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Can We Measure Immigrants' Legal Status? Lessons from Two U.S. Surveys.

Authors
  • Bachmeier, James D1
  • Van Hook, Jennifer2
  • Bean, Frank D3
  • 1 Department of Sociology, Temple University.
  • 2 Population Research Institute, Pennsylvania State University.
  • 3 Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy, University of California, Irvine.
Type
Published Article
Journal
The International migration review
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2014
Volume
48
Issue
2
Pages
538–566
Identifiers
PMID: 25525285
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

This research note examines response and allocation rates for legal status questions asked in publicly available U.S. surveys to address worries that the legal status of immigrants cannot be reliably measured. Contrary to such notions, we find that immigrants' response rates to questions about legal status are typically not higher than response rates to other immigration-related questions, such as country of birth and year of immigration. Further exploration of two particular surveys - the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (LAFANS) and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) - reveals that these data sources produce profiles of the unauthorized immigrant population that compare favorably to independently estimated profiles. We also find in the case of the SIPP that the introduction of legal status questions does not appear to have an appreciable "chilling effect" on the subsequent survey participation of unauthorized immigrant respondents. Based on the results, we conclude that future data collection efforts should include questions about legal status in order to (a) improve models of immigrant incorporation and (b) better position assimilation research to inform policy discussions.

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