Innovative Study Will Research Transition from Unauthorized to Lawful Status

Innovative Study Will Research Transition from Unauthorized to Lawful Status

How does the change from unauthorized to lawful immigration status affect the lives of undocumented immigrants, including their societal and economic incorporation and civic engagement? The Administrative Relief Impact and Implementation Study will attempt to discover the answer. The study, led by Tom Wong, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, will employ an innovative research design to conduct longitudinal nationwide surveys of undocumented immigrants, using the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs as the backdrop. The methods used in the project allow for the calculation of margins of error to accompany the survey results. This advancement is not only of great technical importance, but can also significantly enhance the policy relevance and use of the research findings.

In partnering with organizations that work with immigrant communities, this research begins at the point at which individuals seek information about administrative relief in order to identify: those who are eligible and ultimately apply; those who are eligible but face obstacles to applying; those who are eligible and choose not to apply and those who are ineligible. By identifying and then surveying individuals along these different trajectories, it is possible to systematically quantify the impact that having lawful immigration status has on a wide range of outcomes that are of interest to scholars, policymakers and practitioners in the field.

The main objectives of the project include:

  • Analyzing how lawful immigration status affects the quality of life and the societal, economic and civic integration of DAPA/expanded DACA beneficiaries and their families — Improving on existing studies, this will be done by not only analyzing outcomes among deferred action beneficiaries, but by comparing outcomes across those who do and do not move from unauthorized to lawful immigration status. In the language of causal inference, this means calculating the average treatment effect (ATE) of having lawful immigration status.
  • Understanding why those who are eligible for administrative relief do not intend to apply — This knowledge can provide insights about the incentives that undocumented immigrants see in programs like DAPA/expanded DACA, which can potentially help fine tune such programs in the future so that larger numbers of undocumented immigrants participate.
  • Identifying what the barriers are for those who are eligible for deferred action, but face obstacles to applying — In identifying these barriers, care will be taken to understand the decision making processes of individuals as they choose to take on these obstacles (or not).
  • Examining the extent to which those who are ineligible for deferred action may be eligible for other forms of immigration relief.

Beginning with the original DACA program announced in June 2012 and continuing with the DAPA and the expanded DACA programs announced in November 2014, roughly 5 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants that live in the United States can potentially obtain temporary lawful immigration status. However, as the short history of the original DACA program suggests, not all who are eligible for deferred action will apply. Thus, while several recent studies (see, e.g., Gonzales & Bautista-Chavez, 2014; Teranishi, Suarez-Orozco, & Suarez-Orozco, 2014; Wong & Valdivia, 2014) have evaluated the impact that DACA has had on undocumented youth, no systematic research exists on why those who are eligible have not applied. This leaves a sizable gap in our understanding of how the change from unauthorized to lawful immigration status affects the lives of undocumented youth. To be clear, while it is possible to survey those with DACA and ask “before and after questions,” the outcomes of those who do not have DACA remain largely unknown in a systematic way. This means that a main ingredient in policy evaluation is missing (i.e. the counterfactual).

Anticipating similar trends with respect to DACA/expanded DACA, wherein not all who are eligible will apply, this project puts in place the research infrastructure needed to rigorously analyze how the change from unauthorized to lawful immigration status affects the lives of undocumented immigrants. More specifically, by beginning this research at the point of information seeking, it becomes possible to identify individuals who fall within one of the trajectories described above (and hence it becomes possible to identify the counterfactual). This then opens the door to longitudinal surveys. This project provides organizations with a GOTV-style call center, wherein every 10 culturally competent (i.e., matching language skills to language needs) student researchers can make up to 12,000 calls over a two-week period. The survey questionnaires create a vehicle for asking and getting answers to questions that can advance our understanding of the integration of undocumented immigrants in the context of DAPA/expanded DACA. Additionally, the questionnaires can be attuned to a broader set of issues that relate to immigration enforcement and comprehensive immigration reform, among other salient policy issues.

Participation in the project requires “light lifting” on the part of organizations and mutually beneficial exchanges are embedded in each phase of the research.

  • Organizations that lack data processing capacity can use the research team to process large batches of unprocessed information (e.g., processing previously unprocessed paper/pencil intake forms).
  • Organizations that lack data management capacity can use the research team to merge large batches of information across multiple spreadsheets to create a single database (e.g., if an organization outreaches to 500 individuals during an information session in one week and then assists 100 individuals during an application workshop the next week, the research team can quickly identify who attended the information session, but not the application workshop, as well as all other permutations).
  • Organizations that lack data analysis capacity can use the research team to analyze existing data — participating organizations can also obtain data analysis software and training on how to use it via the project. This can help organizations perform “in house” analyses.
  • Organizations that have data processing, management and analysis systems in place can use the project as a vehicle for conducting follow-up questionnaires.
  • The project is planned to have capacity to conduct 36,000 calls over a two-week period (30 student researchers) — a survey focused on the implementation of administrative relief and a survey focused on the impact of deferred action are planned.
  • Organizations will have the ability to edit, revise and add or delete questions to the questionnaires.

To learn more about the Administrative Relief Impact and Implementation Study, please contact Tom Wong at [email protected].

Watch Professor Wong’s presentation
on the Administrative Relief Impact and Implementation Study