What is behind America’s changing views on immigration?

  Immigration buttons are seen in Washington during the June 30 "Keep Families Together" protest. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) 

A growing number of Americans are open to increases in legal immigration, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The survey, conducted June 5 to 12, found fewer Americans believe undocumented immigrants take U.S. citizen jobs and most do not believe undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.


“People understand that the country needs to welcome immigrants and that they’re part of our growth—both economically and socially,” said Kevin Appleby, senior director for international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York.

While the survey found that fewer Americans see granting undocumented immigrants legal status as a reward for bad behavior, fewer than half of Americans knew that most immigrants are in the United States legally.

“People understand that the country needs to welcome immigrants and that they’re part of our growth—both economically and socially.”

Mr. Appleby credits the ongoing immigration debate for the change in public opinion. He also believes that the U.S. bishops are breaking through.

“The recent developments on the border have only increased these views,” he said, referring to the ongoing crisis of thousands of children being separated from their parents in immigration detention centers.

Immigration views are changing despite the ongoing political discourse that misconstrues the facts, Mr. Appleby said. “Facts have a longer life,” he said. “Once you parse through the rhetoric, you see the immigration worker complements the U.S. economy. They create jobs. Those in business acknowledge this. Immigration is part of a robust economy.”

The Pew survey found that Republicans, particularly those over 50, were more likely than Democrats to favor reductions in legal immigration. Legal immigration is always the preferred method, Mr. Appleby said, because it enables immigrants to integrate more efficiently and build the economy.

“You’re always going to have a core group of people who are nativist in their views,” Mr. Appleby said. The trends could create momentum for immigration reform with the next Congress, he said.

Tom Smith, O.F.M. Conv., director of Holy Cross Retreat Center in Las Cruces, N.M., was encouraged by the survey findings. The retreat center offers “Franciscan hospitality” to undocumented immigrants and refugees.

“Once you parse through the rhetoric, you see the immigration worker complements the U.S. economy. They create jobs."

Father Smith suggested Americans’ perceptions are changing as they get to know individual immigrants. “People are beginning to recognize that you can’t lump them all together,” Father Smith said. “That’s not fair.”

Over the last six months, the center has hosted 350 undocumented immigrants and refugees at a cost of about $17,000. But they also raised $16,000 in donations, another encouraging sign, Father Smith said.

“It starts with listening to them tell their story,” he said. “One mother told me the gangs killed her husband and threatened her. Another family came after the gangs were trying to force their teenage daughter to join—to basically become their sex slave.”

Father Smith said he has met with hundreds of immigrants from Guatemala and Honduras who are fleeing violence. Many are not trying to enter illegally, but formally requesting asylum at the port of entry.

“It’s a story people want to hear because it’s a human story. It touches people’s hearts,” he said. “The people who are coming are not violent. They want to be safe. And they’re willing to work and work hard.”

arthur mccaffrey
1 week 5 days ago

if the situation is so bad in Honduras and Guatemala why doesn't the USA have a foreign policy that addresses these problems locally--either via economic, diplomatic, humanitarian or military means--so that we address this problem of flight locally instead of waiting until the fleeing latinos show up at our border. Our current policies seem only to be economic--like trade agreements--but we end up dealing with only the effects of violence at our borders, instead of trying to fix the causes locally back home. We seem to have no problem going thousands of miles away to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight ill conceived and badly managed wars, but can't take care of problems on our own doorstep. If we help make Honduras and Guatemala a better place to live then people will want to stay there.

Christopher Lochner
1 week 5 days ago

Ridiculous!!! It has NEVER been about immigration and has ALWAYS been about illegal immigration, you know, open borders!!

Bonnie Weissman
1 week 5 days ago

As the granddaughter of Polish and Lithuanian immigrants, I have nothing against new people coming into the US. My problem is the undocumented problem and our broken immigration system. Our legislators do not seem to care about governing as much as they do scoring political points, when they should be working together and compromising when necessary for both border security and humane treatment of people at the border. If we do not expand some visa programs and do not strengthen the border, more undocumented people will continue to come in, and they continue to be an underclass for generations. I think we also need some outreach in Central America to people who want to come here on legal methods, the pitfalls of using smugglers, and what could happen if they show up undocumented with kids. They need to know that they cannot qualify for most services until they are legally in the country. Until we fix the system, the problems will continue to proliferate for undocumented people.

Ellen B
1 week 4 days ago

Most Americans are able to unite around the fact that any government that takes children from their parents without a clear threat to the childs safety or well being is acting in a monstrous manner. Most Americans are able to unite around the fact that any government that takes children from their parents & doesn't track who they belong to is acting in anything other than the interests of an innocent child. Most Americans are able to unite around the fact that it is monstrous to lock children in cages & send one-year olds in front of a judge. Most Americans think that anyone who would approach an old man who was born in another country on 7/4 and hit him with a brick telling him to go back to his own country does not represent the values of this country. Most Americans think that vigilantes approaching people who are doing nothing wrong and demanding to know where they are from & to see their papers do not represent the values of this country. The monstrous actions are forcing people to re-examine or examine for the first time their own views.

Many Americans are now educating themselves on immigration & have learned for example, that seeking asylum is not a crime. And most of the foreign workers in this country are here legally. That US business interests are harmed when they do not have access to this job pool. They have also shown empathy in questioning themselves; if placed in the position of seeing their family killed or their children forced into a life of crime wouldn't they flee as well?

America has a spotty past regarding immigrants. It's good to see that when pushed, Americans are speaking out for their core values.

Toby Gillis
1 week 4 days ago

"What is behind America’s changing views on immigration?" Probably the same thing that was behind all of the "Hillary will win" polls. If you get my drift........

Ellen B
1 week 4 days ago

The polls weren't wrong. She did win the popular vote.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 week 3 days ago

Which poll predicted that she would win the popular vote but lose the election?

Toby Gillis
5 days 17 hours ago

Which is exactly useless Ellen. Thank God and the Founders.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 week 3 days ago

"center has hosted 350 undocumented immigrants and refugees at a cost of about...."
Father Smith is preaching that ignoring or breaking laws and aiding and abetting law breakers is acceptable and even required in the name of charity. Have the Catholic Bishops and priests decreed that they are above the immigration laws and judicial decisions of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the United States government? Apparently they think so.


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