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The “American DREAM”: Understanding White Americans’ Support for the DREAM Act and Punitive Immigration Policies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 October 2020


The American public has overwhelmingly supported the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act since 2001. The support is widespread and cuts across race, ethnic, and party lines. Given the United States’ anti-immigrant/immigration sentiment in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, support for the DREAM Act is perplexing. To that end, political scientists, sociologists, and education scholars, among others, have pointed to the exceptional framing of the DREAM Act as the primary predictor of support. However, a significant portion of non-Hispanic white Americans who support the DREAM Act also support restrictive and often punitive immigration policies. What influences most white Americans to support DREAM Act legislation? And what leads a subset of these same individuals to simultaneously support restrictive immigration policies that hurt DREAMers and their families? I argue that predispositions explain these two contradictory policy preferences. Data from the 2012 American National Election Studies (ANES) and the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies (CCES) demonstrates that white Americans use racial resentment and egalitarianism as justifications to support both policies. However, the effects are conditioned on partisanship.

Special Section: The Politics of Immigration
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the author precedes the References section.


Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:

Deeply thankful to the external reviewers, the editor, and staff at Perspectives for beyond outstanding guidance and commentary. Thanks to colleagues Hannah L. Walker, Kira Sanbonmatsu, Katherine T. McCabe, Taneisha Means, Kenneth Sebastian León, and Stacey Greene for helpful discussion and suggestions. Thanks also to Derick D. Dailey for reading over the manuscript multiple times for clarity.


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