Who Didn’t Apply for DACA and Why it Matters
By Michele Statz | November 7, 2017
Even without attacks from the White House, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has already been restricted in many ways. This becomes immediately apparent when we consider how—and which—immigrant youth have been represented in relation to it. Amidst, or perhaps because of, limited engagement with Asian youth directly, immigrant advocacy on behalf of Chinese youth in particular has largely relied on presumptions of gendered and racialized vulnerability. Though not often considered, these (mis)representations matter, impacting youths’ trust in policy and further underscoring the contingent nature of DACA’s duration and success.
Asian immigrants are more likely than the total immigrant population to have arrived in the U.S. since 2010. Likewise, they are more likely to be naturalized citizens. But while the majority of Asian immigrants arrive in the U.S. via authorized channels, they are also the fastest growing population of unauthorized immigrants. Between 2009 and 2013, approximately 1.5 million unauthorized immigrants from Asia resided in the U.S., representing 14 percent of the estimated 11 million unauthorized. As of 2016, India, China, and the Philippines were the primary sending countries of both of authorized and unauthorized immigrants—and also of lawful permanent residents—in the U.S. to the U.S.
Despite these trends, Asian immigrants have had some of the lowest application rates to DACA. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 84% of eligible Mexican youth and 83% of eligible Salvadoran youth have sought protection, but only 16% of eligible Korean youth and 28% of eligible Filipino youth applied for DACA in 2016.
Significantly, the government reported no data for DACA applicants from China as of March 2017—the numbers were too small to report. This does not mean that there were no immediately eligible Chinese youth; after all, following Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, China sends the largest number of unauthorized immigrants to the U.S. In 2016, there were approximately 25,000 Chinese youth immediately eligible for DACA, but a year later, only 740 Chinese youth were active DACA holders.
It’s worth noting, particularly in light of the gendered depictions of unauthorized Chinese youth discussed below, that DACA applications have consistently split fairly evenly across genders (though applicants from Asia and Europe are more likely to be male).
Males represent slightly more of the unauthorized youth population in the U.S., considerably more of unaccompanied youth, and are 1.4 times more likely than females to have DACA applications denied.
There are diverse explanations for the low DACA application rates among young Chinese and Asian immigrants more broadly, including a reluctance to discuss legal status at the community level owing to shame and stigma; concerns over the impact of DACA on unauthorized family members; cost; limited linguistically- and regionally-accessible DACA educational and media coverage directed toward diverse Asian communities; lack of trust in political institutions, both in countries of origin and in the U.S.; and a history of discrimination against Asian populations, particularly via exclusion era immigration laws.
Eligible and Invisible
There are additional, though less considered, reasons for Asians’ low DACA application rates. As my own research evidences, how—and if—young migrants are depicted in media and policy proves profoundly consequential to youths’ engagement with the immigration system.
Critical activists and scholars necessarily highlight the prevalence of bounded, exclusive, and even fetishized constructions of an ideal and “deserving” Dreamer (i.e., a youth who would have been eligible for the DREAM Act and is or could be a DACA beneficiary), though these strategic framings (and their critiques) tend to center on Latinx youth. So, too, has much of the media coverage around the Trump administration’s recent rescission of DACA. There have been some exceptions, of course, but when media coverage has centered on DACA-mented Asian American youth, it has largely perpetuated the stereotype of the “deserving” immigrant.
Once the dominant public image of “the illegal immigrant,” Asian Americans are often now racially framed as “honorary whites.” A well-documented source of hostility and discrimination, the trope of the model minority powerfully contributes to the relative invisibility of Asian American youth in research, advocacy, policy, and public discourse around immigration.
“The Young Girl from China”
A corollary to the model minority/invisible Asian immigrant youth is the vulnerable and gendered Asian immigrant youth. Since 2010, I have been conducting research on public interest immigration advocacy on behalf of young Chinese migrants who have arrived alone and clandestinely to the U.S. and have been apprehended and placed in removal proceedings. This group of youth is socioeconomically, linguistically, and legislatively distinct from those eligible for DACA (though “unaccompanied” youth and their families have also been targeted by the Trump administration), yet discourses of deservingness exceed these differences, filtering and constraining the experiences and opportunities available to young Asian immigrants more generally.
Through rigorous analysis of immigrant advocacy organizations’ promotional materials and policy reports, my research demonstrates that the standardized and pseudonymous Chinese youth/client is almost unfailingly portrayed as a vulnerable young girl, a victim of her family and “Chinese Culture” writ large.
These depictions are a manifestation of the racialized hierarchy first instituted via Chinese exclusion laws, with stereotypes of Chinese parents as racially inferior and coercive put forth to underscore the vulnerability necessary for “deservingness” in the discretionary state, and likewise the appropriateness of legal professionals to “care” for youth.
Fei-Yen’s parents forbade her to attend school and made her work long hours. When she resisted a forced marriage, they beat her. She fled from China to the United States and applied for asylum.
“Mei” is a young girl from China… Mei’s family is very poor. They told Mei that she could “help” to pay back the money by working off the debt in the U.S. In other words, it appears that Mei—a child with no skills and no English ability—was sent to the U.S. for forced labor… Mei’s case is now being handled by a well-respected law firm. And, her situation has improved considerably.
The gendered aspects of this framing also draw on what Jyoti Sanghera describes as “the dominant anti-trafficking discourse,” popular depictions of young Asian women as “compulsorily vulnerable and innocent.”
More broadly, these narratives preclude the visibility of relational, mobile, and agentive—let alone male or non-binary—Asian migrants. That such blatantly and impossibly narrow depictions are also relatively successful in eliciting support, sympathy, and funding also indicates that most advocates know little about the complex lives of Asian youth. (Notable exceptions are the Asian American Legal Defense Fund and nascent youth-led Asian and Pacific Islander organizations, though these are largely clustered on the east and west coasts). The profound consequence is that the transnational relationships, responsibilities, and expectations of young immigrants are either not seen or are powerfully misrepresented or diminished in public discourse. This leaves little hope for meaningful policy and advocacy and even less hope that young people will trust initiatives like DACA. How can legislation protect those it does not “see”?
Women have come a long way. Indeed, women have done so well that journalists have hailed “The End of Men” and celebrated “The Richer Sex.” Yet, a more in depth look at the persistent gender gap in wages tells a different story. Yes, the wage gap overall between men and women’s wages has narrowed over the last half century. Since 1990, however, continued progress has come primarily from the decline in blue collar male wages. For college graduates as a whole, the gendered wage gap increased since 1990, with particularly large increases, even controlling for factors such as occupation and education, above the 90th percentile. This growing gender gap demonstrates not just that the glass ceiling persists in the most lucrative parts of the economy but that women have lost power in society more generally. A small group of white and occasionally Asian men has disproportionately benefited to the exclusion of everyone else. The question is why and what we can do about it?
The conventional answer – that increased competition places greater emphasis on the willingness to work long hours that conflict with family obligations – rings hollow as a complete explanation, though it is certainly part of the story. Instead, a full discussion requires consideration of the nature of competition itself. The areas of the economy where pay has increased most dramatically in the last quarter century – the upper management ranks, finance, and the top of the professions – have also seen increased competition among those who aspire to those ranks. Indeed, the competition has become sufficiently artificial and intense that some have labeled it “the tournament.”
And these winner-take-all competitions, where yearly pay depends heavily on annual bonuses, have deeply pernicious effects on women and people of color.
First, the competition itself often takes the form of longer hours, enhancing the pay offs to those who can put the job ahead of everything else in their lives. In 1960, white and blue collar men worked about the same number of hours; today, the top earning American men and women work dramatically longer hours than blue collar workers – hours at least as long as those of top earners anywhere else in the world.
Second, the increasingly competitive nature changes the selection process. Law professor Larry Ribstein explained that:
These executives are hyper-motivated survivors of a highly competitive tournament . . . . At least some of the new breed appear to be Machiavellian, narcissistic, prevaricating, pathologically optimistic, free from self-doubt and moral distractions, willing to take great risk as the company moves up and to lie when things turn bad.
A growing management literature concludes that these highly competitive environments make it more likely that those who rise to the top in these tournaments will have the characteristics associated with narcissism, including optimism, the ability to inspire, the inclination to cut corners, and the willingness to run roughshod over others to achieve their objectives. Men are more likely than women to be narcissistic (and although some believe the gap is closing), and to be perceived as having the leadership qualities associated with narcissism. Moreover, corporate cultures that use rankings to justify large disparities in compensation tend to produce greater emphasis on self-interest, higher levels of distrust that undermine teamwork, greater homogeneity in the selection of corporate management, less managerial accountability, and more politicized decision-making. The result tends to create a “young boys’ club” that makes it harder for women and minorities.
Third, the selection for narcissistic leaders reinforces deeply gendered dynamics.
Even among narcissists, men and women are likely to differ in ways that affect the selection process for executive leadership. Both male and female narcissists like to be the center of attention. But researchers found that male narcissists were more likely than women to desire power and to be attracted to positions that promised money, status, and authority. Moreover, the single largest gender difference was the willingness of the male narcissists to demand greater rewards for themselves and to use greater status to exploit others. A study of tech firms indicated that the more narcissistic CEOs—rated in accordance with an employee evaluation of personality traits—received “more total direct compensation (salary, bonus, and stock options), have more money in their total shareholdings, and have larger discrepancies between their own (higher) compensation and the other members of their team;” in short, the qualities that also correlate with gender differences among narcissists also correlate with differences in male and female compensation.
Fourth, this selection process reinforces the classic “double bind” for women. Greater competition, particularly when tied to short term, reductionist measures, tends to increase the payoffs to the self-interested that can bend the rules and get away with it – and tournament-like environments have been associated with greater levels of fraud and misconduct. Yet, studies of financial advisors, where misconduct findings are rife and gender gaps are among the highest in the economy, show that women are less likely to engage in misconduct, more likely to be punished when they do, and less likely to be rehired, even though the losses their misconduct cause are lower than those of the men.
Taken together these processes produce a triple, not just a double, bind for women.
Greater competition makes it more likely that narcissists will thrive, and that such leaders will valorize further competition that enhances executive power and compensation. These tournament-like environments undermine trust and cooperation and increase distrust of outsiders. Women are less likely than to men to thrive in such environments, less likely to be seen as having the competitive juices necessary to do what it takes, and more likely to be cashiered if they try to compete on the same terms as the men. Women in turn accurately see such competitive environments as hostile ones, and therefore they become less likely to apply, increasing the male domination of such workplaces. Since the late nineties, the number of women on Wall Street and in venture capital firms has fallen and it should hardly come as a surprise.
Is there a role for public policy in addressing this toxic tournament environment that results in unequal pay, but also negative externalities for individual companies and the economy as a whole? In addition to a decrease in the gender pay gap, efforts to reduce tournament style pay schemes could also enhance the incentives for corporate responsibility and reduce fraud and corruption.
A large body of research suggests that linked transparency and accountability schemes hold promise.
In that vein, amendments to equal pay laws that explicitly address bonus pay and processes have potential, as do efforts to make corporate data about compensation levels and practices public. On the international front, Iceland’s newly adopted equal pay law requires proof of compliance, oversight of pay practices and consequences in the form of fines. The UK has also moved forward with a bold transparency policy, requiring most employers to collect data on pay gaps and publish it on their own and on government websites where it can be used to rank employers and provide critically valuable information to employees that may want to pursue their rights under traditional Equal Pay laws. In the U.S., President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick both used the power of their offices to create Equal Pay pledge processes that deploy “good press” and “added brand value” as levers for improved corporate practice. Federal, state (Minnesota) and local governments (Albuquerque) have also pioneered the use of government contracting as a tool to drive better corporate and business pay practices. These and other possible approaches must recognize and explicitly address the turn toward high stakes tournaments that reward narcissism to be successful.
Michele Statz is an anthropologist of law and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus. Her new book, Lawyering an Uncertain Cause: Immigration Advocacy and Chinese Youth in the U.S. (Vanderbilt University Press), will be out in 2018.
Image originally appeared in A Treacherous Journey