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.”