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Immigration is a major issue in the 2024 election. Here’s what residents in four Michigan cities believe. • Michigan Advance

Immigration is a major issue in the 2024 election. Here’s what residents in four Michigan cities believe. • Michigan Advance

Immigration is a major issue in the 2024 election. Here’s what residents in four Michigan cities believe. • Michigan Advance

With immigration a top issue for both candidates and voters heading into the 2020 election, researchers at the University of Michigan have published survey data Breaking down attitudes toward immigration in four Michigan cities.

The Detroit Metropolitan Community Study and the Michigan Metropolitan Community Study surveyed residents of Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Ypsilanti about whether they believed legal immigration to the United States should be easier or more difficult.

Overall, 39% of residents in the four-city metropolitan areas believed it should be easier for foreigners to legally immigrate to the United States, while 16% said policies should remain the same.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said legal immigration should be made more difficult, while 19 percent were unsure whether immigration should be made easier or more difficult.

When looking at each city independently, residents of Ypsilanti and Grand Rapids were more likely to favor making legal immigration easier than residents of Flint and Detroit. Forty-five percent of Ypsilanti residents and 44 percent of Grand Rapids residents felt it should be easier for foreigners to legally immigrate to the U.S., while 37 percent of Detroit residents and 29 percent of Flint residents held the same view.

Additionally, while 29% of Ypsilanti residents and 23% of Grand Rapids residents felt legal immigration should be more difficult, 26% of Detroit residents and 31% of Flint residents felt the same.

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Flint and Detroit residents also showed more uncertainty in their attitudes toward immigration than residents of Grand Rapids and Ypsilanti.

The researchers noted that these differences in attitudes can likely be explained by differences in education, as residents in municipalities where a higher proportion of the population has a college degree are more supportive of easier legal immigration.

Thirty-seven percent of Ypsilanti residents and 39.3 percent of Grand Rapids residents surveyed had a bachelor’s degree, compared with 16.9 percent of Detroit residents and 12 percent of Flint residents.

Across all four cities, 55 percent of college-educated residents supported making legal immigration easier, while 34 percent of residents without a college degree felt the same. Residents without a college degree were also more likely to believe it should be harder for foreigners to immigrate legally.

However, the report also notes that residents of the four cities who did not have a college degree were also more likely to say they were unsure of their views on immigration policy than those who did have a college degree.

Mara Ostfeld, faculty director of the Detroit Metropolitan Communities Study, noted that former President Donald Trump and other anti-immigrants promote narratives that immigrants pose an economic threat to American citizens, despite data showing that Immigrants are more likely to create jobs than native-born Americans.

Income and education have the same kind of relationship with attitudes toward immigration, Ostfeld said, so these narratives around immigrants posing an economic threat will always be felt by economically vulnerable people and will impact their attitudes.

Ostfeld also said the importance of immigration discussions could explain why 19 percent of residents surveyed were unsure of their opinion on immigration policy.

“Because it’s been such a prominent issue, people are becoming more familiar with both sides of the issue. There’s a strong argument that there’s an economic threat and there’s this other characteristic that these are people who are just like us and if they felt their child was in an unsafe place, they would probably do exactly the same thing,” Ostfeld said.

Proximity to immigrants has also been shown to influence residents’ attitudes toward immigration policy: U.S.-born residents live in census tracts with a higher percentage of foreign-born residents who show more support for easier legal immigration.

“Touch is one of the most powerful things to generate empathy and support for a group that you may not be familiar with, and there’s really powerful support for that in the social science literature and even in our own survey of a variety of Detroit neighborhoods,” Ostfeld said.

According to the report, for every 10% of a census tract’s population who were foreign-born, there was an average 3% increase in support for easier legal immigration.

The narrative that immigrants pose an economic threat also carries tension, Ostfeld said, since voters with lower levels of education are often the most likely to be in contact with immigrants based on where they tend to move.

Furthermore, uncertainty toward immigration policy was slightly higher in areas with lower proportions of immigrants, Ostfeld said.

Mara Ostfeld, professor in charge of the Detroit Metropolitan Communities Study. | Photo courtesy of Mara Ostfeld

Ostfeld also noted the impact immigration policy will have on Michigan, with the entire state considered a border zone due to its proximity to the Canadian border.

“Everywhere in Michigan is subject to immigration enforcement, so this will impact the life experiences of all Michiganders,” Ostfeld said.

Whether Michiganders support making immigration more difficult, increasing immigration enforcement or enforcing more anti-immigrant laws, these are policies that will shape the day-to-day experiences of every Michigander, Ostfeld said.

“That’s also an important question to think about: how people want immigration policy to affect their everyday lives in different ways,” Ostfeld said.

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