, this issue; Wimmer 2015). We view these approaches as not mutually exclusive and our decision to focus on ethnicity in this analysis is theoretically anticipated. As a policy domain, immigration policy not only has significant impacts on recent immigrants and their families, but also is responsive to the demand for emigration from the sending countries in Asia. Given our focus on Asian Americans’ perspectives on immigration, we would expect differences by ethnicity due to each group’s pathways of entry, socioeconomic diversity, alternative avenues to legalization, the size of the undocumented population, and party identification.
We illustrate this centrality of ethnicity in our analyses of differences among the four largest Asian ethnic groups—Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, and Vietnamese. By pointing to their diversity, we highlight how Asian American perspectives on immigration policies vary across these groups as a result of the history, community, and complexity of migration flows from sending countries. Our comparison of the four largest Asian ethnic groups provides a useful heuristic for understanding other Asian groups. As economic migrants with high levels of selectivity, Koreans and Japanese should be similar to Chinese and Indians in their support for work and family visa policies. Given their Democratic majority, Koreans and Japanese are more likely to support a path to naturalization because they are more similar to Indians (more liberal) than to Chinese (more conservative). As labor migrant groups, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis should resemble Filipinos in their policy views and report strong support for these pro-immigration policies. In fact, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, and Pakistanis are also strikingly similar in their educational profiles (about half report having a college degree) and political affinity (just over half identify as Democrats). As refugee groups, Cambodians and Hmong [End Page 172] should be more similar to Vietnamese. However, both are much more disadvantaged in socioeconomic status—higher poverty and unemployment rates as well as lower proportions of college graduates—and thus should be more supportive of these three policies than Vietnamese.
Looking ahead, we hope our work will generate interest in research on Asian Americans’ policy perspectives beyond immigration. For example, future research can examine the conditions under which Asians’ policy attitudes might converge or diverge by Asian ethnicity. We also need to better understand how intra-Asian diversity and heterogeneity vary across a broader set of immigration policies and across policy domains (see, for example, Lee and Tran 2019). Moreover, research shows how advocacy and mobilization can not only increase political participation, but also build panethnic and pan-immigrant identities, which may shape Asian American understanding of immigration policy as an in-group versus out-group issue (Pantoja, Menjivar, and Magana 2008). We could not examine these processes in this article, but future research can probe the roles of policy framing, advocacy work, and immigrant organizations in shaping both collective actions toward immigration policy and individual attitudes toward immigration among Asian Americans.
As Asians’ share of the American population increases, Asians will also become a more powerful political constituency. As the outcome of the 2020 presidential election made clear, Asians and Latinxs are central to the electoral success from both major parties, especially in swing states where the margins of victory are razor-thin such as Arizona or Nevada. While the majority of U.S. Asians lean Democrat, signifi-cant numbers support the Republican policy agenda. Given the diversity among Asians, a better understanding of how they develop their views on immigration policies is essential to assessing their potential impact on U.S. politics more generally. A broader range of public narratives about Asians that encapsulate their diverse experiences of immigration (such as undocumented status) as they relate to different Asian communities will enable Asians to understand how immigration policies directly affect their fellow Asian Americans (Lee and Ramakrishnan 2021; Okamoto 2014). Addressing that diversity while building pan ethnic coalitions among Asian Americans will be critical to developing political power that can affect policy change (Okamoto 2014; Okamoto and Ebert 2010). [End Page 173]
Van C. Tran is associate professor of sociology and deputy director of the Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, United States.
Natasha K. Warikoo is professor of sociology at Tufts University, United States.
1. We adopt the gender-neutral term Latinxs and Latinx Americans to refer to the U.S. Hispanic population. We use Asians, Asian Americans, and U.S. Asians interchangeably to refer to the U.S. Asian population.
3. An H-1B temporary worker is admitted to the United States to perform services in a “specialty occupation” which is defined as “an occupation that requires: (a) theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and (b) attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States” (USCIS 2020, 2).
4. Authors’ calculation.
5. Filipinos rank higher than both China and India on the waitlist, despite the fact that China and India both reported populations of 1.39 and 1.35 billion people in 2018—thirteen times larger than the Filipino population of 106.7 million.
6. One measure of acculturation is immigrant generation, but we treat it as a demographic control in this analysis.
7. Results not shown but available on request.
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