Immigration Poll Finds Deep Divide Over Trump's Agenda

Jul 16, 2018

Many of President Trump's immigration policies are deeply unpopular, including recent efforts to deter illegal immigration by separating migrant families at the border, according to a new NPR-Ipsos poll.

But Americans are polarized in their attitudes about immigrants and the U.S. system for admitting them, the polls shows, with Republicans much more likely to support the president's policies, including the travel ban, the border wall, and changes to legal immigration.

"There's such stark differences between Democrats and Republicans on these issues, just worlds apart," said pollster Chris Jackson, a vice president with Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the poll.

And Trump's base remains on the president's side. They are "very much behind him, which gives some of the strength to what he's doing," Jackson said.

The poll of more than 1,000 people was conducted nationwide in English and Spanish from June 19-20, just as President Trump signed an executive order that brought an end to the practice of separating migrant parents and children at the Southwest border.

The party line divisions are starkest when it comes to the president's signature immigration issue: the border wall. More than three-quarters of Republicans favor spending $25 billion for border security, including a wall or fence along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. Fewer than one-fifth of Democrats support the idea.

Overall, a majority of respondents oppose the border wall and Trump's travel ban, as well as proposals to curtail legal immigration, including cutting off the ability of legal immigrants to bring extended family members to the U.S.

A majority also opposes ending temporary protections for immigrants affected by natural disasters or war. The Trump administration has announced the end of Temporary Protected Status for a number of countries, arguing that the events involved happened years ago, and protections from deportation were supposed to be temporary.

More than 60 percent of respondents oppose denying asylum to victims of domestic abuse or gang violence. And the least popular Trump administration policy, according to the poll, is separating migrant families who crossed the border illegally, with 67 percent of respondents opposed. Republicans were split on both policies.

The poll did find support for so-called DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Trump has said he wants to give them a path to citizenship, but only as part of a broader immigration reform package that has failed to gain traction in Congress.

There's also strong support for fining employers who employ undocumented immigrants — a policy that's been in place for decades, but is not consistently enforced.

In addition, the NPR-Ipsos poll asked what kinds of immigrants should be given priority under U.S. policy.

We found widespread support for immigrants who swear to uphold the Constitution, which is required as part of the oath of citizenship. There's also broad support for immigrants who are highly educated, have desirable skills, and speak English.

After that, the divisions start to creep in.

At Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, tourists line up to catch the boat to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and see the famous poem inscribed on its pedestal, including this line: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

For some, that still evokes that classic image of immigrants arriving in the U.S. looking for a better life.

"That's how my great grandparents came here," said Tim Puleo of Long Island, New York. "They really had nothing. Could barely even do the alphabet. And had the opportunity to make a name for themselves, make a business. And I think that's what it's all about."

In our poll, we asked whether U.S. immigration policy should favor poor people or rich people. For most respondents, it doesn't make any difference.

We also asked about religion. Christian immigrants rated highly. That's in stark contrast to Muslim and atheist immigrants, who were seen as less desirable.

At the very bottom of the rankings: people who support communism. (That can still be grounds for denying U.S. citizenship to immigrants.)

We asked whether immigrants from different parts of the world should get priority.

It turns out respondents didn't distinguish between immigrants from Africa, Latin American and Europe.

But we did find some support — particularly among Republicans — for restricting travel from certain countries, especially those that have ties to terrorism.

"We can't just blindly let people in," said James Law of New Hampshire, who was visiting New York with his family. "Especially if they're coming from those areas over there where there are issues with terrorism," Law said. "Because in the end it's our country, the United States."

We also asked about immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. Our poll found that only 46 percent of respondents think the U.S. has a "moral obligation" to accept refugees, with Democrats far more likely to agree than Republicans.

For Yvonne Hillier, it's a question of basic compassion.

"If people are being persecuted in their country and their country is unstable because of a war situation or gang situation, then I think those people should be given a priority to come in and have a chance to at least live a life where their family and children are safe," she said.

Hillier was visiting New York with her family from Houston. She and her wife have adopted three children, all immigrants to the U.S.

"The American dream is coming here and figuring out what you want to do with your life and having the possibilities to do that," said their oldest daughter, Caitlan Hillier, who was born in China. "If we're not allowing that, then we're literally being hypocrites against the American dream."

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