Floridians unsure how many immigrants are undocumented, survey finds

By Caroline Roper

Floridians are unsure about how many immigrants are in the state without proper documentation, even though they are interested in the topic and regularly follow it on the news, according to a study by the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education.

The online survey, which PIE Center researchers used to collect responses from 507 residents around the state, showed that Floridians have a nearly equal mix of opinions about whether or not most immigrants have proper documentation.

When asked whether they believed most immigrants in the U.S. are undocumented, 31 percent of respondents reported they did. Thirty-three percent thought most immigrants have documentation, and 36 percent did not know.

When PIE Center researchers analyzed the results by respondents’ age groups, older respondents were more likely to believe that most immigrants living in the U.S. are undocumented. Thirty-five percent of respondents aged 40-49 and 33 percent of those aged 60-69 reported agreement with the statement.

Younger respondents had the opposite reaction, however, with only 11 percent of those aged 19 and under reporting that they believed most of the immigrants living in the U.S. are undocumented. The survey defined undocumented immigrants as “foreign nationals residing in the U.S. without legal immigration status…resulting from someone entering the country without permission or remaining in the U.S. after a legal visa expires.”

“We can see a generational shift in that younger respondents might be more familiar, and therefore more comfortable, with immigrants in this country,” said PIE Center director Tracy Irani. “It becomes something that younger folks are exposed to more than we are.”

According to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2011, only 4.5 percent, or 825,000 residents of Florida are unauthorized, compared to a population of nearly 3.7 million residents in the state that are foreign-born.

Although Floridian’s beliefs vary on the documentation status of immigrants, respondents did indicate that they kept up with undocumented immigration in the news and had believed they had general knowledge on the topic.

“It’s reassuring that most respondents reported they kept up with news on undocumented immigration and that most felt they had some knowledge on the issue,” Irani said. “This shows that immigration is important and is on the minds of Floridians.”

The survey showed that keeping up-to-date with news following undocumented immigration was important to Floridians, with 74 percent of respondents reporting they sometimes or often followed the news about undocumented immigration and 12 percent indicating they kept up with news following undocumented immigration “all the time.”

Additionally, a majority of respondents reported having general knowledge about undocumented immigration, with 89 percent indicating they knew either “some” or “a lot” about the topic.

“I think the results of our study show that there are a lot of knowledge gaps,” said PIE Center director Tracy Irani. “This is a prime example of the need for targeted education to raise the knowledge and awareness levels of members of the public around a specific issue.”

Immigration has been an increasingly popular political topic, with reform currently being discussed at the federal level. The U.S. senate has been working on an immigration reform bill, with a Senate vote scheduled for early June.

“This is a major piece of legislation that, if it passes, is going to have a lot of significant effects. I think that conducting this survey at this time in Florida is a really unique and interesting thing,” Irani said. “Florida is usually on the cutting edge of a lot of trends that happen nationally.”

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