Source Alert

Immigration: USC experts available to discuss America’s most polarizing topic

January 25, 2024

The Mexican-American Border Wall

Immigration remains a focal point in the race for the White House, igniting heated discussions among candidates on the campaign trail, the debate stage and across social media. USC experts are available for comment and in-depth analysis on this pressing issue shaping the 2024 election.

Contact: Nina Raffio, or (213) 442-8464; USC Media Relations, or (213) 740-2215

Immigration tops the charts in USC study on America’s most divisive issues

Fred Cook portraitImmigration policy consistently ranks as the most divisive issue in American politics, as indicated by the Polarization Index, a novel data-driven tool co-developed by USC researchers to track America’s most polarizing topics.

According to Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations, which collaborated on the Polarization Index with Golin and Zignal Labs, their data reveals that polarization is fueled by partisan political forces who benefit from continued conflict.

“We thought that polarization was disagreement, but it isn’t. It’s a political strategy for raising money, getting votes, and, from the media’s perspective, a way to improve ratings.”


As climate, humanitarian crises fuel migration, America’s workforce is aging out

Manuel Pastor portrait“While the political debate about immigrants is often focused on controls at the border, the critical drivers are far from those borderlands. The climate crisis is going to continue to induce migration, particularly from Central America as a combination of droughts, hurricanes, and political and quotidian violence force an exodus,” said Manuel Pastor, director of the USC Dornsife Equity Research Institute.

“Meanwhile, an aging America will continue to have high demand for new workers to fill in and keep our economy growing. That’s where the real discussion will be — and it’s far from where the political debate is.”


Inside America’s broken asylum system: Insights from an expert in immigration law

Jean Lantz Reisz portraitThere is currently a backlog of over one million asylum cases in the U.S., which experts attribute to outdated systems for processing applications that are ill-equipped to address current circumstances.

“The current law requires immigration officials to process credible claims for asylum before deporting or expelling a migrant from the country. As a result of the backlog, migrants who have had background checks may remain in the U.S. for years waiting for their applications to be processed,” said Jean Lantz Reisz, co-director of the USC Immigration Clinic and clinical associate professor of law at the USC Gould School of Law.

“This reality has often been wrongly referred to in the media by far-right Republicans as an ‘open-border policy’. This is not a new policy; asylum law has been in place for decades. What has changed is the number of asylum-seekers and their reasons for coming to the United States which are increasingly desperate.”


America’s embrace of Latino cuisine, culture at odds with its immigration politics

Natalia Molina portrait“There’s a dichotomy in the visibility of Latinos, being hyper-visible in some aspects while remaining invisible in other dimensions of our society,” said Natalia Molina, distinguished professor of American studies and ethnicity at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“The influence of Latino culture is widespread, exemplified by a recent Pew Foundation study indicating that approximately 1 in 10 U.S. restaurants serve Mexican food. This study emphasizes the active role of Latinos in shaping American culture, not merely being shaped by it,” she said.

“This raises the question of whether we can cherish Latino cuisine without embracing Latinos. Amid this culinary appreciation, media consistently voices concerns about immigration, border crises, and the absence of a comprehensive immigration bill, last passed in 1986.”


The ‘Peter Pan Fallacy’

Dowell Myers portrait“I’m concerned that people often view immigrants as static figures who never change or age. The reality is, like everyone else, they grow older and adapt over time. Yet, the public image of immigration tends to focus on young newcomers, creating what I call the ‘Peter Pan Fallacy’ where immigrants are seen as perpetually frozen in that initial stage,” said Dowell Myers, director of the Population Dynamics Research Group and professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

“For example, in California, Mexican immigrants typically are not homeowners when they first arrive, but their homeownership rate surpasses the state average after 30 years of residence. They aren’t 25 years old anymore. Now, they’re 55. They’ve worked their whole careers. They’ve saved money, they’ve had families, and they’ve accumulated home ownership status. This nuance doesn’t get captured in public discourse.”


Additional Experts

Christian Grose is an expert in American government, political institutions; political representation; and electoral behavior and campaigns. Grose is professor of political science and public policy at USC Dornsife and the academic director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at USC Price.



Mindy Romero is a research assistant professor and the founder and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at USC Price. Romero is an expert in political sociology, voting rights and electoral participation, and Latino political behavior.



Jody Agius Vallejo is an expert in immigrant integration, minoritized middle classes and wealth attainment. She is an associate professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at USC Dornsife.



Christian Phillips is an expert on the intersection of race, gender and immigration in American politics. Phillips is an assistant professor of political science at USC Dornsife.